The Florida Bar Presidents Pro Bono Service Awards
Recipients of the pro bono service awards gather with the justices and Florida Bar President Michael Higer after the January 25 ceremony at the Supreme Court.
THE FLORIDA BAR PRESIDENT’S 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. ( Watch the Pro Bono Service Awards Ceremony 2018. )
THE FLORIDA BAR
PRESIDENT’S PRO BONO
SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENTS
Antonio Bruni has been part of the Pensacola legal community since Hurricane Ivan blew him into town in 2004, just a few months after he earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.
He originally represented employers and insurance carriers in the defense of workers’ compensation claims, but in 2010 he shifted his practice to representing injured workers and Social Security disability claimants. He has been with Michles & Booth, P.A., in Pensacola since 2012 and is admitted to the U.S. District Court-Northern District of Florida.
Bruni has provided pro bono services since his time in law school, where he would help at-risk high school students seek and maintain employment as part of their probation. It was work that he found more rewarding than his clerking for an insurance defense firm.
Once settled in Pensacola, Bruni began volunteering with Legal Services of North Florida, and he has been a regular at Veterans Stand Down events in Escambia and Okaloosa counties since 2010.
In November 2016, Legal Services of North Florida called Bruni with a special assignment: Put together a seminar that would teach attorneys how to take a Social Security disability claim from application through appeal to a hearing with an administrative law judge.
This offered Bruni a chance to go beyond helping only the clients he could see on a daily basis, and he leaped at the chance. He put together a comprehensive yet practical guide on handling both adult and child disability claims. His guide covered everything from jargon used by Social Security workers to the cross-examination of vocational experts at an actual hearing.
Every strategy Bruni had learned in seven years of practicing disability law found its way into the seminar packet, which also included forms that had been created and tested in the real world.
Bruni continues to answer the phone when Legal Services of North Florida calls, working at Veterans Stand Down events, and sharing his knowledge whenever he can.
Dan B. Hendrickson
Technically, Dan B. Hendrickson retired in 2014, after 25 years as an assistant public defender in Tallahassee. That doesn’t mean he has stopped representing people in need, donating at least 1,000 hours a year in pro bono services.
Hendrickson has spent his life in public service, first as an aide in a state hospital and then organizing community services in Appalachia, where he has his roots. Eighteen years after he graduated from college, he earned his J.D. in 1988 from Stetson University College of Law, and in 1989 he began his long career as a public defender, mostly representing Baker Act and other mental health clients.
Since his retirement, he has devoted his time to numerous veteran projects. His most recent is the Tallahassee Veterans Legal Collaborative, which he created in 2015 to bring together several organizations to serve the legal needs of veterans. Since February 2017, with help from state funding, the collaborative has offered an advice and referral service for veterans every week at the American Legion in Tallahassee. Hendrickson has volunteered 184 hours at the clinic.
Hendrickson also helped create the legal services program for the first North Florida Homeless Veterans Stand Down, and he has continued to coordinate the program for the last five years. In 2017, he volunteered 217 hours with that program. He also mentors law students, and in 2018, the FSU Veterans Legal Clinic will offer services using Florida State University law students supervised by a professor.
“Dan is a tireless worker and the driving force behind the Veterans Stand Downs,” Leon County Judge Ronald W. Flury said. “His passion motivates everyone else around him.”
In 2015, Hendrickson pushed the Legislature to provide recurring funds for a Veterans Treatment Court in Leon County. Meanwhile, he continues to serve clients facing mental health issues, helping a family negotiate an Incompetent to Proceed opinion in a murder case, and representing another family in a medical malpractice/wrongful death case. Those two cases alone involved almost 200 hours of pro bono work.
It’s no exaggeration when Nancy Daniels, who served for 26 years as public defender for the Second Circuit, says Hendrickson “spends all of his time helping others.”
John J. Kendron
John J. Kendron was admitted to The Florida Bar in 2000, and it didn’t take him long to become involved as a pro bono volunteer.
He has spent his career practicing in Lake City, where he helped form Robinson, Kennon & Kendron, P.A., in 2005 and specializes in estate planning, probate and elder law. In rural North Florida, home ownership and real property problems are common and complicated. These cases are a priority for Three Rivers Legal Services, but the staff at TRLS would be unable to meet the demand alone.
That’s where Kendron steps in.
