The Florida Bar will recognize 22 lawyers for their work on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged clients at a Feb. 7 ceremony at the Supreme Court of Florida.
Established in 1981, The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards are intended to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor by recognizing those who make public service commitments and to raise public awareness of the substantial volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers to those who cannot afford legal fees. Florida Bar President Michelle R. Suskauer will present the 2019 awards.
The awards recognize pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits (with two honorees this year in the 11th Circuit) as well as service by one Florida Bar member practicing outside the state of Florida. They are presented annually in conjunction with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, which is given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Awards recognizing pro bono contributions also will be presented in the categories of Distinguished Judicial Service, Distinguished Federal Judicial Service, Law Firm Commendation, Voluntary Bar Association and Young Lawyers Division.
In the most recent 12 months reported, Florida lawyers provided more than 1.58 million hours of pro bono services to those in need and more than $5.8 million to legal aid organizations.
This year’s ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 7, at 3:30 p.m. at the Supreme Court of Florida. Watch it live at http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel as well as on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridasupremecourt.
Here are the 2019 circuit honorees. Honorees’ photographs are linked.
1st Judicial Circuit (Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties)
Nancy Lynn Carty Hartjen has given more than 1,200 hours of pro bono legal service in her 10 years as a lawyer in Florida. She has a particular interest in helping first responders, teachers, and retired and active military personnel, but her most significant pro bono project reached out to the entire community. Hartjen was co-team leader of Justice on the Block, a pilot program in 2017 and 2018 that was part of the Escambia Project. JOTB partnered with community centers and churches to host legal clinics, with lawyers able to attend in person or via Skype. JOTB survived past its pilot status, and Hartjen, who has spent more than 225 hours on the project, still attends the clinics and continues to represent some JOTB clients in family law matters. Hartjen – who once painted T-shirts and motorcycle gas tanks for a living – came late to the legal profession, though she had long dreamed of being an attorney. After the death of her husband in 2000, she dove back into her studies and eventually earned her J.D. from Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. She has been a solo practitioner in Navarre since 2008.
2nd Judicial Circuit (Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties)
Jennifer LaVia, a faculty member at the Florida State University College of Law, keeps adding to her pro bono service. In 2011, she began work as a volunteer special assistant public defender. Sometimes working with her law students at FSU, LaVia has taken on nine appeals pro bono for the Second Circuit Public Defender’s Office, in cases ranging from homicide to drug crimes to civil commitment of sexual offenders. In 2012, she helped create a weekly legal clinic for residents of Tallahassee’s homeless shelter, working with Legal Services of North Florida and the Renaissance Community Center, which offers services to people who are homeless. From her experience with that clinic, LaVia became involved in the fledgling Tallahassee Veterans Legal Collaborative. Now she serves as the paid director of the FSU Veterans Legal Clinic, though she still offers pro bono services through the homeless shelter and veterans’ clinics and as a graduate of Thunderdome, a program of the Tallahassee Bar Association that trains attorneys to handle family law cases pro bono. LaVia earned her J.D. at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
Kevin A. McNeill (photo)
3rd Judicial Circuit (Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties)
Kevin A. McNeill understands how a seemingly simple matter – such as having a car towed – can have a huge effect on somebody who can’t afford legal representation. In 2014, McNeill took the case of a woman who had been victimized by a roam towing scheme. The towing company used the excuse that her car had a flat tire and had been abandoned. However, she had used the car previously that day to get to her dialysis appointment – the tires were not flat, nor was the car abandoned. However, the woman, who was disabled and had a low income, couldn’t afford to pay the towing fee and so lost her car. McNeill spent more than 65 hours over the next three years fighting for the client. In the end, she was able to recover the value of her lost vehicle – and McNeill managed to stop a practice that had victimized low-income residents of her neighborhood. McNeill, who focuses exclusively on injury and death cases for McRae & McNeill in Lake City, is a graduate of the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University.
