The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards
THE FLORIDA BAR PRESIDENT’S
Pro Bono Service Awards
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.
Valerie Erwin Prevatte
First Judicial Circuit
Valerie Erwin Prevatte is a supervising attorney at the Department of Children and Families in Pensacola. Her primary area of practice is children’s legal services. She has been a member of The Florida Bar since May 1997 and has worked both as a government attorney and a sole practitioner.
Pro bono service is a large part of Prevatte’s charitable giving. In her last few years as a solo practitioner, she donated more than 200 hours primarily through Legal Services of North Florida’s Private Attorney Involvement Program and the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association. Her cases included the defense of a teenager falsely accused of injuring an abusive caregiver. Her defense helped to expose the violent environment in which he lived, and he was acquitted of the felony charges. Aggravated assault and battery between siblings was another difficult, juvenile pro bono case she undertook. In a demeaning, cruel game, the sibling “voted out” of his household by his siblings, under the direction of their mother, tossed a ceramic piggy bank at one of his brothers. At trial, Prevatte was able to convince the judge to have the felony charges reduced, and to get the boy counseling. She also provided legal advice to the homeless and victims of Hurricane Ivan.
Serving and educating youths is also important to Prevatte. Over the past eight years, she donated approximately 80 hours to teaching students about the perils of drunken driving and has worked with law enforcement and families of victims on DUI Awareness programs before high school proms and graduations. She exhibited her dedication to the cause by following and notifying police about a vehicle that was recklessly weaving for nearly an hour. Her testimony at trial led to a guilty plea of DUI.
Prevatte also spends time mentoring new attorneys and aspiring attorneys by accompanying them to court proceedings and to networking opportunities. The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and America Inns of Court are among her numerous civic affiliations.
Elizabeth Willard Willis
Second Judicial Circuit
Elizabeth Willard Willis is a sole practitioner in Tallahassee. Her principal areas of practice are child and family law, dependency, guardianship, dispute resolution, and mediation. She has been a member of The Florida Bar since April 1988.
Willis’ pro bono contributions have come primarily through her work with Legal Services of North Florida, the Tallahassee Bar Association, and her private offices. These programs received more than 400 hours of her pro bono service, which totals regularly about 100 hours per year. Her pro bono work is composed of numerous difficult cases, including family law, dependency, and guardianship of incapacitated adults. Weekly, she participates in Legal Services of North Florida’s hotline program for the public, answering legal questions on topics such as dissolution of marriage, custody, bankruptcy, and probate. She also serves as a volunteer attorney for the agency’s night clinics. Her volunteer attorney work sometimes takes her as far as Marianna and Panama City. At the Tallahassee Bar Association, Willis provides telephone consultations to callers seeking legal advice. This assistance has greatly exceeded her TBA 30 hour per year requirement. In fact, in the past two years she has taken on at least nine separate cases through the program ranging from child custody and visitation to immigration and mortgage foreclosure for a total of nearly 100 hours.
Supporting and strengthening the family is important to Willis. Helping young, single mothers obtain child support from uncooperative fathers, establishing and enforcing visitation schedules for fathers who have been excluded from their children’s lives, and assisting women in leaving abusive marriages are top priorities. The position of court-appointed counsel for a number of children is also a part of her lengthy schedule. Her schedule has been composed of voluntary bar activities, such as past president of the Government Bar, and several chair positions in the Florida Association for Women Lawyers and Tallahassee Women Lawyers. Mentoring through Florida State University’s College of Law and Tallahassee Women Lawyers is also important to her.
D. Todd Doss
Third Judicial Circuit
D. Todd Doss is a sole practitioner in Lake City. His principal areas of practice are bankruptcy, criminal appellate law and criminal defense. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since November 1991 and is an active member of The Florida Bar’s Criminal Law section.
Doss has a history of providing pro bono assistance to the community and other lawyers. In the notable case Crist v. Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 978 So. 2d134 (Fla. 2008), Doss and co-counsel Sonya Rudenstine challenged the governor pursuant to a writ of quo warrant. They contended that Gov. Crist exceeded his constitutional authority by appointing regional counsel pursuant to a legislative act that created five regional offices to handle criminal cases when a public defender has a conflict. (The state circuit court granted the writ and enjoined the regional counsel from accepting new cases pursuant to the act. The Florida Supreme Court reversed and found the act constitutional.)
Doss has also served as lead counsel pro bono in two separate death penalty cases in the last year, in which he partnered with the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project to represent the capitally charged clients in conjunction with two large national law firms. The knowledge and expertise of Doss — coupled with the diligent, dedicated work of the collaborating law firms — resulted in a life sentence for one of the clients. Doss and his associates continue to pursue the client’s innocence claims in state and federal courts on a pro bono basis. The second case is currently pending in the circuit court, and Doss is currently preparing for that capital re-sentencing along with an accompanying firm.
