JALA in St. Johns County honors pro bono attorneys

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  • | 12:00 p.m. January 28, 2013
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Each year, the St. Johns County Office of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid recognizes attorneys who contributed 100 or more hours of pro bono legal service during the previous year.

For 2012, these attorneys were honored at a reception at the Markland House on the campus of Flagler College. The honorees were:

• Jim Kowalski. While in private practice, Kowalski headed the "consumer defense pro bono program" of the St. Johns County office of JALA. He accepted the position of JALA executive director in November. Kowalski has been a teacher and a mentor to local attorneys who accept pro bono cases. He ran the consumer classes twice a month in addition to representing clients and providing instruction and guidance to colleagues.

• Rusty Collins. Collins has been honored for the past four years at the annual St. Johns County event. Collins maintains a significant pro bono caseload and logs hundreds of pro bono hours each year in areas from wills and advance planning to consumer matters.

• Tania Schmidt-Alpers. In addition to this honor, Schmidt-Alpers also is the recipient of The Florida Bar President's 7th Circuit Pro Bono Award, an award given before the Florida Supreme Court each year. Schmidt-Alpers 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 depleted. Schmidt-Alpers continues this critical and lifesaving work unfunded and pro bono. She represents every deserving victim in his or her injunction for protection case and then continues to represent through the dissolution case.

• Howard McGillin. McGillin attends nearly all of the consumer classes, assists with consumer client interviews before class, accepts pro bono cases and even provides legal aid outreach educational lectures in the community when legal aid staff cannot cover them. A retired JAG officer, he also is an expert in military and veterans law.

• Jay Grife. Grife attends every consumer class and interviews clients for most of the day before class twice a month. He is the kind of lawyer who picks up the phone during the client interview and tries to resolve the case and, very often, he's successful. In addition to seeing clients and attending consumer clinics at legal aid's office, he also accepts a large number of cases for representation.

• Brandon Beardsley. Beardsley staffs many of the monthly pro bono advice clinics and pro se forms classes. Additionally, he accepts cases for full representation. He practices in a broad range of civil law including family, guardianship and probate, as well as criminal law.

• Cheryl McCray. McCray staffs pro bono advice clinics and pro se classes and also accepts cases for full representation in the area of family law. This help is greatly appreciated since family law is an area of great need and the cases can sometimes be complex and long.

• Virginia Morgan. Morgan is a family law attorney who always has one or two pro bono cases in her caseload. In 2012, Morgan closed a complicated and time-consuming family law matter and continues to maintain additional cases.

• Mina Bustamante. Bustamante agreed to accept a pro bono case in 2008 and brought it to successful completion in 2012. Over the course of her representation, Bustamante logged more than 160 hours on the case. Her consistent, determined effort ended with a positive outcome for a low-income client who otherwise would not have been represented.

Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman of The JBA Pro Bono Committee at [email protected]