The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award winners announced
The Florida Bar will recognize 22 lawyers for their work on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged clients at a January 30 ceremony at the Supreme Court in Tallahassee.
Established in 1981, The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards are intended to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor. The annual awards recognize those who make public service commitments and raise public awareness of the volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers. Florida Bar President John M. Stewart will present the 2020 awards.
The awards recognize pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits (with two honorees this year in the 14th Circuit) as well as service by one Florida Bar member practicing outside the state of Florida. They are presented annually in conjunction with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, which is given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Awards recognizing pro bono contributions also will be presented in the categories of Distinguished Judicial Service, Distinguished Federal Judicial Service, Law Firm Commendation, Voluntary Bar Association, and Young Lawyers Division.
By the latest available reporting period, Florida attorneys collectively provided more than 1.6 million hours of free legal service and, in addition, more than 24,000 hours were provided through law firms, along with donations of more than $6.2 million in legal aid.
This year’s ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, January 30, at 3:30 p.m. at the Supreme Court of Florida. Watch it at http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridasupremecourt and The Florida Channel. Here are the 2020 circuit honorees.
Shelley Guy Reynolds
Shelley Guy Reynolds, a graduate of The Florida State University School of Law in 1989, began her legal career at the State Attorney’s Office in Escambia County. Working in the juvenile division, she felt most helpful to the families of young, troubled children. Now Reynolds, who has her own practice, works with Legal Services of North Florida on domestic violence cases and child delinquency cases, having invested seven months and more than 250 hours on a case with one child. Reynolds worked to preserve the child’s legal status within the United States and to keep the child from being housed in a Department of Juvenile Justice program. Her stubborn commitment to the child didn’t make her popular with her adversaries, but eventually, thanks to the hard work by co-counsel at LSNF and a special, out-of-town Guardian Ad Litem, they secured a favorable result for the child. Reynolds’ pro bono work changed the way the juvenile court now handles immigrant children’s delinquency cases.
Robert G. Churchill, Jr.
Second Judicial Circuit
Robert G. Churchill, Jr., has dedicated hundreds of hours to pro bono legal work, appearing as counsel of record in more than 30 pro bono consumer law matters. In his Tallahassee practice, Churchill provides daily pro bono client consultations on landlord-tenant issues, creditor/debtor collection matters, wage and bank garnishments, and consumer law issues. He also offers recurring legal advice for pro bono clients at Legal Services of North Florida and Legal Aid Foundation’s “Mobile Law for All” client outreach service, Legal Services of North Florida’s Helpline from Home, Tallahassee Senior Center legal advice weekly meetings, and Small Claims and Landlord/Tenant Legal Advice Clinics. Churchill also serves as an “on call” case supervisor resource for the Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee, so that attorneys handling complex issues in pro bono work in his areas of experience are well informed and prepared for litigation and negotiation. He has given freely of his time to train others on how to represent pro bono clients in consumer law matters.
Sandra K. Haas
Shortly after opening her law office in 1995, Sandra K. Haas began doing pro bono work with people from Branford and several counties surrounding Suwannee County. She had discovered that a significant number of elderly clients could not afford to pay an attorney to prepare their wills, power of attorney, designation of healthcare surrogate and living wills. In December 2007, she became the supervising attorney for the Third Circuit Guardian Ad Litem program. Haas was still helping people in her community during that time, but she was not allowed to do pro bono work. When she retired from GAL in 2010, she resumed her pro bono work — helping the elderly who needed deeds, wills and other documents prepared but who could not afford to pay an attorney for those services. Not long after, Haas began volunteering with Three Rivers Legal Services – a nonprofit law firm providing free legal help in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Lake City – preparing wills, power of attorney documents, designation of healthcare surrogates and living wills. Haas enjoys meeting these clients she feels privileged to serve.
