15th Circuit honors its pro bono volunteers
'When you think about pro bono service and you think about the awards that are being given here, this is going beyond doing your job, this is giving of your time and your talents for a cause that is so important, in this space, in this community, and that is to help those that do not have the ability to access the judicial system'
The 15th Circuit Pro Bono Committee hosted its Third Annual Pro Bono Awards Ceremony and Ice Cream Social in the ceremonial courtroom at the Palm Beach County Courthouse with over 100 guests, including over 20 judges.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga, Florida Bar President Gary Lesser, Board of Governors member Sia Baker-Barnes, and former Bar President Michelle Suskauer were all in attendance. The event was organized by the Pro Bono Awards Ceremony and Ice Cream Social Subcommittee co-chaired by Allison Oasis Kahn and Adriana Gonzalez, along with committee members Katie Sadlo, Bob Bertisch, Kim Enright, Katie Kiziah, and Adriana Lopez. The 15th Circuit Pro Bono Committee is chaired by Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer.
Attorneys in the community were honored at the event for providing substantial pro bono legal services through the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County over the past year. The ceremony awards pins to attorneys based on their hours of service. Those awarded pins included Chioma Deere, Sherry Hyman, Brian Moskowitz, John Siegel, and James Telepman who dedicated 20-49 hours of service; Alfred Marten, Jay Mussman, Maria Patullo, Cynthia Pyfrom, and Francesca Vigna who dedicated 50-99 hours; and Jessica Callow Hochradel and Michael Stern, who dedicated 100 or more hours.
This year’s ceremony expanded to include four additional special awards:
- The Juvenile Law Award, won by Jessica Callow Hochradel;
- The Family Law Award, won by Francesca Vigna and Cynthia Pyfrom;
- The Non-Profit Advocacy Award, won by Morris “Skip” Miller; and
- The Voluntary Bar Association Award, won by The Young Lawyers Section of the Palm Beach County Bar Association.
Lesser congratulated the award winners and honorees and said doing pro bono work is “a selfless commitment of time to help those who otherwise might not get any help at all; the work of pro bono changes lives, and in some instances, saves lives.”
Dan Zuniga, who volunteers his time to do pro bono work for the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, spoke about the joy and appreciation his pro bono clients express when he takes on their case and said being able to give someone a defense, who could not otherwise afford it, reminds him of why he initially became a lawyer.
Pro Bono Committee Chair Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer congratulated the award winners “for going above and beyond for their pro bono legal service to those in our community” and emphasized the importance to “come to together and celebrate everybody in our community who selflessly give their time and legal services to those who are less fortunate.” She discussed the overall positive effect pro bono work can have not only on the community, but for the attorneys who take pro bono cases, their stress is reduced, they learn new areas of the law, and have additional opportunities for professional development.
Rita Fox, a former client of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, shared her story and expressed her appreciation to those who dedicate their time to help the local community. Fox is a single mother of three girls who was sexually harassed by her landlord. She said the attorneys at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County listened to her, believed in her, supported her, fought for her, and brought others on to help her do what she could not do on her own. With the assistance of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and volunteer pro bono attorneys, Fox sued her landlord for sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act. After the district court dismissed her case at summary judgment, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County successfully appealed the case to the 11th Circuit where they set precedent that sexual harassment is actionable under the Fair Housing Act. Fox then won her case after a four-day trial. Speaking of the work the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County did for her, Fox said, “They set precedent. They changed my life. They changed the laws. They went above and beyond.”
Several voluntary bar associations sponsored the event, including, but not limited to: the Malcolm Cunningham Bar Association, the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County Justice Association, the Palm Beach County Bar Association, the South Palm Beach County Florida Association for Women Lawyers, the Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyers Association, and the South Palm Beach County Bar Association. The event also had additional support from the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, Carlton Fields, Above & Beyond Reprographics, and Sloan’s Ice Cream.
With so many attorneys, local leaders, and dignitaries in attendance, along with the additional pro bono awards given, this year’s event was an even greater success than years passed.
“When you think about pro bono service and you think about the awards that are being given here, this is going beyond doing your job, this is giving of your time and your talents for a cause that is so important, in this space, in this community, and that is to help those that do not have the ability to access the judicial system,” 15th Circuit Chief Judge Glenn Kelley said.