Tampa lawyer Michael Bedke, a partner with DLA Piper, and Miami lawyer Richard C. Milstein, a partner with Akerman, have been selected as recipients of The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2019 Medal of Honor Award, the Foundation’s highest honor.
Bedke, a real estate partner in the DLA Piper Tampa office, is being honored for his exceptional dedication to providing pro bono service, his remarkable advocacy for AIDS patients and domestic violence survivors both locally and internationally, his invaluable support developing the No Place Like Home program and his commitment to improving the lives of veterans, disaster survivors and law students.
“Mike is one of those extremely rare individuals who has noteworthy qualifications in all three areas for which one may be nominated,” wrote Richard Woltmann, CEO/president of Bay Area Legal Services, in his nomination of Bedke. “Mike has spent his entire legal career serving the public, working to improve access to justice and advancing the science of jurisprudence.”
As a young lawyer, Bedke accepted pro bono cases representing persons with AIDS in the 1980s, a time when the general public was both fearful and uneducated about the disease. He encouraged colleagues to take similar cases and served on the board of the Tampa AIDS Network.
After Hurricane Andrew, Bedke worked to pass Good Samaritan legislation that removed an impediment to lawyers providing pro bono help to disaster survivors. He also led legal relief efforts in response to Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and September 11. He founded the Greater Access and Assistance Project while chair of the ABA’s YLD, modeling it after the Courthouse Assistance Project he created as a member of Bay Area Legal Services’ board of directors.
“Throughout his life, Mike has recognized his duty to serve the public in a wide variety of ways,” wrote Gwynne A. Young, past president of The Florida Bar, in a letter of recommendation for Bedke. “He is constantly thinking of ways to meet the unmet legal needs in our community. He has a unique ability to identify groups in need of legal services and develop effective plans for meeting those needs.”
Bedke has worked on behalf of domestic violence survivors for more than 25 years. He was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women in 2002 and has served on numerous boards working to improve access to legal help for survivors. He worked with the Women’s Caucus of the Peruvian Parliament to draft model domestic violence legislation.
At his alma mater, the University of Florida, he developed a program to recruit and retain minority law students. He has also served as an adjunct professor at Stetson College of Law.
As president of the board of Bay Area Legal Services in 2015, Bedke spearheaded a fundraising effort that created a $400,000 endowment for a veterans program. He also led the development and implementation of Bay Area’s No Place Like Home Project through his work with the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section. The project engages RPPTL members to provide pro bono help to low-income homeowners experiencing title issues.
Richard C. Milstein
Milstein will receive the Medal of Honor for his exemplary and unending capacity for pro bono work as a volunteer guardian ad litem for more than 35 years, his leadership and advocacy for marriage equality and civil rights, and his efforts to enact legislation to protect minors in the dependency system.
Just months after being admitted to the Bar in 1974, Milstein was appointed to his first pro bono case by a U.S. District Court Judge. This led to more cases, and before the concept of ad litems had even been formulated, Richard was volunteering his time protecting children during divorces.
In 1986, Milstein was appointed to oversee a case involving the misappropriation of a minor’s funds in guardianship. After recovering a considerable sum for the child, he worked to draft and enact legislation to protect the interests of children in the same situation.
“Richard’s pro bono work knows no bounds, as evidenced by the realm of his pro bono legal services to indigent clients, civil organizations, voluntary bar associations and to all who have nowhere else to turn to for assistance,” said Karen J. Ladis, executive director of Dade Legal Aid, in a letter of recommendation for Milstein. “He has gone above and beyond for decades to champion causes for the defenseless and disenfranchised, donating his time generously, helping to make legal services accessible to those in greatest need.”
Milstein was the pro bono guardian ad litem in a highly-publicized case in 2000 in which a three-year-old had been beaten into a coma, and he was charged with advising the court on whether the child should be removed from life support. He has represented children during contentious custody battles and helped children achieve permanent reunification after being placed in foster care.
Milstein’s involvement in civil rights extended to his personal life when, in 2014, he and his husband, who had married in Iowa in 2010, challenged Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in marriage equality statewide a year later.
“Florida and its residents will have more and improved access to justice because of Richard’s work,” said Judge Vance E. Salter, in his letter of recommendation for Milstein. “Countless individuals and nonprofit groups have received donations of legal advice, and those persons and entities view our profession positively as a result. His essential virtues of humanity, tolerance and charity have always set him apart.”
In 2016, in another high profile case, Milstein served as a guardian ad litem for a transgender teen who wanted to change the name and gender marker on his birth certificate. The decision set a precedent for transgender teens in Florida, who can now amend their birth certificate’s gender markers.
Milstein has served as president of the Dade County Bar and received the Florida Supreme Court’s Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award in 1996.
The Medal of Honor Awards, sponsored by Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, will be presented at The Florida Bar Foundation’s 43rd Annual Reception and Dinner June 27 at the Boca Raton Resort and Club during The Florida Bar Annual Convention. Other major sponsors include Carlton Fields; Shutts & Bowen LLP; Akerman LLP; Pajcic & Pajcic; Birnbaum, Lippman and Gregoire, PLLC; and The Florida Bar Business Law Section.