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Approximately 130 invited guests from the legal and business community attended Brevard County Legal Aid's Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala on Friday, March 4, 2016 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.
Circuit Court Judge Lisa Davidson was the special guest for the evening. Judge Davidson began her career in 1978 as an Assistant Public Defender in Broward County later serving as an Assistant State Attorney there.
In Brevard, she was in private practice from 1982 through 1993. She served as a County Court Judge for Brevard County from 1994 through 1998 then as a Circuit Court Judge from 1998 to present.
Judge Davidson has a long history of community service which includes founding and chairing the Brevard County Domestic Violence Task Force, and serving on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity and Boys and Girls Clubs. She has received many awards for her leadership and service on important community and legal issues.
The evening's main purpose was to honor Brevard County attorneys who went above and beyond in their pro bono contributions. In 2015, volunteer attorneys donated 4,300 hours of service through Legal Aid's Pro Bono Program, equating to roughly $1,000,000 in legal services to the poor.
At one point, attendees rose to their feet after hearing from a 75-year-old victim of abuse who courageously told her story of how Legal Aid helped her escape her batterer.
James L. Torres was recognized with the "Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award." Mr. Torres is a board-certified trial lawyer specializing in personal injury, medical malpractice, insurance disputes, consumer law and small business issues.
Expanding his practice in 2008, James began representing clients in consumer matters and he contacted BCLA to offer his pro bono services. Since then, his contributions have been remarkable. In the past eight years, James has assisted 248 Legal Aid clients logging over 1250 hours of pro bono service. In the past year alone, James closed 19 pro bono cases donating over 500 hours in volunteer time.
One of James' clients, a 50-year-old disabled Air Force veteran from Palm Bay said this about James: "He's been the best attorney, the kindest. I couldn't find help because I have no money, but Mr. Torres treats me like I'm a millionaire." His selfless dedication to his pro bono clients often comes as an unexpected and welcome surprise to people who had little hope.
The event was made possible thanks to the generous donations of several sponsors. The law firm of Shuster & Saben was the Presenting Sponsor for the event.
Gold Sponsors were Allender & Allender, PA, Brevard County Bar Foundation, Kenneth F. Tworoger, Attorney at Law, Michael and Roma Kahn, Michael Kahn, PA and Nance Cacciatore.
Silver Sponsors were: Alpizar Law, Caruso, Swerbilow & Wald, PA, Leslie J. Castaldi, PA, Derrick Connell, Esq., Dean Mead Law Firm, Bud & Kim Deffebach, Carmine Gigliotti, Attorney at Law, GrayRobinson, The Law Office of Michael Howard, Rob and Shelley Johnson, and The Honorable J. Preston and Betts Silvernail.
Feb. 17, 2015
What: Annual Legal Aid Gala
Featuring: Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga
When: February 20, 2015
Where: Suntree Country Club
Please mark your calendars! It is with great pleasure that Brevard County Legal Aid welcomes Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga as our special guest speaker for this year's Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala which will take place on Friday, February 20th at Suntree Country Club in Melbourne.
A Cuban-American whose family fled the Castro regime and arrived in the sugar mill town of Pahokee, Florida in 1963, Labarga is the first person of Hispanic descent to lead the state judicial branch. As a child, he witnessed the horrors of Castro's brutal dictatorship first-hand. "I always thought that the best way to defend, protect, and uphold democracy in this nation, so the same thing doesn't happen here, is to be a lawyer," Labarga says.
In a legal career spanning more than three decades, Justice Labarga has served as an assistant public defender, prosecutor and defense attorney. He was appointed to the Palm Beach County circuit court in 1996 and to the Florida Supreme Court in 2009. Chief Justice Labarga oversees the entire state court system which includes many management functions centralized in Tallahassee along with regulation of the Florida Bar.
Chief Justice Labarga's visit to Brevard to celebrate pro bono fits well with the major goal he has set for his administration. On November 24th, 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 will study 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 will serve on the Commission.
Brevard County Legal Aid's 28th Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala, dinner and awards ceremony is a tribute to Brevard's attorneys who contribute free legal assistance to help persons that are unable to afford private counsel.
