The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award
THE FLORIDA BAR
PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD
The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award was established in 1981. Its purpose is twofold: “to further encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor by recognizing those who make such public service commitments, and to communicate to the public some sense of the substantial volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers to those who cannot afford legal fees.” This award recognizes individual lawyer service in each of Florida’s specific judicial circuits. It is presented annually in conjunction with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
PRESIDENT’S PRO BONO
SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENTS
Frederick J. Gant
First Judicial Circuit (Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties)
Frederick J. Gant is a sole practitioner in Pensacola. His principal areas of practice are family law, probate, wills and estates, federal, criminal, general civil litigation and personal injury. Gant exceeds the norms of pro bono service through a career-long commitment to those in need, devoting time to indigent clients as part of his private law practice through cases provided by agencies such as Legal Services of North Florida and the Escambia Santa Rosa Bar Association. He often intervenes in landlord tenant disputes; writes letters to creditors to stop harassing phone calls to clients; and assists individuals in unemployment compensations claims. On frequent occasions, he answers legal questions over the phone for individuals who may otherwise not have the financial standing to pay for such services. Gant estimates that over the last three years, he has spent more than one 150 pro bono hours assisting individuals pro bono, with approximately 70 of those hours occurring in the past year.
Carolyn Davis Cummings
Second Judicial Circuit (Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties)
Carolyn Davis Cummings is a partner at Cummings & Hobbs in Tallahassee. Her principal areas of practice are family law, probate, guardianship and eminent domain. Cummings’ first job as an attorney in 1982 brought her face to face with the plight of many indigent and elderly citizens whose needed legal assistance but could not afford it. The encounters fueled her determination to make a difference in the lives of those in most need, by giving back to the community and society. She has provided services to the elderly during legal clinics at the Tallahassee Senior Citizen’s Center, the Lincoln Neighborhood Community Center as well as representing indigents through the Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association, the Tallahassee Barristers, and various other community efforts. In 2011, Cummings provided more than 30 pro bono hours and continues to far exceed the minimum pro bono hours required by the Tallahassee Bar Association.
Third Judicial Circuit (Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwanee and Taylor counties)
Monica Taibl is a guardian ad litem program attorney in Live Oak. Currently, her principal area of focus is child and family law. Taibl’s pro bono work has been primarily through her participation at Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc., in Lake City. She has contributed pro bono legal services in a number of different ways and has accepted several pro bono cases in the areas of wills, real estate, and family law. She became a volunteer attorney in April 2010 for the guardian ad litem program, helping children in court proceedings, filing court documents and assisting many GAL staff members in several counties in the Third Circuit. Taibl has always been readily agreeable to accepted many family law and domestic violence cases, which are normally very difficult to place. In October 2012, Taibl closed her law practice to work for the GAL as a full time senior program attorney for the Third Circuit.
Emerson Matthew Lotzia
Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)
Emerson Matthew Lotzia is a partner at Foley & Lardner in Jacksonville. His principal areas of practice are real estate financing, development and leasing matters. He is also certified to advise clients on leadership in energy and environmental design and energy performance contract legal issues. Since 2006, Lotzia has assisted Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Inc.’s Community Counsel Program in representing nonprofit organizations that benefit people with low-incomes. These nonprofits work to revitalize neighborhoods, often by providing quality affordable housing to qualifying families. A local community development corporation gladly notes Lotzia’s contributions to a successful development office and retail project, the first new development in that area of town in many years. He also assisted another group that is developing a shopping center with a grocery store in a blighted area of town. In one year, Lotzia donated 624 hours of legal work and he has been active every year since 2006.
Janice Joy “J.J.” Dahl
Fifth Judicial Circuit (Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties)
Janice Joy “J.J.” Dahl is owner and managing partner at Dahl Family Law Group in Clermont. Her primary areas of practice are marital and family law, and she is board certified in marital and family law. Over the years, Dahl has provided pro bono representation in complicated family law cases referred to her by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Inc., as well as several cases that she initiated on her own. Her assistance to clients has ranged from custody, visitation, termination of parental rights, child support and complicated divorces involving children and victims of domestic violence. Since accepting her first pro bono case from Community Legal Services in June 2010, Dahl has provided full representation to low-income clients, donating more than 300 hundred hours of time. Dahl also devotes many hours to mentoring to Community Legal Services’ staff and recruiting fellow attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to that program.
Jeannine Smith Williams
Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pasco and Pinellas counties)
Jeannine Smith Williams is assistant city attorney for the city of St. Petersburg. Her principal roles entail litigating and providing advice and counsel in the areas of public employee ethics, labor and employment, the American with Disabilities Act, workers compensation, public records, business development, copyright and energy law. Williams is board certified in city, county and local government law. She has been a volunteer with Community Law Program, Inc.,
for 12 years, her entire duration of practicing law. Williams participates in several of Community Law’s family law advice clinics, helping clients complete Supreme Court approved family law forms and pointing them in the right direction when it comes to solving their family law legal disputes. She has contributed well in excess of 350 hours of time in this role. In a yearly program called the “Lawfest,” Williams routinely volunteers four hours of her time on Saturdays to answer questions and provide legal guidance.