He has been volunteering with Three Rivers Legal Services for more than 15 years, and during the past few years he has provided more than 100 hours of service to 15 clients with probate and guardianship matters. These clients were mostly low-income and elderly homeowners trying to clear title to their property so they would be eligible for funding to make their homes safe and habitable.
Additionally, Kendron has provided training to the staff attorneys of TRLS and has served as a mentor to the attorneys regarding probate and guardianship matters.
Kendron also serves the community in a number of ways.
He volunteers with the Office of the Public Guardian (where he is on the Board of Directors), Columbia County Senior Services (where he has twice served on the Board of Directors) and St. James Episcopal Church. He is an active member of the Third Judicial Circuit Bar Association, currently serving as president. During his term, he has promoted pro bono service throughout the legal community.
Kendron also serves as a member of numerous legal committees, including the Statewide Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, the Third Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, the Third Circuit Grievance Committee, and the Third Circuit Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee.
Kendron also received the President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Third Judicial Circuit in 2006 and 2009.
He is a graduate of Florida State University and also received his J.D. there in 2000.
Andrea P. Reyes
Andrea P. Reyes was born in Bogota, Colombia.
After serving as secretary and president of the Colombian Student Association and being involved in Amnesty International and the Hispanic Student Union during her undergraduate years at Florida State University, she knew that her calling was immigration law.
At Florida Coastal School of Law, she volunteered with social and cultural programs related to immigration. She was the secretary of the Volunteer Immigrant Student Alliance and was involved in the Hispanic American Lawyers Student Association. She also worked at the school’s Immigrant Rights Clinical Program, and she received Pro Bono Honors when she received her J.D. in 2012.
That dedication to a cause did not lessen when she became a lawyer.
As a solo practitioner at Reyes Legal, PLLC, in Jacksonville, she devotes 100 percent of her practice to immigration issues. She also devotes many pro bono hours – more than 300 over the last three years – to provide affirmative and defensive representation to immigrants before the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Executive Office of Immigration Review.
Reyes’ pro bono cases come from many sources: referrals from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the quarterly Ask-A-Lawyer events hosted by the Jacksonville Bar Association and even referrals from her colleagues in the community.
Her fluency in Spanish helps her reach members of the community who often are voiceless and overlooked. The immigrants she helps face many challenges, including transportation (they often pay $200 to $500 for a ride from Jacksonville to Orlando for Immigration Court); availability of documentation from their home countries; fear of retaliation from cartels, gangs, or even violent partners; and racial profiling from law enforcement.
Pro bono cases Reyes has accepted include Certificate of Citizenship, asylum, naturalization waivers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, removal defense, and U-nonimmigrant status, for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse. At last count, Reyes had 11 other cases still pending.
Reyes has said that no one is “illegal.” Rather, they are simply in need of legal guidance through the complex and convoluted world that is U.S. immigration law.
Danialle Riggins says she does pro bono because “people matter.” “To me, that phrase is the main reason I volunteer and perform pro bono legal services,” she says. “Pro bono legal services provide financially disadvantaged people with a fighting chance.”
Riggins’ commitment to pro bono service dates to her years at the Florida A&M University College of Law, when she worked as a law clerk with Withlacoochee Area Legal Services (the predecessor of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida).
Since earning her J.D. and being admitted to the Bar in 2005, Riggins has provided pro bono legal services to low-income residents of Marion County. She currently participates in Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida’s landlord-tenant legal advice clinic, providing more than 100 hours of free legal services per year. That includes providing legal advice and assistance to pro se clients, as well as providing full representation in cases to preserve housing for clients.
Riggins was instrumental in helping CLSMF establish the landlord-tenant legal advice clinic, which is held monthly at the Marion County Courthouse. She also participates in community legal education events, making tenants aware of their rights and responsibilities.
“The ability to afford a retainer should not stop a person from being represented,” Riggins says. “Sometimes justice comes from simply being heard, or having one’s position being considered even if it is not fully appreciated by law or society.”
Riggins took an interesting path to the legal profession. She was a photojournalist for the Ocala StarBanner for five years between her graduation from the University of Florida and her admission to law school.
In 2008, she opened Riggins Law Firm, P.A., in Ocala, where she specializes in employment law, family law, landlord-tenant matters, and real property.
In addition to her pro bono work, she is active in her community and sorority, Zeta Phi Beta. She is a member of the Church at the Springs, where she provides pro bono legal services to members, and was a Teen Court volunteer. She serves on The Florida Bar Diversity and Inclusion Committee and on the boards of directors for ARC Marion and Youth Against Substance Abuse.
