TALLAHASSEE – A partner
at Holland & Knight who entered law school at the age of 32 after a decade
in retail management was recently recognized for his pro bono work in
international child abduction cases.
Brett Barfield was among 21 lawyers who
received The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards Jan. 19 during
ceremonies at the Florida Supreme Court.
“It was a wonderful surprise and truly
gratifying to know that the work we do for those who cannot afford a lawyer is
appreciated and encouraged,” Barfield recently told the Florida Record.
Law is a second career for Barfield,
who worked in retail management before deciding to enroll at St. Thomas University
School of Law.
“I attended law school thinking I would go back into business,”
Barfield said. “But after just a couple of weeks…I was convinced I wanted to
actually practice law as a litigator. I love the procedure, I love the written
and oral advocacy, and I love helping people.”
As pro bono coordinator for Holland
& Knight’s Miami office, Barfield matches more than 100 lawyers with pro bono
cases. In 2011 he litigated his first case under the Hague Convention on
international child abduction by a parent.
“I quickly became addicted and have
now litigated many, many parental child abduction cases in Florida and across
the country,” Barfield said.
The majority of his 380 hours of pro
bono work last year were devoted to litigating three Hague Convention cases. Barfield
won the first case, Gomez v. Salvi, at trial in Miami and on appeal to the 11th
Circuit Court. The case dealt with a father’s illegal abduction of his 4-year-old daughter from Venezuela to Florida out of fear that the child’s
mother would follow through with death threats. The girl’s mother filed a complaint
seeking to have her daughter returned to Venezuela.
A summary of the case, provided in the
appellate court’s opinion, tells of a contentious custody
battle in Venezuela during which the plaintiff (Gomez) made threats to her
daughter’s father (Salvi) and his family. The threats escalated to actual
violence, including the shooting of Salvi’s girlfriend mere minutes after Salvi
and his daughter exited the car she was driving. Other threatening behavior
included vandalizing the car belonging to Salvi’s mother and on two occasions,
planting drugs in her car.
The intention of the Hague Convention,
according to its website, is to “protect children from the harmful effects of
abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a
procedure to bring about their prompt return.” It also establishes very narrow parameters
The appellate court felt this was one of those rare cases,
writing, “Although a pattern of threats
and violence was not directed specifically at (the child), serious threats and
violence directed against a child’s parent can, and in this case did, nevertheless
pose a grave risk of harm to the child.”
His second Hague Convention case last
year “pertained to reuniting a Canadian mother with her three children who the
father wrongfully retained in Fort Myers after the mother sent them for a
summer vacation with him,” Barfield said. That case is on appeal.
In his third case, Barfield represented
the mother of a 9-month-old son whose father abducted him after going to Guatemala
under the pretense of attending his son’s baptism. The father avoided airports
where he would have been stopped, taking his son across the Mexican border and
into the U.S.
“After a trial before Judge Beth Bloom
in Federal District Court in Miami, the child was ordered reunited with his
mother,” Barfield said. The father appealed and the case is pending. “But
mother and child are safely reunited in Guatemala today.”