Crystal Freed (photo)
4th Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)
Crystal Freed found success at big-name firms after earning her J.D. in 2003 from Georgetown University Law Center. But Freed, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, realized her passion was to help victims of human trafficking, and in 2008 she formed the Freed Firm, P.A., in Jacksonville. There, she has focused almost exclusively on being an advocate, champion and friend for victims of modern-day slavery. Freed co-chaired Northeast Florida’s first Human Trafficking Task Force from 2007-2009, quadrupling membership. As chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Jacksonville Bar Association, Freed piloted the Attorneys for Human Trafficking Survivors project. She also co-founded a statewide effort, Florida Attorneys for Survivors of Human Trafficking. She also spearheaded the creation of the Jacksonville Human Trafficking Pro Bono Working Group. In 2014, Freed helped organize the North American launch of Artworks for Freedom, using art to raise awareness of trafficking. In 2016, she raised $40,000 for victims of trafficking in India by holding a Bollywood-themed benefit. Freed’s own pro bono cases have involved dependency issues, immigration, foreclosure defense, wage claims and landlord-tenant matters.
Choung Mi Lim Akehurst (photo)
5th Judicial Circuit (Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties)
Choung Mi Lim Akehurst took the long road to Inverness, where she has been a trial court judicial staff attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit since 2010. She was born in South Korea, grew up in New York and attended college there, then earned her J.D. at the Stetson University College of Law. She also has a masters in law degree from the University of Turin, in Italy, and worked as a contractor for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. Akehurst began volunteering with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida in 2007, conducting pro se dissolution of marriage workshops in Lake County while she was a senior attorney with the state Department of Children and Families. She still conducts workshops, today working out of the Citrus County Courthouse. She was instrumental in helping develop protocols used to expand clinics and workshops using technology, with her workshops now being broadcast to Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida offices in Palatka, Kissimmee and Orlando. Akehurst has conducted more than 100 workshops. In addition to assisting clients there, she also has trained law students and other volunteer attorneys.
6th Judicial Circuit (Pasco and Pinellas counties)
William Denton “Will” Slicker has been a reliable volunteer with the Community Law Program in St. Petersburg almost since its inception in 1989. Slicker has participated in countless family law advice clinic sessions, handled countless cases, donated money to the organization and served as president of the Board of Trustees in 1999-2000. With two months still left in 2018, he had spent more than 220 hours handling family law cases ─ all of them representing victims of domestic violence seeking civil injunctions for protection or in related family law proceedings. Slicker also advanced litigation costs on behalf of his pro bono clients of more than $7,300, with little expectation of being reimbursed by the opposing parties. In addition to his pro bono work, Slicker advocates for victims of domestic violence in other forums. In the 1990s, he helped prepare legal arguments for a woman who received clemency. She was only the second woman in Florida to receive clemency because she acted in self-defense. Slicker earned his J.D. in 1976 from the Florida State University College of Law. He has been in solo practice in St. Petersburg since 1987.
James Russell “Rusty” Collins (photo)
7th Judicial Circuit (St. Johns, Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties)
James Russell “Rusty” Collins dove into pro bono work so quickly it caused some anxiety. In 2008, Collins went to St. Johns County Legal Aid to volunteer. He said this would be a good way to gain experience and give back. He went straight into court with clients within days, and the staff marveled at this lawyer with such a big heart and amazing talent − until they checked the Bar’s website and saw that he wasn’t listed. Had they just handed a dozen clients to a non-lawyer? Indeed, he really was a lawyer – with a J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law and a Bar number so new it hadn’t been listed. When Collins had accepted his 150th pro bono case, his office begged legal aid to stop giving him cases. But he would show up for advice clinics or find new pro bono clients at the courthouse. Fast forward 10 years and Collins is still ready with a smile and a hug, donating hundreds of hours each year – and that’s just what Legal Aid can get his Rusty Law LLC office in St. Augustine to report.
8th Judicial Circuit (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties)
Howard M. Rosenblatt has seen how pro bono service can change lives. In 2014, Rosenblatt agreed to help a woman in a complicated probate case. Her 94-year-old aunt had died, leaving her as the personal representative of the estate. The estate was small, but the task was huge. Rosenblatt went on a two-year search for members of a large, splintered family, finding relatives in Alaska, Montana, Texas and New York, as well as closer to home in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. A family tree was created, with the help of high school records, online sites and an heir-search company. Rosenblatt helped discover 52 heirs, and in the end those heirs not only shared in the estate but also discovered each other as well as the legacy of the aunt. Rosenblatt has been a pro bono volunteer for more than 20 years with Three Rivers Legal Services. He also accepts referrals from the Ocala Office of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. Rosenblatt earned his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and is of counsel with Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A., in Gainesville.
