BCLA represented a mother of four children in the prosecution of her Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence. The Petitioner came to BCLA after she was beaten by her husband, strangled, and left unconscious.
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Chief Justice Jorge Labarga Presents Pro Bono Awards at Legal Aid's 28th Annual Gala

Approximately 150 invited guests from the legal and business community attended Brevard County Legal Aid's Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala on Friday, February 20, 2015 at Suntree Country Club in Melbourne. The annual dinner and awards event is a tribute to Brevard's attorneys who contribute free legal assistance to help persons who are unable to afford private counsel.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga was the special guest for the evening. Labarga is a Cuban-American whose family fled the Castro regime and arrived in the sugar mill town of Pahokee, Florida in 1963. He is the first person of Hispanic descent to lead the state judicial branch. In a heartwarming introduction of the Chief Justice, Judge John Antoon highlighted the amazing journey of an 11-year-old Spanish-speaking immigrant who became the top judge in Florida's highest state court. Justice Labarga then delivered an inspirational speech emphasizing the critically important role of attorneys in preserving the rule of law which, he said, is an indispensable element of our democracy.

The timing of Chief Justice Labarga's visit to Brevard to celebrate pro bono matches up with the major goal he has set for his administration. On November 24th, 2014 Labarga signed an administrative order creating the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice at a ceremony in the rotunda of the Florida Supreme Court Building. The Commission is studying the unmet civil legal needs of disadvantaged, low-income, and moderate-income Floridians. Its work will include a close look at improving existing legal programs, developing solutions based on new technology, and exploring other ways to meet the needs of Floridians caught in the current civil legal services gap. Leaders from the private sector, the legal community and all three branches of state government serve on the Commission.

The evening's main purpose was to honor Brevard County attorneys who went above and beyond in their pro bono contributions. Chief Justice Labarga presented "Outstanding Pro Bono Service Awards" to Deborah Smith, Krystal Wald, Michael Howard, John Daly, Ashley Severance, Kristen Smith-Rodriguez, Britta Hawkins, and David McGee. "Distinguished Pro Bono Service Awards" went to Denise Teurlings, James Dressler, Amy Romaine, Lia Allawas, Gerald Lostutter, Jerald Stubbs, Judy Stevens, James Sutton, and Raymond Cornelius.

Vencil Moore was recognized with the "Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award." Mr. Moore is a sole practitioner specializing in family law, criminal law, and civil litigation who has a long history of volunteerism at Legal Aid which started as a law school student when he interned for the organization. He began accepting pro bono referrals from Legal Aid upon being admitted to the Florida Bar in 2008 and, since then, has represented 40 clients and devoted over 400 hours of service. Many of his clients are victims of domestic violence who become involved in complicated custody cases involving protracted litigation. Almost always, the welfare of young children is a critically important issue. Without his assistance, his clients' lives can quickly spiral downward, devastating their families and future. "If I didn't give them a voice, they would be at a huge disadvantage," Moore says. "The system would swallow them up." In accepting the award, Vencil emphasized the vital importance of pro bono service and challenged attorneys to do more for those in need.

The event was made possible thanks to the generous donations of several sponsors. Three Platinum Sponsors made substantial contributions. They were: Nance Cacciatore, Shuster & Saben, and Kenneth F. Tworoger.

Other significant event sponsors included: The Brevard Bar Foundation; Allender & Allender; Caruso, Swerbilow & Wald; Leslie J. Castaldi; Dean Mead; Bud and Kim Deffebach, Matt's Casbah; Carmine D. Gigliotti; GrayRobinson; and Michael Howard.