Twenty-one to receive Florida Bar Pro Bono Service Award in Supreme Court ceremony January 18
Florida lawyers provided more than 1.5 million hours of pro bono services to those in need and $7.5 million to legal aid organizations during the last reporting period
The Florida Bar will recognize 21 lawyers for their work on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged clients at a January 18 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. The awards also help raise public awareness of the substantial volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers to those who cannot afford legal fees. Florida Bar President F. Scott Westheimer will present the 2024 awards.
The awards recognize pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits 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 and other service awards, which are given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
In the most recent reporting period from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, Florida lawyers provided more than 1.5 million hours of pro bono services to those in need and $7.5 million to legal aid organizations.
Here are the 2024 circuit honorees.
KENDRA LANATA CONDON, FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties)
Kendra LaNata Condon started volunteering with Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF) in 2011, with five years of family law experience already under her belt. Since then, she has lent her expertise to LSNF’s family law cases, offering families the tools they need to navigate the legal and emotional hurdles that often accompany these cases. Over the past year, she has worked closely with one of LSNF’s staff attorneys to represent a domestic abuse survivor in an ongoing dissolution of marriage case, providing representation for the estranged wife and victim of an abusive husband. Condon has demonstrated her commitment to supporting her client by going above and beyond to make sure her client is protected from further abuse. Condon is a longtime member of The Florida Bar Family Law Section. She is also an active member of the Louisiana State Bar Association, to which she was admitted in 1991.
RYLAND TERRY RIGSBY, SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties)
Ryland Terry Rigsby has donated more than 300 hours and assisted with nine cases as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. Rigsby is a tireless advocate for the children he serves in this role, using his voice and experience to ensure that they receive the services, support and guidance they need to thrive. Year after year, child after child, Rigsby epitomizes all the qualities of a caring, trustworthy and reliable adult and public servant. In addition to his work with Guardian ad Litem, Rigsby has been appointed to serve as chair on the Florida Commission on Ethics Board. He is currently an emeritus member of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. He also serves on the board for The Florida Bar’s Administrative Law Section and as a member of the State and Federal Government Administrative Law Certification Committee. Now retired, Rigsby was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1975.
ELIKA OTOYA STIMPSON, THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties)
Since 2020, Elika Otoya Stimpson has served as volunteer attorney with Three Rivers Legal Services, providing more than 120 hours of legal service to approximately nine low-income residents in 12 separate cases. Her service has included full representation in contested divorce, paternity, custody, and injunction for protection cases. Stimpson regularly accepts cases that are most difficult to place with private attorneys. She has also volunteered to represent clients in ancillary matters that have arisen during their initial cases. A Hawaii native, Stimpson relocated to Florida in 2018, where she opened a family law firm that serves the Third, Eighth, Fifth and Seventh circuits.
F. SUSANNAH COLLINS, FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)
F. Susannah Collins has been a consistent pro bono attorney for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) for over a decade. As a family law practitioner, she has participated in JALA’s community outreach projects, represented individual clients through legal aid, presented at JALA’s informational clinics, and has served as an expert resource and mentor. In addition to accepting family law cases pro bono, Collins presents on a variety of legal topics at the Northeast Florida Women Veterans Center and JALA’s monthly virtual Family Law Clinics. Collins is an active pro bono attorney volunteer for Clay County Legal Aid, Three Rivers Legal Services, Jericho Road Legal Ministry and Rethreaded. She is also a pro bono volunteer and the current vice president of the board for Missing Link, a nonprofit that hosts a monthly divorce program to help survivors of domestic violence fill out pro se divorce paperwork.
M. TAYLOR TREMEL, FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties)
M. Taylor Tremel’s diverse legal experience, which spans roles as both a prosecutor and a public defender, sparked his initiative to join the board of the Lake County Bar Association (LCBA), where he spearheaded the LCBA Sealing and Expungement Clinic. The annual clinic brings together all the entities required to complete the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sealing or expungement application. Tremel is also an active volunteer for the clinic, helping handle the petitions to seal or expunge for every individual who participates. To date, Tremel has helped 36 clients through the sealing and expungement process. In recognition of his outstanding commitment to public service, Community Legal Services recognized Tremel as a Guardian of Justice in 2022 and awarded him the Lake County Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award in 2023, for having the most pro bono hours in all of Lake County.