Erica K. Smith
Erica K. Smith has been an invaluable volunteer with the Community Law Program in St. Petersburg, as well a guardian ad litem who has made a difference in the lives of many children. She also is active in her legal and local communities, all while being a shareholder at Fisher & Sauls, P.A., in St. Petersburg.
It’s a daunting workload, but then Smith has faced bigger obstacles. In her senior year at the College of William & Mary, Smith was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Though facing an uncertain future, she applied to the Stetson College of Law, was accepted, and joined the honors program. However, the illness forced her to drop out for a year. Still, she returned and, in 2007 received her J.D.
In her first year as a lawyer, Smith joined the Guardian ad Litem Program and became a GAL to two teen mothers. She also served as a visiting GAL, making monthly visits to 12 children.
When the program had difficulty finding a volunteer to take a case involving five children, Smith recognized the need and jumped in. She has been involved in about 20 cases involving children in the dependency court system who were abused, abandoned, or neglected.
Smith began volunteering with the Community Law Program in 2012, after she joined Fisher & Sauls (which staffed the monthly Elder Law Clinic). She has worked at the two-hour clinic almost every month, and she appreciates that the clinics offer the elderly a chance to get out and socialize. She also takes on extended service cases, for example, helping an elderly client who had suffered a fall get a small settlement, then drafting special needs trust documents.
She has served as president of the St. Petersburg Bar, chair of the Young Lawyer Section of the St. Petersburg Bar, co-chair and then chair of the St. Petersburg Bar’s Real Property Section, member of the St. Petersburg Bar’s Executive Committee and chair of the Membership Committee.
She also is a mentor at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg and has been involved with hospice and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. Oh, and she raises puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Pamela R. Masters
Pamela R. Masters has donated her legal expertise almost from the day she began practicing law, and today she is more involved than ever.
Fresh out of the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1986, Masters volunteered with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and was recognized for 10 consecutive years of pro bono work. She also worked with the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts Legal Program and as a volunteer mediator at the Justice Center of Atlanta.
Later, during her almost six years with the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Florida, as a director of central staff attorneys and then clerk of court, Masters worked with local appellate practitioners to develop a pro bono appellate program.
In 2016, she returned to private practice, as a collaborative family law practitioner and mediator with Cobb Cole, P.A., in Daytona Beach, and she immediately offered her services to the Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida legal clinic. She also takes referral cases from legal aid and looks for other local family law lawyers to take cases that need full representation.
In her first 13 months volunteering with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Masters provided almost 200 hours of pro bono assistance to 39 clients.
“In a system created and operated by fallible human beings, justice is imperfect, to say the least,” says Masters, who was named Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida’s 2017 Volunteer Attorney of the Year. “I would certainly lose my will were justice the sole goal. For me, the work is more about compassion and generosity. It is about making sure that people feel heard and cared about.”
Masters is also active in her community. She records books and periodicals that are distributed by the Florida Division of Blind Services. She established Grassroots Giving, a nonprofit corporation that helps underprivileged children participate in activities such as band, dance and athletics.
She also is a board member for Community Partnership for Children, which provides child welfare services for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned, and she is a board member for The House Next Door, which provides affordable family education and support programs including counseling and parenting classes.
Raymond F. Brady
In 1997, Raymond F. Brady received The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Award for the Eighth Judicial Circuit. After 20 years, his enthusiasm for pro bono work remains.
Brady, who received his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1985, has been volunteering with Three Rivers Legal Services since the early 1990s. Using his expertise in personal injury and wrongful death cases, he has helped Three Rivers clients deal with the insurance and health care industries.
Brady also has gone beyond accepting referrals, which he continues to do.
Most recently, Brady spearheaded the creation of a Senior Medical Legal Partnership with Three Rivers Legal Services, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and UF Health. The project helps seniors who are at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation and addresses their legal needs.
In 2015, Brady helped create an Ask-A-Lawyer project soon after the opening of Grace Marketplace, a service center and shelter for people who are homeless. He has recruited volunteer attorneys and even helped get the public defender involved, because many of the issues people faced were criminal matters. Through the project, nearly 30 lawyers have volunteered, providing more than 700 hours of service to about 260 clients.
“His compassion and enthusiasm for helping this population has inspired other lawyers to volunteer,” said Jodi Siegel, executive director of Southern Legal Counsel.
