The Florida Bar

News Releases


January 5, 2017
CONTACT: Mark Hohmeister, [email protected]
The Florida Bar
TELEPHONE: (850) 561-5764

TALLAHASSEE – The Hon. Virginia Baker Norton (photo), an administrative judge with the Civil Division of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Duval County, is the recipient of the 2017 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 Jorge Labarga at a Jan. 19 ceremony at the Supreme Court of Florida.

Judge Norton is most identified with the DAWN (Developing Adults With Necessary Skills) program at the Duval County Jail. The program, which gives inmates vocational training and life skills and helps them earn a GED, was founded by Richard McKissick nearly 20 years ago. Almost from the moment Norton took the bench in January 2009, McKissick was grooming her to carry on his work with DAWN. The day before McKissick died at the age of 90 on Jan. 1, 2016, he and Norton had a bedside meeting to discuss plans for DAWN for the next week.

Norton has worked with inmates in the jail’s one-room schoolhouse, reviewing topics from job strategies to patriotism. She even has worked one-on-one with students whom she has sentenced to the program. Now Norton is working with the city of Jacksonville and the sheriff’s office to expand the program. She is known for repeating a mantra she attributes to McKissick: “You can do better than this, and I am going to help you do better than this.”

Norton has been an active participant and leader in Jacksonville Legal Aid since she graduated from law school. In 2005, as Florida grappled with the painful dispute over the life and death of Terry Schiavo, Norton helped found the Living Will Program of Jacksonville Legal Aid. The program, with clinics in low-income and elderly housing communities, continues today.

Norton is the “go to” person in Duval County when a bar association needs a judge to assist with a CLE program or encourage pro bono legal service. She regularly takes part in One Campaign pro bono recruitment efforts and, in 2016, was one of the judges extending a personal thank-you to lawyers at the Jacksonville Bar Association’s first “Presentation of the Pins” pro bono recognition luncheon.

Norton earned her J.D. in 1997 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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 awards ceremony, which also honors individual, circuit, law firm, voluntary bar, young lawyer and federal judicial pro bono efforts, is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19, at 3:30 p.m. at the Supreme Court of Florida. The ceremony will be streamed live at


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