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Center for Professionalism, Foundation benefit from court award

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Money will be used for professionalism and access programs

Center for Professionalism logoThe Florida Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism and The Florida Bar Foundation will benefit from funds received from a four-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the result of a case in which sanctions against two law firms were levied.

The Center for Professionalism, in conjunction with the Young Lawyers Division, will use its $400,000 award to develop and maintain long-term professionalism and ethics programming for Florida law schools, as well as young Florida lawyers.

“I truly appreciate these funds being made available to the Center for Professionalism and the YLD,” said Bar President Michelle Suskauer. “This will allow The Florida Bar to better serve our young lawyers, giving them tangible information and tools for being successful, well-balanced attorneys who practice with the highest degree of professionalism and ethics.”

YLD President-elect Santo DiGangi said the young lawyers are “thrilled” to be teaming up with the Center for Professionalism to implement programming geared toward advancing professionalism among law students and young lawyers.

“We are greatly appreciative of the Court for giving us this generous opportunity to promote professionalism in the early stages of one’s legal career and to utilize the funds from the court’s sanctions order to prevent this type of misconduct in the future.”

The Foundation was awarded $3.6 million to distribute to legal aid organizations in the Middle District of Florida to assist litigants in obtaining representation in court.

Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr.“Sometimes lemons can be turned into lemonade,” U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr., said upon receiving the Florida Supreme Court’s Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Pro Bono Award in February for his work establishing resources for pro se litigants in federal court. “The U.S. District Court recently had the unpleasant task of imposing sanctions on lawyers in connection with the massive volume of tobacco litigation,” Judge Dalton said. “It is true that out of challenge springs opportunity.”

Dalton, along with U.S. District Judges Timothy J. Corrigan, Marcia Morales Howard, and William G. Young, presided over the case which stemmed from the Engle tobacco litigation. The Court had found that certain lawyers had engaged in unethical and unprofessional conduct, thus resulting in a sizeable sanctions award.

In October 2018, following the termination of litigation, the Court deemed it appropriate that the bulk of the sanction funds be disbursed to qualified legal aid organizations whose purpose is to increase access to the courts for those who do not otherwise have it.

On February 6, the Court ordered that $3,623,987.26 of those funds be sent to the Foundation, which will use the money to “promote robust, professional, ethical and competent representation of low-income Floridians through grants made to civil legal aid organizations.” The Foundation is required to allocate the funds to legal aid organizations in the Middle District of Florida, comprised of counties surrounding Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa, and Ft. Myers.

“This order represents a monumental act which promotes the very principles of our democracy and the aspirations of our justice system,” Florida Bar Foundation Executive Director Donny MacKenzie said. “The Court is setting an admirable example of how fiscal sanctions can be used in unique situations such as this to promote professionalism, ethical representation, and increase access to justice.”

Rebecca Bandy, director of the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism, said she is looking forward to working closely with the Young Lawyers Division.

“I am both excited and grateful that the Center for Professionalism will have the opportunity to create curriculum that can be implemented in our law schools and with young attorneys across the state so that the message is clear that professionalism — including civility and ethical behavior — is an expectation in Florida,” Bandy said.

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