Doss has provided innumerable hours pro bono as local counsel sharing his knowledge and insight of state and federal capital post-conviction proceedings. Doss also regularly represents individuals pro bono in bankruptcy proceedings, obtaining debt relief and saving homes from foreclosure. Serving in his church’s men’s and prison ministries and giving professional speeches are all important to his life. He also has been a public defender in the Third Circuit.
Bryan Scott Gowdy
Fourth Judicial Circuit
Bryan Scott Gowdy is a partner and shareholder at the law firm of Mills Creed & Gowdy, P.A., in Jacksonville, practicing primarily appellate and criminal law. He became a member of The Florida Bar in September 1999, and is board certified in appellate practice and a member of The Florida Bar’s Appellate Practice and Criminal Law sections.
Gowdy provides pro bono service to numerous individual clients through Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section pro bono program and court appointments. In a groundbreaking case, he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a court-appointed pro bono juvenile client. The young man was serving a life sentence for an armed burglary he committed at 16. Gowdy argued that life-without-parole sentences imposed on juveniles in non-homicide cases were unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 decision, and the landmark decision spearheaded a 5-4 decision, in which it was decided that the ruling applied to all juveniles incarcerated for non-homicides.
The focal point of Gowdy’s pro bono service involves improving the lives of low-income clients, by helping ensure that Jacksonville Area Legal Aid continues to effectively respond to the legal needs of the poor. He has donated more than 350 hours of pro bono service during the last 12 months. Not only does Gowdy assist individual clients, he also supports service delivery with membership on the Board of Directors of JALA. He serves on both the Personnel Committee and chairs the Pro Bono Development Committee. He also makes pro bono recruitment presentations at area law firms, and has been instrumental in facilitating placement of the appeals of legal services clients with appellate attorneys across the state. Gowdy assisted in developing the process for referral and placement of meritorious appeals with pro bono attorney members of The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, and has met with the Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association to implement the appellate referral process statewide.
Gowdy is also a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and is a barrister for both the First District Appellate America Inn of Court and Chester Bedell Inn of Court.
Daniel Lee Hightower
Fifth Judicial Circuit
Daniel Lee Hightower is a trial attorney at his own firm in Ocala practicing workers’ compensation, personal injury, car and work accidents, wrongful death, Social Security disability, and bankruptcy law. He became a member of The Florida Bar in October 1973 and has served as chair of the local grievance committee. He currently is a member of the Trial Lawyers and Workers’ Compensation sections.
Early in his career, Hightower began his pro bono involvement. recognizing the need for low-income individuals to have access to quality legal services, he served on the original Board of Directors for the Marion County Legal Aid Society that formed in the mid-1970s. He was instrumental in preparing and submitting to the Marion County Commission the county ordinance that was passed, which increased the filing fee by several dollars and helped fund the Legal Aid Society of Marion County. During the 1980s and 1990s, his pro bono support expanded to Withlacoochee Legal Services, where he donated financial assistance, provided legal advice and brief services, and gave full representation to low-income individuals in Marion County.
In 2003, he contacted Community Legal Services and committed himself and the attorneys at his law firm to provide a recurring legal advice clinic. The clinic was initially a once-a-month meeting in the Ocala office, and now there are weekly legal advice clinics throughout the Fifth Judicial Circuit because of Hightower’s support, guidance, and encouragement. He and his staff continue to provide legal advice and pro se assistance at the clinics, support Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida financially, and often agree to give advice and pro se assistance in his own office, as well.
Hightower has helped hundreds of clients with landlord-tenant, consumer, and other legal problems; and he has also helped the children of low-income clients through his participation in the Community Legal Services’ annual back-to-school event, which provides backpacks filled with school supplies as well as free physicals and immunizations. During the last year, Hightower and members of his firm have given more than 100 hours of pro bono service to the indigent.
Murray Bruce Silverstein
Sixth Judicial Circuit
Murray Bruce Silverstein is a partner and shareholder at Shutts & Bowen LLP. His principal areas of practice are administrative law, appellate practice, business law, civil litigation, civil trial, commercial litigation, dispute resolution, advocacy, mediation, and trial law. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in October 1982 and is board certified in business litigation and civil trial law. He is a member of both the Alternative Dispute Resolution and Business Law sections. He serves as a board liaison on The Florida Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee.
Silverstein has made pro bono service a major part of his life, contributing largely through the Community Law Program, where he has volunteered since 2002. He has contributed well more than 500 hours of his own time, plus at least an additional 300 hours of time of his staff to donating free legal assistance to the poor in the form of representing individual clients and participating in legal advice clinics. As a trial attorney, he often enjoys taking on cases that use his complex litigation skills, and in doing so, he often pays the court costs associated with these cases. The Community Law Program also received Silverstein’s support as a financial contributor, and he was a board of trustee member for five years, including one year as president. He recently took on a case there on behalf of multiple organizations that were defrauded by a copier company.
