MEET THE HUSBAND-AND-WIFE POWER DUO BEHIND ONE OF THE ISLAND’S MOST PROMINENT PERSONAL INJURY AND MATRIMONIAL LAW GROUPS, AND WHY IT WAS IMPERATIVE TO KEEP THEIR FIRM AND THEIR FAMILY LOCAL
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
Personal injury attorney Michael Kuharski and his team of seasoned litigators at KLG Law Group are preparing for what the partner termed the “trial of the century,” a multi-plaintiff lawsuit against NYC for illegal dumping at Fresh Kills. He is serving as lead counsel on the case, one that spans more than two decades.
But the Staten Island-born attorney has tried cases like this before. After co-launching his firm in NYC’s Union Square in 2001, he secured his first major win a verdict of $11 million only two weeks later, and in 2003, KLG was one of the few firms to secure a verdict in the devastating Staten Island Ferry crash that left 11 dead. His wife and partner, Lisa Giovinazzo, a fellow attorney and successful broadcast journalist who fronted a Bloomberg morning show for several years, managed the firm’s interests until coming onboard full time in 2007, launching KLG’s matrimonial practice in 2008. “We do complex hidden assets cases, most dealing in million-dollar matrimonial estates,” explained Giovinazzo of the rapidly growing divorce practice.
Today, the seven-lawyer operation handles over 400 cases at a time in all types of injury, from medical malpractice and mass tort to products liability and negligence, plus mediation and matrimonial law. “The firm has grown extraordinarily since the beginning,” noted Kuharski. “Professionally, we’re at the height of our game, getting bigger and more high-profile matters because of the reputation we’ve amassed over the years. We’re a busy firm, and everyone works well together.”
Both Staten Island natives, Kuharski and Giovinazzo met as summer interns in the District Attorney’s office while pursuing their legal careers. “I asked Lisa to marry me ten months later!” added Kuharski. After law school, Kuharski worked as an assistant district attorney while Giovinazzo pursued her law degree. Kuharski left to pursue civil defense before switching over to the plaintiff’s side where he was recruited by one of the most high profile personal injury firms in Manhattan.
For the hungry attorney, this field was personal, as he suffered his own personal injury as a young adult, but at the time he wasn’t armed with the tools to fight back. After law school, he found his calling in the courtroom, nabbing significant verdicts and becoming a partner at a major NYC firm before branching out to start his own.
For Giovinazzo, a career in law seemed the likely course, even at an early age, but she was always intrigued with broadcast journalism. During her second year of law school, she enrolled in night classes to pursue a master’s in journalism at NYU, driving daily from Long Island to Manhattan to procure both degrees concurrently. While building a successful television career she worked for prominent networks like NBC affiliates, PBS, Bloomberg, and Ny1News she continued to perform mediation on the side while volunteering with various Staten Island organizations whenever possible. The couple had their first child while Giovinazzo was with Bloomberg, and when they became pregnant with their second, they decided to plant larger roots in their home borough. In 2009, KLG relocated to Staten Island, granting Kuharski and Giovinazzo the opportunity to become more involved with the community and their sons’ lives. Here, Kuharski could secure a major win on a Friday, then coach both his sons’ flag football teams that weekend.
“Our priorities shifted; we wanted to continue our professional careers but we needed to be closer to home,” Giovinazzo explained, who has served on the boards of the Staten Island Children’s Museum, Richmond County Savings Bank, and the YMCA. She is the recipient of various congressional and city council commendations for her service to the community and was even awarded Wagner’s DaVinci Society Award. Kuharski was on the board of directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association for a decade and currently sits on the board of the Staten Island Trial Lawyers Association (where he is set to become president in 2023; Giovinazzo previously served as the association’s president in 2018-19), and both he and Giovinazzo were founding members of Casa Belvedere and serve as guardians ad litem. “Living, working, and playing on the Island allows us to make the most of our time for our clients, for our sons, and for each other,” said Giovinazzo.
The move certainly didn’t hinder the firm’s swelling momentum, and today KLG is regularly retained by major national mass tort firms to represent their interests locally. This is an area the partners plan to continue to expand in the future.
When asked the most salient piece of advice for aspiring attorneys, the couple agreed: preparation. “You have to read everything,” said Giovinazzo. “And listen to your clients. Clients appreciate the fact that we treat them as individuals and not as a case.”
Kuharski added: “It’s all about total preparation. I basically don’t sleep from the time I start jury selection to the finish line. [laughs] And neither does Lisa; we collaborate on our cases from beginning to end at all hours of night and day. When I mentor people on how to try cases, I always tell them, ‘When you’re walking into the courtroom for your first trial, don’t forget your helmet!’ It’s the school of hard knocks. You’ll never get good at this business unless you’ve been in the trenches. You get beat up, and you figure out how to get out of it.”
And after each major trial, the couple always takes a short leave of absence sailing, traveling, and spending time together or with their children. “Trial work is one of the single most draining things you can do,” said Kuharski. “After a verdict, we always take time for ourselves to just decompress.”
Kuharski, Levitz & Giovinazzo
176 Hart Boulevard / 718.448.1600 / klawnyc.com