JACKSONVILLE — In recognition of almost 80 years of offering pro bono legal services, the Jacksonville Bar Association recently received the 2017 Chief Justice’s Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award from the Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court has awarded.

JBA President Geddes Anderson accepted the award from Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Jan. 19 in Tallahassee, according to a report on JaxDailyRecord.com.

Members of the JBA began accepting cases from clients in need as early as 1937, according to the report, and the pro bono services the group offers have continued to expand since then. For example, in 2009, the JBA began offering quarterly “Ask-A-Lawyer” events, in which low-income participants can ask their legal questions during a 15-minute, one-on-one meeting with pro bono attorneys. Members of the JBA’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee also developed the Pro Bono Mediation Project in 2013.

Potential award recipients need to be nominated for the honor. Mark Hohmeister, public-information coordinator for the Florida Bar, told the Florida Record in an email interview that “anyone can nominate an attorney, judge, law firm or voluntary bar for an honor. The Jacksonville Bar Association was nominated by Kathy Para of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.”

The decision-making process is undertaken by a committee.

“The Voluntary Bar honor actually is presented by the chief justice, not the Florida Bar,” Hohmeister said. “The chief justice names a Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Advisory Committee, which this time was chaired by immediate past bar President Ramon Abadin. The members review the nominations, meet by teleconference, and recommend an honoree. That recommendation is forwarded to the chief justice, who makes the final selection.”

According to Para's nomination form, which she provided to the Florida Record, "The JBA has assisted with and sponsored various fundraising efforts including The Law Review (a variety show featuring the talents of judges and attorneys), donation drives at luncheons and receptions, and the 30/60 Challenge."

Her nomination also detailed a number of programs the JBA organizes or in which it takes part, such as the Pro Bono Attorney Ad Litem program, the Pro Bono Mediation project, and its annual Citizenship Day.

Most of the Florida Bar’s pro bono awards have been around for many years.

“The first pro bono awards were presented in 1982 (to one lawyer in each circuit, and the Tobias Simon Award). Other awards were added over the years,” Hohmeister said.

The Florida Bar will continue to honor the state’s attorneys for their pro bono work.

“Every January, in a ceremonial session of the Florida Supreme Court, more than two dozen lawyers and judges are honored by the court and The Florida bar for the free legal assistance they have provided,” Hohmeister said. For each of these members of The Florida bar, as well as a law firm and a voluntary bar association, this is a meaningful acknowledgment of the many hours of pro bono work they have performed to help children, victims of human trafficking, the elderly, refugees, the poor and countless others who wouldn’t be able to afford the legal assistance they so badly need.”

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