Silverstein’s work left an indelible impression on clients who were victims of Hurricane Katrina. The family lost their home and possessions but had left their pets at their local animal shelter in Louisiana. Unfortunately, their dogs were given to an animal aid group in Pinellas County and adopted without their permission. Ultimately, after more 500 hours of pro bono time, the family was reunited with their beloved companions. Another case placed Silverstein’s client against the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners. The Housing and Education Alliance had entered into a contract with the board to develop 26 affordable homes for low- to moderate-income families in Tampa. In order to recoup $83,000 that they weren’t reimbursed for waste and waste water connection, HEA sought assistance to no avail until fellow volunteer attorneys notified Silverstein, who took on the case and won.
Shimene Ashlie Shepard-Ryan
Seventh Judicial Circuit
Shimene Ashlie Shepard-Ryan is a sole practitioner in Port Orange. Her principal areas of practice are bankruptcy, family law, and general civil litigation. She became a member of The Florida Bar in April 2007, and is also a member of The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division. The Eastern Volusia Regional Water Authority also employs her on an as needed basis to provide legal services in matters involving contract issues, litigation, and research.
Shepard-Ryan has dedicated her time and focus to pro bono service since April 2008. She started her pro bono career by helping Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida’s Volunteer Lawyers Project establish its first bankruptcy legal advice clinic. The model that she helped to develop is currently being used by volunteer bankruptcy attorneys in a 12-county service area. During the past year, she provided full representation in five bankruptcy cases and an adoption. She has also attended CLE training to become proficient in foreclosure defense litigation, in order to provide pro se and limited scope legal representation to clients in mandatory foreclosure mediation. In addition to assisting individual clients, she has donated her time on Saturdays assisting clients in day-long workshops with completing the forms necessary for them to file Chapter 7 bankruptcies pro se. Along with providing direct services to clients, she has assisted Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida in recruiting volunteer attorneys for legal advice clinics and pro se workshops.
At a time when small law firms and attorneys in private practice are cutting back on volunteer hours because of the economy, Shepard-Ryan has increased her availability for pro bono assistance. Between April 2008 and November 2010, she provided 300 hundred hours of legal advice, pro se assistance, and full representation to 162 low-income Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida clients.
During the past year, Shepard-Ryan was honored as a nominee for the 2010 Volunteer of the Year by the United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties for her outstanding work. Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida selected her as recipient of the “Guardian of Justice” award in both 2009 and 2010. She continues to volunteer at the bankruptcy legal clinic.
Margaret Mitchem Stack
Eighth Judicial Circuit
Margaret Mitchem Stack is a sole practitioner in private practice in Gainesville. Her principal areas of practice are criminal defense, family law and general practice. She was admitted to The Florida Bar in October 1984. She was chair of The Florida Bar Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee for the Eighth Judicial Circuit and formerly on the grievance committee. She has been board certified in Criminal Law since 1993 and is a member of the Criminal Law Section.
When planning her retirement as an assistant state attorney in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Stack contacted Three Rivers Legal Services and said she wanted to get on the list of pro bono attorneys. In early 2009, just a few months after opening her private criminal defense solo practice, she began accepting family law cases. Her availability to assist individuals in need of family law help is particularly valuable, especially her willingness to represent victims of domestic violence. She also has attended many of the training events held by Three Rivers Legal Services to solidify her expertise in handling referrals.
Stack’s pro bono work also includes clients she accepted directly as well as working with the Faith Tabernacle of Praise Ministries. She was the chair of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association’s Holiday Project from 2003 through 2009, which started as an effort to ensure that all of the students in one grade at a local Title I elementary school received a gift at the holidays. It blossomed into a celebration providing all students at the school with a specialized gift bag and celebration. Some of her other pro bono cases have involved a complicated dissolution of marriage for a disabled woman with division of real property, dissolution of marriage for a victim of domestic violence, and a paternity matter for a domestic violence victim. These pro bono cases alone in the last 18 months have totaled more than 50 hours.
Her civic and professional affiliations include the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, Clara Gehan Association of Women Lawyers, and Inns of Court. She has served as president, chair, and master in some of these organizations.
Neal Jonathan Blaher
Ninth Judicial Circuit
Neal Jonathan Blaher is a sole practitioner and proprietor at The Law Offices of Neal J. Blaher in Maitland. His principal areas of practice are trademark and copyright, franchise law, arbitration, commercial litigation, dispute resolution, and business trial and securities/investment arbitration. He became a member of The Florida Bar in May 1987 and is a member of the Business Law Section.
Starting in 1986, Blaher began taking on pro bono cases, largely through the Legal Aid Society of The Orange County Bar Association. He has served as a Guardian ad Litem for 96 children, working with sibling and difficult teenager cases. On the average, he has accepted more than three cases annually.