Brady also has provided significant assistance to individual cases, for example helping one woman at Grace Marketplace navigate a complex process to secure a title for her van and helping another woman avoid liability for damage caused by her violent and mentally ill husband.
Brady, who works with Perry, Vloedman & Brady, has lived in Gainesville since moving there from Miami to attend the University of Florida.
He is currently president of the Three Rivers Board of Directors. He has played a big part in expanding pro bono services delivered by the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, of which he is a longstanding board member. Outside of legal issues, he is active in building support for Grace Marketplace and often helps organize meals there, even cooking and serving food with his wife.
John R. Dierking
John R. Dierking became a member of the Bar in 1992, after a career in banking, and joined Holland & Knight in Orlando that same year. He also became a member of the Orange County Bar Association and the association’s pro bono panel.
As a specialist in mergers and acquisitions, Dierking thought he would accept some pro bono nonprofit incorporation work from legal aid. But his wife, Lavinia Keefer Dierking, who had become a lawyer nine years earlier, was handling Guardian ad Litem cases from legal aid, and she shared her stories about the children and their problems.
Helping children appealed to Dierking, and he accepted his first GAL case, one involving two siblings.
This past August, Dierking agreed to accept another case with two siblings. After 25 years and cases involving more than 125 children and more than 2,500 hours on closed cases, Dierking is still advocating for children who have been victims of neglect, abuse or abandonment.
“My pro bono service as a Guardian ad Litem over the last 25 years has been and continues to be perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my practice,” Dierking said.
He isn’t put off by the challenge of accepting sibling groups, and he tries to keep siblings together.
“It is amazing to see how children – even young children – naturally assume a parental role of caring for and watching out for their younger siblings, when the parents themselves are neglecting their role,” he said.
Dierking, who earned his J.D. at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, is still with Holland & Knight, as a partner in the Orlando office and a member of the firm’s Mergers and Acquisitions Team. He received the 2007 Award of Merit and the 2017 Judge J.C. “Jake” Stone Distinguished Service Award from the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association.
He also is active in the Kiwanis Club and helped establish the Lake Eola Charter School, where he has served on the School Advisory Committee and as chair of the Board of Directors.
Stephen R. Senn
Stephen R. Senn is no stranger to the annual Pro Bono Awards ceremony, having also earned The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award in 2006 and 2011.
Senn, who received his J.D. from Florida State University in 1989, has been engaged as counsel in pro bono matters throughout his career.
The most significant pro bono case in which Senn is currently involved is a family rights case that asks the question: Does a known natural father have a due process right to notice and to be heard so that he can seek custody of his son as the state tries to terminate the parental rights of the child’s mother and her long-estranged husband?
Senn recently filed a writ of certiorari that, if granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, would allow the court to clarify the rights of biological fathers.
Over the years, he has taken on cases as varied as a migrant farmworker whose truck was sold by a repair shop, a woman who was victimized by identity theft, a child who did not want to be returned to her father after her mother’s death, a Turkish family that lost its half-interest in a restaurant, numerous foreclosure actions, and a dispute between Friends of the Ritz and the leadership of the historic Ritz Theater in Winter Haven.
Senn has provided counsel, usually on employment issues, to people who are unable to afford legal advice. He also has provided pro bono legal services to organizations such as Anchor House, Polk Academies Advisory Board, Healthy Start Coalition, Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center, and the Alliance for Independence.
In 2017, Senn reported more than 430 hours of pro bono service.
He also has supported pro bono organizations such as The Florida Bar Foundation (board member since 2012 and currently chair of the Investments Committee), Florida Rural Legal Services (he was president from 2009-2011), the Pro Bono Committee of the 10th Circuit (since 1999), and the Florida Equal Justice Center, until its recent dissolution.
Senn, who is board certified in appellate practice, has been with Peterson & Myers, P.A., in Lakeland since 1991 and has been a shareholder since 1999.
David Alschuler, asked how he finds the time to do pro bono legal work, says: “When you make the commitment, you make the time.” Alschuler has made that commitment.
Circuit Court Judge Scott M. Bernstein, in one of several letters endorsing Alschuler’s nomination, recalled an “extraordinary piece of legal work” Alschuler performed for a man charged with contempt over unpaid alimony. “The litigant could have tried the patience of most any lawyer,” Bernstein wrote, “but Mr. Alschuler was always courteous with him.” In the end, the case was resolved without a jail sanction.
