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(This story, in slightly different form, originally appeared in Incisive Media’s Daily Business Review.)

MIAMI-In another chapter of a long-running fight over a failed land deal, attorney Abbey Kaplan is about to hit the road in search of more than $16 million awarded a client over lost profits.

Kaplan represented Downtown Associates in its suit against New Jersey investor Eli Weinstein and his related companies. And while Downtown won the suit, getting paid is the next step in a five-year journey that now is likely to take Kaplan to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“My suspicion is that his assets are located in the Northeast, primarily in New Jersey,” says Kaplan, a partner in Kluger Kaplan Silverman Katzen & Levine in Miami. As some investors, sellers and lenders head to court in the aftermath of the implosion of the commercial real estate market, more lawyers could be joining the hunt for money over soured deals.

Downtown Associates’ suit against Weinstein reflects what is happening in the today’s marketplace, says attorney Michael Joblove, a partner with Genovese Joblove & Battista in Miami. “That’s certainly one of the signs of our times: a real estate deal gone bad,” Joblove says.

Joblove, who was not involved in the Downtown-Weinstein case, has seen a surge in business from real estate-related lawsuits. He and Kaplan predict more attorneys will be heading out of Florida in pursuit of assets of out-of-state investors who flocked to South Florida during the boom years.

The judgment stems from a lawsuit that began in 2004 when Downtown Associates, led by Miami real estate broker Rodrigo Niño, signed a contract to buy a two-acre parking lot in Downtown Miami for $22.25 million. The sellers of the property at 16 SE Second St. were David Stone and the late Guillermo Sostchin.

In August 2005, Niño’s company agreed to sell the purchase contract on the parking lot for $46.5 million to Weinstein’s Nexus Development Group. Closing was set for October, according to court documents. But Weinstein had trouble coming up with $560,000 for the deposit and delayed the closing three times.

Downtown Associates terminated the contract in January 2006, and soon after, Weinstein sued to force the deal to move forward. The suit was dismissed in early 2008 and Downtown Associates then sued Weinstein to recover the profit it said it lost because of the deal’s many delays.

“The market was so hot crazy that we could have earned at least a reasonable $11 million profit,” says Kaplan, referring to the days when property values were continually on the rise because of speculators. “But they prevented us from doing that. There was a window of opportunity where we could have sold the property to somebody else, and we didn’t do that because we believed they were going to move forward with the contract.”

Niño got the site rezoned to allow a mixed-use project designed by noted Miami architect Chad Oppenheim to include twin 50-story towers with 692 condos, 160 hotel rooms, 120,000 square feet of retail space and 80,000 square feet of offices. Despite the work, Niño’s company never acquired the land. Stone and Sostchin ended up selling to another investor for about $22 million in 2007, according to Miami-Dade property records.

On May 1 of this year, Circuit Court Judge Mark King Leban ordered Weinstein and his companies, Nexus and Pine Projects, to pay Downtown Associates $16.2 million including lost profit, interest and professional fees, according to court documents.

Niño did not return several phone calls for comment. Weinstein could not be reached for comment.

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