The story of one family that he aided had a profound impact on him. An unmarried couple with significant developmental delays and medical issues parented seven children, each a year apart. After nearly a decade into litigation, several of the children were adopted and others placed in long-term foster care homes; fortunately, most of the children were free of the medical and developmental issues of their parents. Blaher built a relationship with the children, many of whom eventually moved in with an adult relative and regained a semblance of family. Then tragedy struck. The oldest child was killed in an automobile accident. Although the tragedy was devastating, Blaher was moved by the young man’s legacy. Initially, the young man had beaten odds of his familial roots and foster care, performed well in school and obtained work through a basic trade. Next, he strayed with the wrong crowd and did time in jail. After release, he got his spiritual life together and became productive. His funeral saw his siblings, relatives, foster parents, advisers, and supporters all testify about how he had inspired them. Blaher was touched by the tribute given to a young man who just 15 years earlier had been assigned to him as a child of unfortunate circumstances, with dim prospects for the future. simply fulfilling the basic responsibilities of a GAL to identify the best placement for a child and achieve some stability in placement, attorneys can offer hope that the rest of the players will do their jobs, and ultimately give the child opportunities to do something positive.
Blaher has contributed more than 1,400 hours on closed pro bono cases, and has won multiple awards for his pro bono service.
Stephen Russell Senn
10th Judicial Circuit
Stephen Russell Senn is a partner and shareholder at Peterson & Myers, P.A. in Lakeland. His principal areas of practice are appellate, labor and employment law, contract litigation, commercial litigation, legal malpractice, trial and trial advocacy. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since December 1989 and is board certified in appellate practice. He is also a member of The Florida Bar’s Appellate Practice, Labor and Employment Law, and Public Interest Law sections.
Senn has a long history of pro bono involvement. His primary method of participation is through his affiliation with Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. He has served on its board of directors since 1998 and presently serves as president of that board. In addition, he’s on the board of directors and is president of the Florida Equal Justice Center and Pro Bono Committee for the Tenth Circuit, contributing approximately 80 hours of service to each of these organizations.
His pro bono cases have been diverse. He handled an appeal of a summary judgment in a foreclosure action against a retired senior citizen who was a victim of mortgage broker fraud. The U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit affirmed the summary judgment, and Senn has contributed more than 270 hours of representation thus far. Another case involved an amicus brief arguing that “best interest of child” standard in adoption proceedings is a constitutional mandate. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal affirmed this judgment and Senn will continue representation through an anticipated Florida Supreme Court appeal, even after already contributing nearly 250 pro bono hours. In another case, he represented a blind state prisoner in a mandamus petition regarding whether state courts must accept legal filings in Braille, an ongoing petition that he has contributed nearly 20 pro bono hours to date.
Representing youth and the disadvantaged is also important to Senn. He was Attorney ad Litem for a child in a shelter proceeding, represented the homeless coalition in an employment dispute, took on a case for a group home for boys in crisis from a discrimination suit by a former employee, and defended tax count proceedings for an unemployed woman who had been wrongly attributed income as a result of identity theft.
11th Judicial Circuit
Benjamine Reid is a shareholder and trial attorney at Carlton Fields, P.A. in Miami. His principal areas of practice are commercial, business, trade regulation, environmental, antitrust, product liability, tort law, and class action litigation. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since October 1974 and is an active member of the Trial Lawyers Section.
Reid has dedicated hundreds of hours to assuring that the poorest citizens are afforded competent legal counsel. He has done this through leadership in organizations whose primary mission is to ensure equal access to justice and/or promote pro bono representation by providing direct legal services to those who cannot afford to hire an attorney, and through his involvement in community organizations.
In addition to a full caseload, during the past two years alone he contributed approximately 150 hours to pro bono matters. Over the years, his pro bono clients have included rural farm workers, a community-based organization designed to foster economic development in a local minority neighborhood, a number of churches in Miami’s inner-city neighborhoods, residents of the Scott Housing Project in Liberty City, and several Death Row inmates. He received recognition from the Florida Supreme Court and the First District Court of Appeal for one death sentencing case he successfully handled. In 2006, the Daily Business Review featured him as a Most Effective Lawyer for his pro bono work in achieving a $47 million verdict on behalf of the victims and families of torture and extrajudicial murder by Central American death squads.
Through his co-chair positions in the American Bar Association Section of Litigation, he has provided leadership and funding that brought public interest lawyers together to meet at no cost, leading to widespread trial advocacy training for numerous lawyers nationwide. The Florida Justice Institute, on whose board Reid serves, runs the pro bono program for the U.S. District Court’s Southern District. When the FJI lost its office space because of law firm mergers, Reid’s leadership roles at Carlton Fields and FJI enabled him to make an arrangement for Carlton Fields to provide office space at no charge to the FJI, which will ultimately lead to expanded representation of the poor in South Florida.
Troy Harold Myers, Jr.
12th Judicial Circuit
Troy Harold Myers, Jr., is a partner and shareholder at Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timmi, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A. in Sarasota. His principal areas of practice are immigration law, federal and state income and estate tax, business law, offshore organizations, foreign and domestic asset protection, family law, contracts, and trust law. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since December 1979 and is a member of the Real Property Probate and Trust Law and Tax sections.