Michael E. Lockamy
Michael E. Lockamy has provided more than 100 hours of pro bono services in a variety of different and challenging areas. He has volunteered in the Guardian Advocate program of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and in the federal courts trying a prisoner civil rights case. After the U.S. Supreme Court held that juveniles charged and sentenced as adults could not be sentenced to life in prison without meaningful review, Lockamy volunteered to help represent some of the 55 defendants entitled to be resentenced in Florida. Despite not having practiced criminal defense law, Lockamy undertook significant work in the Jackie Cogdell case over the span of two and a half years. Lockamy was an important member of the defense team and participated in the three-day sentencing hearing, which resulted in the imposition of a new sentence and the release of Cogdell. In addition to his day-to-day practice as an attorney with the Bedell Firm in Jacksonville, Lockamy has served as a representative from the Fourth Judicial Circuit on the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division’s Board of Governors. He also serves as a board member of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section.
Scott T. Smith
Fifth Judicial Circuit
Scott T. Smith took his first pro bono case in 2007 through Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. Smith assists clients in pro se forms workshops and participates in legal advice clinics, providing more than 100 hours of pro bono services each year. He has also taken on difficult family law cases providing full representation. When Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida no longer had a physical office in Brooksville, Smith volunteered the use of his own office for workshops and legal advice clinics. Smith worked with Community Legal Services to establish a Family Law Forms Review Clinic, which is held at the Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville. When asked why he does pro bono, Smith states: “What I have seen over the years of practice is that assisting in a just result for one individual or family may have a positive impact for generations to come and for society as a whole.” Smith received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1991 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a Juris Doctor in 1994 from Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire.
Kristina Elizabeth Feher
Kristina Elizabeth Feher has dedicated nearly 20 years and more than 370 hours to St. Petersburg’s Community Law Program. This “faithful volunteer,” as the program’s executive director describes her, was named the Community Law Program’s Pro Bono Young Lawyer of the Year in 2012 and then their Volunteer of the Year in 2019. Feher started her pro bono service at the Community Law Program with a two-hour clinic once a month. Since then, Feher has helped a non-profit obtain its incorporation and tax-exempt status, helped a single mother with filing for bankruptcy, and assisted another single mother with mediating a paternity case. She also helped a Spanish-speaking immigrant maintain primary timesharing with the father of their child. Her largest contribution has been volunteering her time during bankruptcy community education events and foreclosure forums. In 2016, when a new program to recruit more volunteer attorneys to handle family law cases was created, Feher jumped at the opportunity. This was just another example of her versatility and professionalism and dedication to her profession and community.
Vincent L. Sullivan
While in law school at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Sullivan volunteered for pro bono clinics and cases. Then, in 2015 when he earned his law degree, Sullivan immersed himself in the St. Johns County Legal Aid community. He drives twice a month from Flagler County to St. Johns to continue his volunteer work there. Sullivan has interviewed clients and attended the Pro Bono Consumer Class at St. Johns Legal Aid twice a month for his entire career as an attorney and he has accepted cases as well. Sullivan’s volunteer work makes a huge difference at St. Johns County Legal Aid. He has done more pro bono work in the five years he has been a Bar member than most lawyers do in their career: at least 100 hours per year, every year, consistently and conscientiously. Sullivan received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Flagler College and his Juris Doctor in 2015 from Florida Coastal School of Law. He is currently an associate attorney with Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant P.L. in Palm Coast.
Marynelle Hardee shares her pro bono time with the Statewide Guardian ad Litem office and Three Rivers Legal Services. Hardee has volunteered with the Defending Best Interests Project since 2017, which works with the Guardian ad Litem’s appellate division on appeals in dependence and termination of parental rights cases. In all, Hardee has devoted approximately 145 hours on four cases for Guardian ad Litem. Her efforts have helped numerous children including two who have been adopted. In addition to finding permanent homes for individual children, Hardee volunteers writing appeal briefs for the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office. In 2019, Hardee won a case and helped secure a written opinion that will help Florida’s dependent children going forward. Hardee also volunteers with Three Rivers Legal Services. For the last two years, she has taken cases from the agency in areas of family law, probate and appeals. She has handled a guardian advocacy case and the probate of an estate to clear title to heirs’ property, to name a few.