Over the years, Alschuler has performed about 2,000 hours of pro bono work. He regularly volunteers with the Put Something Back Pro Bono Project and also has volunteered with the Dade County Bar Association, the Miami Beach Bar Association, the Florida Department of Children and Families, the State Attorney’s Office, the League of Prosecutors, the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers-Miami Chapter, and various voluntary bars and committees, as well as area law schools and high schools.
Alschuler also volunteers as a mentor and works with community organizations. He mentored one young man for a year through the “I’m Ready” program, a sort of alternative boot camp, after the young man had been convicted of serious offenses. He also mentors law students, colleagues, and new pro bono attorneys and has taught about 400 lawyers how to serve as a guardian ad litem in foreclosure cases.
This past year, Alschuler served as chair of the newly created Juvenile Court Committee, coordinating meetings and events, and developing a mission statement and a two-hour CLE seminar on dependency and termination of parental rights case law. He even paid dues out of his own pocket for government lawyers who wanted to serve.
Alschuler, who earned his J.D. in 1985 at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, is a solo practitioner in the strictest sense of the phrase, with no staff in his Miami Beach office.
“I am doing what we are all supposed to do,” Alschuler said. “Giving back our time and expertise to the community.”
Robert L. Young
Robert L. Young earned his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2013, with a pro bono notation for public service, and became a member of The Florida Bar that October.
But he didn’t wait around to find his first paying gig before he went knocking on the door at Legal Aid of Manasota, volunteering to do pro bono work as an unpaid clerk and then as a full-time attorney.
Legal Aid of Manasota said he was an “extraordinary” volunteer, assisting with many cases, and that dedication to pro bono service didn’t stop when he joined Icard Merrill in Sarasota the following February.
Young continued to take on numerous family law cases, which can be the most difficult for legal aid groups to place with private attorneys. Young concentrates his practice in the area of marital and family law, and many of the cases he has accepted are high-conflict cases in which he is acting as the attorney for children in the 12th Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem Program.
In 2014, Young helped launch a pilot program in the 12th Circuit designed to provide guardians ad litem for children involved in high-conflict divorce and custody cases. All the volunteers for the ground-breaking program were from Icard Merrill.
In the four years he has been a lawyer, Young has worked on more than 70 pro bono cases, donating more than 500 pro bono hours.
Young is a member of the Sarasota County Bar Association (SCBA), a member of the SCBA Family Law Section, and serves on the board of the SCBA Young Lawyers Division. He is also a member of The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section and a member of the 12th Circuit Pro Bono Committee.
Outside of the legal profession, Young currently serves as board chair for the Sarasota Young Professionals Group, a sub-group of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
Young’s nomination for The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award said, “He is an example of the good a young, passionate attorney can do when they are willing to donate their time to the less fortunate.”
Jo Ann Palchak
Jo Ann Palchak stood up in court and said she was representing a child who had been abused and faced many serious issues. The prosecutor asked what she was representing the child on, and Palchak responded, “Any matter she needs me for.” And when that child eventually graduated from high school, Palchak was there to cheer her on as she received her diploma.
That sums up Palchak’s approach to pro bono work: determination and follow through.
In her almost 12 years of practice, Palchak has donated about 5,500 hours of pro bono service.
Palchak offered pro bono services while she was still at Stetson University College of Law, working with the immigration office of Gulf Coast Legal Services. She also donated research materials on gender crime to the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
Palchak earned her J.D. in 2005, and after working as a law clerk and assistant public defender, she entered private practice in 2008. She now has her own firm, Jo Ann Palchak, P.A., in Tampa.
Since entering private practice, she has contributed at least 200 hours of pro bono service every year, topping 1,000 in some years.
Though Palchak specializes in criminal investigations and complex civil litigation, the cases she has accepted are wide-ranging. She handled one case from the Innocence Project for more than eight years, has served as attorney ad litem to children through Crossroads for Florida Kids and through direct appointment, joined other lawyers in bringing a federal lawsuit to ensure the rights of migrant workers, represented a federal inmate who was being denied AIDS medication, and has taken on countless other cases, as mundane as the restoration of a driver’s license and as difficult as child neglect cases involving felony charges.
Palchak contributes to the legal community, serving on the board of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers since 2014. She also serves the community at large, as a mentor at Lockhart Elementary School, the Stetson law school and through Inner City Youth Group.
She received the J. Ben Watkins Award for excellence in the legal profession, at the 2016 Stetson Law Review banquet.
Jennifer Wintrode Shuler
Jennifer Wintrode Shuler devotes herself to pro bono legal services wherever she goes – which happens to be a lot of places.
