Given his success in court, it’s hard to imagine Yechezkel “Chezky” Rodal doing anything else for a career. But the Pittsburgh-born Rodal, who moved to Florida in 2004, actually might have remained a restaurateur if it hadn’t been for the right patron.
“At my restaurant, I had a great customer who was a fantastic lawyer, Matthew Bavaro, who quickly became my mentor, boss and close friend,” Rodal recalls. “Matthew used to regale me with his war stories from court, and we would have great discussions about law. He was perhaps my biggest impetus for going to law school.”
Rodal received his law degree from Florida International University and has since assembled his own collection of war stories, representing plaintiffs in consumer, employment, discrimination, police misconduct and other civil rights litigation. He opened his own firm, Rodal Law, in 2016, and has more exclusively focused on civil rights cases in recent years.
Lawdragon: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?
Chezky Rodal: My late father, of blessed memory, instilled in us a real passion for the underdog, for sticking up for what was right, even if it wasn’t popular. Throughout law school I always thought I would practice civil rights law. As it turned out, I became heavily involved in consumer protection litigation, and was blessed with much success. As I had so much federal court litigation under my belt, a few years ago a friend from law school asked me to help out on a First Amendment retaliatory termination case against a local municipality. On a whim, I agreed and was hooked.
LD: What do you like about your mix of cases?
CR: Despite how far we have come in this great country of ours, there are still so many wrongs being committed against so many people. For me, the ability to right these wrongs is incredibly moving and satisfying. Each case is different and raises complex, interesting and often novel issues of law and fact which keep me on my toes. I really enjoy the legal creativity and strategy needed in addressing these cases; it is truly stimulating and rewarding. For many of my clients, it is the first time someone has really heard them.
I was very blessed for the opportunity to open my own firm in 2016. Since then, I have been attorney of record in more than 500 cases in federal courts throughout the U.S., including California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. I am also finishing the process of becoming a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator.
LD: Can you give a sampling of a few cases that stand out from your career so far?
CR: There are so many cases that come to mind. One interesting case is from a few years ago. I represented a couple that had been the victim of a fraudulent investment scam. Chasing the money around the globe, literally, was very challenging but I learned so much about how to get information from other countries, such as China, to tracking money buried in real estate investments in Israeli settlements not monitored by the Israeli government. Another matter involved a $3 billion lawsuit against Credit Suisse and Deutsche bank for money that dates back to the Holocaust era. I am also currently litigating against Germany for genocide against two African tribes at the turn of the 19th century. That case is currently on appeal before the 2nd Circuit.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of types of cases?
CR: I have been seeing an uptick in police misconduct cases, especially police brutality cases. I have also been seeing more and more victims of discrimination by private companies.
LD: Can you describe some of your recent cases?
CR: I recently filed a case against Spirit Airlines for discriminating against a Jewish family who had the police called on them for no reason and were ultimately banned from flying the airlines for life. A third-party witness approached my clients and told them that he had overheard the flight attendants referring to them as “retarded Jews.”
Another recent filing alleged that Dollar Tree discriminated against Haitian employees with witnesses stating that the district manager had warned that “Haitian managers steal” and “Haitian employees steal,” and pressured the store manager not to hire any more Haitian employees. Another case describes a pattern and practice of the Miami-Dade County Police Department racially profiling and mistreating African Americans. I also currently have a series of cases involving Wells Fargo calling law enforcement on black clients for unfounded reasons.
LD: What are some of the challenges of litigating discrimination cases, as well as some of the rewards?
CD: Proving discrimination is usually difficult as most cases do not involve overt discrimination. Usually, the other side will come up with a reason for their behavior and then the burden falls to me to prove their reason was merely a pretext for discrimination. This tends to open a big can of worms for defendants as I spend quite a bit of time carefully crafting and tailoring discovery. These cases are won and lost in discovery.
I am so humbled and gratified at the difference I am able to make in people’s lives and for the opportunity to help shape the law. The impact on the client is huge. For many, they finally have their story heard. Contrary to what many people may believe, most clients are not pursuing their cases for the money – they just want justice. The impact on the industry can also be huge. In some cases, companies have adopted additional policies and procedures to make sure the discriminatory situation would not be repeated. Other cases have led to law enforcement officers being disciplined and even terminated. The more these wrongs are brought to the public’s attention, the safer we will all be.
