Sunday, March 13, 2005

Twenty lawyers will receive The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Award for their commitment to providing free legal services to the poor. The awards ceremony well be held at the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, March 14 at 3:30 p.m.

The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award was established in 1981 as a way to recognize individual lawyers within Florida's judicial circuits who are committed to providing free legal services to the poor. The term "pro bono," derived from the Latin phrase "pro bono publico," means "for the good of the public."

A separate award, The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, also will be presented by Chief Justice Charles T. Wells. This award is presented to a lawyer who has made the most outstanding contribution of legal services to the poor. This year's recipient is Deltona attorney Maurice Wagner.

The 2002 Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award recipient is the Jacksonville Bar Association for its significant contribution of pro bono services to individuals and/or groups. The Miami law firm of Markowitz, Davis, Ringel & Trusty, P.A. will receive the Law Firm Commendation Award. The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division also will present a public service award to attorney Lawrence H. Kolin of Orlando.

The 20 recipients of The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award are:

ALEX D. LITTLEFIELD, JR. - Tallahassee - Second Judicial Circuit

During his legal career, Littlefield practiced law for firms in Daytona Beach and Gainesville, and practiced law for the State of Florida from 1966 through 1986. Littlefield retired from the practice of law in March 1997. In November 1989, he began an association with Legal Services of North Florida, Inc., as a volunteer attorney. In October 1993, Littlefield began seeing persons over 60 years of age one day a month at the Senior Citizens Center in Tallahassee. Legal Services of North Florida provides free legal services to this group. For over eight years, Littlefield provided extensive free legal service to the elderly and to the poor. From 1989 until Sept. 2001, he provided 1,714 hours to activities such as preparing wills and powers of attorney, and giving advice concerning nursing home and Medicaid and Medicare matters.

THOMAS E. STONE - Madison - Third Judicial Circuit

Stone has practiced law in Madison, Florida, primarily in solo practice, since he became a member of The Florida Bar in 1976. His practice includes family, criminal, probate and real estate law. He provides legal services for child support enforcement for the Florida Department of Revenue and is a part-time public defender. Stone has been active in Bar activities, serving as President of the Third Circuit Bar Association and chairman of the Third Circuit Bar Grievance Committee. He has been a member of the legal services panel of Three Rivers Legal Services for many years, providing services to a number of clients referred to him by that panel. Stone is also involved in a Senior Citizens' Pro Bono Guardian Program.

ROBERT L. PETERS, JR. - Fernandina Beach - Fourth Judicial Circuit

Peters has owned his own firm since 1999. His solo practice is limited to real property law. Peters has provided pro bono services through participation in the Nassau County Bar Association Pro Bono Project for the past five years. This entailed interviewing Legal Aid clients in the evening and accepting individual case work. Additionally, Peters was the Nassau County representative to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and accepted individual cases from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid primarily involving spousal abuse, dissolution and child custody. Peters' community involvement includes serving on the board of the YMCA for the past three years, serving as a counselor for the Tumor Registry Association of Florida for the past five years, and serving as President of the Nassau County Bar Association for two years.

JOHN M. KELLER - Brooksville - Fifth Judicial Circuit

Keller has been practicing law in Brooksville since he became a member of The Florida Bar in 1986. In 1999, Keller and his partner formed the firm of Merritt & Keller where they are currently practicing. In his early years of practice, Keller served four years on the Board of Directors of the Withlacoochee Area Legal Services, Inc. As resident attorney in his Spring Hill American Legion Post, Keller does periodic pro bono work as needed. Most of Keller's pro bono work is done in the area of family law, where he assists as requested by the coordinator of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Project in her Pro Se Divorce Clinics. Keller also meets clients at the courthouse approximately two hours or more per week through the Hernando County Bar Association Legal Clinic; and he participates in the Hernando County Ask-A-Lawyer Program that is coordinated through the local courthouse. Keller is also frequently appointed as a Guardian ad Litem (some pro bono and some fee based) for minor children during their parent's domestic disputes.

JAMES C. RUNYON - St. Petersburg - Sixth Judicial Circuit

In 1988, Runyon received his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. While at Stetson, he clerked in the Elder Law Clinic where he developed an appreciation for the need for pro bono attorneys. Runyon, a family law solo practitioner, spends time each month at the Community Law Program where he assists pro se litigants. He also accepts pro bono clients from the Community Law Program. In 2001, Runyon was awarded the David L. Stout Pro Bono Award for Pinellas County. Runyon also serves as a pro bono attorney for the Guardian ad Litem Program in Clearwater where he has handled over 100 cases, many involving complex termination of parental rights issues. Runyon is currently serving as the Chair of the St. Petersburg Bar Liaison Committee between the clerk's office and the Court. He is also a long time member of the St. Petersburg Florida Canakaris Family Law Inn of Court.