KIT VAN PELT, SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Pasco and Pinellas counties)
Kit Van Pelt has donated more than 85 hours to the Community Law Program’s monthly pro bono clinics, where she has helped numerous clients navigate the complexities of probate, enabling them to reclaim property that should have been transferred to them. Because of her work at these clinics, she has provided the families with the crucial resources they need to meet their basic needs. In addition to her work with Community Law Program, Van Pelt provides pro bono work for Bay Area Legal Services and contributes to the Florida Attorneys Counseling Evictions (FACE) program. Van Pelt is routinely recognized by her peers as one of the Super Lawyer’s Rising Stars in Florida and has received several pro bono awards, including being named a Pro Bono Hero by Community Law Program in October 2021.
DONATO J. RINALDI, SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(St. Johns, Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties)
Donato J. Rinaldi handles hundreds of cases a year for St. Johns County Legal Aid and, since 2013, has contributed more than 3,000 hours to pro bono cases — a staggering number that does not even account for the hours he spends each month attending and preparing for consumer clinic roundtables held through the legal aid organization. An advocate for “the little guy,” Rinaldi’s blood boils at the thought of illegal collections, unethical car/home repairs, exorbitant usurious interest rates, unjust insurance practices, unjust foreclosures and “mill attorneys” who take advantage of struggling individuals in need of representation. As a Navy veteran, Rinaldi accepts every legal aid case involving a veteran of any armed force unit, even if the case is not related to the military.
AMY MILFORD ABERNETHY, EIGHTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties)
Amy Milford Abernethy has dedicated 21 years and hundreds of hours of pro bono assistance to Three Rivers Legal Services, helping clients understand and defend their rights as tenants. As a regular participant in Three Rivers’ weekly housing clinic, Abernethy advises tenants on their housing rights, helping ensure they are adequately prepared to respond to evictions, protect their rights, and obtain/retain safe housing. In total, Abernethy has worked on nearly 300 individual matters with Three Rivers. Abernethy has also assisted Three Rivers’ clients with collections/garnishments, wage claims and other Fair Labor Standards Act issues, subsidized housing matters, small claims, and mortgage foreclosure. She provides clients with invaluable advice, offering enduring strategies for identifying violations of and advocating for their rights. In honor of her decades of support and engagement, Three Rivers presented Abernethy with the Pro Bono Hero Attorney Award in October 2023.
DOROTHY J. MCMICHEN, NINTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Orange and Osceola counties)
Dorothy J. McMichen joined the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association (LASOCBA) in 1984 and has been a fierce advocate to clients in need of family law services ever since. McMichen, board certified in Marital and Family Law, has taken on contested family law cases, including some requiring her to help rescue children and spouses from the most desperate and dangerous moments of their lives. In the nearly four decades McMichen has served LASOCABA, she has taken more than 80 cases and devoted more than 1,340 hours to clients. In addition to her decades of service with LASOCBA, McMichen has long been a pillar of her community, through volunteer efforts at other legal and civil organizations, including the Girl Scouts, where she served as a troop leader for more than 20 years.
GRANT LYONS, 10TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties)
Grant Lyons is a dedicated pro bono attorney who helps Florida Rural Legal Services (FRLS) provide pro bono legal services to disadvantaged clients in great need. Lyons has been a fixture at FRLS’ family law clinics, where he has been known to stay beyond the scheduled time to make sure everyone who is waiting sees a clinic lawyer and receives the support they need. In 2023 alone, Lyons has helped more than 20 clients by providing information regarding pro se family law assistance, reviewing pro se documents, helping individuals with family law paperwork, providing advice, and making referrals. In addition to his work with FRLS, Lyons recently began serving the 10th Circuit as a volunteer mediator, underscoring his commitment to helping individuals in his community access the legal services – and solutions – they need.
