By Missy Davenport • JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
At the 20th Annual Robert J. Beckham Equal Justice Awards Celebration on Sept. 18, pro bono champions were presented Kathy Para Outstanding Pro Bono Service awards
The attorneys were selected for the many hours of volunteer legal service provided, for their dedication to providing much-needed services to low-income people and for their support of the programs that assist those members of our community whose stability is most at risk.
The honorees represent the hundreds of attorneys who dedicate their time to assist with clinics, outreach projects and case representation, without financial compensation.
The awards are presented annually by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. This year, the Pro Bono Awards were named in honor of Kathy Para, JALA’s longtime pro bono director who recently retired.
Para was instrumental in the creation and supervision of many of JALA’s programs. Her work and commitment continue to make it possible for people to receive assistance with civil legal matters.
The 2019 awards:
Pro Se Eviction Defense Self Help Project volunteers
The Smith, Gambrell & Russell law firm collaborated with JALA in 2016 to develop the Pro Se Eviction Defense Self Help Project.
The clinic helps low-income clients to lawfully request repairs to rental units and to respond to eviction summonses from private landlords.
Because of the time-sensitive nature of landlord/tenant issues, the project is conducted once a week so the need for volunteers is immense. The need has been met by attorneys Robert Ellis, Jeffrey Haynie, Logan McEwen and Angela Viltro.
Haynie used his years of experience in housing law to develop training materials that allow project volunteers to assist clients and also provided pro bono representation to Eviction Defense Project clients.
Ellis assisted clients at the clinic every month and was instrumental in organizing the first Ask-A-Lawyer event at Jacksonville Beach in many years.
McEwen is an every-month volunteer and has provided representation for many of the clients from the clinic as well as volunteering at most Ask-A-Lawyer events in the past two years.
Viltro donated more than 125 hours of pro bono time in 2018 as a volunteer at the clinic, including representing clients in eviction cases, assisting families with guardian advocacy cases and volunteering with JALA’s pro bono unit.
Long Time Advocate for Low-Income Seniors Award: Richard Stockton
Senior citizens face many difficult planning decisions and Richard “Rick” Stockton is there to answer the call for help. Stockton assists the Alternative Spring Break project by offering training and mentorship to law students participating in senior citizen advance directives document preparation outreach initiatives.
He created macro-enabled template documents used at Alternative Spring Break events and the monthly Advance Directive Night that allow for efficient and accurate preparation of advance directive documents by volunteers.
Stockton also frequently serves as an expert resource at advance directives events as well as assisting many legal aid clients directly with probate, wills and advance directives matters.
Tad Delegal III and James Poindexter for pursuing fairness for employees
Whether ensuring that a mother can pump breast milk for her baby on her breaks at work, helping a senior citizen to receive her proper pension benefits, or fighting for clients who are victims of labor trafficking, Delegal and Poindexter do not back down.
Those are the situations of some of the clients whose lives Delegal and Poindexter have positively impacted.
Without an advocate, employees are left with confronting an employer, who usually is represented by an attorney, in a complex and time-consuming legal matter as a pro se litigant. Delegal and Poindexter are professional, compassionate and committed to ensuring that their legal aid clients have a fair chance to preserve employment income and the stability of their families.
Nelson Mullins and TIAA Bank: Helping people with special needs
When a child reaches age 18, her or his parents or legal guardians no longer have the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the child. For those with a developmental disability, assistance with matters such as medical and financial decisions is needed beyond the age of 18. The guardian advocacy process helps parents or legal guardians obtain legal authority to continue caring for their disabled child.
Norah Rogers, pro bono administrator for Nelson Mullins, recognized the need for assistance and put together a group of attorneys and paralegals from Nelson Mullins and TIAA Bank. Training was provided to the group by attorney Lisa DiFranza and the collaboration began.
Nelson Mullins and TIAA have taken several cases and have helped families to achieve stability and ensure that their loved ones will be able to receive the care they need.
Brandon Beardsley: “Honey Badger” family law lawyer
Since Beardsley’s graduation from law school in 2003, he has been pitching in to help low-income clients at St. Johns County Legal Aid.
Originally from Kentucky, Beardsley has every practical skill. He can hunt, trap, build, fix, sell and charm and his life experiences have given him compassion and insight into family law.
A fellow hunter once gave him a stuffed honey badger because Beardsley is a relentless advocate for those in need. He has won the St. Johns annual pro bono award three times (most hours done in a year) and was recognized by JALA because of consistent advocacy.
Anne Marie Gennusa: A tireless family law lawyer for those who need her most
When the going gets tough, St. Johns County Legal Aid calls in Gennusa. Her heart is large enough to make time for those family law cases few are willing to handle and she has stepped up to take difficult cases for decades.
A true child advocate, Gennusa will make the time no matter how busy she is and doesn’t shy away from the most challenging cases.
She has won the St. Johns annual pro bono award three times and practices criminal law as well.
Attorneys interested in these and other pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact [email protected]