For more information or to purchase tickets please call BCLA at (321) 631-2500 ext. 14
Feb. 17, 2014
Brevard County Legal Aid welcomes Judge Belvin Perry Jr. as the special guest speaker for its Pro Bono Awards & Recognition Gala which will take place on Friday, February 28th at Suntree Country Club in Melbourne.
Thrown into the national spotlight by the Casey Anthony trial, Judge Perry is widely recognized as an exceptional jurist, known to run an efficient, evenhanded courtroom and to hand down fair and well-reasoned decisions.
The Pro Bono Awards & Recognition Gala is a dinner and awards ceremony paying tribute to Brevard attorneys who contribute free legal assistance to help persons that are unable to afford private counsel.
The Honorable J. Preston Silvernail will receive a special award, the "One Promise Award." Throughout Judge Silvernail's distinguished career, he was a strong advocate for pro bono service. When the Florida Bar's Standing Committee on Pro Bono selected Brevard County to launch a statewide marketing campaign to increase pro bono participation, Judge Silvernail was instrumental to the program's success. With his support and assistance, Brevard's campaign resulted in a high level of judicial participation in pro bono recruitment which led to many new volunteers and increased service.
Attorney Ashley Severance will be recognized as Brevard's "Attorney of the Year." Ms. Severance has a long history of volunteerism at Legal Aid, starting as a law student and, most recently, logging over 300 hours of service on behalf of children in the foster care system through BCLA's Independent Living Project. A sole practitioner, Ms. Severance specializes in family law and bankruptcy issues.
Receiving the "Young Attorney of the Year Award" is Tiffani Bishop. Ms. Bishop also began volunteering at BCLA as a law student and, since then, has completed over 250 hours of service assisting BCLA staff and clients with family law problems, domestic violence issues, and juvenile dependency matters.
Title Sponsor for the event is the venerable Brevard law firm of Nance Cacciatore. The firm has two generations of lawyers with over 150 years of collective legal experience. With a longstanding history of support for Legal Aid, one senior partner, Sammy Cacciatore, actually served on BCLA's very first Board of Directors some 45 years ago. Speaking for the firm, Sammy says, "We recognize the vital importance of Legal Aid's work and the efforts of pro bono attorneys in our community and it is our pleasure to help them in any way we can."
Other significant event sponsors include: The Brevard Bar Foundation; Allender & Allender, P.A.; Caruso, Swerbilow & Wald, P.A.; Leslie J. Castaldi, P.A.; Cloney & Cloney, P.A.; Bud and Kim Deffebach; Matt's Casbah; GrayRobinson, P.A.; James L. Torres, P.A.; Kenneth F. Tworoger; Law Office of Michael G. Howard; Rob and Shelley Johnson; Sarah "Eli" Mattern; Torres Mediation; and Vance, Lotane & Bookhardt, P.A.; Shuster & Saben, LLC.
Tickets for the event are $45.00 and include a sit down dinner, award ceremony, and parting gift. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available by calling Rob Johnson at 321-639-2933.
ROCKLEDEGE, FL (February 28, 2013) --- More than 100 invited guests from the legal and business community attended Brevard County Legal Aid's Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala on Friday, February 22nd at the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront. Florida Bar President Gwynne A. Young was the evening's special guest speaker. With nearly 100,000 members, the Florida Bar is the third-largest mandatory state bar association in the United States.
A shareholder with the prestigious law firm of Carlton Fields, Ms. Young has an impressive record of pro bono support, most recently spearheading efforts to generate much-needed funding for legal aid programs. During her remarks, Ms. Young quoted the great jurist Learned Hand who said, "If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice." Underscoring the importance of funding for legal aid programs, Young said, "Florida and our nation are facing a crisis in funding for legal services to the poor. I do not exaggerate when I say we teeter on the brink of a two-tiered justice system: one for the haves, and one for the have-nots."
But the news is not all bad. Ms. Young applauded the efforts of Brevard attorneys, whose pro bono contributions through BCLA's Pro Bono Program were 5% higher than last year.
The evening's main purpose was to recognize Brevard County attorneys who have gone above and beyond in their pro bono contributions. Attorney Michael G. Howard was recognized as Brevard's "Attorney of the Year." Over the pasttwo years, Mr. Howard has provided ongoing legal representation to a dozen indigentindividuals in employment law, housing, and consumer cases. Additionally, he conducts monthly consumer law clinics at Legal Aid's office which have servedover 100 clients.