As a student at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California, Shuler participated in the school’s Criminal Defense Clinic and, as a certified student practicing under attorney supervision, she volunteered to defend a homeless advocate in a criminal trial. She helped found the Santa Clara University Innocence Project and was one of the first students to screen qualifying cases. Before her third year of law school, she volunteered full-time at a legal aid domestic violence restraining order clinic in Richmond, California.
She received her J.D. in 2001 and began practicing law in the Detroit area while regularly volunteering in a legal aid restraining order clinic. After moving to Florida in 2004, first working at a small law firm in Destin, she provided pro bono defense to the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which was being sued after assisting law enforcement in a felony animal cruelty case. When she formed her own law firm in Bay County, Shuler became a regular volunteer for Legal Services of North Florida, first participating in and accepting cases from, the First Saturday Clinic and later providing pro bono legal representation in cases ranging from consumer protection and foreclosure defense to family law and issues with nonprofit organizations.
Since 2014, Shuler, who now lives in Bristol and is the deputy assistant county attorney for Bay County, has accepted approximately 30 case referrals from LSNF and volunteered more than 100 hours mainly assisting low-income clients in domestic violence and family law cases. In 2015, she also spent about 35 pro bono hours representing a low-income mother of two she met through church in a complicated dissolution/paternity case.
Shuler has volunteered for community organizations including Covenant Hospice, Emerald Coast Business Women’s Association, and Panhandle Area Community Outreach. She also is a mentor to a first-grader through Elevate Bay.
“Ms. Shuler volunteers her time and talent with grace and a servant’s heart,” wrote one nominator, “giving her pro bono clients the same time and attention as her traditional clients.”
Louis Marc Silber
Louis Marc Silber is known for his tenacious advocacy in two unrelated areas: the rights of homeowners facing fraudulent foreclosure practices, and the reproductive rights of women. His legal victories on the foreclosure front resulted in much-needed windfalls for legal aid, while his pro bono work has helped keep a West Palm Beach women’s center in operation.
In 2007, Silber filed suit against David J. Stern and his law firm over accusations of foreclosure fraud. Silber won the class-action case, but some money went unclaimed, and a cy pres award benefitted the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. In 2017, legal aid again benefited when a court agreed Silber could distribute money to three charities – the Legal Aid Society, the Lord’s Place (a homeless shelter) and the Miami Rescue Mission – in a second case involving Stern’s victims.
In all, Silber and his team of lawyers provided more than $400,000 to the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County through the two cy pres awards.
Silber’s relationship with the Presidential Women’s Center began when the center opened in 1980. He has been an advocate in important legal battles to protect reproductive rights in Florida. He played a lead role in blocking Florida’s counseling law from going into effect and has provided local counsel against a law that would have limited some later term abortion procedures, all on a pro bono basis.
Silber also has supported patients with unique legal questions and has helped to defend the safety of physicians and staff.
For the first 16 years representing Presidential Women’s Center, Silber provided all legal services for free. Since then, he has accepted pay for half of his work at the insistence of founder and director Mona Reis, who says: “He is the force that has kept me going.”
Silber, who earned his J.D. in 1973 from the Georgetown University Law Center, was an assistant state attorney and then a partner with Cone, Wagner, Nugent, Johnson, Hazouri and Roth before forming Pariente & Silber, P.A., with now-Justice Barbara Pariente. That firm lasted until 1993, with Pariente’s elevation to the bench, and eventually became Silber & Davis.
Ashley N. Sybesma
Ashley N. Sybesma was a newly minted member of The Florida Bar in 2005, the last time before 2017 that a major hurricane had made landfall in Florida. Twelve years later, when Hurricane Irma came ashore on Sept. 10 at Cudjoe Key with 130 mph sustained winds, Sybesma was ready to offer assistance to her fellow residents of the Keys.
Sybesma was one of the leaders of the legal community’s efforts to assist victims of the storm. She helped with organizing disaster assistance clinics and volunteered at some as well. She also was involved in advising Monroe County Bar Association members of pro bono opportunities, as the number of inquiries to the association increased daily after the storm.
Sybesma said the most common problems addressed at the clinics stemmed from landlord-tenant issues. Residents living in properties that were damaged had nowhere to go, with the storm worsening an already serious shortage of affordable housing in the Keys. Lawyers also helped victims deal with FEMA claims, apply for food stamps and try to deal with the basic necessities of daily life.