Tania Romaine Schmidt-Alpers
Seventh Judicial Circuit (Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties)
Tania Romaine Schmidt-Alpers is a sole practitioner in St. Augustine. Her principal areas of practice are child and family law, and family law with a strong focus on domestic violence issues. Through her work with St. Johns County Legal Aid, Schmidt-Alpers has provided a substantial amount of pro bono assistance to the residents of St. Augustine and St. Johns County. For more than 12 years, she has represented the victims of domestic violence at the Betty Griffin House, St. Johns County Legal Aid’s local domestic violence shelter. Schmidt-Alpers represents nearly every victim of domestic violence in his or her Injunction For Protection case so they will have a court order of protection against future violence. In addition, she assists with pro se classes and pro bono advice clinics at St. Johns County Legal Aid and covers their public education lectures at the libraries and senior centers on domestic violence and family law related topics pro bono.
Eighth Judicial Circuit (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties)
Mary-Ellen Cross is a sole practitioner in Gainesville. Her primary areas of practice are adoption, appellate practice, contracts, corporate, guardianship, marital family, probate and trust litigation, research, and wills, trusts and estates. Cross serves pro bono clients referred through Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc., as well as those who come into her office without the resources to hire an attorney. Her availability to assist individuals in the area of family law help is particularly valuable as is her willingness to represent victims of domestic violence. Cross’ pro bono caseload has been significant and time consuming. She works hard to ensure that her clients have strong representation and advocacy.
Bruce Beuford Blackwell
Ninth Judicial Circuit (Orange and Osceola counties)
Bruce Beuford Blackwell is a shareholder and partner at King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth in Orlando. His principal areas of practice are complex business and commercial litigation, personal injury and wrongful death, and appellate law. Through the years, Blackwell has been a champion of the less fortunate and a tireless advocate for clients, a strong supporter of legal services, a leader in pro bono work and an advocate for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association. Regularly, the pro bono coordinators at Legal Aid Society call upon him to assist in the particularly difficult family and juvenile law cases. During the past 30 years, he has accepted more than 69 clients and contributed more than 2,000 hours on pro bono cases at Legal Aid Society. Additionally, Blackwell serves as a guardian ad litem volunteer, where he advocates for children who are victims of child abuse or neglect. He is often lauded for his leadership in promoting pro bono service by members of the legal profession.
Jennings Kemp Brinson
10th Judicial Circuit (Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties)
Jennings Kemp Brinson is an associate attorney at Clark, Campbell & Lancaster, P.A., in Lakeland. His principal areas of practice are civil litigation, commercial litigation, construction, real estate, labor and employment and probate and trust litigation. Since December 2006, Brinson has volunteered with the Tenth Judicial Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem Program. During that time, he has served in the capacity of a GAL volunteer for nine children working in a non-attorney capacity in the daily functions of a volunteer involved in providing a voice in court for the children involved in dependency cases and the Department of Children & Families. In many instances, where dependent teens have been recommended for residential mental health care while in state custody, Brinson has served as attorney ad litem for them. Brinson has traveled throughout Central Florida to maintain contact and to provide legal services to youths. The GAL program has estimated Brinson’s involvement has exceeded 100 hours in a year.
Maxine Master Long
11th Judicial Circuit (Miami-Dade County)
Maxine Master Long is a shareholder and partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP in Miami. Her primary areas of practice are appellate practice, civil litigation, business law and international law. She is board certified in business litigation. For more than 10 years, Long has been the chair of Shutts & Bowen’s Pro Bono Committee. However, she has taken an active role in handling pro bono matters on behalf of the firm since her arrival there more than 30 years ago. As chair of Shutts & Bowen’s Pro Bono Committee, Long’s administrative duties include approval of cases for pro bono clients and soliciting volunteers to handle the pro bono matters, which are brought to her by the many agencies with which she works throughout South Florida. She also drafted the firm’s current pro bono policy, which is one of the most generous in the state in granting billing and collections credit to attorneys for pro bono work. Long has served as pro bono counsel to the Office of Public Guardian for Broward County for more than a decade, and she supervises the assignment to volunteers of cases referred to her firm by Miami Dade’s “Put Something Back.” Her total pro bono related work is close to 100 hours annually.