Myers has valued pro bono service for many years. In recent years he has contributed his pro bono service primarily through Legal Aid of Manasota, Inc. A number of the cases that he takes reflect his primary area of practice, real property. At any given time, Myers is representing several Legal Aid clients with pressing foreclosure matters. He is one of only a handful of attorneys willing to accept the most challenging cases, but he does not limit his pro bono assistance to foreclosure work. Oftentimes, his most challenging cases are ones that Legal Aid is unable to place with anyone else because of their difficulty. Dissolution of marriage and immigration are other types of diverse pro bono cases that he has litigated.
Myers also regularly staffs legal aid foreclosure clinics, where he assists clients who have been served with foreclosure paperwork. In just the last two years, he has donated more than 300 hours of pro bono service volunteering at the Legal Aid of Manasota, Inc.
Pro bono is not something that Myers does just to fulfill an aspirational goal set by The Florida Bar; or by his law firm’s pro bono plan. It is something he does because he believes it is the right thing to do. This dedication has been applauded, and this year Myers has received a gold lapel pin, the highest honor possible from the Florida Supreme Court’s recognition project in conjunction with The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.
Rosemary E. Armstrong
13th Judicial Circuit
Rosemary E. Armstrong is a sole practitioner in Tampa. Her principal areas of practice are criminal defense, family, and general practice. She has been a member of The Florida Bar since January 1980 and is a member of the Family Law and Public Interest Law sections.
Growing up in a working poor family and raised by a single mother, Armstrong knows the desperate need for support and the relief of receiving help that is experienced by many of her pro bono clients. She has helped indigent clients by working with Bay Area Legal Services’ staff attorneys on elder law, housing, and juvenile dependency cases; interviewed applicants for legal aid at client intake sessions; represented clients in contentious family law cases; helped pro se litigants complete family law forms; and assisted victims of domestic violence file petitions for injunction. As a volunteer with Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers Program (BAVLP) since 1986, she has donated more than 1,000 hours providing direct legal services to low-income clients.
Providing assistance to victims of domestic violence is especially important to her. As a teenager, she and her brother sometimes watched helplessly as their stepfather abused their mother. In 1996, members of the Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers collaborated with the BAVLP and the local domestic violence shelter — The Spring of Tampa Bay — to address the need for legal assistance for victims of domestic abuse seeking protection. The result was the creation of the Domestic Violence Assistance Project, which provided volunteer attorneys to assist victims of domestic violence complete and file petitions for injunction. During the last 12 years, Armstrong has donated nearly 250 hours helping victims of abuse complete petitions, sometimes volunteering several times a month.
Working with the BAVLP, Armstrong also established the Family Law Mentor Project, which became a model for other pro bono programs in Florida that were seeking innovative ways to address the increasing demand for family law assistance. Additionally, she has served as a board member continuously for 21 years.
Before becoming self-employed, Armstrong worked as a clerk at a New York City firm and at the New York Supreme Court, as a partner at a Tampa firm, and as the Assistant County Attorney in Hillsborough County.
Rudolph Carroll Shepard, Jr.
14th Judicial Circuit
Rudolph Carroll Shepard, Jr., is a partner at Appleman, Shepard & Trucks Law Offices P.A. in Panama City. Shepard’s principal areas of practice are criminal defense and Social Security disability. He became a member of The Florida Bar in September 2000 and is also a member of the Criminal Law Section. He served on the Law Related Education Committee from 2003 to 2009.
Shepard is an outstanding example of a lawyer who exceeds the norms of pro bono service. He has served as coordinator and volunteer attorney for the First Saturday Program sponsored by the Bay County Bar Association and Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. Leading by example, Shepard has served three consecutive terms as chair of the Bay County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program known as the First Saturday Legal Clinic. First Saturday was developed to address the needs of indigent individuals for legal services within the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit. agreement, any individual that qualifies for the assistance provided by Legal Services but for one reason or another is not able to be represented by a Legal Services attorney is referred to First Saturday. As chair, he was charged with recruiting attorneys and volunteers to staff the First Saturday Clinic; while as a volunteer attorney, he met with First Saturday clients both at the clinic and at his office.
In August of 2009, Florida State University’s Panama City campus, which to that point had hosted First Saturday free of charge, indicated its intent to charge the bar for use of its facilities. Shepard then coordinated with local judges, community leaders, and educational administrators to secure a new permanent home for First Saturday at Gulf Coast Community College free of charge. Some of his pro bono cases have covered child custody, divorce, grand theft, accidental property damage, slander, and landlord dispute. Shepard is never reluctant to make a call or write a letter on behalf of an individual with a legitimate legal problem who does not have the resources to hire an attorney. Although he does not meticulously track his pro bono hours, he spent well in excess of 200 hours a year between his duties as president of the Bay County Bar Association, chair of the First Saturday Legal Clinic, and the pro bono hours performed through his firm.
