Fighting for a client in a divorce, legally protecting intellectual property, handling estates ... all tasks people associate with attorneys racking up hourly fees.
But they’re also tasks handled for free by some of the 22 attorneys receiving The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards Thursday at the Supreme Court of Florida. Along with taking down a scamming towing company, working with human trafficking victims and helping veterans and first responders with their legal needs.
The 22 attorneys come from Florida’s 20 judicial circuits, one each (co-honorees this year from the 11th Judicial Circuit covering Miami-Dade) and one attorney from out of state.
In alphabetical order:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Choung Mi Lim Akehurst, Stetson University College of Law and masters in law from University of Turin (Italy), judicial staff attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Since conducting pro se dissolution of marriage workshops while volunteering with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Akehurst has expanded their reach. They’re broadcast to Community Legal’s offices in Palatka, Kissimmee and Orlando. Akehurst also has trained volunteer attorneys.
Dia Colbert, Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad College of Law, The Colbert Law Firm, Davie. A longtime paralegal in New York and Florida, Colbert took classes for 18 years to earn an MBA and a law degree. Now, in addition to running her Davie firm, she works with Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Broward Lawyers Care, a pro bono arm of Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida.
J. Russell Collins, Florida Coastal School of Law, Rusty Law, St. Augustine. Collins was in court with clients from St. Johns County Legal Aid in 2008 before his brand new Florida Bar number got listed on the website. Around the time Collins took his 150th pro bono case, the Florida Bar says, his office in St. Augustine began asking Legal Aid to stop giving him cases. Collins still does hundreds of hours of pro bono work each year — and that still includes Legal Aid cases.
Elisa D’Amico, Fordham Law School, K&L Gates, Miami. The Bar calls D’Amico “a pro bono superhero in the fight against cyber harassment and revenge porn.” The litigation partner at K&L Gates co-founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, which fights for revenge porn victims around the world, including getting photos and videos intended to be private out of cyberspace. D’Amico received the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award in 2016.
John Daly, University of Florida School of Law, solo practitioner, Palm Bay. The Bar says Daly has put in more than 1,000 pro bono hours in the last eight years, and eight years is about one-fourth the years that he’s been volunteering at Brevard County Legal Aid. He’s written a booklet explaining the legal process of an uncomplicated divorce, which helps those in legal clinics guide clients who are handling their divorce pro se. Daly was a U.S. Navy mathematician before taking the LSAT in 1976 on a challenge from a lawyer.
Kelly Fayer, Washington and Lee School of Law, solo practitioner, Fort Myers. When president of the Lee County Bar Association in 2017-18, Fayer increased the number of lawyers accepting cases from Florida Rural Legal Services by 39.5 percent. Once, Fayer was working on a case involving the guardianship of a woman with severe mental disabilities and cerebral palsy when the woman’s mother died. When Florida Rural Legal Services couldn’t grant pro bono status to the mother’s next of kin, Fayer took the case at a discount.
Crystal Freed, Georgetown University Law Center, The Freed Firm, Jacksonville. The Freed Firm works almost exclusively with human trafficking victims since its formation in 2008. Freed has led several human trafficking legal groups and helped create the Jacksonville Human Trafficking Pro Bono Working Group in 2014. The Trinidad and Tobago native also has done pro bono work with immigration, foreclosure defense, fighting for wages and landlord-tenant disputes.
Nancy Carty Hartjen, Roger Williams University School of Law, solo practitioner, Navarre. Hartjen was a co-team leader with Justice on the Block, which brings free legal advice via clinics to many who can’t afford legal representation. Justice on the Block is part of The Bar’s Escambia Project, a program with the goal of bringing more legal help to Escambia County residents. The Bar says Hartjen, who used to make a living painting T-shirts and motorcycle gas tanks, also represents some clients she connected with through Justice on the Block in family court matters.
George Howell, South Texas College of Law, Holland & Knight, Tampa. A year ago, Howell started the Tampa chapter of Mission United, a United Way program that tries to help coordinate services (including legal services) for military personnel and families trying to readjust to civilian life. He’s represented military members and families on a pro bono basis and is trying to get an appropriation for a regional Veterans Legal Helpline.