ALVIN D. LODISH, 11TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Alvin D. Lodish, a partner with Duane Morris LLP in Miami, has dedicated more than 500 hours to pro bono services, helping countless underprivileged children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. As a volunteer for the Children’s Legal Collaborative, Lodish has provided legal services to dozens of children, many of whom face extremely difficult circumstances. The mission of Children’s Legal Collaborative, a partnership between Dade Legal Aid, the Guardian ad Litem Program and Put Something Back, is to ensure that every child’s voice is heard in dependency, delinquency, family, immigration, probate and domestic violence court. In addition to providing exemplary pro bono legal services for Children’s Legal Collaborative, Lodish has served as a longtime member of and, in 2020, as chairperson for the board of the YMCA of South Florida. Through the YMCA, he has served as a guide, volunteered for teen programs, and provided programs for seniors.
NEIL T. LYONS, 12TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)
Since 2015, Neil T. Lyons has donated more than 1,000 hours of pro bono services to Legal Aid of Manasota. Lyons also founded the Sarasota County Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee to coordinate pro bono service efforts between local voluntary bar associations, the 12th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee and legal aid organizations. Lyons gave the committee a running start, personally reaching out to more than 30 attorneys and securing commitments from each to take at least two pro bono cases from Legal Aid of Manasota every six months. The Access to Justice Committee also produced a series of instructional videos for indigent pro se filers of injunctions for protection, ensuring that individuals can begin the process of advocating for themselves even if they can’t afford or have not yet found an attorney to advocate for them.
GILBERT M. SINGER, 13TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Throughout Gilbert M. Singer’s 44-year legal career, he has contributed more than 2,000 hours and has recruited and mentored countless volunteer attorneys – all with a clear mission to represent Florida’s most vulnerable. In 2023 alone, Singer dedicated more than 200 hours to the three children he represents as part of the Crossroads for Florida Kids pro bono program. Singer took his first long-term case through the Crossroads program in 2018 and has represented a total of eight children since this time. All eight were referred by delinquency or dependency judges, and all were victims of abuse who had suffered trauma as a result. These factors made their cases very complex and their needs immense. Representations included providing legal advice, attending hearings and staffings and regularly visiting clients to ensure that all their needs are being met.
TODD CLIFFORD BRISTER, 14TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties)
Todd Clifford Brister has been a dedicated pro bono attorney for Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF) since 2007. In that time, he has taken more than 100 pro bono cases, helping some of the 14th Circuit’s most vulnerable individuals. In addition to his own cases, he is always available to consult on cases, where clients and fellow attorneys benefit greatly from his vast experience in many of the areas that most directly affect low-income clients, including guardianship, probate, estate planning and foreclosure defense, among others. Since 2021, Brister has also served as chair of 14th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee, where he helps recruit and distribute LSNF pro bono cases to local attorneys.
MATTHEW ZIMMERMAN, 15TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Palm Beach County)
Matthew Zimmerman’s pro bono work has resulted in outcomes that will have far-reaching effects for years to come. Zimmerman recently led a team of attorneys in defending a group of condo owners against a bulk purchaser who bought most of the units in their condominium community. Together with Holland & Knight, Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County agreed to help these owners on a pro bono basis, ultimately securing a decisive trial win and punitive damages for the homeowners. Zimmerman also led a team of attorneys in a significant Fair Housing Act (FHA) case, resulting in a precedent-setting decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The appellate court ruling allowed a trial to go forward, leading Zimmerman’s team to another decisive win and $125,000 in attorneys’ fees that the team donated to Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County.
TOM WOODS, 16TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Over the course of his 21 years with the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office, Tom Woods has served as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer on eight cases and as a pro bono attorney on others, representing GAL’s children in related cases and adoptions. In his two decades with GAL, Woods has acquired a reputation as a dependable volunteer who can be available at a moment’s notice to appear in court and provide the high-quality representation GAL’s children depend on. In addition to his work with GAL, Woods advocates for children as a member of the board of directors for Voices for Florida Keys Children, which raises money for children in Monroe County.