9th Judicial Circuit (Orange and Osceola counties)
Dougald Leitch has been a Guardian ad Litem volunteer since 1986, so he understands the difficulties. In an early experience as a GAL, Leitch was appointed to be the guardian for a 10-year-old. After about two years, the girl was put into foster care, but she confided to Leitch that her foster father would touch her inappropriately. Law enforcement stepped in and the girl finally landed in a group home, where she thrived, and she went on to receive an athletic scholarship to college. In another case, the parents of two boys were battling addictions. Leitch recommended termination of parental rights, but acquiesced when the grandparents wanted to step in. However, the parents remained part of the boys’ upbringing, and the two – now young men – have been unable to establish stable lives. Leitch has handled more than 85 cases and currently is assisting six children. He has donated more than 1,150 hours on closed cases. He earned his J.D. from Drake University School of Law in Des Moines, Iowa, and has been in solo practice in Oveido since 2014.
10th Judicial Circuit (Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties)
Matthew James Vaughn has been involved in pro bono work since he became a lawyer in 2011, after earning his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. In the past year, though, Vaughn took his pro bono service to a new level, donating more than 300 hours of legal assistance. He spent almost 70 hours on a divorce case, representing a mother with two children under the age of 3. The divorce involved child support, time-sharing and equitable distribution issues. In a contested time-sharing matter, Vaughn represented the unemployed mother of a special-needs child against a father who was delinquent in child support. Finally, Vaughn worked on a contested estate, part of which involved the home of the estate’s personal representative. Vaughn represented the woman against a brother and sister of hers who had been intentionally left out of the will. The case involved more than 110 hours from Vaughn, included a two-day trial, but his client prevailed and was able to keep her home. In his daily practice, Vaughn handles family law, bankruptcy and general business and probate litigation for Peterson & Myers, P.A., in Lakeland.
Elisa D’Amico (photo) (co-honoree)
11th Judicial Circuit (Dade County)
Elisa D’Amico moved to Miami less than 10 years ago, and in the short time since she has become a pro bono superhero in the fight against cyber harassment and revenge porn. In 2014, D’Amico co-founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project (CCRLP). CCRLP was founded on the principle that people have a right of privacy when it comes to their intimate images and that public dissemination of that material without consent is an invasion of privacy that amounts to a “cyber civil rights” violation. CCRLP is now recognized as a leading legal resource to protect the rights of revenge porn victims worldwide. It has provided pro bono legal help to thousands of people, with volunteers donating tens of thousands of hours. CCRLP has removed thousands of nonconsensually distributed explicit images and video from the Internet. D’Amico earned her J.D. in 2006 from Fordham Law School, and in 2009 joined K&L Gates LLP in Miami, where she is now a litigation partner. In 2016, D’Amico received The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division’s Pro Bono Service Award.
Jaime Rich Vining (photo) (co-honoree)
11th Judicial Circuit (Dade County)
Jaime Rich Vining is Board Certified in Intellectual Property Law, specializing in trademark, copyright, entertainment and Internet law with Friedland Vining, P.A., in Miami. Using that expertise, Vining works extensively with Dade Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts/Arts & Business Council of Miami, leading legal clinics and one-on-one legal consultations for artists, and with Cannonball Miami (formerly known as LegalArt). Her pro bono clients have included a designer who needed copyright protection for tote bags, with all proceeds to be donated to charity, and an art collective of former stay-at-home mothers and entrepreneurs re-entering the workforce. About 10 years ago, after learning that funding for legal services was rapidly declining, Vining created the Patently Impossible Project. Competitors race to accurately assemble a patented invention – perhaps a catapult made of tongue depressors, rubber bands and clothespins – while more than 300 lawyers, judges, law students and members of the business community cheer them on and “bet” on their favorite contestants. The Patently Impossible Project has raised more than $150,000. Vining earned her J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law.
12th Judicial Circuit (DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)
Neil T. Lyons didn’t wait to become a lawyer before diving into pro bono legal service. At the Stetson University College of Law, where Lyons received his J.D. in 2011, he was the recipient of the William F. Blews Pro Bono Service Award, given to students who perform outstanding pro bono service beyond that required for graduation. Lyons began taking pro bono cases from Legal Aid of Manasota in 2015. In less than four years, he has donated almost 500 pro bono hours. Many of the cases he has taken are complex guardianship and guardian advocate cases, though he also has handled several probate matters. Lyons also has volunteered many hours of service to the clients of the Comprehensive Treatment Court. That program, within the 12th Judicial Circuit’s Mental Health Court, is designed for people who are charged with a qualifying offense, suffer from a serious mental illness that likely led to the criminal charge and are unable to meet their basic needs. Lyons has been with Boyer & Boyer, P.A., in Sarasota since 2014.