MAURICE WAGNER - Deltona - Seventh Judicial Circuit

Wagner has practiced law in Florida since the late 1940s. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he handled all of the NAACP local chapter organization and legal documentation, and worked with the organization in their efforts to release jailed civil rights protestors. Although he is semi-retired, Wagner continues to serve the local NAACP. In 2000, he was honored with the Pathfinders for Excellence Award for more than 30 years of pro bono service to the NAACP ideals, members and mission. In addition to his pro bono work with various clients and the NAACP, Wagner has made himself available to Central Florida Legal Services' pro bono endeavors in whatever capacity his services are needed. He has represented CFLS clients and provided brief advice at legal advice clinics since the CFLS Pro Bono Program began in 1966. He continues to meet with clients and provide brief services at the CFLS legal advice clinics in DeLand.

N. ALBERT BACHARACH, JR. - Gainesville - Eighth Judicial Circuit

After graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in 1975, Bacharach worked for Florida Legal Rural Services in the Homestead and Fort Pierce offices for three years. He then worked at Central Florida Legal Services in Palatka for three years. In 1982, Bacharach went into private practice with his late partner, the noted feminist, Judith Benninger Brown. Since entering private practice, Bacharach has represented over 400 people and a number of organizations on a pro bono basis regarding a variety of legal issues. Upon request, he has also served pro bono as both an attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem.

G. CHARLES WOHLUST - Winter Park - Ninth Judicial Circuit

Wohlust is the owner of G. Charles Wohlust, P.L.C. and is certified by The Florida Bar in Wills, Trusts, and Estates. His practice is almost exclusively focused on estate planning, probate administration, and probate litigation. Wohlust has been an active pro bono attorney in the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program since its inception over 30 years ago. Since 1981 he has handled 35 pro bono cases through the Legal Aid Society's pro bono programs. All but three of those cases were GAL appointments. Wohlust has represented over 55 children and three other clients and has donated over 1600 hours. He is also active in several Bar and civic groups.

MERETTE L. OWEIS - Lakeland - Tenth Judicial Circuit

Oweis received her Juris Doctor from Texas Southern University in 1994 and is admitted to both The Florida and Texas Bar. In 1996 Oweis became associated with the firm of DiCesare, Davidson & Barker, P.A., in Lakeland, practicing in the area of employment and dependency law. Oweis has provided over 200 hours of service as a dependency Guardian ad Litem for Polk County.

PATRICIA A. REDMOND - Miami - Eleventh Judicial Circuit

Redmond is a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A. in Miami, Florida, where she specializes in the areas of bankruptcy and insolvency law. Redmond's commitment to helping the poor started immediately upon her admission to The Florida Bar in 1980. In the early 1980s, Redmond assisted Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., with pro bono representations, acted as a mentor to public interest lawyers and volunteers, and taught seminars to educate their attorneys with respect to consumer bankruptcy law. Redmond continued her pro bono efforts during the 1980s and 1990s by individually devoting not less than 300 hours a year to pro bono representations and educating lawyers in consumer bankruptcy law in exchange for their commitment to accept pro bono cases. In the mid 1990s, the Honorable A. Jay Cristol, then Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida, had an idea which would channel the talent and energies of law students in helping poor and disadvantaged people who were waiting for a volunteer lawyer to handle their bankruptcy cases. Redmond was determined to make that idea a reality and in the fall of 2000, the St. Thomas School of Law Bankruptcy Assistance Clinic was established. Redmond served as an Adjunct Professor of Law. She continues to teach and coordinate the Bankruptcy Assistance Clinic today where students and mentors from the Bankruptcy Bar help the poor and disadvantaged have access to the bankruptcy system.

RICHARD BARTON RAY - Bradenton - Twelfth Judicial Circuit

Ray practices in the areas of real estate, family law, personal injury, and estate planning with the law firm of Paster, Ray & Cohen. He is a member of the Manatee County Bar Association and is the Manatee County representative to the 12th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Manatee County Bar Association and is the Director in charge of youth related activities which includes the 12th Judicial Circuit Mock Trial Competition. He is legal counsel for three 501(c)(3) corporations, Bradenton Ballet Repertory, Inc., Sarasota Firefighter Benevolent Fund, Inc. and Manatee County Off-Leash, Inc. He currently takes cases for Legal Aid of Manasota and Hope Family Services, as well as donating time to the pro bono clinic in Manatee County. He accepts cases in the areas of domestic violence, grandparent adoption, and obtaining insurance benefits. Ray has been involved with Legal Aid of Manasota, Inc., since its inception in 1991 and has donated hundreds of hours of service. Ray has consistently accepted pro bono cases mainly in the area of family law. In addition to handling pro bono cases, Ray also helps to staff a Saturday morning Free Legal Advice Clinic for indigent clients.

