Florida’s longest-serving attorney general, Robert A. Butterworth, has been selected to receive The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2014 Medal of Honor Award for a lawyer, the Florida legal profession’s highest award.
Recognized by his peers as the nation’s top attorney general for his leadership in multi-state litigation against the tobacco industry, which brought $11 billion to Florida, Butterworth was an effective enforcer of victim and consumer protection, environmental, civil rights and anti-trust laws as Florida’s attorney general from 1987 to 2002.
“Bob Butterworth’s accomplishments as an attorney general alone merit this award,” wrote former American Bar Association President Martha Barnett in her nomination letter. “Whether he was leading the multi-state litigation against the tobacco industry or serving on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, Bob Butterworth’s fealty was to the rule of law and he worked tirelessly to make the constitutional promise of access to justice a reality.”
But Barnett was quick to point out that Butterworth’s achievements as a public servant go well beyond his role as Florida’s chief legal officer.
“His resume speaks for itself. It tells the story of a person who quietly, resolutely and tenaciously changed the course of our state’s history and in doing so improved the lives of many Floridians, especially children.”
Butterworth is renowned for his game-changing leadership of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, where he gave foster children a seat at the table, instituted unprecedented transparency and accountability and professionalized the department’s corps of lawyers.
Florida’s Children First founder and children’s rights attorney Howard Talenfeld wrote that Butterworth “elevated Florida from the dead bottom of national statistics relating to child welfare practice to among the top states in the nation in many performance categories,” adding that his leadership set the stage for a 25 percent drop in the number of children in foster care.
Butterworth became a go-to advisor for Florida governors in need of a troubleshooter. He was tapped to head the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the parent agency of the Florida Highway Patrol, to reform that police force and implement diversity within its ranks, and, again, to serve as interim mayor of a South Florida city plagued by political corruption. In addition, Butterworth has served as a county judge, circuit judge, prosecutor and Broward County Sheriff.
After leaving public office in 2006, he became dean of the College of Law at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, where he worked to advance the science of jurisprudence and instill a sense of duty and service to the public in the school’s students, leaving his mark on future generations of lawyers.
He is now of counsel with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney | Fowler White Boggs.
“His entire career path is an example of commitment to integrity and the public good,” wrote George Sheldon, Butterworth’s successor as secretary of the Department of Children and Families. “No lawyer represents a higher standard for the Bar than Bob Butterworth.”
Butterworth will receive the Medal of Honor Award June 26 at The Florida Bar Foundation’s 38th annual reception and dinner, to be held in conjunction with The Florida Bar Annual Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando.