TWENTY-ONE LAWYERS WILL RECEIVE FLORIDA BAR PRO BONO AWARDS IN SUPREME COURT CEREMONY ON JAN. 26
The Florida Bar will recognize 21 lawyers for their work on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged clients at a Jan. 26 ceremony at the Supreme Court of Florida.
Established in 1981, The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards are intended to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor by recognizing those who make public service commitments and to raise public awareness of the substantial volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers to those who cannot afford legal fees. Florida Bar President Gary S. Lesser will present the 2023 awards.
The awards recognize pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. They are presented annually in conjunction with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service and other service awards, which are given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
In the most recent reporting period from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, Florida lawyers provided more than 1.5 million hours of pro bono services to those in need $6.8 million to legal aid organizations.
Here are the 2022 circuit honorees. Click on the image for a larger version an honoree’s photo, where available.
Jennifer Gutai Comella, 1st Judicial Circuit
(Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties)
Jennifer Gutai Comella has dedicated countless hours to Guardian ad Litem (GAL), which represents abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the dependency system. As part of Guardian ad Litem’s multidisciplinary team, Comella has gone above and beyond to advocate for Florida’s most vulnerable children, striving to help them have better outcomes and a safe, permanent home. She is also a longtime mentor with Florida Association of Women Lawyers in Love with GAL, the Guardian ad Litem office’s mentoring initiative. As a FAWL in Love with GAL mentor, Comella has dedicated roughly 40 hours to mentoring since the project launched in 2019. Comella is an associate attorney in the Destin office of Hand Arendall Harrison Sale. She currently serves as treasurer for the statewide Florida Association for Women Lawyers and has held a variety of leadership positions, including serving as president of the Okaloosa Chapter.
Kevin A. Forsthoefel, 2nd Judicial Circuit
(Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties)
Kevin A. Forsthoefel is an attorney and shareholder at Ausley McMullen, the law firm recipient of the 2022 Chief Justice’s Law Firm Commendation Award, where he is an exemplar of the values his firm champions. Forsthoefel has given over 50 hours of pro bono service to Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF) over the last year, while also helping LSNF recruit other attorneys, ensuring that hundreds of hours are the result of his work. Forsthoefel has regularly volunteered with both the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) of the Tallahassee Bar and LSNF assisting with bankruptcy and contract cases and the Legal Services Helpline. As a member of the Northern District of Florida Bankruptcy Bar Association’s Pause for Legal Assistance Now program, Forsthoefel helps indigent clients with bankruptcy filings. Forsthoefel served on the LAF Board of Directors from 2016 through 2021 and served as president in 2019.
Guy W. Norris, 3rd Judicial Circuit
(Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties)
Guy W. Norris has been a pro bono volunteer with Three Rivers Legal Services (TRLS) since 1994 and is a strong advocate for the poor, less advantaged, and disenfranchised. He has provided direct legal services to TRLS clients with probate, estate planning, and guardianship matters. Norris proactively seeks pro bono cases, having worked on more than 20 cases with TRLS over the years. He has been a member of the Third Circuit Bar Association since 1993, where he is also a past president and served for six years on the Third Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. Norris is the managing shareholder of Norris & Norris, P.A., in Lake City and currently serves as a commissioner of the Florida Commission on Ethics in addition to his participation in several Florida Bar sections.
Melina Buncome, 4th Judicial Circuit
(Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)
Melina Buncome has a decades-long and unwavering commitment to pro bono service in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. Buncome is an assistant public defender and director of Problem-Solving Courts in the Public Defender’s Office of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, where she has worked for over 25 years. In addition to her work with the Public Defender’s office, Buncome participates in programs that serve low-income individuals through the Sulzbacher Center and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Through these programs, she has handled various pro bono cases helping clients with family law, landlord tenant, and civil matters. Buncome’s contributions include almost a decade of regular participation in the Sulzbacher Center’s monthly program in which attorneys from the Public Defender’s office provide legal advice to individuals at the center and participation in the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s quarterly “Ask a Lawyer” event since 2011.
Melissa K. Hancock, 5th Judicial Circuit
(Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties)
As one of only two attorneys in Ocala with board certification in Marital and Family Law, Melissa K. Hancock provides much-needed legal assistance to Community Legal Services (CLS) as a family law attorney pro bono volunteer. Since 2017, she has donated more than 100 hours of legal assistance to over 30 clients and has helped CLS recruit other pro bono attorneys as a part of the “ONE” campaign. Hancock’s insight and participation were instrumental in the development of CLS’s First Friday Forms Review Clinic. Hancock has also participated in legal advice clinics held in conjunction with Free D.O.M. Clinic USA, a mobile clinic that provides free dental, optical and medical care for uninsured and under-insured Marion County residents. Since 2007, Hancock has taught Laws of Family Relations as an adjunct professor in the College of Central Florida’s paralegal program. She was the recipient of the 2022 Richard D. Custureri Pro Bono Service Award, presented to a Marion County attorney for outstanding service and commitment to pro bono.
Charis A. Campbell, 6th Judicial Circuit
(Pasco and Pinellas counties)
From the earliest days of her legal career, when she worked as attorney for a nonprofit legal aid organization, Charis A. Campbell has dedicated herself to serving indigent clients and providing pro bono legal service. Later, as a founder and managing partner of Legally Modern Law Group, she balanced her private practice workload with service as a volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program. Now, as the founder and managing partner of Golden Key Law Group, PLLC, she remains committed to pro bono service. As a volunteer lawyer for Bay Area Legal Services, Campbell provides direct legal services to family law clients dealing with domestication of foreign judgments, divorce involving parties with a large financial disparity and, in one case, a domestic violence survivor who was dealing with service of process issues. In addition to full representation, Campbell also attends legal fairs where she advises the most vulnerable residents in the 6th Judicial Circuit about their legal rights.
Paul A. Martin, 7th Judicial Circuit
(St. Johns, Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties)
Since October 2019, Paul A. Martin has been a dedicated and invaluable member of the Community Legal Services (CLS) team. At the height of the pandemic, Martin donated over 150 hours of pro bono assistance and prepared over 70 estate planning documents for some of CLS’s most vulnerable clients. He has been instrumental in helping CLS and Flagler County Bar establish a family and housing law after-hours legal advice clinic and recruiting attorneys to staff it. Martin’s impressive service record begins with over 25 years of service in the United States Army after which he, along with a fellow veteran and classmate, founded the Cooley Veterans Corps and started the Veterans Legal Assistance program, providing free legal counseling to veterans in cooperation with community attorneys. Martin’s countless contributions to CLS and its clients earned him recognition as CLS’ 2020 Flagler County Pro Bono Attorney of the year.
Jan Bendik, 8th Judicial Circuit
(Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties)
Jan Bendik has served 12 years on the board for the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association (EJCBA) where he has been instrumental in establishing The Florida Bar Eighth Circuit Pro Bono Committee, which was formalized by administrative order in October of 2015. Under Bendik’s leadership, the EJCBA pro Bono Committee spearheads driver’s license clinics, among other initiatives, of which Bendik is an active participant. Bendik is also a faithful participant in EJCBA’s Ask-a-Lawyer program, which sends volunteer lawyers to locations around the circuit at least one weekend a month to provide onsite legal advice to needy clients. He serves as a trustee for the John A.H. Murphree Law Library, which houses a rapidly growing and innovative self-help center for pro se litigants.
Paul T. Zeniewicz, 9th Judicial Circuit
(Orange and Osceola counties)
For over a decade, Paul T. Zeniewicz has served as a paragon of professionalism and pro bono service in Orange County and throughout the state. Since 2011, Zeniewicz has amassed over 610 hours of pro bono service and a list of achievements that, even in their brief form, spans multiple pages. Zeniewicz’s reputation as a trailblazing attorney who passionately represents his clients has earned him numerous accolades including being recognized as a Super Lawyer—Rising Star, an honor awarded to fewer than 2.5 percent of Florida attorneys. This reputation has also made him a stand-out volunteer among the more than 3,000 volunteer attorneys working with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association (LAS). From his first case to his most recent ones, Zeniewicz has represented clients in some of the toughest cases LAS has, always with the same fervor and dedication for which he is known in the legal community.
Kristie Hatcher-Bolin, 10th Judicial Circuit
(Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties)
Kristie Hatcher-Bolin, a shareholder in the Lakeland office of GrayRobinson, P.A., has been a dedicated advocate for Florida’s youth through her decades-long commitment to the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program. Since 1997, Hatcher-Bolin has donated time each month to serve as a Guardian ad Litem in the 10th Judicial Circuit. More recently, she has been invaluable as a member of the Defending Best Interests Project (DBI), a Statewide GAL initiative that recruits pro bono attorneys to write answer briefs in appeals cases where a judge has terminated parental rights. In just three years, Hatcher-Bolin, a board-certified appellate attorney, has donated over 374 hours of her time to brief 13 cases. Her appellate expertise in those cases helped further the permanency needs of more than 20 dependent children. In addition to her work with the GAL program, she has served the legal profession as a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee for the Second District Court of Appeal and as a volunteer for the YMCA’s Youth in Government program.
