Jamie Billotte Moses honored with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award
For more than two decades, Moses served as a guardian ad litem volunteer serving more than 26 abused, abandoned, and neglected Orange County children
Jamie Billotte Moses, a 25-year volunteer with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, and a champion for abused and neglected children, on January 18 received the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award in a solemn ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court.
As he presented Florida’s highest legal honor, Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz said Moses, “embodies this award and the legacy of Tobias Simon.”
Muniz noted that in the most recent reporting period from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, Florida lawyers provided more than 1.5 million hours of pro bono services to those in need and contributed $7.5 million to legal aid organizations.
“Their hard work has benefitted not just the individuals they directly served, but all of society, by instilling trust and confidence in the basic justice of our legal system.”
Miami lawyer Tobias Simon, the award’s namesake, was a tireless civil rights champion, prison reform crusader, and celebrated appellate authority.
The award recognizes and encourages the extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers to make legal services available to those who otherwise could not afford them and focuses public awareness on the substantial voluntary services rendered by Florida lawyers.
For more than two decades, Moses served as a guardian ad litem volunteer through the LASOCBA, serving more than 26 abused, abandoned, and neglected Orange County children.
The board-certified appellate lawyer has consistently been a front-runner in pro bono service with the Defending Best Interests Project since its inception in 2017, Muñiz noted.
The initiative protects the legal interests of children by recruiting pro bono attorneys to prepare answer briefs in appeals cases where a judge has determined that a termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
Muñiz praised Moses for donating nearly 400 hours over the past 13 years to brief more than 30 cases.
Moses said she was shocked when she learned she was receiving the honor.
“I was speechless, and if you know me, that is very rare occurrence. There isn’t a mic that I don’t like.”
Too many people think pro bono service is something beginning lawyers perform to build their skills before moving on, Moses said.
“Many assume that once you’ve gotten that, you don’t need to do it anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s our moral, ethical, and professional responsibility to do so.”
Moses, a former president of the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, urged others to follow her lead.
“Pro bono work is knowing from the beginning you will never see a dime and still giving your client the most zealous representation you can,” she said. “These are opportunities that everybody should take advantage of.”
Muniz presented the Distinguished Judicial Service Pro Bono Award to 11th Circuit Judge Bertila Soto, the daughter of Cuban parents who fled their native country in 1960.
“Bertie is one of those people who when you meet them, you immediately know this person is a good egg,” Muñiz said. “She was one of the ones who willed our new courthouse into existence.”
Muñiz noted that when she served as chief judge from 2013-2020, Soto helped recruit more than 3,000 new attorneys to handle pro bono cases for indigent clients of the Dade Legal Aid Put Something Back pro bono project.
Soto said she learned the value of service from her father when she began working in his law firm at the age of 14.
“Through him….I learned the importance of giving back,” she said.
From years of service on the bench, Soto said she learned the value of lawyers volunteering their time to help clients in need.
“Public service marks the difference between a business and a profession,” she said.
Muñiz presented the Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Pro Bono Award to Judge Beth Bloom of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, and Judge Robin L. Rosenberg of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach.
The two were honored for their combined effort to develop the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions Program, (CD3,) an educational program that promotes positive decision making and civility among high school and college students.
“Just the idea of civil discourse….it goes without saying it’s hard to imagine a time in our country when there is more of a need to…resolve disagreements through reason rather than power…and to basically just be good citizens,” Muñiz said.
Bloom noted that she and Rosenberg were parents to school-aged children when they started the program, and that both served as state judges in Florida before being elevated to the federal bench.
“As sentencing judges in state and federal court, we still see the permanent effect of a good person making a bad decision,” she said.
Judges and lawyers who volunteer for the program “are the true ambassadors of civility,” she said.
The program shows that members of the judiciary “are also integral members of the community who strive for the common goal of improving society,” Rosenburg said.
“It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable,” Rosenberg said. “Let these be tenets that we all seek to emulate.”
President F. Scott Westheimer presented The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards, which since 1985 have recognized pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits as well as service by a Florida Bar member practicing outside of the state.
Westheimer quoted from the Bar’s Oath of Admission, to “never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.”
“Our selfless honorees are advocates who have taken this oath to heart…and serve as role models to all of us,” he said. “They are true champions of justice.”
The honorees included:
- Kendra Lantana Condon, First Judicial Circuit
- Ryland Terry Rigsby, Second Judicial Circuit
- Elika Otoya Stimpson, Third Judicial Circuit
- Susannah Collins, Fourth Judicial Circuit
- Taylor Tremel, Fifth Judicial Circuit
- Kit Van Pelt, Sixth Judicial Circuit
- Donato J. Rinaldi, Seventh Judicial Circuit
- Amy Milford Abernethy, Eighth Judicial Circuit
- Dorothy J. McMichen, Ninth Judicial Circuit
- Grant Lyons, 10th Judicial Circuit
- Alvin D. Lodish, 11th Judicial Circuit
- Neil T. Lyons, 12th Judicial Circuit
- Gilbert M. Singer, 13th Judicial Circuit
- Todd Clifford Brister, 14th Judicial Circuit
- Matthew Zimmerman, 15th Judicial Circuit
- Tom Woods, 16th Judicial Circuit
- Jonathan W. Taylor, 17th Judicial Circuit
- Eric C. Boughman, 18th Judicial Circuit
- Jessica M. Van Valkenburgh, 19th Judicial Circuit
- Andrea Smith, 20th Judicial Circuit
- Blake Lynne Bruce, Out of State
The Gedeon & Morales Law Group — a Hollywood-based law firm with a focus on delivering pro bono legal services to the underprivileged — received the 2024 Law Firm Commendation from Chief Justice Muñiz. Founded by Nadine Gedeon and Cristina Morales, the Gedeon & Morales Law Group has logged thousands of hours in pro bono service — more than a thousand in the past year alone.
The Lake County Bar Association received the 2024 Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Award, which was presented by Muñiz. The Lake County Bar Association (LCBA), a small but influential voluntary bar association, plays a crucial role in its community through dedicated pro bono work and diverse outreach initiatives. LCBA has partnered with Community Legal Services on numerous initiatives, helping the legal aid organization in its mission to deliver high quality and responsive legal services to Lake County’s most vulnerable citizens. This partnership provides legal education workshops and legal advice clinics to low-income residents of Lake County, and substantive legal advice training to local attorneys.
Michaèl’s Déborah Saint-Vil received the 2024 Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. Saint-Vil is a native of Brooklyn, New York, who was raised in Haiti. Her family immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s and settled in Northern California. Saint-Vil is an advocate for fellow immigrants, serving as manager of the Immigration Legal Services in the Office of New Americans of Miami-Dade (ONA). ONA is a county-wide initiative to help legal residents overcome any barriers on their path to full citizenship.