Maureen Ann Arago
Since 1990 Maureen Ann Arago has provided pro bono services to low-income clients, helping countless individuals get a fresh start. Eight years ago, Arago began volunteering with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. She regularly participates in CLSMF’s bankruptcy legal advice clinics and represents clients with Chapter 7 bankruptcies, probate and real estate cases. In 2011, Arago joined the CLSMF board of directors, where she chaired the Private Attorney Involvement, Priorities, and Delivery of Legal Services committees. During her tenure, the CLSMF board successfully worked to increase the percentage of services provided on a pro bono basis by private lawyers. The board also increased the number of CLSMF staff working with private pro bono lawyers. As a result, not only do more people receive services, but services are also more responsive through the combined experiences and resources. Arago alone has provided close to 150 pro bono hours. In recognition of her pro bono service, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida awarded her the Belvin Perry Jr. Legacy of Justice Award in 2019.
Susan Lilian Ojeda
Susan Lilian Ojeda always has had a passion for helping others. Before receiving her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law in 2001, Ojeda was the recipient of the William F. Blews Pro Bono Service Award, an award given to students who provide pro bono services beyond what is required for graduation. In 2003, Ojeda founded Bay Life Legal Ministry, Inc. In 2009, it was renamed Legal Ministry HELP, Inc. It is a nonprofit organization providing free legal services to those in need, and Ojeda has served as director and volunteer attorney since it was founded 17 years ago. The type of pro bono work provided with Legal Ministry HELP, Inc. includes obtaining domestic violence injunctions and assistance with dissolutions of marriage and child custody cases for victims of abuse; assistance for the elderly; assisting widows and widowers; drafting legal documents for immigrants; paternity cases and child support cases; and legal counseling and drafting of wills and other legal documents for indigent persons. She has donated more than 300 hours of pro bono work in the last reporting period.
Joshua Byrne Spector
Joshua Byrne Spector credits the University of Miami School of Law’s H.O.P.E. Public Interest Resource Center and its founder, Assistant Dean Marni Lennon, for instilling a habit of public service in him and other Miami Law students. Since graduating in 2002, he has embodied that spirit of public service and spent countless hours helping others. While volunteering with Lawyers for Children America, Spector represented more than a dozen clients in the foster care system including one case that spanned more than eight years. In 2009, Spector had the privilege of arguing on behalf of a pro bono client before the Florida Supreme Court in a case assigned by The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section. Over the past two years, Spector represented Florida’s Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office in numerous appeals. The office honored him with a Children’s Champion Award in 2019. In the past two years, Spector devoted more than 265 hours on eight cases for the GAL Program. His efforts have helped numerous children reach permanency.
Jesse R. Butler
Jesse R. Butler, a partner with the law firm Dickinson & Gibbons, P.A., in Sarasota, began taking pro bono cases from Legal Aid of Manasota in 2013. Since then, he has donated more than 217 pro bono hours to the organization. Butler has taken many appellate court cases on behalf of Guardian ad Litem and has been instrumental in helping abused, abandoned and neglected children achieve permanency. Butler has spent more than 172 hours specifically handling more than a dozen appeals for the Defending Best Interests Project, an initiative of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office to protect the best interests of children by recruiting pro bono attorneys to write answer briefs in termination of parental rights appeals. Thanks to his dedication and advocacy on behalf of the children he has represented through the project, he has helped more than a dozen reach permanency. Butler also recently received the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office’s Children’s Champion Award, in recognition of his dedication to pro bono representation of abused and neglected children through the Defending Best Interests Project.
Jenay E. Iurato
In the past seven years, Jenay E. Iurato has dedicated herself to assisting human trafficking survivors and serving as trial/co-counsel with Brent Woody, Esq., founder of the Justice Restoration Center (JRC), a nonprofit serving human trafficking clients. The JRC is currently serving close to 200 clients, all on a pro bono basis, with expungement of their criminal records and other legal services. Not only have JRC’s clients benefitted, but her fellow attorneys are more aware of human trafficking because of Iurato’s hard work. Her passion for raising awareness of human trafficking continues to expand as she serves as a guest lecturer on and organizer of various panels relating to human trafficking. Iurato participated in a small focus group over the last couple of years to help encourage the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit to implement a human trafficking court. In part because of her persistence, this will soon become a reality. Iurato earned her Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law in 2000 and serves as co-managing member with her husband, Kevin Iurato, at Iurato Law Firm, PL., in Tampa.