Ronald L. Book, 11th Judicial Circuit
Over the past 35 years, Ronald L. Book has orchestrated widespread change through his work with Florida’s poor and underserved populations, having provided significant pro bono contributions to combatting child abuse and homelessness. As chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, Book has helped the trust develop a community plan to end homelessness that has significantly contributed to a decline in the area’s homelessness and has been hailed as a national best practice model. Book also serves as chairman and pro bono general counsel for Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit he founded with his daughter, Sen. Lauren Book. In this role, Book devotes countless pro bono hours to ensuring children’s protection. A tireless advocate, Book has contributed thousands of hours of pro bono service and leadership to many philanthropic and charitable groups and boards over decades including serving as pro bono counsel to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence since 2001. Along with his daughter, Book has advocated for the passage of over 20 legislative changes to help end childhood abuse.
Susan A. Byron, 12th Judicial Circuit
(DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)
Since 2018, Susan A. Byron has volunteered with Legal Aid of Manasota, having established herself as a vital member of the team and an invaluable resource for those they serve. Over the past four years, Byron has assisted more than 230 clients and donated over 600 pro bono hours. Byron’s background in insurance defense and coverage litigation has enabled her to help Legal Aid of Manasota’s clients with insurance legal matters, but it is her dedication to expanding her own knowledge of other areas of law – such as landlord/tenant disputes, evictions, debt collection, guardianship, custody of minors through Chapter 751 proceedings, and other general civil matters – that have made her such an asset to the community she serves. Byron serves pro bono clients by handling intake for Legal Aid of Manasota, where she advises potential clients and represents pro bono clients in court. In addition to her pro bono service, Byron maintains her own practice, which she opened in 2017.
Harley Herman, 13th Judicial Circuit
Harley Herman’s pro bono work started 44 years ago when he was a law student volunteering at the University of Florida’s Civil Legal Clinic. By graduation, Herman had provided services to over 30 clients, setting the tone for an exemplary pro bono service career that includes years of work both at legal aid organizations and serving clients pro bono independently. Among the highlights of Herman’s service is his commitment to mentoring young lawyers, serving as a panel member of The Florida Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers program since 1990, and his tireless efforts made on behalf of attorney Virgil Hawkins. Herman has also worked with Volunteer Lawyers Program of Bay Area Legal Services (VLP) since 2008, where he has donated nearly 1,000 hours, 500 of which he donated in 2021 and 2022 alone. He has assisted a total of 17 clients for VLP and is currently working four open cases either as primary counsel or mentor. Herman was also the driving force behind the VLP’s award-winning Frontline Heroes Pro Bono Project.
Clark T. Rogers Jr., 14th Judicial Circuit
(Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties)
Clark T. Rogers’ commitment to pro bono service can be traced back to his time at Wake Forest University Worrell School of Law, where he participated in the school’s Small Business and Innocence and Justice clinics, and volunteered at an immigration clinic helping Haitian immigrants apply for Temporary Protection Status after the 2010 earthquake. Rogers brought this spirit of service with him through his yearslong service with Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF), where he has taken over 20 pro bono cases. Since 2011, Rogers has practiced at Burke Blue in several different areas of law, allowing him to assist LSNF with numerous crucial issues and making him an invaluable part of the LSNF team. Over the past year, he has taken family law cases through the 14th Circuit Pro Bono Committee and his work to help the indigent and at-risk clients of LSNF has greatly improved their lives.
Steven D. Rubin, 15th Judicial Circuit
(Palm Beach County)
Steven D. Rubin, in his 40-plus year legal career, has taken on many notable pro bono cases, most of which have been through the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society where he has donated hundreds of hours over the years. Through the Legal Aid Society, he has fully represented numerous clients, including those with very complex cases spanning years. Rubin is a Florida Bar Foundation Fellow and former chair of The Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education (BLSE). These roles enabled Rubin to create, in partnership with the Florida Bar Foundation, the Certified Lawyers on Call Service (CLOC), which assigns volunteer Florida Bar Board Certified Specialists to legal aid organization staff attorneys throughout Florida who request expert legal advice to assist their clients. Since its inception in 2018, Rubin has served CLOC as a coordinator and volunteer specialist. Rubin serves the legal profession through his work on various Florida Bar committees and was honored by the Legal Aid Society with the “And Justice for All” award.
David L. Manz, 16th Judicial Circuit
David L. Manz has spent the past 20-plus years working with the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) office in the 16th Judicial Circuit, aiding them in their mission to represent abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the dependency system. As part of the GAL’s multidisciplinary team, he has gone above and beyond to assist Florida’s most vulnerable children, striving to help them have better outcomes and a safe, permanent home. In the past year, Manz has taken almost all the guardian ad litem appointments for children in criminal cases in the 16th circuit, including those for 15 dependent children who are also involved with the GAL office, devoting hundreds of hours of his time. He takes some of the most egregious cases, which often involve children who have been victims of or witnesses to homicides. He is the partner and owner of The Manz Law Firm in Marathon.