George B. Howell III (photo)
13th Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County)
George B. Howell III, a partner in Holland & Knight’s Tampa office, has a long history of service to the Tampa Bay community and especially its military community. A signature achievement was establishing Mission United, a program launched in January 2018 that assists veterans and their families, with a special focus on active duty service members who are transitioning back to civilian life. Services include pro bono legal assistance, as well as navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, GI Bill assistance, housing and homelessness and emergency financial assistance. Working with United Way Suncoast, Howell recruited a 21-member Advisory Council, raised funds, hired a program director and brought the community and veterans together to understand veterans’ needs. Howell also is leading an effort with Bay Area Legal Services to seek a $500,000 recurring appropriation for a five-county regional Veterans Legal Helpline. Howell’s commitment to the military also involves pro bono representation of individuals and families. Howell also has represented the small True Faith Inspirational Baptist Church pro bono for over a decade. Howell received his J.D. from South Texas College of Law Houston.
14th Judicial Circuit (Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties)
Julia K. Maddalena lost her office and her home when Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle in early October. It was ironic, considering all that Maddalena had done for victims of Hurricane Irma the previous year and for others since graduating from the Florida State University College of Law in 2014. Though she and her husband, expecting their first child within a month, had to find housing outside of Bay County after Michael, Maddalena continued with the First Saturday Legal Clinic, despite the lack of power, water and suitable facilities. As president of the Bay County Bar Association, she organized programs to encourage others to offer pro bono legal assistance. When she was a young staff attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, she was unable to offer direct legal advice, but she joined the 14th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee and became the administrator of the First Sunday clinic. After moving to private practice with Hand Arendall Harrison Sale LLC in Panama City, Maddalena could help the needy directly. She organized a clinic in Marianna and has led an initiative to offer virtual clinics that could begin this spring.
Karen Chuang Kline (photo)
15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County)
Karen Chuang Kline, a partner at Duane Morris LLP in Boca Raton, has encouraged pro bono service at her office through her work on the Pro Bono Committee and simply leading by example. Since Kline joined the committee in 2014, pro bono participation has grown from 46 percent of the attorneys to 100 percent. Kline, who practices intellectual property law, has obtained dozens of trademarks, patents and copyrights pro bono. Groups she has assisted include the NOPE Task Force (Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education), Sparkling Life (which encourages healthy living through exercise), Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Alliance for Kids, the Children’s Healing Institute’s Teacup Preemie Program, America’s First Responders Foundation, Vet Jobs New England and SoldierStrong. Through Empowering Women in Technology Startups, Kline has provided patent and trademark advice to women as they launch new businesses and develop new technology. Kline also has worked through Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) to provide educational and legal resources to survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. Kline earned her J.D. in 2008 from the George Washington University Law School.
Richard August Malafy (photo)
16th Judicial Circuit (Monroe County)
Richard August Malafy, who practices with the Law Offices of Campbell and Malafy in Marathon, saw firsthand the destruction brought by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Malafy already was well known for his pro bono legal services to indigent clients, civic organizations and voluntary bar associations. After Irma, he jumped in to assist pro bono disaster relief efforts in Big Pine Key and Marathon, despite losses to his own home and business. Malafy helped a first responder, a waitress, a waiter, a business owner, a veteran and his family, a nurse, an elderly resident and others in matters such as Small Business Association and Federal Emergency Management Agency claims, rebuilding after the loss of a home and possessions, dealing with contractors, loss of a vehicle, threats of eviction and even foreclosure. Malafy also participated in a pro bono legal clinic in Big Pine Key for victims of Irma (after arranging for free advertising of the clinic) and worked on the Hurricane Irma hotline organized by The Florida Bar. Malafy received his J.D. from the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law.