Even before Irma hit, Sybesma has provided pro bono legal assistance and has actively promoted pro bono service as an officer with the Monroe County Bar Association and as a member of the 16th Circuit Pro Bono Committee. She was one of the first members of the committee to participate in a pilot project with Legal Services of Greater Miami, providing legal consultations for eligible individuals in family, small claims and landlord-tenant matters. She effectively and consistently communicates pro bono opportunities to her colleagues.
In her community, Sybesma has been a volunteer with Best Buddies, the Dade County Bar Association, the Young Lawyer Section’s eMentoring program, and Habitat for Humanity. She was active in the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar.
Sybesma earned her J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. She worked at law firms in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale before landing in Key West as a litigation associate with Hinshaw & Culbertson, LLP, in 2010.
Hilary A. Creary
Hilary A. Creary has been providing pro bono legal services and encouraging others to do the same throughout her legal career.
Creary began volunteering with legal aid as a law student at Nova Shepard Broad Law Center, from which she earned her J.D. in 1997. In law school, she also was a summer fellow for The Florida Bar Foundation, interning with Legal Aid Service of Broward County. Over the past 20 years, she has taken nearly 50 full-representation pro bono cases. She also volunteers with Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Coast to Coast Legal Aid through their joint pro bono project, Broward Lawyers Care. Part of her service with Broward Lawyers Care involves staffing its Legal Aid Advice & Counsel Hotline.
Creary’s specialty is family law, and the bulk of her full-representation pro bono cases have involved divorce, separation, annulment, or domestic violence. However, in 2017 she also took on several landlord-tenant cases.
When she started her career, Creary also became a Guardian ad Litem Program volunteer, and since then she has assisted the program in training other volunteers. From 2006 to 2015, guardian ad litem work became her vocation, and she served as senior program attorney for the statewide program, as supervising GAL attorney in the Fourth Circuit, as GAL circuit director in the Fourth Circuit and then Seventeenth Circuit, and finally as the first pro bono recruiter for the statewide program.
Creary also has conducted pro se litigation workshops for pro bono litigants in family law cases and has led seminars on family law at churches.
Creary returned to private practice in 2015, joining Sheena Benjamin-Wise, P.A., which resulted in the creation of a new partnership, Benjamin-Wise Creary, PLLC, in Pompano Beach.
Timothy A. Moran
Timothy A. Moran recently handled a case that showed the difficulties and the rewards of pro bono legal service.
An elderly couple, both with hearing impairments and other disabilities, faced bankruptcy. The man, a veteran, and his wife were overwhelmed by credit card and medical debts, were receiving collection calls and feared losing everything they had worked for. They were not judgment-proof, but Moran went out of his way to provide the accommodations necessary for them to complete credit counseling and debtor education. His pro bono representation resulted in a discharge of debts and gave them peace of mind.
“Those of us in the legal profession have the skills to change the trajectory of people’s lives,” Moran said. “I feel pro bono work is the best use of those skills.”
Moran is no newcomer to the Pro Bono Awards; in 2012 he received The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. Since 2009, he has donated more than 1,900 hours of pro bono legal services to low-income clients through Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Moran has been recognized frequently by Community Legal Services for his pro bono work. He was awarded the Community Legal Services 2017 Champion of Justice Award, which will be renamed in 2018 as the Timothy A. Moran, Champion of Justice Award.
This relationship started in 2009, when Moran contacted Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida to express an interest in working on foreclosures. He went through foreclosure defense litigation training, and from that time he has worked to assist low-income families facing foreclosure. He also has provided full representation in bankruptcy, wills and probate matters. He volunteers at monthly legal advice clinics, providing legal advice and pro se assistance to clinic attendees, and he recently participated in a wills clinic that provided estate planning documents to those touched by the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Moran received his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2004 and was admitted to the Bar in 2007. His Law Office of Timothy A. Moran is in Oviedo, where he practices primarily in the areas of bankruptcy, wills, trust and estates.
Jeffrey Paul Battista
Jeffrey Paul Battista has seen true value in his pro bono work.
At one of the first Florida Rural Legal Services Ask-A-Lawyer events Battista helped organize, an elderly man approached and said he was worried that he would die with nothing to leave his children. He then handed Battista a weathered deed for a plot of land he bought for $25 when he returned from Europe after World War II. Battista’s research found that the forgotten land was beachside property worth nearly $1 million.
