During a quarter-century at the prestigious Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig, attorney Holly R. Skolnick defended high-profile white-collar defendants accused of money laundering, racketeering and securities fraud, but her heart was with the abused and exploited who couldn’t afford a lawyer.
“Her passion was for providing justice to those who otherwise would not served,’’ said Hilarie Bass, the firm’s co-president. “Immigrants, victims of domestic violence...Whenever there was somebody who was the victim of some form of injustice, she’d try hard to make sure they got the assistance they needed.’’
So consuming was that passion that Skolnick led the firm’s pro bono efforts and created the Greenberg Traurig Fellowship Foundation: a partnership with the nonprofit Equal Justice Works that pairs law students and lawyers with underserved communities and causes.
“She personally interviewed applicants every year and became directly involved in their work,’’ said Bass.
The venture, which Skolnick launched in 1999, has since sponsored nearly 100 fellows and will soon add her name to its title, to honor her memory.
Holly Robin Skolnick, born May 7, 1954, in the Bronx, died Sunday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Richard Strafer, the federal appellate lawyer to whom she’d been married since 1980, said she succumbed to melanoma.
She was 59, an avid cyclist and hiker who lived in downtown Miami, collected photography, and loved to travel.
Skolnick held degrees from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, 1976, and Harvard University Law School, 1980.
She joined Greenberg Traurig in 1988 after serving as a federal public defender in Washington, D.C., and clerking for federal judge Eugene Spellman, and became a shareholder in 1993.
She was past chairwoman of the firm’s Securities Litigation Practice Group in the Miami office, and has been listed in “The Best Lawyers in America, Criminal Defense: White Collar; Litigation,” since 2005.
In her last years, she “worked with clients on internal investigation matters,’’ Bass said.
Famed criminal defense lawyer Roy Black, with whom she worked on the successful defense of William Kennedy Smith in a sensational 1991 rape case, nicknamed her “The Pen,’’ for her skillful writing.
“She put together brilliant pleadings that were much more articulate and persuasive than I could have done,’’ said Black.
Last year she told colleagues during Pro Bono Week: “In our current economic climate, lawyers cannot neglect their duty to their communities. The private sector must partner with social service organizations, engage its attorneys and staff, and work together to make a difference for those who cannot afford legal services.”
Among Skolnick’s best-known pro bono clients: Sonia “Sunny’’ Jacobs, convicted in the 1976 fatal shooting of Florida Highway Patrol trooper Philip A. Black and a Canadian police colleague in Pompano Beach.
Jacobs was sentenced to death alongside common-law husband Jesse Tafero, who died in Florida’s notorious “Old Sparky’’ electric chair in May 1990.
(In a gruesome complication, an artificial sponge on his head caught fire, which led the state to replace the chair with lethal injection).