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'I will never be able to repay you'

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  • | 6:00 p.m. March 26, 2004
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Photos by David R. Corder

Above: Kathleen S. McLeroy of Carlton Fields PA, winner of the Jimmy Kynes Pro Bono Award.

Right: Bay Area Legal Services staff, from left, Beth Eppley, development director; Nancy Lugo, attorney; Charlene Van Cleve, case referral manager; Elva Kinnis, secretary; and staff attorneys Susan Whitaker, Sheila Seig and Susan Sandler.

'I will never be able to repay you'

A young mother tells how lawyers, working without pay, helped saved her life.

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Yolanda Young appeared overwhelmed by the display of respect. About 400 lawyers had just risen to applaud her courage for telling a difficult story. Her words had a noticeable impact on the veteran group of lawyers and judges assembled at the speaker's table, as their reactions attested to the compassion they held for her.

This young mother of five expressed her appreciation for the kind of attorneys recognized on March 18 by the Hillsborough County Bar Association during its 10th annual pro bono awards program.

"I will never be able to repay you for what you did for my children and myself," she told the audience.

Young spoke about her personal experience with domestic violence and how Bay Area Legal Services, Hillsborough County's non-profit legal aid program, saved her life. In appreciation of its support, Young has since joined the group's volunteer board of directors.

As recently as three years ago, Young struggled against the mental and physical torture of an abusive husband. She felt trapped in a 10-year relationship where she had to ask permission just to brush her teeth or even to bathe. It's a story she allowed the legal services group to publish on its Internet web site (

"I let my husband take complete control of me, and I was rearranging my entire life for him," she wrote. "I became intimidated, I felt worthless and lost all my self-esteem. Finally, everyday I would pray for God to let me die or remove me from this situation. I felt like I was a walking 'dead woman.' "

Somehow Young gained the strength to leave her husband and fled with her children. Not knowing where to turn, she took refuge in a subcompact car. She and her children spent their nights in a parking lot.

Each morning Young dressed her children and took them to daycare and to elementary school.

During the day, she worked as an administrative assistant. Then she learned about Bay Area Legal Services.

"I am no longer a puppet on a string," she wrote. "I want to encourage others who are being abused that there is hope and that there is a better life. I thank God for answering my prayer and giving me hope.

"It is not an easy road, but I have regained my self-esteem and the children are no longer exposed to abuse," she adds. "Although it's an everyday work of prayer to reconstruct my children's minds from the years of being witnesses of abuse, they are coming along fine thanks to Bay Area Legal Services."

The county bar association relied on Young's testimony to encourage further support for the legal services group, which assisted about 10,000 indigent people last year with a budget of $5 million.

A 1993 Florida Supreme Court opinion encourages lawyers to donate at least 20 hours of pro bono work annually or contribute $350 to legal services group such as Bay Area Legal Services.

Last year Hillsborough-area lawyers donated about 6,000 hours of free legal work and contributed more than $190,000 to Bay Area Legal Services.

13th Circuit's

award winners

In cooperation with the Hillsborough County Bar Association, the 13th Circuit sponsors an annual pro bono awards program - Hillsborough Attorneys Volunteer Effort or HAVE a Heart.

This year the program recognized Edward M. Waller Jr. as the circuit's top pro bono contributor during 2003. The Fowler White Boggs Banker attorney earned dual designations.

The circuit chose Waller to receive the Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award, and the state bar chose him to receive the 2004 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, in honor of the late Miami civil rights lawyer Tobias Simon.

Waller became the first Hillsborough attorney to win the Tobias award, which recognizes the thousands of hours he donated to indigent clients over his 36-year career.


Jimmy Kynes Pro Bono Award - Kathleen S. McLeroy, Carlton Fields PA. This award is given to the attorney who reflects the principles of the late Jim Walters Corp.'s general counsel. At Carlton Fields, McLeroy serves on the law firm's pro bono committee. The firm has one of the strongest lawyer volunteer programs in the Tampa Bay area.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service for the Domestic Violence Assistance Project - Loretta O'Keefe, staff counsel for the Florida Bar, and F. Kemi Oguntebi, a Tampa area solo practitioner. Last year, they contributed about 100 hours to help 120 people.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service as a Client Intake Volunteer - Caroline Adams, John Bencivenga, Gary Coe, Jeffrey Dowd, John J. Lamoureux and Anthony M. Lopez. They donated more than 300 hours interviewing indigent applicants for Bay Area Legal Services.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service for the Ask A Lawyer Project - Charles H. Dittmar Jr., a solo practitioner. He donated about 150 hours providing legal information to telephone callers through a TV call-in program.

Outstanding Pro Bono Service - Lynwood F. Arnold Jr. of McWhirter Reeves PA; Phillip A. Baumann, a solo practitioner; Robert G. Cochran of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen; Robert Fraser of Pilka & Associates PA; Howard L. Garrett, a solo practitioner; Thomas P. Gill Jr.; a solo practitioner; Theodore J. Hamilton of Wetherington Hamilton & Harrison PA; Peter J. Kelly of Glenn Rasmussen Fogarty & Hooker; Harvey A. Schonbrun, a solo practitioner; and Jessica C. Tien, a solo practitioner. This award recognizes attorneys who made considerable efforts to help indigent legal clients.


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