Karen Kline, George Washington University Law School, Duane Morris, Boca Raton. Kline’s gotten participation on the Pro Bono Committee at her office at Duane Morris, where she’s a partner, from 46 percent to 100 percent. The intellectual property attorney has done that work pro bono, getting what the Bar says are “dozens of trademarks, patents and copyrights” while working for free. She’s volunteered with Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, an organization that gives legal and education help to women sexually exploited for money.
Jennifer Parker LaVia, University of Florida School of Law, clinical professor at Florida State College of Law. LaVia’s a director of FSU Veterans Legal Clinic, on the paid side. On the pro bono side, she’s a volunteer special assistant public defender, does legal work with other veterans’ clinics, with the homeless through Renaissance Community Center and handles some family law cases.
Dougald Leitch, Drake University School of Law, solo practictioner, Oveido. Leitch has been a guardian ad litem volunteer since 1986 and is currently serving in that capacity for six children. He’s given more than 1,150 hours of time on closed cases. Two years after one of the children for which Leitch was a GAL went into foster care, she told him her foster father molested her. The foster father got arrested, the girl went into a group home and eventually got a college scholarship.
Neil Lyons, Stetson School of Law, Boyer & Boyer, Sarasota. While in law school, Lyons won the award Stetson gives to students for outstanding pro bono work. Among the nearly 500 hours of work he’s done the last three plus years are hours spent with Comprehensive Treatment clients. That means the Boyer & Boyer lawyer works with people who have serious mental illnesses that led to facing criminal charges. He also takes pro bono cases from Legal Aid of Manasota.
Julia Maddalena, Florida State College of Law, Harrison Sale McCloy, Panama City Beach. Maddalena kept up her First Saturday Legal Clinic after Hurricane Michael, although she lacked a home, an office, power, water and was within a month of her pregnancy’s due date. The President of the Bay County Bar Association worked with the First Sunday clinic while a staff attorney for the 14th Jucidial Circuit.
Richard Malafy, Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad College of Law, Campbell and Malafy, Marathon. While the Keys picked through the destruction left by Hurricane Irma, Malafy did pro bono work with people trying to get their lives back together (while his own home and office suffered damage). That involved dealing with FEMA, the Small Business Association, contractors, clients with foreclosure and eviction hanging over their heads. He arranged for a pro bono legal click in Big Pine Key for Irma victims, then participated in the clinic.
Kevin McNeill, Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad College of Law, McRae & McNeill, Lake City. McNeill does injury and death cases out of his Lake City firm. But when a towing company illegitimately towed the car of a woman low on income then held it because she couldn’t pay the towing fee, McNeill took up her fight. After 65 hours of work and three years, he got the value of the woman’s car and halted the towing company’s scam victimizing a working class neighborhood.
Ashley Minton, San Diego School of Law, Minton Law, Fort Pierce. Minton has done pro bono work with criminal cases, been an attorney ad litem in dependency cases and has done a lengthy adoption while one party fought termination of parental rights.
Howard Rosenblatt, University of Florida Levin College of Law, Bogin, Munns & Munns, Gainesville. Rosenblatt volunteers with Three Rivers Legal Services and gets pro bono cases from the Ocala Office of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. In one pro bono estate case, he helped a woman track down heirs to her 94-year-old aunt’s estate. The 52 heirs split the small estate and found each other as family.
William Slicker, Florida State University College of Law, sole practitioner, St. Petersburg. Slicker has volunteered with St. Petersburg’s Community Law Program since 1989, even doing a stint as Board of Trustees president in 1999-2000. Last year, he spent more than 220 hours in family court representing domestic violence victims.
Matthew Vaughn, University of Florida Levin College of Law, Peterson & Myers, Lakeland. Vaughn, who does family law as part of his duties with Peterson & Myers, did more than 300 hours of pro bono work in 2018. That includes two divorces — one representing a mother with two children under three and another representing the mother of a special needs child against a father behind in child support.
Jaime Vining, University of Miami School of Law, Friedland Vining, South Miami-Dade. Vining handles trademark, copyright, entertainment and Internet law cases with Friedland Vining. Vining gives time to Dade Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts/Arts & Business Council of Miami and with Cannonball Miami, a non-profit arts organization.
Kristin Whidby, Georgetown University Law Center, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Washington D.C. Among Whidby’s 450 hours of pro bono work over the last three years are family law cases with abused women. She’s also a member of the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project’s Junior Board.