Steve Sonberg, a partner in Holland & Knight’s Miami office and chair of the firm’s business law section for the past five years, will be elected managing partner later this month, replacing controversial incumbent Howell Melton after just one term.
Melton faced severe criticism three years ago over his handling of a sexual harassment matter that rocked the firm. The row centred on the promotion of a tax partner to chief operating partner only months after Melton had reprimanded the lawyer for violating the firm’s sexual harassment policy.
The partner later stepped down, but Melton’s handling of the matter was enough to cause a colleague, Chicago partner Charles Knight, to email Melton and accuse him of “horrible judgement, insensitivity, arrogance and incompetence”. Knight went on to urge Melton to resign for the sake of the firm and its clients.
Last month Melton sent an internal memo to Holland & Knight staff confirming that he would not be standing for re-election and adding that he wanted to avoid “dragging our firm through a potentially divisive election”.
In an email sent to The Lawyer last week, Melton says he is “tremendously proud” to have served Holland & Knight as managing partner, having achieved the major goals for the firm he had set out to accomplish.
These, Melton adds, include “building a sustainable and high-performance institution, enhancing our reputation for superior client service and becoming a talent magnet for diverse, high-quality lawyers and staff”.
He says that, at this point in his professional life, he wants to return to practising law and serving clients while devoting more energy and attention to his family. He adds: “I congratulate Steve Sonberg and extend my full support to him.”
In the same email Sonberg says that, between now and the election in March, he will focus his time on meeting with partners throughout the firm.
“I thank Hal Melton for all he has done over the past five years, and I greatly appreciate his support,” he adds. “I look forward to working with him as we begin our work on the transition process.”
Neither Melton nor Sonberg would offer any further comment on the management changes, with a Holland & Knight PR confirming that Sonberg will not be conducting interviews “or discussing his vision and plans for the firm” until he is officially elected managing partner in mid-March.