As with most litigation, preparation and a strong work ethic is key. These cases involve considerably more pre-litigation work than I am used to and require extra creativity and thinking outside of the box.
LD: Can you describe your path between undergrad and law school?
CR: Law is a second career for me. I was in the food business before going to law school, owning a restaurant in Sunrise, Fla., and working as a restaurant consultant. Aside from also having really long hours, owning my business taught me very valuable lessons, including the delicate nature of personnel decisions, marketing, fiscal responsibility and customer service, to name a few.
LD: Why did you choose Florida International University for your law degree?
CR: If I am being fully honest, Florida International University was much more affordable than almost every other school. Additionally, as a fairly new law school at the time, I was drawn to FIU’s small class sizes and close community between faculty and students. They have a great support system. I was also very interested in their consistent top marks in bar passage rankings.
LD: Was there a course, professor or experience that was particularly memorable or important in what practice you chose?
CR: Professor Thomas Baker taught me constitutional law in my first semester and really kindled my love for the subject. He was a great professor and really provoked us to think about the law and how it is shaped. I feel lucky to be able to practice constitutional law on a regular basis.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?
CR: Take courses that will help you pass the bar. If you want to get into litigation, get a clerkship with a federal judge.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
CR: I am much more thoughtful about how I respond and what I write. I like to think I have been getting my ego in check. I am thinking much farther ahead than I used to. I am also far more empathetic than I used to be.
LD: Can you share a lawyer you have come up against in a negotiation or case that you admire, and why?
CR: I have been up against many very prestigious and impressive attorneys. One person that sticks out is Alan Rosenthal of Carlton Fields. Early in my career, I sat across from him as he destroyed my client in a deposition. Through his preparation, style and manner of asking the questions, he was masterful and had my client saying whatever he wanted her to say. I learned so much from just that one deposition. Daniel L. Cantor of O'Melveny & Myers, Robert J. Liubicic of Milbank LLP and Bruce J. Berman of Carlton Fields also stand out for their professionalism and work product.
LD: How would you describe your style as a litigator?
CR: I like to think of myself as professional, well-prepared, courteous and appropriately aggressive in pursuit of my client’s interests. I try and bring empathy into my practice and try hard not to take things too personally.
LD: What would you say more generally is your philosophy as a professional or business owner?
CR: I would say I am just along for the ride. I have been pursuing my passions while keeping myself open to new opportunities as they present themselves. For example, being a successful restaurateur was a great outlet for meeting many amazing people which led me to pursue a newfound passion. I don’t know what the future holds for me, and I am fine with that. I just keep my head down, work hard and treat others with respect. The rest will all fall into place. I spend considerable effort to make sure my office environment is a friendly and close one, and have always had an open-door policy.
I was blessed to have great mentors throughout my career and have always been ready to repay that debt. I think that is a tremendous opportunity. We have a very close family-like relationship in the office and I really value a good work-life balance. Lastly, there is plenty of room for growth.
LD: What are some of the challenges you face in running your own firm?
CR: Balancing quality litigation and running a law firm. I also find quality staffing to be a challenge for me.
LD: Do you have any strategic plans you can share?
CR: My goal for the past two years has been to double my revenue which I was blessed to be able to accomplish. I have again set that goal and look forward to exceeding it. I have really narrowed my practice areas down to civil rights cases and have closed out almost all of my other cases. These are big cases that require a big investment in time and money, so choosing the right cases is crucial.
LD: How has firm or practice management changed since the start of your career?
CR: I have learned to outsource more tasks that don’t require my personal attention. I have also adopted as much technology as possible; for example, going cloud-based was a big step for me a few years back. Additionally, I have learned to be much more mindful of my onboarding process for new hires and to make sure that they are given proper training and guidance to set them on a path of success.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
CR: With a wife and five children, who are we kidding?
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities? Please tell us what you find meaningful about your time serving them.
CR: I am pro bono counsel for an organization called Chesed Shel Emes working to fight for the rights of the deceased and incapacitated according to Jewish tradition. I also represent numerous synagogues and Jewish organizations across South Florida.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
CR: “My Cousin Vinny” is a classic.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
CR: I would be a venture capitalist.