Alan Roy Crane
15th Judicial Circuit
Alan Roy Crane is a partner at the law firm of Furr & Cohen, P.A., in Boca Raton practicing state and federal litigation and appellate law. Although Crane primarily represents debtors, creditors, and bankruptcy trustees in bankruptcy matters, he also practices family and real estate law. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in October 1992 and is a member of the Business Law and Family Law sections.
In 2010, Crane was the recipient of a pro bono award for bankruptcy for his work on a complicated adversarial bankruptcy case. Legal Aid contacted him to assist a client who was going to lose her home. She and her husband had bought the home in the 1970s. The husband left the home and family in 1998, and the client continued making mortgage payments. The client and her husband divorced in 2002, however, without ownership of the home being addressed. In 2008, the ex-husband filed for bankruptcy and claimed a half interest in the property seeking to force the client to sell the home, in which she lived with her two disabled adult children.
Through countless hours of representation, Crane was able to save the client’s home. Over the years, he has donated almost 350 hours of pro bono service to clients in the area of bankruptcy and family law. He never hesitates to answer a question from staff, mentor an attorney, or take on a client’s case. In addition to his direct representation, he has volunteered to assist in training the attorneys for the Mortgage Foreclosure Project.
Crane is also an emeritus member of the American Inns of Court LIV, a professional association designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. He currently serves as the co-chair of Bankruptcy Committee for the South Palm Beach County Bar Association, and is a member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association.
16th Judicial Circuit
Michael Halpern is a sole practitioner at Michael Halpern, P.A., in Key West. His principal area of practice is pro bono representation, civil, and criminal. He became a member of The Florida Bar in November 1976.
His law office is a pioneer in the state in the conversion of a “for-profit” law firm to a public service law firm. During the past 10 years, Halpern converted his law firm — which previously specialized in trial practice, corporations, land use law, and real estate development — into a law firm that now specializes in pro bono representation. Today, more than 80 percent of Halpern’s clients are represented on a pro bono basis. Pro bono clients are those who cannot afford legal representation and who are victims of disability or injustice. Almost all of the firm’s clients are facing serious matters that do not involve the types of representation that are normally accepted by legal aid agencies.
For example, Halpern represented an unemployed woman who suffered severe brain damage because of medical malpractice. She was represented by a separate law firm in a medical malpractice action and won a $1 million settlement. The client’s medical malpractice attorney neglected to protect her with a guardian. Within 36 months of the settlement, the entire sum was dissipated. Halpern spent hundreds of hours representing her to save her from becoming homeless, to save her home from foreclosure, and to recover the money that was stolen from her. Other cases include going against a cyber-terrorist who victimized clients with blackmailing and extortion via the Internet, defending a visually impaired child whose pet pig was going to be taken by the city because it was labeled as livestock, and representing a child who was sexually abused by her stepfather. These are just a small sample of his many pro bono cases. Halpern draws no salary or distributions from his law firm. In fact, he invests his personal capital in the law firm to support its pro bono mission. Over the last five years, he has given approximately 4,000 hours to pro bono work.
Halpern is also active in the Florida Keys business community, and is president of six real estate management and development companies.
Lawrence G. Marin
17th Judicial Circuit
Lawrence G. Marin is the founding partner at the Law Offices of Izquierdo & Marin in Fort Lauderdale. His principal areas of practice are admiralty and maritime, criminal defense, civil trial, immigration and nationality and personal injury. He became a member of The Florida Bar in April 2003 and is a member of The Florida Bar’s International Law, Trial Lawyers, and Criminal Law sections as well as the Young Lawyers Division.
Marin has been an active pro bono participant at Hispanic Unity of Florida, working with the organization for more than four years. His involvement began through the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, where he and then-President Juan Carlos Arias were part of the working group that created, launched, and have continued to sustain the Broward Legal Immigration Program (BLIP). As an integral part of the BLIP committee, he is involved in organizing the full-day clinics, which assist clients with a variety of immigration-related issues. He does everything from recruiting private practice immigration attorneys to purchasing breakfast for all the volunteers to taking on pro bono cases. Clinics are held three times per year and assist 75 to 100 clients in a single day.
Last year, Marin and the Broward County Hispanic Bar received the Hispanic Unity of Florida’s 2010 Gracias Award for their assistance in not only launching the BLIP project, but also for their support with its preschool capital campaign. Thanks to their donation, the organization was able to create an outdoor playground for the group’s preschoolers. When describing Marin, the president/CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida said: “Larry is the consummate professional. He is gentle, warm and generous with his funds, his time and his knowledge. He is an exceptional human being and volunteer with Hispanic Unity. And, he is deserving of this recognition for his many contributions to our whole community.”
In addition to his relationship with Hispanic Unity, Marin also is a volunteer and active member of the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association (Pro Bono Chair), Next Executive Team, Educational Legal Right Project panel, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Friends of Florida Assistant State Attorneys, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and Broward Lawyers Care.