The Merritt Island law firm of Caruso, Swerbilow & Camerota received the Law Firm Award. The firm has been providing assistance through BCLA since the program's inception in 1970. In the past year alone, they provided over 300 hours of pro bono assistance in difficult family law cases involving extensive litigation and complicated issues of custody support, and visitation.
The Brevard County Bar Foundation and Allender & Allender were the gold sponsors for the event. Other major sponsors included: Caruso, Swerbilow & Camerota, Cloney & Cloney, Dean Mead, Kim & Bud Deffebach, Matt's Casbah, GrayRobinson, Kenneth F. Tworoger, The Law Office of Michael G. Howard, Nance Cacciatore, and Robert and Shelley Johnson.
More than 125 invited guests from the legal community attended Brevard County Legal Aid's Annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala on Friday, February 17th at Suntree Country Club. United States District Court Judge John Antoon, II was the evening's special guest speaker. During his remarks, Judge Antoon noted the growing need for legal services to the poor in light of difficult economic conditions. Quoting United States Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, he said "it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status." As a Brevard County native, Judge Antoon's impressive record of public service was well-known to those in attendance.
The evening's main purpose was to recognize Brevard County attorneys who have gone above and beyond in their pro bono contributions.
Attorney John Daly was recognized as Brevard's "Attorney of the Year." Since the mid-1980s, Mr. Daly has donated countless of hours of pro bono service and, in recent years, has provided hundreds of pro se litigants with vital assistance in family law matters. John's selfless dedication to the poor and disadvantaged is a shining example for the legal profession.
The Appellate Law Award was presented to The Carlyle Appellate Law Firm which has selflessly provided representation on behalf of dependent children aging out of the foster care system.
The Community Service Award recognized the efforts of attorneys and judges participating in the Space Coast Community Law School, a program providing valuable legal information to the public through free legal seminars on a wide variety of topics.
Presented February 17, 2012 by
John Frankowski / 71 hours / Space Coast Community Law School
Barbara Helm Peters / 84 hours / 2 cases closed
Kenneth Tworoger / 91 hours / 1 case closed
Joe Caruso / 93 hours / 2 cases closed
Michael Howard / 94 hours / 7 advice clinics / 3 cases closed
Thomas Yardley / 98 hours / 3 cases closed
James Sutton / 115 hours / 14 advice clinics / 2 cases closed
Raymond Cornelius / 140 hours / 18 advice clinics / 3 cases closed
Amy Romaine / 207 hours / 5 cases closed
Robin Petersen / 1024 hours / Aging Solutions, Inc. and Space Coast Community Law School
Thomas Gachet / 40 hours / 1 case closed
Vencil Moore / 42 hours / 4 cases closed
Tara Couture / 44 hours / 3 advice clinics / 1 case closed
Philip Lupo / 45 hours / 1 case closed
James Dressler / 47 hours / 2 cases closed
Deborah Smith / 68.37 hours / 63 pro se clinics / 2 cases closed / 1 case pending
James Dressler / 61 hours / 6 cases closed /1 case pending
Greg Jean-Denis / 50 hours / 1 advice clinic / 1 case closed
Steven Allender / 50 hours / 9 will clinics
Leslie Castaldi / 53 hours / 1 advice clinic / 1 case closed
Denise Teurlings / 53 hours / 2 cases closed
George Wiltshire / 65 hours / 1 case closed
Diane Baccus Horsley / 55 hours / 1 case closed
John Daly has been volunteering at Brevard County Legal Aid since the mid-1980s when he began devoting a few hours each week providing clinical assistance at our office. Over the years, he has undertaken full representation of low-income clients in contentious family law matters, staffed innumerable legal clinics, and assisted BCLA in organizing and implementing our family law pro se assistance program.
His recent work with pro se litigants has been especially important. Thousands of litigants represent themselves each year and, as the recession lingers, the numbers are increasing. The need in family law cases is critical. Without adequate preparation, their cases are delayed or continued, and they are unable to effectively access the judicial system. Unfortunately, fundamental rights are at stake.
