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Covington to receive Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Pro Bono Award

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Judge Virginia M. Hernandez

Judge Virginia M. Hernandez

Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa is the recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Federal 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 Charles T. Canady in a Jan. 28 ceremony streamed live by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Judge Covington has been a public servant her entire legal career. She was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in 2001, and to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, in 2004. Judge Covington took se­nior status in July 2020, but still maintains a 100 percent caseload.

As the child of a Cuban immigrant mother who did not speak English, Judge Covington was accustomed to helping others in the Cuban American community who needed help with their language. As an adult, she has been a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Needs and Services Council (El Consejo de Necesidades y Servicios para Hispanos) providing hundreds of hours of volunteer work, including providing pro bono legal services to non-English speaking Hispanics.

Judge Covington understands the important role she can play in arranging pro bono services for the needy. Taking to heart two very real challenges in the federal legal sys­tem — the practitioner’s challenge to gain meaningful trial experience and the pro se litigant’s challenge to navigate the law and process — Judge Covington has met the needs of both by inviting the legal community to take on pro bono representation in cases where it would promote the admin­istration of justice.

One case brought before Judge Covington centered on an inmate serving time for murder who said that his religious rights had been repeatedly violated by the staff at Coleman Federal Prison. Judge Covington reached out to the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Federal Bar Association to obtain the pro bono services of three outstanding Tampa lawyers who were able to resolve the case on the eve of trial.

Judge Covington regularly presides over immigration cer­emonies and reminds the audience that the first time she was in the federal courthouse was in 1966 when her mother became an American citizen.

For decades Judge Covington has championed the pursuit of justice in the courtroom, in Tampa, and worldwide.

This year’s ceremony, which also honors IndividualCircuitVoluntary Bar, Law Firm, Young Lawyers Division, Distinguished Judicial Service pro bono efforts, is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 28, at 3:30 p.m. and can be streamed live on Facebook,  WFSU: Gavel to Gavel and the Florida Channel, as well as on YouTube.

A full version of each of the honoree’s accomplishments can be found here.

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