Dia Teresa Colbert (photo)
17th Judicial Circuit (Broward County)
Dia Teresa Colbert didn’t take the usual route to becoming a lawyer. She was a paralegal, working with firms in New York and South Florida. She’d always wanted to open her own law office, but work came first. So, over the course of 18 years, often taking courses at night, she earned an MBA and, finally, her J.D. in 2003, from the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law. In 2010, she became a member of The Florida Bar. Today, her dream has come true at The Colbert Law Firm LLC in Davie. Now, she says, she feels a need to give something back and help people in need. As she succinctly put it, “I like to have a good night’s sleep.” Over the last two years, Colbert has helped more than a dozen pro bono clients, contributing her time to Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida through their joint pro bono project, Broward Lawyers Care. She is among the most active pro bono attorneys in the project. Colbert primarily represents clients on Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases.
John B. Daly (photo)
18th Judicial Circuit (Brevard and Seminole counties)
John B. Daly has been volunteering at Brevard County Legal Aid since the mid-1980s. Over the years, he has undertaken full representation of low-income clients in family law matters, staffed hundreds of legal clinics and assisted Brevard County Legal Aid in implementing its family law pro se assistance program. Over the past eight years alone, Daly has logged more than 1,000 hours of service. His work with pro se litigants has been especially important. Clients seeking a simple divorce will show up at legal clinics with the standard package of forms – and no understanding of how to proceed. Daly has written a booklet that explains the process, the goal being that, when clients leave the clinic, they can achieve a “do-it-yourself divorce.” Daly was a mathematician conducting weapons effectiveness analysis for the U.S. Navy when, in 1976, a lawyer challenged him to take the Law School Admission Test. Daly passed the exam comfortably and attended law school at the University of Florida, where he earned his J.D. in 1979. Daly now works in a solo practice as a Florida certified family mediator in Palm Bay.
Ashley N. Minton (photo)
19th Judicial Circuit (Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties)
Ashley N. Minton is willing to step out of her comfort zone. Three years ago, Minton was asked to take a nonrelative adoption matter from Florida Rural Legal Services. Minton’s response was: “I have not done one, but I am willing to.” What had looked like an uncontested adoption turned into a contested termination of parental rights, but Minton continued to represent the client through an appeal of the termination and to the final order of adoption. Minton also has provided pro bono assistance on her own to criminal defendants. That is important, because Florida Rural Legal Services is prohibited by its funders from assisting clients with criminal legal matters. Minton also works as an attorney ad litem in dependency proceedings, and her law office sponsors teenagers through the Making Christmas Bright project, a gift drive for the approximately 120 teenagers in foster care or protective services in St. Lucie County. After earning her J.D. at the University of San Diego School of Law, Minton moved back to her home town of Fort Pierce. She is one of two lawyers at Minton Law, P.A., in Fort Pierce.
20th Judicial Circuit (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties)
Kelly L. Fayer’s first case with Florida Rural Legal Services shows the depth of her commitment to pro bono legal services. The case involved the guardianship of an adult with cerebral palsy and severe mental disabilities. Fayer noticed that the woman recognized and enjoyed the scent of a certain expensive lotion. So Fayer would periodically send some to the woman’s mother/guardian until the death of the mother. When Florida Rural Legal Services couldn’t grant pro bono status to the next relative who took over as guardian, Fayer took the case on her own, at a discount, because Fayer knew that this had been the wish of the mother. As president of the Lee County Bar Association in 2017-18, Fayer launched a pro bono challenge, and the number of attorneys accepting cases through Florida Rural Legal Services increased from 38 to 53. Fayer also has begun a project called #KindLee, to showcase the prevalence of everyday good throughout Southwest Florida. Fayer earned her J.D. from the Washington and Lee University School of Law. She is a solo practitioner at Kelly Fayer, P.A., in Fort Myers.
Kristin M. Whidby works in the Washington, D.C., office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, where every lawyer is required to perform 20 hours of pro bono service to be eligible for a bonus. Some lawyers might do the minimum; not Kristin Whidby. Whidby has donated more than 450 hours of pro bono legal service over the last three years, which is especially impressive considering that she took maternity leave in 2018 for the birth of her fourth child. Whidby’s practice area is intellectual property, but in her pro bono work – mostly done through the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project – she has taken on difficult family law cases involving abused women. Whidby also has become a champion for the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, both within Fried Frank and in the legal community. She has been a speaker and faculty member at training sessions, and she recruits and mentors other lawyers. She is now a member of DCVLP’s Junior Board. Whidby, who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Florida, earned her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.