The Florida Bar

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

TALLAHASSEE – Attorney Mark E. Olive (photo) of Tallahassee, who has devoted himself to the defense of death row inmates, is the recipient of the 2017 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, the highest statewide pro bono award. The award will be presented by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga at a Jan. 19 ceremony at the Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee.

The award commemorates the late Miami lawyer Tobias Simon, who was a tireless civil rights attorney, a crusader for prison reform and an appellate authority. The award is intended to encourage and recognize extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers in making legal services available to people who otherwise could not afford them, and to focus public awareness on the substantial voluntary services rendered by Florida lawyers.

Mark Olive is being honored for his exemplary pro bono assistance to his death row clients and the uncompensated legal assistance he has given to lawyers handling death penalty cases in Florida and throughout the country.

Olive, a 1977 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, is an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee. He came to Florida in 1985 at a time of crisis, with eight executions the previous year and a backlog of post-conviction death penalty cases. He directed the Volunteer Lawyers’ Resource Center of Florida, Inc., which was funded by The Florida Bar to recruit and provide support and assistance to private counsel who represent indigent death-sentenced individuals on a pro bono basis in post-conviction proceedings.

The resource center was the first of its kind in the nation, and Olive later headed similar centers in Georgia and Virginia.

Mark Olive’s hand can be seen in many important death penalty cases. Recently, he devoted substantial pro bono time for the team in Hurst v. Florida, in which the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 held that Florida’s method of sentencing in capital cases was unconstitutional.

On one U.S. Supreme Court case alone, Herrera v. Collins, which did not prevent the execution of Leonel Herrera in Texas, Olive spent well over 1,200 hours. Nominator Sandy D’Alemberte – a previous winner of the Tobias Simon Award – estimates that Olive has donated about 10,000 hours of pro bono service.

Anthony Amsterdam, a law professor emeritus at New York University and another of Olive’s nominators, said: “As you know, I worked extensively with Toby Simon and loved the man. No one who was blessed with Toby’s companionship would be arrogant enough to guess what he would say on any subject. But I am as sure as I can be of anything relating to that marvelous free spirit harnessed only by his dedication to the cause of freedom, that Toby would be proud to see Mark Olive honored with the award that bears his name.”

Created in 1982, the Tobias Simon award is believed to be the first of its kind in the country conferring recognition by a state’s highest court on a private lawyer for voluntary, free legal services to the poor. A permanent plaque listing the names of all award recipients is displayed in the lawyers’ lounge of the Supreme Court in Tallahassee.

This year’s awards ceremony, which also honors other individual, law firm, voluntary bar, young lawyer, state judicial, 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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