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Lawyers recognized for Bar service

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The Bar's CRC team

OUTGOING BAR PRESIDENT Michael Higer presented a President’s Award of Merit to the Bar’s team that worked with and represented the Bar at the Constitution Revision Commission. Pictured from the left are Higer, Board of Governors member Michael Tanner; General Counsel Patrick “Booter” Imhof; public relations consultant Jenna Sarkissian; Bar Director of Public Information Francine Walker; legislative consultant Steve Metz; and Board of Governors member Sandra Diamond. They coordinated Bar assistance when the CRC needed legal system-related information, designed and executed a public relations campaign to educate voters about the CRC process, worked to oppose any proposals before the CRC that would hurt the judicial branch, and ran an active social media campaign.

Lawyers recognized for Bar service

The General Assembly at the Bar Annual Convention serves as a forum for recognizing outstanding service and work that has advanced the profession, served the Bar, and assisted the public with legal services.

In an emotional presentation to his widow Janice, the Bar honored the late Ervin Gonzalez with the G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award. Here is that and the other awards that were presented by outgoing President Michael Higer at the 2018 assembly:

President’s Awards of Merit

Higer made two merit awards. The first was to Board of Governors member Dori Foster-Morales for her leadership of the Bar’s Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers.

Dori Foster-Morales “Dori was the driving force behind the town hall meetings that took place throughout Florida in which we had hundreds of heartfelt conversations with lawyers just like you and just like me, all aimed at changing the mindset, all focused on destigmatizing mental health issues,” he said.

The committee spearheaded a communications campaign that included articles in Bar and general media publications and on social media, created a health and wellness webpage on The Florida Bar’s website, produced a free CLE — called “All Rise” — on the issue, devoted the January issue of the Bar Journal to health and wellness, began the process of setting up a 24/7 lawyer hotline for crisis intervention and other resources, organized a mental health seminar at the Bar convention, recruited an expert speaker for the convention’s Judicial Luncheon, reached out to law schools to discuss the mental health and well being of students, worked with voluntary bars and the courts to raise awareness, and joined the Young Lawyers Division in designating May, “Health and Wellness Month.”

The second award went to the Bar’s team that worked with and represented the Bar at the Constitution Revision Commission. That included Board of Governors members Sandra Diamond and Michael Tanner, who co-chaired the Bar’s CRC committee; General Counsel Patrick “Booter” Imhof; Bar Director of Public Information Francine Walker; public relations consultant Ron Sachs; and Legislative Consultant Steve Metz.

They coordinated Bar assistance when the CRC needed legal system-related information, designed and executed a public relations campaign to educate voters about the CRC process, worked to oppose any proposals before the CRC that would hurt the judicial branch, and ran an active social media campaign.

“The Bar’s website and social media campaign were so effective that if you Googled ‘CRC,’ you did not go to the official website of the CRC but to the Bar’s CRC website,” Higer reported. “This team was instrumental in defeating all proposals that were potentially detrimental to our Article V branch of government resulting in no CRC proposals on the ballot that are contrary to the Bar’s established positions or are adverse to the integrity of Article V.”

G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award

Higer, with a special poignancy, presented this year’s G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award to former Board of Governors member Ervin Gonzalez, who committed suicide in 2017. His widow, Janice, who accepted the award, underscored how his death illustrated the necessity of lawyers paying attention to their own well being.

Janice Gonzalez Higer noted that Gonzalez was considered one of the top trial lawyers in Florida and the nation with 33 multi-million dollar verdicts, many worth tens of millions.

“All this success, however, did not define Ervin, what defined him is that wherever there was an injustice he fought brilliantly and with unrelenting passion to right the wrong. And he did so while giving selflessly to his civic and legal communities,” Higer said. “But most of all, he was a good friend and colleague to anyone and everyone who sought his advice and counsel. Many of us, when asked, will spend a few minutes advising a colleague. Not Erv. If you called Erv and asked him a couple questions about picking a jury, he insisted on immersing himself in every aspect of your case.. . . Your case became his case. Your problem became his problem. His passion became your passion.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever meet anybody like him, because of the goodness of his heart,” Janice Gonzalez said. “He saw everybody as an individual and he took time whether you were a doorman or a waiter or a Supreme Court justice.”

Marshall R. Cassedy, Sr., Award

John F. Kynes Created to recognize exceptional service to a voluntary bar or The Florida Bar, this year’s award went to Hillsborough County Bar Association Executive Director John F. Kynes. He assumed that role seven years ago when the association had expended its reserves on a new law center and helped rebuild the organization’s reserves and finances.

“John is described as ‘effective, professional, intelligent, and well organized’ and his colleagues widely noted that he has positively affected members’ professional lives through his dedicatation to consistently delivering high-quality programs and services,” Higer said. “John is also very active in Florida Bar activities, serving on the Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee and as an organizer and speaker of the annual Voluntary Bar Leaders Conference.”

Claude Pepper Outstanding Government Lawyer Award

Julie Waldman, who spent her career at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, was honored for her years helping children, senior citizens, and the developmentally disabled.

Julie Waldman “During her career as a lawyer for the agency, including years as the deputy general counsel, she demonstrated a mastery of the law in nearly every type of litigation forum. She has handled criminal and civil cases, and guardianship and mental health matters,” Higer said. “She has tried cases in every type of forum, from employment matters to licensing to discrimination and whistleblower cases. She has appeared in the trial courts for every circuit in this state and argued more than 50 cases before Florida’s district courts of appeal.

“Her experience and exposure to such a wide range of matters has bestowed a unique wisdom that she is eager to share with others. Today, she continues to serve the agency, and the community, as a deputy center administrator in Gainesville.”

Aside from her agency work, Waldman has done extensive volunteer and civic service, including with the Rotary Club, the Justice Teaching program, and the Alachua County Teen County Program, and serves on the board of a program that helps young men transition into adulthood.

“Overall, Ms. Waldman exhibits the highest ideals we expect from a member of the Bar — commitment, diligence, and integrity — and always working toward the greater good,” Higer said.

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