HALA A. SANDRIDGE - Tampa - Thirteenth Judicial Circuit

Sandridge is the supervising shareholder of the Appellate Group for Fowler White Boggs Banker P.A. She specializes in commercial appeals and is Board Certified in Appellate Practice. Sandridge chairs Fowler White Boggs Banker's Pro Bono Committee. During her 17 years of practice, Sandridge has represented many indigent clients in civil and appellate matters. Her civil pro bono cases have consisted of a variety of commercial, juvenile and family law matters. In the early and mid-1990s, she donated many hours to Hillsborough County's Teen Court program. Sandridge has donated well over 1,000 hours to pro bono matters. Her pro bono commitment began with her involvement in the Hillsborough County Bar Association's Availability of Legal Services Committee in 1990. Sandridge was actively involved in that Committee's creation of the Legal Services Directory. She then went on to help develop the Courthouse Assistance Project that helped the "GAP Group," those families and individuals whose income level may disqualify them from receiving publicly-funded legal assistance but do not earn enough money to hire an attorney. In addition to encouraging Fowler White Boggs Banker to adopt the Project, which they did in 1994, Sandridge personally provided hundreds of hours at the project and ensured its smooth operation in coordination with Hillsborough County, Bay Area Legal Services, and the Clerk of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. Last year, working with Bay Area Legal Services, Sandridge developed the idea of a law firm/corporate partnership to create and staff a family law position at the Project.

JERRY W. GERDE - Panama City - Fourteenth Judicial Circuit

Gerde graduated from Duke University in 1965 and began practicing law in Panama City the following year. He has practiced with the law firm, now named Johnson, Harris, Gerde, & Jelks, P.A., continuously since 1966. He served as a Charter Member of the 14th Circuit Pro Bono Committee, performing duties as the Acting Secretary since the inception of the Pro Bono Committee. He has assisted with the coordination of delivering pro bono services between the Legal Services of North Florida organization and the First Saturday Legal Clinic (a creation of the Bay County Bar Association), since its beginning. The clinic meets on the first Saturday of each month and volunteer members of the Bay County and 14th Circuit Bars volunteer their time to handle the overflow of cases which go beyond the ability of Legal Services of North Florida to intake and process.

ROBERT T. BERGIN, JR. - West Palm Beach - Fifteenth Judicial Circuit

Bergin practices law in West Palm Beach as a sole practitioner in the firm of Robert T. Bergin, Jr., P.A. He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Florida and has been a member of The Florida Bar since 1977. He has been a Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer since 1983. Bergin primarily represents plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases with an emphasis on medical negligence cases. Bergin has been a long-time supporter of the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, American Board of Trial Advocates, Palm Beach County Trial Lawyers Association. Bergin has also served on The Florida Bar Civil Trial Law Certification Committee, Palm Beach County Bar Association Circuit Court Civil Practice Committee, and the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee.

DAVID P. KIRWAN - Marathon - Sixteenth Judicial Circuit

Kirwan graduated from Florida State University College of Law in 1972. He began his career as the sole assistant public defender assigned to the Middle and Upper Keys in Monroe County. Later, he served as both a County Court Judge and a Circuit Judge. Since 1987, Kirwan has been a sole practitioner in Marathon. For the past six years, he has coordinated the assignment of cases to Middle Keys lawyers on behalf of Legal Services of the Florida Keys. Kirwan, Board Certified in Real Estate Law since 1996, has acted pro bono as guardian and administrator ad litem and as counsel for indigent parties in several real property related suits. A Certified Civil Mediator, Mr. Kirwan has participated pro bono in both circuit and county court mediations.

JOHN T. DAVID - Ft. Lauderdale - Seventeenth Judicial Circuit

David obtained his Juris Doctor in 1984 from Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale. Since 1985, David has owned and operated the Law Offices of John T. David, P.A., in the city of Ft. Lauderdale, where he is a sole practitioner. His areas of practice encompass criminal defense, commercial litigation, and admiralty law. In March of 1999, David began providing representation to Arnold Abbott and Love Thy Neighbor Fund, Inc. Abbott owns and operates a Homeless Feeding Program in which he provides food for the homeless people of Ft. Lauderdale. The City of Ft. Lauderdale had threatened to arrest Abbott for conducting this feeding program at the public picnic area at the South Beach area of Ft. Lauderdale Beach, citing the violation of city zoning codes and park rules. Since the inception of this case, which is currently on appeal, David has spent hundreds of hours representing the homeless and those who attempt to help them. On November 1, 2001, his efforts for the homeless were recognized as he was named the recipient of the 2001 Homeless Advocate of the Year award by the Broward Coalition for the Homeless. Not only does David put forth his efforts to the homeless, he also provides free, or at cost, legal services to many lower income families on a regular basis.

