If You Build It …

Kimberly Ashby just might be your attorney

Published in 2017 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2017

Photo by: Scott Cook

The sun was hot, the air still, and there was nothing but Florida scrub in all directions. An occasional bird call broke the stillness.

The foreman invited Kimberly Ashby to take a look around. More than once, Ashby’s head hit the roof as they bounced in his truck over ruts and gullies. Near the end of the drive, the foreman pointed in the distance to a lone cow in the field.

Ashby often visits properties whose owners she represents, but few involve seeing the project in its original state. 

“It was a blast,” Ashby says of her first view of what would become Grande Lakes Resort. A destination within the tourist mecca of Orlando, the 500-acre ultra-luxurious facility now features two hotels with their associated pools, spas and golf courses, clustered near Shingle Creek, part of the headwaters of the Everglades.

Representing the developers, Ashby saw the project—the largest of its kind in the nation when it opened in 2003—from shovel to grand opening.

She’s been called one of the brightest construction attorneys in the state, if not the most conventional. For starters, most of her colleagues are male. She also serves as a guardian ad litem protecting at-risk children, runs marathons, paints landscapes and channels Martha Stewart in the kitchen. Oh, and she hauls Shakespearean characters into court.

Ed Baxa, a fellow construction attorney who has the office next to hers at Foley & Lardner, is not the only person to call her a Renaissance woman.

They’ve known each other for nearly 30 years, he says, working on cases together and against each other during the 18 years Ashby spent at Akerman before moving to Foley in 2016.

“She’s really unique in her combination of appellate and construction law and her practical knowledge of both,” he says. “Her unusually deep appreciation of the law is a real asset. She can craft really creative solutions to problems.”

On many occasions, especially in the past, says Baxa, she has been the only woman on the job site. “It didn’t faze her in the least,” he says. “She’s so inquisitive, and she acquires knowledge so rapidly.”

For Ashby, construction law is all about problem-solving and listening. “People come to terms a lot quicker when they believe you’re listening to them,” she says.

She keeps listening after the case is over, too. “I just got off the phone with a client I’ve had for more than 25 years,” she says during a conversation in the office conference room. “They were in another jurisdiction and didn’t know who else to call. It’s not something I’ll make any money on. But I can go home tonight knowing my former client had a better day than they would have because I was able to help them.”

On the appellate side of her practice, Ashby is drawn to the logic of the process, calling it “the purest form of the law. I want to be the best appellate attorney I can be and stay sharp as a trial lawyer.”

She has handled more than 100 cases in the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal. A recent case was Earth Trades, Inc. v. T&G Corporation, involving a dispute between a general contractor, represented by Ashby; and a subcontractor and its surety bond company. “We received a unanimous vote in our favor from that court, which I savor because such unanimous rulings are rare,” says Ashby. 

 

Growing up in Vero Beach, Ashby envisioned footlights and stage doors in her future. The law won out, but for nine years, she has been able to live a small part of her dream with the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

As part of a mock trial annual fundraiser for the arts organization, she and “opposing counsel” spoof one of the season’s plays. Over the years, she’s argued the state’s case when Shylock appealed his sentence (that he must give his fortune to his daughter and convert to Christianity) in The Merchant of Venice; prosecuted Friar Laurence for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet; and argued at Hamlet’s sanity hearing.

It’s “totally improv,” she says. And in costume. The late John Hamilton, an appellate attorney at Foley & Lardner, was a longtime opponent; the mock trial series now bears his name. Nicholas A. Shannin, founder of Shannin Law Firm in Orlando, has been Ashby’s partner in theatrical crime for the past couple of years. 

The other participants are professional Shakespearean actors who stay in character for the duration of the proceedings. In keeping with legal protocol, the proceedings have judges, though some are of the “celeb” variety, like Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell. The audience stands in for the jury and votes on the case.

The attorneys do fun things they’d never get away with in real court. In Othello’s murder trial, they switched roles in the middle of the trial. On another occasion, Ashby proceeded to bribe the “jury”—with real coins, which people gave back afterward.

“I feel lucky that I get to work with her and go through the creative process of developing the mock trial play with her,” says Cory Taylor, an attorney and member of the Shakespeare board. “There’s no doubt that Kim is intelligent, witty, sharp and a very good attorney, but what impresses me as we’re preparing for the mock trial each year is how absolutely fearless she is. She’s up for just about anything, as long as it entertains the audience and maintains the integrity of the play. 

“That attitude translates to the rest of her life—how she runs her legal practice, how she enjoys her life and relationships, how she loves her son. Kim has many talents, many interests and many relationships, and she devotes herself to them wholeheartedly.”

Ashby brings the same concentration and attention to detail to her volunteer work with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s Guardian ad Litem program, Baxa says. As part of GAL, volunteer attorneys appointed by the court advocate in the best interests of children who are victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment.

“She’s very caring, diligent and good at relating to all parties in her cases,” says Kavita Sookrajh, a GAL program staff attorney for Orange County. 

The kids get stuck in a system in which they have no control and don’t know whom to trust, Ashby says. Trying to find ways to help sometimes keeps her up at night.

“There is a crying need for more people to get involved with other people’s kids,” she says. “We need boots on the ground yesterday and every day thereafter.”

 


 

Shoes, brush and spatula

Ashby likes to switch gears in her off time. Favorite pastimes are running marathons, painting and cooking.

She’s laced up her running shoes for the biggies—New York and Boston—seven times and four times, respectively; as well as San Francisco, the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia/Washington D.C.; and the Walt Disney World Marathon. In summer, she has done cycling tours in Europe.

Her career as a plein air (outdoor nature) artist got its start in 2008, when she took a class at Crealde School of Art in Winter Park. The Florida Painters Group grew out of shared experience in the course.

Ashby is a regular participant on weekends. “The advantage of group participation is critique, support and shared knowledge,” says noted Florida landscape artist and group member Claudia G. Thomas. “Kim is a gifted artist, has sold work, been in juried shows and participated in the yearly Florida Painters Group Exhibition at the Casselberry Art House since 2011.”

Ashby—who is as likely to give away a painting to benefit one of her charities as she is to show or sell it—says her influences include Van Gogh, Gauguin and Leroy Neiman, the famous contemporary sports artist. 

She prefers painting outdoors, though she has a studio at home—not too far from the kitchen, where she indulges her love of cooking. In the spirit of the movie Julie & Julia, in which an aspiring writer sets out to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Ashby has set her sights on Martha Stewart’s Vegetables.

Her efforts have paid off: She made Martha’s scalloped potatoes for her firm’s Thanksgiving celebration and won the baking award. Her secret: Yukon Gold potatoes.

Only 149 recipes to go.

Photo by: Scott Cook

Photo by: Scott Cook

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