LaDray Brandan Gilbert
LaDray Brandan Gilbert serves many individuals and families in and around his native Marianna, providing as many as 300 hours of pro bono work each year. In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in 2018, Gilbert provided pro bono services to residents of Jackson County and surrounding areas. Despite being displaced for more than 30 days from his own home, Gilbert continued to support others by providing pro bono legal advice to homeowners and renters displaced without insurance. He made referrals for local resources, provided guidance on how to apply for FEMA assistance, and explained the FEMA appeal process. He negotiated with landlords on behalf of residents to reduce rent and terminate leases, some without penalty, and advised landlords on their rights, roles and responsibilities to tenants after a natural disaster and the liabilities of uninhabitable property. Aside from his work with hurricane relief, Gilbert worked pro bono as lead counsel for a felony murder trial in Jackson County. The client Gilbert represented is now a free man, thanks largely to his more than 125 hours of pro bono service on the case.
Nicholas Joseph Youtz
Nicholas Joseph Youtz has a passion for pro bono service that not even a category 5 hurricane could diminish. Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael in 2018, Youtz demonstrated overwhelming compassion and volunteerism as he helped his neighbors in desperate need. Youtz and others gave of their time in rescue and recovery efforts despite the storm’s effects on their own families and businesses. Armed with his pro bono experience and a network of volunteer attorneys, Youtz and the managing attorney at Denise Hallmon Rowan & Associates, P.A., went to work providing legal assistance to their community. Together, Youtz and Denise Rowan helped coordinate a landlord tenant legal clinic to address the unprecedented housing crisis that resulted after the storm. The clinic grew to include Legal Services of North Florida as well as many local attorneys who volunteered their time to address the myriad issues facing Bay County residents after the devastation of their homes and businesses. Youtz has helped implement an online application and referral service with the hope of matching more volunteer attorneys to clients in need.
Donia Adams Roberts
For more than 20 years, Donia Adams Roberts has been providing pro bono services to vulnerable children and families through the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. She has devoted 400 hours of pro bono services in a variety of family, probate and guardianship cases. Her most recent case was a complicated probate, one that took more than five years to resolve. An elderly woman was living in a house with her mother and her disabled sister. Prior to her death, the mother had quit claimed the house to the client so she could remain in the house and care for her disabled sibling. However, the mother took out a reverse mortgage and the mortgage company put the house back in the mother’s name. The mother then died intestate and a probate needed to be completed to allow the client to remain in the house to care for the disabled sibling for whom she was the guardian. Roberts worked tirelessly on behalf of this client and her disabled sibling – just one example of how she helps the most vulnerable in her community.
Loriellen Kelley Robertson
Loriellen Kelley Robertson’s commitment to providing legal services in pro bono clinics sponsored by Legal Services of Greater Miami and hosted by the 16th circuit pro bono committee has eased a tremendous burden for clients by providing them access to the justice system. It is common knowledge to all the attorneys who volunteer and work with the Legal Services of Greater Miami clinic that Robertson is the “go-to” attorney when it comes to family law matters. She sits with clients who have the most complicated cases. Robertson is patient and compassionate with domestic violence victims. She assists them in moving forward with difficult and emotional legal decisions. Coupled with her kind nature, Robertson is knowledgeable and precise when helping clients understand everything from time sharing to child support. Clients who come in scared and distraught leave empowered and strong after working with Robertson. Robertson earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida in 2001. She then attended law school at the University of Miami. In 2012, Robertson and her law partner formed The Law Office of Robertson & Hunter in Key West.
