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- 2012 - January - 30th -
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St. Johns County 2011 Pro Bono Award winners (front row from left) James Kowalski, Rusty Collins, Julie Kurtz and Howard McGillin. Back row from left, Circuit Judge Michael Traynor, St. Johns County Legal Aid Managing Attorney Megan Wall, Circuit Judge John Alexander and St. Johns County Legal Aid Staff Attorney Amanda Edwards-Rivera. Tania Schmidt-Alpers and Jane Miller are not pictured.

Pro Bono Spotlight: St. Johns County 2011 Pro Bono Award winners

by Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chairwoman

In December, the St. Johns County Office of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) recognized the pro bono attorneys who have gone above and beyond during 2011 providing legal service to low-income persons.

Megan Wall, the managing attorney of the St. Johns County JALA office, acknowledges the following individuals:

• Jane Miller. Jane has won the pro bono award every year since we opened the office, which makes this Jane’s sixth win. She never comes to Bar events or parties, but she does come to Legal Aid almost every Wednesday to meet with seniors, the disabled and the poor and assists them with their wills. Jane is a retired attorney who continues to give back to her community and we are eternally, and perpetually, grateful for her service to this community.

• Jim Kowalski. This is Jim’s third win representing the three years since he began the “consumer defense pro bono program.” Jim met with Legal Aid three years ago and offered to teach local attorneys how to do foreclosure and debt defense cases and offered to share his pleadings with them and mentor them (or even co-counsel with them) through each and every case. Jim runs the Consumer Classes twice a month at Legal Aid, takes many cases each year himself, is available by phone and email within minutes when any attorney has questions about a case, and so for the past three years (and continuing, he says) he has given hundreds of hours to the deserving low-income people of this community. Thank goodness someone understands this area of law, and further thank goodness someone can teach it to others.

• Rusty Collins. This is Rusty’s third win and that means he has won every year that he has been an attorney. In fact, Rusty was in court with a pro bono foreclosure defense case (a challenging area of law even for seasoned attorneys) even before he had a Florida Bar number. Rusty hit the ground running based upon his years of running a title company prior to law school and he has not stopped running since. Rusty has about 100 pro bono cases going at any given time, logs hundreds of hours each year pro bono, and cannot say no to any client with a hard-luck story. Rusty has a heart as big as his caseload and this community is extremely fortunate to have such a smart, dedicated and caring attorney to call its own. Thank you so much, Rusty Collins.

• Tania Schmidt-Alpers. This is Tania’s fourth win, and the other two years (the first two years) were because she did not think to report her time to us. Tania has a small federal grant administered through the Violence Against Woman Act and the Victims of Crime Act to pay for some of the injunction work she does through the Betty Griffin House domestic violence shelter, but each year those funds are quickly used up, yet Tania continues the work unfunded (pro bono). She continues to represent every deserving victim in his or her injunction for protection case and then continues to represent through the dissolution case. If she did not pre-emptively take all these cases our office would be overrun with emergency cases which would be difficult to place pro bono with such short timeframes and such urgency. Instead, Tania just volunteers for them all, putting in hundreds of hours of pro bono every year on behalf of these desperate and deserving victims of domestic violence. Thank you, Tania.

• Howard McGillin. This is the second time Howard has won the pro bono award though he donates many hours each and every year to the pro bono program. Howard attends nearly all the consumer classes, assists before class with consumer client interviews, accepts pro bono cases, and even gives legal aid outreach educational lectures in the community when legal aid staff cannot cover them. Howard was sent to the governor’s office by the Judicial Nominating Commission (along with Judge Christine). (Thankfully they both could not be chosen.)

The community is blessed that Howard McGillin is still among the rank and file of the Bar assisting and representing those less fortunate. Thanks for all you do, Howard.

• Julie Kurtz. First-time winner Julie Kurtz attends every pro bono advice clinic through the year. As an expert in family law this is invaluable since many clients wish to receive family law advice and few pro bono advice clinic volunteer attorneys practice that area of law. She also accepts many cases for brief follow-up, research, advice letters and the like. She also accepts a couple of cases each year for full representation usually in the area of family law but also sometimes in other areas (most recently she represented a tenant in a neighbor dispute). We are so delighted each and every month to see Julie arrive early for the month’s pro bono advice clinic. Thank you, Julie.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the Fourth Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, The JBA Pro Bono Committee at kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org

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