Janella Kayla Leibovitz
12th Judicial Circuit (DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)
Janella Kayla Leibovitz is a sole practitioner in Sarasota. Her principal area of practice is family law. She is a member of The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, and is a member of the Sarasota County Bar Association. Pro bono service has been important to Leibovitz from the beginning of her legal career, and she has dedicated herself to providing legal services to the indigent and abused in Manatee and Sarasota counties. At Legal Aid of Manasota, Inc., she volunteers a full day each week and has served as the domestic violence advocate for Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC) in Sarasota, the state certified center serving victims of domestic and sexual violence in Sarasota and DeSoto counties, and HOPE Family Services in Manatee County. With more than 300 cumulative pro bono hours in the past three years, Leibovitz has been awarded both a pro bono intake award from Legal Aid of Manasota and the Florida Supreme Court gold pin for more than 100 hours of pro bono services in one year.
James D. “Jim” McDonald
12th Judicial Circuit (DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)
James D. “Jim” McDonald serves as volunteer legal counsel to several non-profit organizations in Sarasota including the National League of American Pen Women, Women Contemporary Artists, Arts Center of Sarasota, Sarasota County Civic League, and Sarasota Museum of Art. His principal areas of practice are civil litigation, nonprofit corporate law and general practice. At the time of his nomination for this award, McDonald had almost completed 10 years of nearly full-time pro bono work for the poor and needy of the Tampa Bay area. As a volunteer attorney at Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc., he has worked side by side with the attorneys in litigation in family law, elder law, consumer law and housing law cases. McDonald has been in court on scores of foreclosure pro bono cases. Because of his involvement in a very heavily litigated series of cases brought on behalf of several seniors and disabled persons against a notorious foreclosure rescue scam operation, GLS received more than $250,000 in attorney’s fees, more than $80,000 of which were accorded to his work in the case.
Jeanne Trudeau Tate
13th Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County)
Jeanne Trudeau Tate is managing partner of the Law Office of Jeanne T. Tate, P.A., in Tampa and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Florida College of Law. Her principal area of practice is adoption law, in which she is board certified. Since law school, she has been actively involved with Bay Area Legal Services, serving for hundreds of hours as a volunteer, pro bono attorney, financial contributor, mentor and resource to countless attorneys and staff. She has also worked with the leadership of Bay Area Legal Services through other local bar-related organizations, including the Hillsborough County Bar Association, the Hillsborough Association of Women Lawyers, and the Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers Program. Tate has offered to handle every single adoption-related case presented to Bay Area Legal Services. Additionally, she encourages other lawyers at her firm to handle pro bono matters. Over the years, Tate has volunteered time free of charge, to attend the “match meetings” convened by the state to place foster care children in permanent homes. Tate has contributed more than 1,000 pro bono hours during her legal career.
Robert Allan “Bob” Pell
14th Judicial Circuit (Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties)
Port St. Joe
Robert Allan “Bob” Pell is Gulf County chief assistant state attorney and director of training for the 14th Judicial Circuit in Port St. Joe. His principal area of practice is criminal law. Legal Services of North Florida, Inc., and describes him as an outstanding example of a lawyer who exceeds the norms of pro bono service through a career-long commitment to those in need. He recently completed two consecutive six-month terms as co-chair of the 14th Circuit’s First Saturday Legal Clinic, which is the Bay County Bar Association’s main vehicle for providing pro bono legal services in and around Bay County. Pell was one of the first lawyers asked to be on a local ad hoc committee that eventually led to the creation of First Saturday, a program to help elderly persons with simple probate and contract disputes. Each month he spends additional time serving as a volunteer judge for the Bay County Teen Court.
Bridget Ann Berry
15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County)
West Palm Beach
Bridget Ann Berry is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, P.A., in West Palm Beach. Her principal areas of practice are civil litigation, labor and employment, and real estate law. Berry is the founder and chair of the Greenberg Traurig Independent Living Review Program which represents children who are aging out of foster care. Through her leadership years, the program partnered with 20 attorneys and business staff members in the firm’s Palm Beach offices to provide pro bono legal services to more than 20 youths, as well as provide clothing and living resources to encourage and enable the youths to further their education or to pursue career success. Additionally, Berry has served the United Way of Palm Beach County in various leadership roles since 1996. Berry donates about 200 hours a year to assisting organizations whose primary purpose is to provide services to the poor and in organizing and providing direct legal services to juveniles and youths.
Mary Vanden Brook
16th Judicial Circuit (Monroe County)
Mary Vanden Brook is administrative service director for Monroe County Health Department in Key West. Her principal areas of practice are family law, dependency, criminal, and juvenile law. For many years, Vanden Brook has performed pro bono services for the Guardian ad Litem Program for the 16th Judicial Circuit. During the program’s formative years, she served as the initial staff attorney for the Guardian ad Litem Program and was instrumental in advocating for the best interest of children who were abused, abandoned or neglected within the 16th Circuit. As a result of her many hours of personal time and service, she was later promoted to circuit director of the Guardian ad Litem Program. On one case alone, she spent more than 250 hours researching and preparing pleadings and motions, and also traveling almost two hours each way to attend a client’s hearings, conferences and mediations. Also, she pioneered the Pro Se Litigant Program, developed the Pilot Visitation Mediation Program, the Dependency Mediation Program and served as Family Court and Mental Health Court magistrate.
