The Florida Bar

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January 10, 2022
CONTACT: Leslie H. Smith, [email protected]
Florida Bar Communications
TELEPHONE: 850-561-5764

Judge Bonnie J. Helms

Judge Bonnie J. Helms

The Hon. Bonnie J. Helms, chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit serving Monroe County, is the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Judicial Service Award. The award, which honors outstanding and sustained service to the public especially as it relates to support of pro bono legal services, will be presented by Chief Justice Charles T. Canady in a Jan. 20 ceremony streamed live by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Prior to Judge Helms’ involvement with the 16th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, there were significant barriers to providing legal services to the low-income population in Monroe County despite the overwhelming need.

Barriers included the lack of a physical office in Monroe County for Legal Services of Greater Miami, travel demands on Legal Services staff, lack of collaboration, and the need for innovative ways to recruit volunteers. Clients faced challenges accessing legal services due to scarce resources, transportation problems, and a lack of information about how to get help.

Over the past five years, Judge Helms has been instrumental in the resurgence of the 16th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, fostering collaboration between the committee and the Monroe County Bar Association, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and the Freeman Justice Center so that the entire low-income population in Monroe County has access to vital legal advice and representation.

Pro Bono accomplishments in Monroe County due to Judge Helms’ leadership include monthly organized pro bono events in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Keys; organizing and promoting pro bono attorney trainings in areas with a high demand for legal assistance; forming alliances with faith-based organizations and social service agencies to host and promote events to identify low-income clients; the ongoing recruitment and mentoring of pro bono attorneys; and effective communication and marketing to pro bono attorney volunteers and the low-income communities they serve.

Judge Helms’ commitment to pro bono work has ensured that hundreds of low-income clients have received necessary legal representation.

Note: Support of pro bono legal services by members of the bench is an activity that relates to improvement of the administration of justice. Accordingly, a judge may engage in activities intended to encourage attorneys to perform pro bono services, including, but not limited to participating in events to recognize attorneys who do pro bono work, establishing general procedural or scheduling accommodations for pro bono attorneys as feasible, and acting in an advisory capacity to pro bono programs.

This year’s ceremony, which also honors IndividualCircuitVoluntary BarLaw FirmYoung Lawyers Division and Distinguished Federal Judicial Service pro bono efforts, takes place at the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 3:30 p.m. Watch it live on FacebookWFSU: Gavel to Gavel and the Florida Channel.

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