William W. Fernandez
18th Judicial Circuit
William W. Fernandez is a sole practitioner at The Law Offices of William W. Fernandez, J.D., in Winter Springs. His principal areas of practice are real property, probate and trust law and wills, trusts, and estates. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since November 1969.
Fernandez generously donates his time and expertise to helping those in need. Since 1994, he has given free legal services to poor families referred to him by the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, Inc., pro bono program. He has never refused a referral from this program. In 2005, he agreed to provide supplementary pro bono services at his office in order to accommodate the needs of indigent families. His services allowed poor families an opportunity to gain access to the justice system closer to their homes. Typically, Fernandez sees approximately three pro bono clients each afternoon on a bimonthly basis. During these consultations, he provides brief legal services in different areas of the law such as housing, child support, timesharing, paternity, and other family law matters. Fernandez has provided more than 250 legal intake consultations to poor families residing in Seminole County at his office since 2005.
Fernandez has assisted countless physically abused women prepare responsive pleadings. Disabled clients received assistance with preparation of supplementary legal proceedings addressing their child support obligations and rights. Confused and/or uneducated indigent persons received counsel and advice on how to resolve complicated legal issues that undermine their financial stability and their ability to maintain stable housing. Individuals facing foreclosure receive hope and legal guidance on how to navigate a difficult legal system to save their homes. Fernandez is committed to providing pro bono legal services to the poor with compassion and dedication, and has contributed more than 700 hours of pro bono representation since 2005.
He is also affiliated with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and a Florida Legal Services foreclosure-assistance program.
Thomas Warren Tierney
19th Judicial Circuit
Thomas Warren Tierney is a partner and shareholder at Rossway Moore Taylor & Swan law firm in Vero Beach. His principal areas of practice are civil litigation and commercial litigation, civil trial, labor and employment law, trial advocacy, and probate and trust litigation. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in September 2000 and is a member of the Real Property Probate and Trust Law and Trial Lawyers sections.
Tierney is pro bono chairperson of the Indian River County Bar Association, a position he has held for the past two years. During this time, his dedication as a liaison between Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc., and the Indian River County Bar Association resulted in 100 percent placement of referred cases. He matched more than 130 low-income clients with volunteer attorneys. Over the past two years, the private attorneys he placed cases with have provided more than 700 hours of free legal representation to low-income clients. This does not include files that are still active or the hundreds of Indian River County residents who have received counsel and advice at Ask-A-Lawyer events, Family Law Clinics, Wills on Wheels, and various other activities he has participated in or planned.
Additionally, Tierney has personally provided pro bono legal services through Florida Rural Legal Services since 2001. He has assisted many clients with various legal issues, from family law matters to foreclosure issues. One case involved a client who, at 11 weeks pregnant, was a victim of domestic violence and seeking a divorce. Tierney spent more than 20 hours working on her behalf. Overall he has spent hundreds of hours contributing pro bono legal services.
Tierney is also active as board chairperson of the Homeless Family Center, Inc. His positions also include: board member of VNA Hospice of Indian River County, Inc., board member of the Coalition For Attainable Homes, Inc., member of the American Bar Association, board chair of Homeless Family Center, Inc., and president of the Rossway Moore & Taylor Foundation, which is funded with contributions from the firm’s profits and assists in the technological development of Indian River County charitable organizations. Since 2005, the foundation has awarded grants of computer hardware and software to Indian River County charities.
Russell Thomas Kirshy
20th Judicial Circuit
Russell Thomas Kirshy is an owner and sole practitioner at Russell T. Kirshy, Esquire, P.A., law office in Port Charlotte. His principal areas of practice are criminal law, personal injury, pardons and restoration, and sealing and expungements. He has been a member of The Florida Bar since October 1994 and has served on the unlicensed practice of law and grievance committees.
Kirshy has been dedicated to pro bono service for his entire career, especially taking on an array of cases over the last 12 years. He conducted an internal investigation for the Charlotte County School Board. The issue was whether a student was properly suspended and recommended for expulsion. Kirshy spent approximately 30 hours interviewing witnesses and compiling a report for the superintendent. In another case, Kirshy represented a woman whose boyfriend passed away before the father was able to sign their son’s birth certificate. He had to petition the court for paternity testing and now is trying to get the child Social Security compensation.
Kirshy’s pro bono work is special because he sometimes provides counsel to clients charged with felony offenses. He believes that people should be given a fair chance, and he doesn’t judge his clients based on their charges. A past client stated that “.. . Mr. Kirshy looked beyond the labels, beyond the faults, and beyond the past to see that I was represented fairly in court.”
In one case, Kirshy represented a client charged with Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon. Despite the offense having occurred in Lee County, he agreed to represent the defendant for free, traveling to Lee County to attend hearings and numerous depositions. The case has been pending for more than one year. Kirshy contributed at least 300 hours to pro bono representation in the past year. Over the past 12 years, he has contributed at least 1,500 pro bono hours.
