Neal R. Sonnett
Neal R. Sonnett is the founder and managing partner of his Miami-based law firm, which concentrates on the defense of corporate, white collar and complex criminal cases in Florida and throughout the United States. He earned his B.A. degree in 1967 from the University of Miami and his J.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Law in 1972.
Prior to entering private practice, Neal served as an assistant U. S. Attorney and chief of the Criminal Division for the Southern District of Florida. As chief, he was in charge of all federal criminal prosecutions for a twelve-county area from Key West to Vero Beach, Florida’s most populous region with one of the largest U.S. Attorney’s offices in the United States. He also served in temporary assignments as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida and for the District of Puerto Rico.
Neal has represented a roster of high profile clients as diverse as MetLife, Jack Abramoff, and General Manuel Noriega, as well as major national corporations, banking institutions, prominent business executives, bankers, attorneys, physicians, and federal and state political figures. He has served as lead counsel in regulatory and grand jury investigations, trials, appeals, federal sentencing and post conviction issues in environmental crimes, healthcare, insurance, securities, tax, and mail fraud cases, election law violations, money laundering, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Arms Export Control Act cases, federal asset forfeiture, international extradition, and attorney ethics and disciplinary matters.
Major professional recognition
A nationally respected trial lawyer, Neal has been honored three times by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America and has been profiled by that publication as one of the Nation’s Top Litigators and one of the Nation’s Top White Collar Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Neal has been selected in every edition since 1983 of The Best Lawyers in America. He has been consistently listed in Who’s Who Legal – The International Who’s Who of Business Crime Lawyers, in Chambers and Partners America’s Leading Lawyers for Business (Litigation – Business Crimes) and as a Florida Super Lawyer. He has an AVVO rating of 10.0 (Superb), has earned Martindale-Hubbell’s highest AV rating, and has been listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Attorneys for more than 25 years. He has been named as one of Florida’s Legal Elites by Florida Trend Magazine, one of South Florida’s Top Lawyers by the South Florida Legal Guide and one of the Four Most Respected Lawyers in Dade County by the newspaper Miami Today. He has also been recognized as a top lawyer by numerous other national, state, and regional publications.
Bar and public service activities
While maintaining a successful and active trial practice, Neal has been a leader in the legal profession on local, state and national levels. He is a member of the American Bar Association Board of Governors, a past member of the ABA Nominating Committee, and a former chair of both the ABA Criminal Justice Section and the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. He has been a member of the ABA House of Delegates for almost 25 years.
Neal has become one of the ABA’s leading advocates and spokespersons on post-9/11 civil, constitutional and human rights issues. He served as chair of the ABA Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants, the ABA Task Force on Domestic Surveillance in the Fight against Terrorism and the ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine. In addition, he has served as the ABA’s observer for the Military Commission trials in Guantanamo, and has written and spoken extensively on terrorism issues. The ABA Journal E-Report described him as the ABA’s go to person to help the bar navigate weighty legal policies involving war powers, executive authority and civil rights.
Neal is also a past chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs and a member of the ABA Task Force on the Attorney-Client Privilege and of the Task Force on Gatekeeper Regulation and the Profession. He previously served as chair of the ABA Committee on Criminal Justice Improvements and was a member of the Justice Kennedy Commission, the ABA Coalition for Justice, and the ABA High Profile Trial Resource Team.
Neal has served as president of the American Judicature Society, a national organization of judges, lawyers and other citizens who work to maintain the independence and integrity of the courts and increase public understanding of the justice system. He now chairs the AJS Task Force on Independence of the Judiciary. He is a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Foundation for Criminal Justice, the Florida Bar Foundation, the Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, the Metropolitan Bar Caucus, the Dade County Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, South Florida Chapter and the Spellman-Hoeveler American Inn of Court in Miami.
Neal has written and lectured extensively throughout the United States on trial practice and substantive legal subjects. He has testified many times before congressional committees on issues that affect the adversary system of criminal justice and constitutional rights, and he has been interviewed or appeared as an expert commentator on many of the broadcast and cable network news and talk programs. He has served on the Advisory Boards of The National Law Journal, Money Laundering Alert, and Asset Forfeiture Watch, and he has been a member of the ALI-ABA Advisory Panel on Criminal Law.
Neal has been an adjunct professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law, where he serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for Ethics and Public Service. He was president of the University of Miami Law Alumni Association, was vice-president of the UM General Alumni Association, and is a member of the University of Miami Society of Founders.
Active in civic and charity work, Neal has served as vice-chair of the Florida Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League, chair of the Board of Governors of The Bankers Club of Miami, vice-president of The Friends of Gusman Performing Arts Center, and chair of the Board of Trustees of Transition, Inc., a non-profit charitable agency dedicated to the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.
Neal served for three years, by appointment of the Miami-Dade County Commission, as chair of the county’s Independent Review Panel, a civilian watchdog panel created by law to investigate serious complaints against county agencies and employees, including the police. He was also appointed by the Governor and Cabinet of Florida to serve as a member of the Florida Task Force on Drug Abuse and Dropout Prevention.
Major honors and awards
Neal has been widely recognized for his service to his profession, the criminal justice system and his community. Among his many awards are the following:
- South Florida Legal Legend (2009), by the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society
- John H. Pickering Award of Achievement (2008), presented annually by the ABA Senior Lawyers Division to a lawyer or judge who has demonstrated throughout his or her career outstanding legal ability, has compiled a distinguished record of dedicated service to the profession and the community at large, and has made significant contributions to the furtherance of access to justice for all
- Alumnus of Distinction (2007), the highest award from the University of Miami Law Alumni Association.
- William R. Butler Community Service Award (2007), from University of Miami Alumni Association for extraordinary community service contributions
- Outstanding Service Award (2007), presented annually by the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation to an individual who has, in his or her professional career, adhered for more than thirty years to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession and to the service of the public
- Selig Goldin Memorial Award (2006), the highest award from The Florida Bar Criminal Law Section
- Stanley Milledge Award (2005), lifetime achievement award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Miami
- Daniel S. Pearson-Harry W. Prebish Founders Award (2005), from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – Miami Chapter, for lifetime commitment to preserve the constitutional rights of all citizens
- Charles R. English Award (2001), the highest award of the ABA Criminal Justice Section, presented annually to honor lawyers who exemplify the highest standards of professional ethics and service to the criminal justice system
- Wm. Reece Smith Award for Public Service (1997), presented annually by Stetson University College of Law to honor individuals who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to public service activities
- ADL Jurisprudence Award (1993), presented by the Anti-Defamation League, Florida Region, for distinguished service and inspiring leadership in preserving liberty, counteracting bigotry and advancing the cause of human rights
- Florida Bar Foundation Medal of Honor (1989), the highest award to a lawyer by the legal profession in Florida, in recognition of dedicated service in improving the administration of the criminal justice system and in protecting individual rights pre¬cious to our American constitutional form of government
- Robert Heeney Memorial Award (1989), the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ highest award for service