John's first career was not as an attorney. He was a mathematician conducting weapons effectiveness analysis for the United States Navy when, in 1976, a local lawyer challenged him to take the Law School Admission Test. He passed the exam comfortably and attended law school at the University of Florida. After graduation, his fascination with law and history led to a position with a small firm in the historic city of Eustis. He gained valuable experience in the areas of corporate, family and probate law. Eventually, he returned to Brevard for a position with the Harris Corporation in Melbourne.
Along with his law degree, John holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in math and recently added an M.A. in Historic Preservation to his resume. He has a strong interest in old buildings and machinery and is actively involved in a not-for-profit dedicated to promoting historic preservation with an emphasis on protecting and restoring the William T. Wells home, one of the few Queen Anne style structures to have been built in South Brevard.
John Daly provides vitally important assistance to those in our community who, without help, stand to lose everything. In appreciation of his longstanding dedication to the needs of Brevard's poor and disadvantaged, we are proud to recognize John B. Daly as Legal Aid's "Pro Bono Attorney of the Year."
For many years, Jack Hendren's law office and Brevard County Legal Aid were neighbors on South Florida Avenue in Rockledge. To say that Legal Aid and our clients benefitted from this geographic coincidence would be an understatement. Although Jack's pro bono caseload was always at full capacity, he nevertheless made himself available, often at a moment's notice, to cover clinic appointments and other emergencies for BCLA.
On January 12, Jack passed away after a heroic battle with Melanoma. Jack became an attorney after a 15-year career in the United States Marine Corps where he attained the rank of Captain. A graduate of Stetson University School of Law, he served as an Assistant State Attorney before entering private practice in 1993. He concentrated on family law, criminal defense, and general civil litigation.
Over the years, Jack donated countless pro bono hours to those in need. He was a shining example of professionalism in our community. In attendance at BCLA's Annual Gala to accept the "Special Recognition Award" on Jack's behalf are his wife of 32 years, Lynn, and his children Sara and Christopher.
Florida Bar will honor Torres' 400-plus hours
of pro bono service today
7:27 AM, Jan. 26, 2012
James L. Torres is a board-certified, civil trial lawyer who has tried big cases, some involving millions of dollars. But it's the 400-plus hours of pro bono work, including more than 200 cases for Brevard County Legal Aid, that is earning him recognition from the Florida Bar in Tallahassee today.
"When you do (big cases), there are 100 other lawyers in town who will do that," Torres said. "But in many of these cases, you're not the lawyer of last resort, you"re the lawyer of only resort.."
"These cases' involve representing poor and indigent clients in consumer matters like credit card collection, repossession, garnishment and foreclosure. Prompted by his wife, Kim, a certified mediator, he realized people in small claims court needed better representation.
The need is great, but the qualifications to receive free services through Legal Aid are so stringent that the organization's director, Rob Johnson, (Executive Director of "Brevard County Legal Aid") said they turn away seven or eight out of every 10 people.
"He's been extraordinary, a guy who has extensive litigation experience and brings a lot of the experience to bear for folks who otherwise would have no representation whatsoever and would be lost at sea in the courtroom," Johnson said. "These are people who would not have had legal recourse without his help. He's an above-and-beyond type of guy."
Torres, 51, estimated that pro bono cases have at times consumed as much as 25 percent of his practice, but now it's down to about 15 percent to 20 percent.
"It's sort of taken over my life," Torres said. "There is a happiness that you get as a lawyer when you do something that you know almost no one else is willing to do."
Disabled Air Force veteran Armando LaFuente, 50, of Palm Bay, credited Torres with helping his family of six battle creditors as they survive on his disability pension. It was $930 a month until the new year, when it went up to $965.
"He has been the best attorney, the kindest, most attentive to my problems. He returns my calls instantly," LaFuente said. "Other attorneys, because I have no money and the problems I''m having, they don't want to talk to you. Mr. Torres treats you like you've got a million dollars. He is really nice person"
As mediation services coordinator for Brevard County Civil Court, Ollie Lyons said he knows how overwhelming the court system can be for people who cannot afford legal representation.
"Given the difficult economic times we live in, there has never been a greater need for attorneys to step up and volunteer their time," Lyons said. "Attorneys like Mr. Torres provide an invaluable service not only to their clients, but also to the entire court system."
Obtaining free representation can be life-changing for most Legal Aid clients. A few-thousand-dollar settlement could destroy someone's life who is on a fixed income, and Johnson said, "They could easily lose their ability to remain productive members of their community."