JONATHAN W. TAYLOR, 17TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Since 2021, Jonathan W. Taylor has volunteered for the Defending Best Interests Project (DBI), a Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office initiative to protect the legal interests of children by recruiting pro bono attorneys to prepare answer briefs in appeals of cases where a judge has determined that a termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. Already, Taylor has donated more than 135 hours to brief eight cases for DBI, representing 10 children through the appeals process. In a recent case, the impact of Taylor’s work was clear and tremendous, giving two sisters the gift of a loving family. In the case, Taylor simply told their story. But this simple act had the power to convince the appellate court, allowing the adoption of these sisters by their caregivers to go through.
ERIC C. BOUGHMAN, 18TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Brevard and Seminole counties)
Eric C. Boughman is a dedicated volunteer at the Veterans Free Legal Advice Clinic, which is a monthly event offered through Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society Inc. (SCBALAS). Month after month, Boughman shows up to help the veterans who come to the clinic for legal assistance. Boughman’s commitment to SCBALAS’s clients extends well beyond the three-hour, monthly clinic. He regularly takes on pro bono cases outside the clinic, interacts with opposing parties or counsel, and is always ready to assist and advocate for veterans who need legal advice or representation. Boughman also serves veterans in his role as a legal advisor for the Central Florida Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Boughman is also a frequent writer and presenter on issues involving health law, privacy, technology and asset protection.
JESSICA M. VANVALKENBURGH, 19TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties)
Jessica M. VanValkenburgh is a vital part of Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. (FRLS), where she goes above and beyond to help individuals at the Pro Se Family Law Clinic. Through these clinics, VanValkenburgh counsels clients on all types of family law cases, helps them with their initial filings, and provides information regarding court proceedings and mediation. In 2023 alone, VanValkenburgh helped more than 25 clients. She was also a featured speaker at Florida Rural Legal Services’ 2023 19th Judicial Circuit Bench Bar Conference. In addition to her work with FRLS, VanValkenburgh is an active member of the Martin County Bar Association, where she recently served as chair of the Judicial Relations Committee. She is also a past president of and currently serves as treasurer for the Martin County Chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers.
ANDREA SMITH, 20TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
(Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties)
Andrea Smith serves a dual role at the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office (GAL), where she volunteers as a FAWL in Love with GAL mentor and as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. In both roles, she consistently goes above and beyond to provide a consistent source of guidance and comfort to abused, abandoned and neglected children in the dependency system. Through the FAWL in Love with GAL program, Smith has mentored two individuals since 2019. She expanded her role with the GAL office in 2021, when she took her first case as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, establishing herself as a persistent and compassionate advocate for the children she represents. A former president of the Lee County Association for Women Lawyers (2019) and fierce advocate for women in the legal profession, Smith was selected by the Florida Association for Women Lawyers as Lee County Leader in the Law 2018-2019.
BLAKE LYNNE BRUCE, OUT OF STATE
(Out of state)
Since June 2022, Blake Lynne Bruce has donated more than 172 hours to the Defending Best Interests Project (DBI), the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office’s initiative to protect the legal interests of children by recruiting pro bono attorneys to prepare answer briefs in appeals of cases where a judge has determined that a termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. So far, Bruce, an Appellate Practice Section member, has briefed seven cases – representing 10 children – and recently accepted her eighth. When one of her cases went to the Florida Supreme Court, Bruce even contributed additional time to assist in preparing response briefs on jurisdiction and the merits. Even though Bruce no longer resides in Florida, she continues to represent Florida’s most vulnerable youth, skillfully analyzing the record and crafting effective and moving briefs.
This year’s awards ceremony, which also honors Individual, Voluntary Bar, Law Firm, Young Lawyers Division, Distinguished Judicial Service, and Distinguished Federal Judicial Service pro bono efforts, takes place at the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, January 18, at 3:30 p.m. Watch it live on Facebook, WFSU: Gavel to Gavel and the Florida Channel.
The post Twenty-one to receive Florida Bar Pro Bono Service Award in Supreme Court ceremony January 18 first appeared on City News Miami.