Battista, a managing partner at Menz & Battista in Vero Beach since 2004, routinely donates at least two hours per week to pro bono work, through programs with FRLS and on his own. Recent cases he has taken include helping a man in a nursing home get a divorce from his absent wife and regain control of his finances, serving as attorney ad litem for a mentally disabled child whose parents were abusive, representing a homeless 17-year-old in an emancipation case because the mother was using the child’s earnings to support her drug habit, and acting as guardian ad litem for a child victim of sex trafficking.
“When we are having trouble placing a case through our normal means and it involves a sticky situation of exploitation or a family law issue, we can count on Jeff to step up,” said Cynthia V. Hall, pro bono coordinator for the Indian River County Bar Association.
At a recent Ask-A-Lawyer event, Battista was scheduled to volunteer in the late morning, but another lawyer mentioned seeing Battista in court that morning. Right on time, Battista ran in, breathing heavily. “I will always make these events a priority,” he said. “They are so important and make a difference to people.”
Battista earned his J.D. in 2000 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He worked as a prosecutor in Indian River County before entering private practice. In addition to his pro bono service, he is active in the legal community, as a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
Colette J. Kellerhouse
Colette J. Kellerhouse is aggressive as a litigator but compassionate and understanding of the emotional trauma experienced by the pro bono clients she handles for the Legal Aid Service of Collier County, primarily victims of domestic abuse facing intimidating ex-spouses or partners.
Kellerhouse is also bilingual, and her ability to speak Spanish helps her overcome cultural or linguistic barriers while putting her clients at ease inside and outside the courtroom in emotionally charged family law cases.
What really sets Kellerhouse’s pro bono service apart from many others is her willingness to take on complex family law cases that involve intensive litigation. Two recent examples illustrate how this can change people’s lives.
The first case, a family law matter that took about two years to litigate to conclusion, involved a foreign-born victim of domestic violence. Legal aid provided the resources to hire experts needed to testify and ensure the safety of the client and her 8-year-old son, who had post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing horrific abuse by his father against his mother. Kellerhouse obtained a highly favorable settlement agreement, and the client and her son have begun a new and safe chapter in their lives.
A second case involved a mother of three young children who became homeless when her husband ignored the terms of a marital settlement agreement that would provide for her and the children. The client came to legal aid confused about her rights, the terms of a settlement agreement that her husband and his attorney had her sign before she came to legal aid, and why she had received no money at all. Kellerhouse ultimately negotiated the full and immediate release of all proceeds, more than $50,000. The client and her children now live in safe and appropriate housing, and their lives have stabilized in many ways.
Kellerhouse received the Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award from Legal Aid Service of Collier County in 2017.
Kellerhouse, who received her J.D. from Ave Maria School of Law in 2013, worked for 12 years as a paralegal with David F. Garber, P.A., in Naples before deciding to go to law school. She remained with the firm after joining the Bar.
Anayansi Rodriguez far surpasses the expectations for pro bono service for associates at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, which is based in Washington, D.C. The firm requires 20 hours for bonus consideration and set 50 hours as an aspirational goal. Rodriguez donated more than 430 hours of pro bono service in 2016 and had 250 for 2017 at last count in early November.
Karen Grisez, public service counsel in the D.C. office, said: “Anayansi has impressed me from her early days at this firm as an associate who not only wants to grow as a lawyer. . . but as one who has really taken to heart the professional responsibility to provide legal services to those who would otherwise likely not be served due to their inability to afford legal counsel.”
A native Spanish speaker, Rodriguez works closely with clients in immigration matters. She has helped children, teenagers, and adults achieve legal status in the United States, dealing with Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJS), asylum, U visa, and green card cases, to name a few. This has gone beyond pure legal work, often involving numerous telephone calls explaining to clients in Spanish about the status and next steps in their cases, and the meaning of correspondence they receive, and also assisting them with day-to-day questions such as how to get a Social Security number, obtain employment, or enroll in school.
She accompanied one SIJS client to his medical exam, not only to translate for the examination itself but also to make sure the client actually got to the appropriate place and obtained his medical report in a timely fashion.
Her work in 2016-17 included obtaining asylum for a 9-year-old unaccompanied minor from Central America and obtaining a U visa for a survivor of severe sexual trauma.
She organized a program and panel discussion for Hispanic Heritage Month to educate fellow employees about the influx of unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America, and she is an active member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, serving on two committees.
Rodriguez, who is temporarily based in London – taking “Out-of-State” to new lengths – earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2012.