It’s all in a Day’s Work The Exotic Side of International Law

By Kathy Fleming

When Osmond Howe (JD 66) answers his cell phone, he asks if he can call back in 10 minutes.

“Iʼm at a dealership buying a red Ferrari for a client,” he says. “Heʼs a lucky guy.”

Turns out the client is a Brazilian businessman who has a stable of nice cars, including a Bentley and Rolls Royce, and always has Howe handle the purchases.

The purchase of a posh automobile is downright conventional compared to the numerous quirky requests Howe has handled in a 30-year practice focused on real estate and international law.

Later, from the comfort of his spacious waterfront office on Brickell Key, a tiny exclusive island just across from Miamiʼs downtown, Howe says it is hard to pinpoint the most exotic request he ever received. He remembers the time one of his wealthiest clients called and asked that he charter two 747s within 48 hours because the family was moving back to the Middle East. One jet was for the family, and the other was for their possessions.

Howe can tell these stories all day. Not unlike public radioʼs Garrison Keillor, with measured words and a twinkle in his eye, Oz Howe relays anecdote after anecdote, pulling the listener into situations with him all over the world. While he has been tremendously successful during a time when Florida in general, and Miami in particular, was becoming a sizzling international business community, it quickly becomes clear Howe enjoys the people as much as the work.

Many of the more out-of-the-ordinary situations emerge from his 17-year relationship with Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a brother of the King of Saudi Arabia and third in line to the throne. That affiliation began in 1987 when a London colleague called seeking assistance with a South Florida property title for the princeʼs father-inlaw. When it was time for payment, the father took Howe downtown to the bank.

“Here we were, walking down Flagler Street in downtown Miami holding hands—thatʼs common for Saudi businessmen—and we go into the bank. I had a sizable fee, $50,000 I think, and his aide has the bank fill a shopping bag with money,” Howe recalls, shaking his head, still incredulous. “We get back into the limo and he hands me the bag and says, ʻtake your money.ʼ I count out the money, but tell him I donʼt have anything to put it in. He dumps out the remaining money on the floor and gives me the bag. I went back to my office and dumped it on the office managerʼs desk and asked him to take care of it.”

A few months later Howe was invited to meet with the princeʼs wife, at their massive estate in Indian Creek Village in Miami, considered one of the wealthiest municipalities in the United States. As requested, he arrived at their gate at 11 a.m. Thatʼs when he learned yet another international lesson— he was supposed to come at 11 p.m. because that is the time they conduct business. He returned that evening and waited in a lavishly decorated room, watching dozens of bodyguards come and go.

“Almost two hours later, the princess came into the room, beautiful and dressed to the nines,” he says, “She is very intelligent, and everything is very calculated from where she sits to what she says. In her sing-song voice, she asks me, ʻWhat can you do for me?ʼ So I tell her I can do this and I can do that.” It was the start of a close relationship that has taken Howe, his fashion designer wife and their two daughters abroad too many times to count and presented him many memorable experiences.

FROM DIAMONDS TO BODY GUARDS

For instance, there was the time renowned London diamond jeweler Michael Graff alerted the princess that her one-of-a-kind 70-carat diamond was on the cover of a Sothebyʼs catalog, about to go to auction in Geneva. The princess had not even realized it was missing.

“I want my diamond back,” she told Howe. The Miami lawyer conferred with Graff, located certificates of authenticity to contest the ownership, and eventually hired a Swiss attorney to stand up at the auction and announce that the auction of the diamond would be challenged. “The auction was stopped. But unfortunately, the diamond was given back to the mysterious sellers in keeping with Swiss law, and the princess has yet to recover her gemstone,” Howe said.

As just one of the familyʼs many lawyers—who seldom confer with each other—Howe carries out the usual assignments involving real estate, business investments and acquisitions and sales. The unusual requests are just as common: teach the princeʼs young daughter how to deal with international bankers, photograph and catalog a shopping trip of designer clothing worth millions, and on this particular day, find a pain doctor in Japan. In 2005 there was a need to provide security in high risk areas for prominent international families and international businessmen and dignitaries, so he formed the Strategic Tactical Assessment Group.

“It does keep the practice from becoming boring,” he says, smiling.