His community involvement includes: Charlotte Academy trustee and board attorney; Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity, member of the board; Charlotte County Teen Court, attorney adviser; Bon Secours, St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, member of the board; and the Charlotte County Bar Association, various roles.
Noah Clements is an associate attorney at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C. His principal areas of practice are litigation and transportation law. He became a member of The Florida Bar in December 2005 and is a member of the Young Lawyers Division.
Clements shows extraordinary dedication to seeking justice for his clients. In 2007 and 2008, he devoted more than 1,100 hours to three in-depth pro bono cases, in addition to the 2,000 hours per year he spent on billable matters. But these numbers do not reflect the quality of his work, nor do they reflect his compassion or his empathy for his clients. As the father of three young children, Clements could not imagine being separated from his family for years at a time, or having his family thrown out on a cold Washington street during the holidays. His work arose from the belief that he should use his skills to help others not as fortunate as he.
Over the last two years, he has taken a few notable pro bono cases. In the Yemen Convention Against Torture and Asylum case, he helped a former sports star who had been tortured by the Yemeni government for 40 days get relief under the Convention Against Torture (a form of relief usually with a less than 2 percent success rate). He and his team also helped the client’s wife obtain asylum in immigration court, showing that she had a credible fear of persecution if she were removed to Yemen. In another high-profile case, he helped a 69-year-old Burmese man get asylum in immigration court. Although his client’s last overt political activities were more than 20 years ago, the Burmese government blamed him for the political activities of his wife and son.
When Clements came to Sidley Austin LLP in 2006, he had just completed a 10-week D.C. Bar Pro Bono Fellowship with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. While at CAIR, he learned about the plight of an immigrant from Jordan who had been detained by the Department of Homeland Security in a Virginia jail, often in solitary confinement, for almost four years. The client, who had been a legal resident since 1993, had been arrested and detained in a 2003 sweep of people suspected of violating immigration laws. Clements brought the case to the firm and devoted almost 500 hours to securing the client’s release.
In 2009, Clement performed 332 hours pro bono service and in 2010, he worked 598 hours pro bono. At the same time, he has kept a full billable case load. The CAIR Coalition named Sidley and Clements its Pro Bono Partner of the Year in 2009.
THE FLORIDA BAR’S YOUNG LAWYERS DIVISION PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENT
Rachel May Zysk
Rachel May Zysk is an associate at Carlton Fields, P.A., Tampa, in the firm’s White Collar Crime and Government Investigations Practice Group. She defends those charged with crimes in federal and state courts, both at trial and on appeal; advises corporations on compliance with federal and state regulations; conducts corporate internal investigations; and presents matters to prosecuting authorities on behalf of individual and corporate clients for the purpose of possible criminal prosecution.
Zysk began her career at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, where she had interned in her final semester in law school. She continued working there on a contract basis while studying for the bar at night. After passing the bar, she defended indigent clients for the Federal Public Defender until 2007, when she began working in her current position at Carlton Fields.
Since entering private practice, Zysk has dedicated more than 850 hours to pro bono service through her representation of criminal defendants. Her pro bono representation has included an oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit and a two-week trial in federal court. She is currently a member of a team of lawyers representing a man on Death Row in post-conviction proceedings. The man has claimed his innocence for more than 25 years.
Zysk is the appointed liaison for the Criminal Law Section to the 13th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. As part of her duties, Zysk is charged with increasing the pro bono service of the criminal practitioners in Hillsborough County. She also serves on Carlton Fields’ internal pro bono committee.
In addition to her pro bono service and activities, Zysk volunteers time with bar, civic, community, and charitable organizations. For her local Young Lawyers Division group, Zysk serves as co-chair of the Honorable Robert J. Simms High School Mock Trial Competition, and participates in YLD Law Week by performing a mock trial for elementary school classes and in the Lawyers for Literacy program. She is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (serving on the advisory board of its monthly periodical, The Champion ), American Bar Association (previously serving on the editorial board of the ABA Criminal Litigation newsletter), and the Herbert G. Goldburg Inn of Court.
Zysk has authored and co-authored several articles in national and local publications. She has been quoted in newspapers and journals, and in 2007 was included in the Tampa Bay Business Journal ’s “30 Under 30.” In 2008, she returned to her high school alma mater to serve as the keynote speaker at commencement. Later that year, the Hillsborough County Bar Association presented her with its Outstanding Young Lawyer Award. In 2009 and 2010, Florida Super Lawyers Magazine named her a “Rising Star.”
Born and raised in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York, Zysk attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., graduating cum laude in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government. She attended Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg, where she graduated early and third in her class, receiving her Juris Doctor cum laude with a Certificate of Concentration in International Law in 2004. While at Stetson Law, Zysk was a member of Law Review, an officer of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers and a student mentor.
Zysk’s husband, Nick, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves, was called to active duty in June 2009 to serve in Afghanistan. He left home that August and returned safely in September 2010. They have a one-year-old daughter.