Foster-Morales’ ‘legal acumen and compassion’ made her a natural for Bar service
Fate nearly made Dori Foster-Morales a dentist, like her father before her, instead of the new president of The Florida Bar, said her husband, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales.
Introducing his wife via recorded message to the Bar’s first virtual General Assembly, the Harvard-trained lawyer recalled falling for his younger Beach High classmate when she was 15, and getting to know her father, a “larger than life” figure who has since passed away.
“Dori worked for several years in her later childhood as his chair-side assistant in his office,” Morales said. “I know it was not an easy day when she told him she did not want to follow in his footsteps.”
That determination to forge her own path, and to be a forceful advocate for her clients, have come to define her publicly, Morales said. But the traits mask a more compassionate side she shares freely with family and friends, he said.
“I guess by the nature of divorce law, she has earned a reputation of being very tough. I chuckle every time an opposing counsel or even former client of hers meets me and asks me what’s it like to be married to her,” Morales said. “Let me tell you, she is a complete teddy bear.”
Morales traced the arc of their careers, from their marriage after her graduation from the University of Florida law school, to their first jobs in Washington, D.C., their subsequent move to New York City, and finally, their return to South Florida, where he entered local politics and Foster-Morales became a prosecutor.
“Dori’s adventures have taken her from working with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] in Washington, D.C., and New York, to being hired by then State Attorney Janet Reno and then Deputy Assistant State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle — and now good friend — to serve as an Assistant State Attorney for five years,” Morales said.
Foster-Morales won the respect and admiration of her peers at both agencies, Morales said. Then, in 1996, their lives took a sudden turn with their daughter Nora’s autism diagnosis.
“Dori decided she needed to step into the private sector to help pitch in financially,” he said. “By the way, Nora is doing great and we were so proud of her last year when she graduated from FIU.”
After leaving public service, Foster-Morales joined Marcia Elser, a trailblazer in family law, and now past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
“Marcia was a tremendous mentor and friend to Dori,” Morales said. “When Marcia retired, Dori took over the practice and the rest is history. Dori has built a firm of six attorneys — all women — and her client base includes a list of notables.”
Despite a punishing work schedule, Foster-Morales has always found time to dote on Nora and their son, PJ, a University of North Carolina student, Morales said.
“As you might imagine, Dori is an incredible mother and is so close with both of our children,” he said. “They inspire us daily with the things they have accomplished and their warmth and energy help each of us sometimes get through those difficult days.”
Foster-Morales’ legal acumen and compassion made her a natural for Bar service, Morales said.
“She is smart, works hard, and sweats the details,” he said. “She is a great listener but is also not afraid to speak her mind. She truly values her relationships and follows the golden rule of treating others as she would like to be treated. She is willing to compromise, but it must be fair to everyone.”
Her courage enabled her to speak out about a need to address the mental health and wellness of Florida lawyers, an issue she has championed for the past several years, Morales said.
“And when we both saw too many friends that struggled with mental health issues, some even choosing to end their lives, she decided to use her platform on the Board of Governors to begin frank conversations about the wellness of attorneys across the state,” Morales said. “And it was clear that she touched a nerve that needed touching.”
All of those qualities will serve her well as she assumes leadership at such a challenging moment, Morales said.
“I know I am completely biased but given the times in which we are now living, with all the uncertainty, pain, conflict, and dislocation, I cannot think of a person more well suited to lead the Bar into this coming year.”
After thanking a long list of family, friends, and colleagues, including President John Stewart and President-elect Michael Tanner, Morales ended his introduction by acknowledging a “special moment.”
“And so, it truly is my honor and privilege, as her husband, friend, soul mate, and as a 33-year member in good standing of The Florida Bar, to introduce to you the incoming president of The Florida Bar, Dori Foster Morales.”