Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Law Day Luncheon Celebration Marks End To Successful Bar Year

By John F. Kynes

Fifty years ago, the American Bar Association created the Liberty Bell Award as a way for Bar associations across the country to recognize and honor local citizens who do not practice law but who have worked tirelessly to preserve and strengthen our justice system. The award is presented each year as part of Law Day celebrations, which are traditionally held in the month of May.

The Hillsborough County Bar Association embraced the award from the start, and it presented its first Liberty Bell Award to Robert Thomas in 1964. Other notable winners since then include: Rev. A. Leon Lowry (1980); William F. Poe (1984); Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf (1991); Bob Gilder (1999); Jan Kaminis Platt (2000); Tony Dungy (2001); Monsignor Laurence Higgins (2010); and Jane Castor (2013).

The HCBA’s annual Law Day Luncheon this year took place on May 13, and the 2014 Liberty Bell Award was presented to Betty Castor. In announcing Castor as the winner, retired Appellate Judge E.J. Salcines highlighted Castor’s many accomplishments, and he praised her extraordinary commitment to education and to public service.

Salcines noted several of Castor’s “firsts,” including the fact that she made history in 1972 by becoming the first woman elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. Castor also became Florida’s first female Cabinet member in 1986 when she was elected commissioner of education. And, in 1993, Castor was chosen to be the first female president of the University of South Florida.
In accepting the award, Castor praised the lawyers in attendance for their work to help the less fortunate and their commitment to pro bono service. “You are the backbone of our civil society,” Castor told the crowd.

In addition, at this year’s Law Day Luncheon, the 2013 Outstanding Lawyer Award was presented to Bill Schifino Jr. The award is given to an HCBA attorney who, among other things, has exhibited superior legal ability, has demonstrated true professionalism and is respected for ethical practice, is recognized by the public and the legal community for serving as a mentor to others, has performed service to the community on a personal level, and has been actively involved in the HCBA and Bar-related activities. Schifino is the managing partner of Burr & Forman’s Tampa office and concentrates his practice in the areas of securities and business litigation.

Longtime colleague and friend Rob Williams introduced the surprised Schifino as the winner. Williams said he always has admired Schifino’s unique ability “to engage other people in a way that endears him to other people and to work with him to get things done.”

Williams praised Schifino for his professionalism and superior legal ability, and he noted his tireless work over the years on behalf of the HCBA and The Florida Bar. In 1996, Schifino was selected as the HCBA’s Outstanding Young Lawyer, and he served as HCBA president in 2004. Schifino is also the incoming president of the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation.

Williams also noted Schifino’s extensive community service involvement, including his longtime service as a board member of the local Boys & Girls Club.

The Law Day celebration also provided an opportunity to spotlight the good work of the HCBA’s Law Week Committee, which was co-chaired by Kelly Zarzycki Andrews, Amy Nath, and Maja Lacevic. The Law Day theme the ABA selected this year was “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.”

Nath, one of the co-chairs, said about 90 HCBA volunteer lawyers helped lead mock trials, courthouse tours, and classroom discussions during Law Week. More than 3,300 local students were involved this year, she said. “Our committee is so proud of the number of local students we are able to reach each year,” she said.

Meantime, the Law Day Luncheon also marks the unofficial end to the 2013-14 Bar year. And under the outstanding leadership of Susan Johnson-Velez, it has been an exciting and eventful year for sure.
From the membership luncheons, the Bench Bar Conference & Judicial Reception, the Holiday Open House, the Diversity Networking Social, the Judicial Pig Roast/Food Festival & 5K Pro Bono River Run, and the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation’s Law & Liberty Dinner, there was something for everyone.

This does not include all the other outstanding CLE programs and other events held throughout the year by the HCBA’s numerous committees and sections, as well as the HCBA’s superb Young Lawyers Division led by Jacqueline Simms-Petredis.

I want to thank all the HCBA board members for their guidance throughout the year, and I’m confident incoming President Ben Hill IV will do a great job leading the HCBA in 2014-15.

Additionally, I know the hard-working HCBA staff will continue to serve the HCBA membership to the best of their ability.

Here’s hoping everyone has a great summer.

See you around the Chet.