Douglas J. Glaid, 17th Judicial Circuit
After retiring in 2017 from 26 years of service as a senior assistant attorney general in the Florida Attorney General’s office, Douglas J. Glaid began his yearslong commitment to serve Florida’s most vulnerable children. Glaid began work with the Defending Best Interests Project (DBI) in 2018. DBI is an initiative of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem office (GAL) that partners with The Florida Bar’s Appellate Practice Section to find and recruit pro bono attorneys to write answer briefs in appeals of cases where a judge has determined that a termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. Since then, Glaid has donated over 931 hours of his time to brief 28 cases for the DBI Project. The 42 children he has represented have enjoyed a strong advocate, who has worked diligently to help them reach permanency. His dedication to pro bono service has positively impacted the lives of many Florida children.
J. Randall Moore, 18th Judicial Circuit
(Brevard and Seminole counties)
Since 2017, J. Randall Moore has been a member of the 18th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) office’s multidisciplinary team where he is a fierce defender for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. Moore has been appointed to 12 cases, adding up to nearly 800 hours and more than 11,000 miles donated advocating for vulnerable children. Moore was also instrumental in creating Brevard County Juvenile Court as well as the nonprofit Friends of Juvenile Drug Court. Until his retirement in 2021, Moore juggled this pro bono work with a demanding career as a trial attorney in the Brevard County Public Defender’s Office. In this role, he served the public for 34 years, representing clients charged with capital homicide as well as clients in Veterans’ Treatment Court and Mental Health courts. Moore was a Board-Certified Criminal Trial Attorney from 1995 to 2021.
Lisa M. Kahle, 19th Judicial Circuit
(Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties)
Lisa M. Kahle’s service career, beginning with her work with human rights organizations in Central America, led her to her legal career and community collaborations she has used to fight injustice over several decades. Her most recent contributions during the pandemic have bettered the lives of countless Indian River residents facing unprecedented challenges. Kahle used her legal expertise and contacts to establish the Indian River County Housing Emergency Advocacy and Response Team (IRC-HEART). IRC-HEART is an innovative collaboration between Johns Island Community Service League, Florida Rural Legal Services, Indian River County Bar Association, and the Indian River County government formed to support individuals facing COVID-related housing challenges. Following this success, she partnered again with community contacts to help fund the Eviction Mediation Program (EMP), designed to address the gap in outreach to both landlords and tenants in crisis who had few viable alternatives to eviction. From July 2021 to December 2021, EMP successfully mediated 79 disputes and Kahle herself dedicated at least 360 hours to these programs.
Melissa Grege Schiffman, 20th Judicial Circuit
(Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties)
Melissa Grege Schiffman’s lifelong commitment to children has benefitted countless vulnerable children in the 20th Circuit and beyond. Since 2019, Schiffman has dedicated herself to the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) office in the 20th Circuit, where she spends hours each month preparing and collaborating with the multidisciplinary team to represent children’s best interests in dependency proceedings as the pro bono GAL attorney. To date, Schiffman has served on six pro bono cases, totaling more than 375 hours. She also sits on the Guardian ad Litem Foundation Board. Schiffman serves as chair of the foundation’s annual gala and volunteers at events that raise money for and provide direct services to children. She currently offers pro bono services as the attorney ad litem through Collier Lawyers Care (CLC).
Patrick C. Valencia, Out of State
(Out of state)
Patrick C. Valencia, an associate of Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., and member of the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate practice, maintains a robust pro bono practice by helping his firm’s award-winning pro bono team with matters involving constitutional law, criminal justice and immigration. Over the past year, Valencia has contributed nearly 900 hours to pro bono work, including a three-month stint as a pro bono associate in his firm’s pro bono group. With his team he has pursued certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court in two Fifth Circuit qualified immunity cases, helped a domestic violence and sexual assault victim in her pursuit of justice, and assisted families with their asylum applications, including the asylum application of a three-year-old girl. He also helped in the criminal trial against officer Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case. Valencia is currently representing two different pro bono cases on appeal – one for the wrongful conviction of two intellectually disabled brothers and another on a former inmate’s claims of First and Eighth Amendment rights violations.
This year’s awards ceremony, which also honors Individual, Voluntary Bar, Law Firm, Distinguished Federal Judicial Service, and Distinguished Judicial Service and Young Lawyers Division pro bono efforts, takes place at the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 3:30 p.m. Watch it live on Facebook, WFSU: Gavel to Gavel and the Florida Channel.