Master of Disaster

If you don’t count hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues and terrorist strikes, Mike Bedke lives a pretty quiet life

Published in 2007 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2007

A killer hurricane slams ashore; an earthquake rumbles; a deranged person blows up a building in Oklahoma City.

In each case, Tampa attorney Michael Bedke comes to the rescue.

Bedke, 46, head of the real estate group at DLA Piper, has compiled a long record of pro bono services. He started out offering legal help to victims of domestic violence, then began working with persons with AIDS in 1984, when the disease was still shrouded in mystery. In a landmark case in the mid-1980s, Bedke represented a Tampa police officer who had contracted AIDS while on duty. The city wanted to deny the officer’s benefits to his widow and children, but Bedke made sure they got paid.

Then in August 1992, when deadly Hurricane Andrew hit south Miami-Dade, Bedke and a friend loaded up a van with emergency supplies and drove south to see if they could help. The attorney started out by helping victims fill out disaster-relief paperwork at a center set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We worked sitting on folding chairs. It was a legal triage. In all, volunteer attorneys processed paperwork for over 20,000 Miami-area hurricane victims.” Initially, out-of-town lawyers provided help because many Miami attorneys were hit by Andrew, just like everyone else.

After spending about four weeks working with Andrew victims, Bedke began to develop a reputation as a guy who could be counted on when disaster struck. He was called on to help out in Hawaii after Hurricane Iniki. Then it was off to Northridge, Calif., when an earthquake devastated that small community.

On April 19, 1995, an explosion in Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 men, women and children. That infamous spring morning, FEMA asked Bedke to get on the next flight to Oklahoma City, where he helped the local and state bar associations process claims. That night, he had to locate a judge to grant emergency orders for guardianships, to provide care for the children of adults killed in the explosion.

At times, Bedke’s benevolence even extends to politicians. Once he put his expertise to use while visiting former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham’s office in Washington, D.C. “They were trying to draft a bill to de-authorize the proposed cross-state barge canal that had lost favor with the public. I realized this was real estate law and I could help them.”

He sat down with Graham’s staff and they created a bill cutting off funds for the controversial project.

Bedke takes it all in stride. After all, he is used to climbing mountains. Literally. He has conquered Mount Rainier in Washington and Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. When not scaling mountains, Bedke runs—including in a 154-mile race across the Sahara to raise funds for domestic-violence victims.

Chances are, if a call for help comes—even if he’s in a desert or on a mountain—he’ll find a way to show up.

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