Beltz ad bashes lawyer hot lines, but he’s in one

Tampa Tribune

Published: August 03, 2010

The commercial seems like a dig at a rival in personal injury law, the widely advertised "1-800-ASK-GARY" hot line.

But a few local lawyers raise an eyebrow for reasons you might not suspect whenever Larry Beltz, half the legal team of Beltz & Ruth, appears on TV advising accident victims against turning to some "non-lawyer 800 Ask-Tom-Dick-or-Harry" hot line.

It turns out the list of law firms in the 1-800-ASK-GARY referral network includes Beltz & Ruth.

It’s not clear how many client referrals Beltz & Ruth gets from 1-800-ASK-GARY’s call center workers. But some local lawyers see inconsistency in the Beltz & Ruth commercial.

"It implies that they don’t work with an 800-number referral service, even if they don’t explicitly state that," said Charles Scott, a personal injury lawyer in St. Petersburg.

Scott submitted an article about legal advertising to the St. Petersburg Bar Association and mentioned the Beltz & Ruth commercial. It’s not clear if the article will run, he said.

Neither Beltz nor partner Steven Ruth returned repeated calls to the firm’s St. Petersburg office.

1-800-ASK-GARY is a referral line affiliated with Physicians Group LLC, a chain of accident clinics operated by Sarasota chiropractor Gary Kompothecras. Physicians Group operates at least 46 clinics in Florida, and with an affiliate has expanded to Minnesota and Kentucky. Both states have auto insurance systems similar to Florida’s.

The hot line refers callers to 42 law firms, some or all of which refer their legal clients to Physicians Group’s clinics for treatment.

Aside from Beltz & Ruth, the referral network also includes big advertisers Morgan & Morgan, Winters & Yonker and Catania & Catania, according to a list the Ask Gary hot line provided the Florida Bar.

Kompothecras has picked up many associates in the legal and political worlds, such as Gov. Charlie Crist, for whom he’s hosted campaign fundraising events.

He has also picked up his share of foes, including personal injury lawyers who complain that 1-800-ASK-GARY’s hot line and its referral network command too big a share of the personal injury market.

Beltz & Ruth appears to be taking a jab at the hot line in its commercial. Accident victims may have important questions after a crash, such as how to get their medical bills or lost wages paid, Beltz says in the TV spot.

"Why would you want to call some non-lawyer 800 Ask-Tom-Dick-or-Harry and speak with some clerk in a call center?" he says.

Instead, people should speak with an actual lawyer at Beltz & Ruth, he suggests.

Beltz doesn’t mention any hot line by name.

However, Scott said he believes the biggest one, Ask Gary, is the target. In his article for the St. Petersburg Bar, Scott says the ad is misleading. He takes issue with the way heavy-advertising personal injury firms don’t disclose their relationships with the hot line.

How can an accident victim make an informed choice about a lawyer or health-care provider if he doesn’t understand the two companies have a relationship, Scott asks.

Whatever Beltz implies about them, Physicians Group and its Ask Gary hot line have nothing but praise for their referral network partner.

"Beltz and Ruth law firm is an excellent law firm and is one of the many high-quality firms that are on the Ask Gary Florida Bar Association Approved Attorney Referral Service," a spokesman for the hot line said in a prepared statement.

Here is the list of attorneys in the 1-800-ASK-GARY network, as supplied to the Florida Bar:

Adams & Diaco

Burt Alvarez

Steve Bailey

Baker Law Firm

Beltz & Ruth

Berke & Lubell

Brooks Law Group

Brush & Pujol

Burnetti Law Firm

Terry Byrd

Catania & Catania

Colon & McNelis

Czaia & Gallagher

Farah & Farah

David Farash

Farrow & Pulice

Gibbs & Parnell

Holliday, Bromhoff & Karatinos

Jodat Law Group

Jose Estrada

Howard Merricks

Chris Ligori

Keith Ligori

George Lorenzo

Jeffrey Lipps

Luhrsen Law Group

Leonard McCue

Oscar Lopez

Morgan & Morgan

Miller, Skinner & Jolly

Scott Nooney

Stephen Bailey

Pitisci, Dowell & Mark

Prugh and Assoc

Radloff & Radloff

Danny Riveiro

Schiller, Kessler & Gomez

Shapiro, Golman

Eric Taylor

Frank Verdi

Winters & Yonker

Dan Zohar

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