Steven Wayne Marcus
17th Judicial Circuit (Broward County)
Steven Wayne Marcus is a shareholder at Fowler White Boggs, P.A,. in Ft. Lauderdale. His principal areas of practice include banking, copyright, intellectual property, public interest, real estate, and trademark law. Marcus has offered pro bono assistance to Holocaust survivors through the Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Holocaust Survivors Justice Network. He represents survivors in the 17th Judicial Circuit in connection with reparations programs of the German government by assisting in obtaining monthly pensions. The impact Marcus’ work has on his clients is life changing emotionally and financially, considering that many Holocaust survivors in the United States live in poverty. Marcus has successfully assisted 11 survivors in the last two years, with monthly pensions ranging from $185 to $1,400. He has not only offered his contributions to pro bono service, but also sets a stellar example of how to help the public by his commitment to recruiting, training and mentoring other attorneys to offer the same pro bono services.
Steven D. Kramer
18th Judicial Circuit (Brevard and Seminole counties)
Steven D. Kramer is founder and managing partner at Kramer Law Firm, P.A., Attorneys and Counselors At Law in Altamonte Springs. His principal areas of practice are business, civil litigation, real estate, and family law. Kramer participates in the pro bono program of the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, and is known for accepting challenging and complex cases. In one, he assisted in an appeal for an indigent client in which he devoted 93 hours. In early 2009, Kramer helped to establish the Foreclosure Legal Clinic to offer free legal advice to low income residents. He has provided legal advice and services to more than 48 homeowners in foreclosure matters. For the last few years, he has organized a food drive for indigent persons to make sure they have Thanksgiving meals. He has served as president for Seminole County Bar Association, Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, and William’s Inn of Court, and served as director to Florida Youth Symphony Orchestra.
William Kenan DeBraal
19th Judicial Circuit (Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties)
William Kenan DeBraal is deputy county attorney for the Indian River County Florida Board of County Commissioners in Vero Beach. His principal area of practice is governmental law. As a government attorney, he has limited opportunities to provide pro bono service but that has not deterred him from having a meaningful impact on those most in need of legal services services in his community. On the Indian River County Bar Association (IRBCS) Board, DeBraal saw an opportunity to increase the group’s capacity to provide pro bono services by volunteering to be the pro bono chairperson. He works closely with the pro bono coordinator for the 19th Judicial Circuit for Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. (Florida Rural Legal) to find Indian River County attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to those individuals qualified through Florida Rural Legal. Additionally, he coordinates the Ask-A-Lawyer Programs that IRCBA sponsors, ensuring it has volunteer attorneys in all practice areas.
David Elihu Steckler
20th Judicial Circuit (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties)
David Elihu Steckler has served as program director of the Compliance Specialist Graduate Certificate Program and is also instructor of legal and justice studies at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers. Steckler has given many hours of pro bono service over the last year through Legal Aid Service of Collier County, primarily serving the legal needs of victims of domestic violence and their children, while helping to recruit additional pro bono attorneys to serve. When he became aware of a large gap in legal services in Collier County to victims of domestic violence caused by funding cuts in 2011, he mobilized the applicable agencies and stakeholders and offered his services on a weekly basis to meet the needs of clients identified as most at-risk of harm. Steckler also enjoys mentoring college students who are interested in entering into the legal profession. Under an internship program set up by the Legal Studies Program at Florida Gulf Coast, pre-law students receive course credit for internship service by assisting Steckler with domestic violence and family law clients.
Leon Claudio Skornicki
Out-of-State Florida Bar member
New York, New York
Leon Claudio Skornicki is an associate attorney at DLA Piper in New York City. His primary areas of practice are commercial litigation and arbitration. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in September 2010, is a member of The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, and is also a member of the New York and American Bar Associations. Since joining DLA Piper in 2010, Skornicki has embraced pro bono work providing an average of 300 pro bono hours during each of the past three years. His work ranges from working with individuals in need (mainly in asylum proceedings and criminal defense work), to assisting nonprofits, to providing pro bono work to developing countries around the world. Criminal representations have also been a large portion of Skornicki’s pro bono work. He has successfully defended three indigent individuals, all of whom only spoke Spanish. In nonprofit counsel, Skornicki currently provides legal advice to Transportation Alternative (New York City’s leading transportation advocacy organization) as part of that organization’s Harbor Ring Initiative.