Jorge Enrique Hurtado
Jorge Enrique Hurtado has been a volunteer with Legal Aid agencies since 1993, taking an average of two cases per year ever since. From divorce to bankruptcy to domestic abuse to landlord/tenant issues, Hurtado has handled just about every kind of case for Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida in the last 27 years. He has spent more than 430 hours volunteering with Legal Aid in Broward County. Over the years, Hurtado has taken 57 full-representation pro bono cases and has also volunteered with the Legal Aid Advice & Counsel Hotline to advise 29 more clients. Primarily assisting survivors of domestic violence with resolving their family law issues, including obtaining restraining orders and divorces, Hurtado has helped many survivors to flee their abusers and establish independence from their abusive relationships. On the Advice Hotline, Hurtado has advised clients on their housing, consumer debt and post-judgment family law issues and assisted clients with Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Hurtado was born in Colombia, South America, and arrived in Queens, N.Y., in 1970. He graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1990.
Andrew J. Chmelir
Andrew J. Chmelir has been providing pro bono services in Central Florida for approximately 23 years for the Legal Aid programs in Seminole as well as in neighboring Orange County. Through the Legal Aid Society of Seminole County, Chmelir routinely conducts free criminal record sealing and expungement seminars and offers free legal assistance for low-income individuals who lack the knowledge to navigate the legal process. As a Guardian ad Litem, he represents abused and neglected children in juvenile dependency proceedings and provides a voice to children who otherwise would not be heard. For the past 10 years, Chmelir has been providing pro bono representation for dependent children. He dedicated more than 80 hours to resolve one sensitive parenting dispute in a dissolution of marriage case. Chmelir is a partner in the law firm of Jacobson, Chmelir & Ferwerda in Winter Springs.
Jason David Berger
Jason David Berger has been volunteering with Florida Rural Legal Services for the past decade. Berger has assisted many low-income, elderly and disabled clients. He has provided hundreds of hours pro bono working on behalf of clients with various matters including family law, estate planning, wage claims, income maintenance, consumer-related matters and other issues. He has volunteered not just in his home county of Martin, but also in neighboring St. Lucie County. Berger zealously advocates on behalf of his clients, finding a way to help the most vulnerable. Berger is committed to serving clients and will often agree to meet with a client who has been turned down by other attorneys. In his service to his pro bono clients, he is diligent, professional and devoted. Along with his pro bono work, Berger has created an internship program. He also mentors high school students, paralegals, college students and law students. Since 2012, Berger has mentored more than 20 interns, two of whom are now practicing attorneys.
Beverly Lynn Brennan
Beverly Lynn Brennan has volunteered to represent children in multiple cases for Legal Aid Service of Collier County. Her dedication to these children, most of whom have faced extraordinary abuse, is unwavering. In one case, Brennan provided years of representation for four siblings who had endured multiple removals from their mother and abandonment by their father. Brennan met with the children, school counselors, Guardian ad Litems, foster parents and others. Her steady, consistent and reliable presence created a sense of comfort and confidence in each child that their voices would be heard. Without Brennan and her hard work and dedication, permanency for these children would not have been achieved. In another case, Brennan spent many hours with a teenage girl who had suffered abuse. The teenager is now a thriving high school senior. Aside from appointments as both a Guardian ad Litem and an Attorney ad Litem for children involved in family litigation, Brennan created a training program for lawyers interested in accepting appointments as Attorneys ad Litem for children in foster care.
Charles D. Tobin
Charles D. Tobin is co-practice leader of Ballard Spahr LLP’s Media and Entertainment Law Group based in the firm’s Washington, D.C, office. Tobin appears in state and federal courts around the country defending the First Amendment rights of journalists and news media and entertainment companies in defamation, privacy and freedom of information litigation. Ballard Spahr’s commitment to providing free legal services to those in need is deeply ingrained in the firm’s culture and exemplified by Tobin. He is a recognized leader in the media defense bar at a time when First Amendment issues and the rights of a free press need strong defenders. In the past 12 months alone, Tobin logged more than 100 pro bono hours. He also devoted many hours to mentoring the next generation of attorneys, to ensure that his firm’s legacy as a leading pro bono firm will continue. Among other important pro bono work, Tobin led a team of attorneys that successfully represented the National Press Club and other media organizations in the fight to free Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son from federal detention.