willie_e._gary_2.jpgBy ELGIN JONES

PORT ST. LUCIE — One of the nation’s most storied and successful law firms is facing lawsuits from creditors and an exodus of some of its longtime attorneys.

General Electric Capital has sued famed attorney Willie E. Gary and the law firm he founded more than 37 years ago, alleging default on a loan that financed the firm’s custom-outfitted Boeing 737 jet.

Another creditor, California-based LawFinance Group, also has a pending lawsuit that accuses the firm of failing to make payments on millions of dollars in loans and lines of credit.

Neither General Electric Capital nor LawFinance Group responded to questions about their federal lawsuits but Gary acknowledged the complaints and said the cases are a result of “misunderstandings.”

“They should all be resolved next week,” Gary told the South Florida Times on Tuesday. “They financed our costs over the years and there were disagreements over terms and disagreements on amounts paid, which sometimes happen.”

The firm has two airplanes — a Gulfstream II private jet named “The Wings of Justice” and a 32-passenger, custom-designed Boeing 737 jetliner called the “Wings of Justice II.”

The Boeing is lavishly outfitted with $11 million in interior upgrades, including bedrooms, full-service kitchen, an 18-karat gold sink and a $1.2 million sound system. The Boeing was financed through General Electric Capital, which is seeking $3.9 million in a federal lawsuit filed in 2011 alleging Gary and his firm defaulted on the loan in 2009.

The LawFinance Group, a California company that specializes in funding of law firms and litigation, is seeking payment on a $10 million high-interest loan made to the firm, claiming Gary and one of the firm’s partners were the guarantors.

Gary’s law firm, which came to be known as Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando P.L., started out in a Stuart storefront. It was founded by Gary when he was its lone attorney. Gary grew up in poverty as a migrant farm worker and went on to become one of the nation’s top lawyers.

His firm once had more than 100 attorneys, paralegals and support staff and became known for its flamboyance, charitable work, Rolls Royces and corporate jets. But the firm is mostly recognized for resolving more than 150 lawsuits with settlements and jury awards of at least $1 million, including one for $500 million.

According to records on file with the Florida Division of Corporations, the firm changed its name to Gary, William, Lewis, & Watson P.L. earlier this year to reflect the departure of several partners, including  Maria Sperando and Linnes Finney.

Gary continues to epresent clients in high-stakes cases, including a $1 billion lawsuit filed recently against the National Football League over head injuries to current and former players.

“None. Nothing at all,” Gary said, when asked what impact the lawsuits are having on pending cases. “It will be over with next week.”

Any resolution of the lawsuits would be confidential, he said, but added he is keeping his airplanes.

*Pictured above is attorney Willie E. Gary