ONE END OF THE STATE TO THE OTHER

That he has these outlandish experiences is still somewhat of a puzzle for the tall, elegant lawyer, though he was ambitious from the start. Raised at the other end of the state, the Pensacola native comes from a long line of motivated Howes, as evidenced by original certificates on his office wall, in which his great grandfather was named the British vice counsel of the region by Queen Victoria and was accepted by U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877.

After graduating from UF Law, where he served as notes editor and editor-in-chief of the Florida Law Review, he turned down more lucrative offers and opted to work at the second oldest Miami law firm, Mershon Sawyer Johnston Dunwody & Cole.

“Miami was intriguing to me. It was unique and I wanted the excitement of a larger city,” he says. He worked at Mershon in real estate for almost 30 years, heading up the firmʼs real estate department of about 20 attorneys for 15 years.

Albert Quentel (JD 59), an early mentor of Howeʼs at the firm, remembers the young lawyer as a quick study with natural analytical abilities and a calm, steady style of negotiation.

“All of those abilities make him an excellent lawyer, but what makes him a superb lawyer is the confidence and loyalty of his clients,” says Quentel, who left Mershon in 1971 to join Greenberg Traurig as the fifth principal.

“He brings a lot of ingenuity to his law practice. Iʼll never forget when he bought his first house and walked away from the closing with a check, even though he was the buyer,” Quentel says. “Oz had gotten the seller to let him assume the first mortgage and take a purchase money second mortgage. The broker was miffed, ʻIf I had known the seller would take a deal like that, I could have sold this house six months ago.ʼ Ozʼs rejoinder was ʻWell, why didnʼt you?ʼ”

As Miami grew, so did the deal making. For many years, Howe recalls, the largest real estate loan a Florida bank could make was $5 million.

“And then all of a sudden, the loans jumped up there when the big banks entered the market,” he says.

On Christmas Eve, 1974, he was closing a loan in New York when he was told that two Chicago businessmen wanted to build a big condo building in Miami and needed to close a loan in four days. The deal went so fast that the commitment letter wasnʼt signed until after the loan closed.

“The loan was $23.5 million and the Miami Herald and radio stations came to cover it because it was the largest loan ever closed in Florida,” he said. “My fee was $28,000, which was more than I used to bill in a year as a young lawyer.”

REPRESENTING TOP CLIENTS

He represented many of the worldʼs largest financial institutions and prominent real estate developers, and played a role in financing numerous Florida landmarks, including the Wachovia Financial Center (originally the Southeast Financial Center) and most recently the Loews Miami Beach hotel.

After the Mershon firm closed in 1995, Howe eventually joined with Wes Robinson (JD 81) and Nic Watkins to form Howe, Robinson & Watkins. He remains an active member of the prestigious American College of Real Estate Lawyers and has long been listed as a member of the Best Lawyers in America. A trustee of the UF Law Center Association and founder of the collegeʼs prominent Dunwody Lecture, Howe spends a great deal of time serving the community he has helped grow.

One organization that has brought immense satisfaction is the Community Partnership for Homeless, which has been recognized as a national model for dealing with homelessness. Howe has served as general counsel since its inception and was responsible for resolving a complex contract with the county that has not been changed in 14 years.

“At the time we were negotiating that contract, it appeared hopeless. Osmond stepped in and said ʻLet me see what I can do.ʼ He handled everything, protected the organization and got through all that bureaucracy,” says founding Chairman Alvah Chapman, also the former CEO of Knight Ridder and one of South Floridaʼs most influential business and civic leaders over the past four decades.

“Osmond is deeply interested in the homeless and his commitment to service is very real,” Chapman adds. “I have a lot of confidence in him.”In his waterfront office filled with informal photos of family and people like Dick Cheney, John Templeton and the Saudi Royal family, Osmond Howe is still a man looking for the next adventure.

“You donʼt get rich by hanging around the rich. While being on a retainer provides a stable income, you donʼt make money while you sleep, which is what the rich do,” he says. For that reason, he is contemplating joining forces with an affluent Malibu client in a new international joint venture that will require him to live in Asia for a while as a co-owner and general counsel.

“I was never in practice to get rich, and I realize I have paid more attention to enjoying the moment than taking advantage of it,” he reflects. “Iʼve spent years keeping clients profitable and out of legal trouble and itʼs been exciting. My client wants me to get into this business, but now I have to decide what is right for me.”

“The very rich have very few people they feel comfortable with and who they trust,” Howe says. “Sure, there may be better lawyers, but for some reason they want me.”