JAMES J. PARTLOW - Sanford - Eighteenth Judicial Circuit

Partlow earned his Juris Doctor from Mississippi College School of Law in 1994. After graduation from law school, he joined the law firm of Stenstrom, McIntosh, Colbert, Whigham and Simmons, P.A. and was named partner in December, 1999. He focuses his practice in the areas of marital family law, probate and general civil litigation. Since entering private practice, Partlow has provided pro bono representation for those less fortunate in the areas of complex child custody, child abuse and spousal abuse cases. Partlow is appointed by the court on a regular basis to represent dependent children and adults in dependency, Hal Marchman and guardianship cases. Over the past twelve months, he has volunteered over 70 hours in these areas. During Law Week 2000 and 2001, Mr. Partlow sponsored two high school students who shadowed his practice as much as possible and introduced the students to the private practice of law, the judicial system, local attorneys and local circuit judges to give back to the same program that exposed him to Stenstrom law firm in 1987. He has also given presentations to local schools about the practice of law and the need for continuing education.

THOMAS R. BAKKEDAHL - Ft. Pierce - Nineteenth Judicial Circuit

Bakkedahl was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1991 and took a position as an Assistant State Attorney for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. In 1996, he was promoted to the Attorney-in-Charge of the State Attorney's Martin County office, and in 2000 he was once again promoted from the head of the Martin County office to the Attorney-in-Charge of the State Attorney's St. Lucie County office, the largest office within the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. In 2000, Bakkedahl became the Pro Bono Liaison for the State Attorney's Office to the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit's Pro Bono Committee. In 2000, Bakkedahl was the recipient of the 19th Judicial Circuit's Pro Bono Committee and Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. Pro Bono Liaison of the year award for St. Lucie County. In 2001, he again received the Pro Bono Liaison award for St. Lucie County and the 19th Judicial Circuit's Tobias Simon Nominee L.B. Vocelle Pro Bono Service Award. Under the direction and guidance of State Attorney Bruce Colton, Bakkedahl developed the circuit's first collective satisfaction plan, which addresses the ethical and moral imperative that Florida's lawyers provide legal services to the indigent without engaging in a practice of law that is inconsistent with their legal duties to the State of Florida. Bakkedahl's collective satisfaction plan outlines four specific types of legal service that Assistant State Attorneys in the Nineteenth Circuit can provide.

CELIA ELLEN DEIFIK - Naples - Twentieth Judicial Circuit

Deifik is a shareholder with Rochman, Deifik, Lanier & Ross, P.A. of Naples, Florida and has been Board Certified in Real Property Law since 1990. Her current practice focuses on commercial, real estate and family law litigation as well as commercial and residential transactions. She received her Juris Doctor in 1977 from the University of Florida. Upon graduating from law school, Deifik received her first exposure in representing the indigent as a sole practitioner for Lee County Legal Aid in 1978. Thereafter, Deifik went on to practice law in both Lee and Collier counties. Due to her knowledge in family law and juvenile dependency, she was frequently appointed or called upon to represent pro bono cases or to as act as a guardian or attorney ad litem. Through the years Deifik has worked on numerous pro bono matters coordinated by the Collier County Bar, Catholic Services and Florida Rural Legal Services. She is an active member of the Collier County Bar Association and received an award for creation and presentation of a legal secretary educational program in the 1980s. Deifik was one of many assisting in the set up and policy formation of the Collier County Family Legal Aid Society.

LEO G. RYDZEWSKI - Washington, D.C. - Out-of-state

Rydzewski is an associate in the Washington, D.C. office of Holland & Knight LLP, where he practices primarily in the areas of general commercial and intellectual property litigation. Mr. Rydzewski previously served on Holland & Knight's Community Services Team, which has had a long-standing history of providing pro bono counsel to people, groups and causes that otherwise could not afford legal representation. Rydzewski has litigated a wide variety of claims on behalf of the poor. His current cases include claims alleging that the State of Mississippi is providing indigent criminal defendants with ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the State of Mississippi is providing inadequate medical care to HIV positive inmates, is unlawfully segregating these inmates based on their medical status, and is permitting select prison officials to violate the inmates' First Amendment rights and subject them to cruel and unusual punishments, including physical violence. Rydzewski also serves as Guardian ad Litem to 12 juveniles in the Washington, D.C. child welfare system. Based on this extensive history of pro bono service, the Georgetown University alumni magazine profiled Rydzewski in an article titled "Attorney in Service"in its summer 2001 edition.

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[Updated: 07-01-2005 ]