John F. “Jack” Harkness, Jr., a nationally recognized legal visionary and the nation’s longest-serving bar executive, has been selected to receive The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2017 Medal of Honor Award, the Foundation’s highest award, in the lawyer category. Jane Elizabeth Curran, the Foundation’s founding executive director, has also been selected to receive the Medal of Honor Award in the nonlawyer category.
After serving as the state courts administrator for six years, Harkness became executive director of The Florida Bar in 1980 when there were 27,713 members, a staff of 122, and an annual budget of $7.1 million. He now oversees a staff of 360 — with 284 working at the Tallahassee headquarters complex recently named in his honor — and a budget of $44.2 million for an organization with more than 104,000 members.
“He has been a transformative figure in inspiring the administration of justice, improving the science of jurisprudence, as well as being relied upon by virtually every single leader of The Florida Bar for wise counsel and advice,” wrote 2016 Medal of Honor Award recipient and past Foundation President Kathleen S. McLeroy and past Florida Bar President Gwynne A. Young, in their nomination of Harkness.
“While it is not possible to list the accomplishments of a man who has nurtured and managed the legal profession in Florida for 37 years, suffice it to say that Jack has had an active role in every initiative and undertaking of The Florida Bar from the Constitution Revision Commissions to commissions and task forces designed to advance the Bar’s service to the public, to educate the public about judicial merit retention and improve access to justice through the Bar’s efforts to ensure adequate funding for the courts, and in support of the work of the Foundation and other legal aid organizations.”
Among advancements critical to the legal profession’s success, Harkness is recognized for establishing the Bar’s ethics hotline, Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, and countless other professionalism committees and programs of The Florida Bar. Harkness has been a strong advocate of pro bono service, legal services funding, and a fair and impartial judiciary.
In 2015, at the ceremony to name the Bar’s Tallahassee complex for Harkness, then President Gregory W. Coleman said no single person has meant more to the legal profession and to Florida lawyers than Harkness.
“He has been the guiding force behind every Florida Bar president and has made our Bar the most recognized and influential in the country,” Coleman said.
The Medal of Honor Award is presented each year to a member of The Florida Bar who has demonstrated his or her dedication to the objectives of The Florida Bar as set out in the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar “to inculcate in its members the principles of duty and service to the public, to improve the administration of justice, and to advance the science of jurisprudence.”
Curran was recruited to The Florida Bar Foundation in 1982 to lead the organization as it launched the nation’s first Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) program, which was authorized by the Florida Supreme Court in 1981. She served as the Foundation’s executive director for nearly 33 years and helped expand IOTA, known as IOLTA in many states, as a funding mechanism for civil legal aid throughout the country.
“Most people with The Florida Bar Foundation appreciate all that Jane Curran has done in Florida with her support of legal services, her support for public service fellows at law schools, and her critical early support for the Innocence Project of Florida,” said Sandy D’Alemberte, a past president of the ABA and the 1987 recipient of the Medal of Honor Award. “However, Florida lawyers may not be aware of her role nationally. Jane shared ideas, provided training and technical assistance, and developed the network of foundations that has done so much to advance legal services programs and law reform. I cannot think of any nonlawyer who has had such an important impact on the law during a long career of service.”
In nominating Curran, Florida Bar Foundation immediate past President Donny MacKenzie called her a “pioneer, visionary, and difference-maker” and a “diligent steward” of the Foundation’s resources.
“She led the charge in creating, implementing, and establishing increased funding through the IOTA program. And she was the proverbial tip of the spear for virtually every innovation employed in the United States until her retirement,” MacKenzie said.
Curran led efforts to make Florida’s IOTA Program mandatory, to achieve interest rate comparability so that IOTA accounts earn the same interest rates available to similar bank customers, and to create innovative grant programs to improve the justice system and the delivery of civil legal services.
“As a member of the ABA Commission on IOLTA, I came to truly appreciate the national impact of Jane’s leadership,” said former President McLeroy. “I saw firsthand that the leaders of the programs in all of the other states looked up to Jane and followed her lead. It was no coincidence that so many states copied Florida’s successes.”
Curran served as president of the National Conference of Bar Foundations and the National Association of IOLTA Programs and was a member of the ABA’s IOLTA Commission.
She was not only the Foundation’s executive director, but also the director of its Improvements in the Administration of Justice Grant Program that has helped launch or fund a number of important projects, including the Innocence Project of Florida.
The Medal of Honor Awards, sponsored by Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, will be presented at The Boca Raton Resort & Club June 22 at the Foundation’s 41st Annual Reception & Dinner during The Florida Bar Annual Convention. Tickets can be purchased at www.TheFloridaBarFoundation.org/tickets for $150 per person. Other major and award sponsors include Holland & Knight LLP, Carlton Fields, Shutts & Bowen LLP, Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, and Susan & Stanley M. Rosenblatt.