Applicants to Legal Aid are prioritized by immediate need and must meet stringent income qualifications in order to qualify. Income needs to be at 125 percent of poverty, meaning a family of four earning about $27,000 a year. Cases that involve victims of domestic violence and children often are given priority.
Torres said he's driven more than 15,000 miles back and forth to work on pro bono cases in Brevard and also for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida out of Volusia County.
"My wife tells me I should be thankful for the attention (of the award), so maybe it will inspire others to do this," Torres said. "I hope that (pro bono cases) will be a permanent part of my legal practice."
James L. Torres
The Indialantic laywer will be among 21 Florida lawyers to be recognized by the Florida Bar for their work on behalf of poor and indigent clients at a ceremony today at the Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee. He also will be honored at Brevard County Legal Aid's 25th annual Pro Bono Awards and Recognition Gala on Feb. 17.
Education: Bachelor's degree in government from Florida State University in 1982, and law degree with honors from Florida State University College of Law in 1985.
Legal: Admitted to the Florida Bar in 1985; member of the Southern and Middle District Federal Courts in Florida
Practice: Opened James L. Torres, PA in Indialantic in Feb. 2006
Family: Wife, Kim; daughters Kelsey, 22, who graduated from Tulane University in 2011, and Kendall, 19, who attends FSU
7:41 PM, Jan. 7, 2012 Written by: Don Walker, FLORIDA TODAY
The county will pay $256,500 to provide low-income residents free legal services this year, but Brevard County commissioners want the majority of those services to benefit victims of domestic violence and children.
The commission is expected to approve funding for indigent legal services during its regular meeting Tuesday. Counties are required to fund these services under Florida statute.
Brevard contracts with Brevard County Legal Aid Inc., a private non-profit agency in Rockledge. Executive director Robert Johnson said the agency assists as many as 2,000 clients a year.
"As far as access to the legal system for our clients, all of our clients are low-income. They stand to lose everything; custody of their kids, their homes, and they lose the opportunity to be self-sufficient and be productive members of our community. That's what it boils down to," Johnson said.
Money from the county amounts to about 33 percent of Brevard County Legal Aid's budget. It also receives money though the Florida Bar Foundation, various grants and United Way of Brevard. About 50 percent of its cases are handled pro bono, meaning attorneys take the cases on without charging a fee.
Income criteria to qualify for services through Legal Aid is about $28,000 for a family of four. There's great demand, Johnson said. About 8 out of 10 of those who qualify for services are turned away.
In 2007, Brevard County initiated a $65 court fee charged to people found guilty of felonies, misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses. Of the amount collected, 25 percent goes toward legal fees for county residents unable to pay for legal services.
Brevard County Legal Aid has been providing legal services for the past 42 years to indigent residents.
"In terms of what people stand to lose in family-law cases, we take the cases where there's domestic violence or custody of minor children involved," Johnson said. "We also have a children's program where we represent kids abused, abandoned or neglected. We focus on family-law issues, and we get most requests for family law, housing and consumer."
Contact Walker at 321-242-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to BCLA executive director, Rob Johnson, more than 40 lawyers signed up to do pro bono work at the October kick-off event held at the BCLA location in Rockledge, and between October and January,the program has seen a 20 percent increase in pro bono services compared to the same time last year
"We're offering more limited opportunities for attorneys that fall into the group of wanting to do pro bono but are unable because of family commitments or not having enough time. For example, a contract attorney can assist a child by explaining and negotiating a lease" Johnson said.
The "One" campaign, funded by the Florida Bar Foundation, is a statewide pro bono effort for one attorney to take on one case to help one client in need.
BCLA staff members and/or Board members give community presentations frequently to other agencies or groups that have a need to know about BCLA and its services. Community legal education is often coordinated through BCLA.
BCLA matches attorneys having specific areas of expertise with requests for attorney speakers. Emphasis is given to presentations to low-income persons.
A wide spectrum of self-help and interagency brochures are distributed by BCLA. Looking ahead with current economic trends BCLA predicts that they will have more requests for services than ever before.
BCLA and many other legal aid services in the state have been working side by side to develop a plan to be able to serve more people and families. This plan also incorporates direction and ways to increase Pro Bono participation from private attorneys. This plan will be launched later this year.