by Nancy Kinnally
ORLANDO, Fla. – Bruce B. Blackwell, an Orlando attorney widely renowned for his pro bono work, professional leadership and service to the organized Bar, received The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2011 Medal of Honor Award for a lawyer, the Florida legal profession’s highest award, June 23 at The Florida Bar Foundation’s 35th annual reception and dinner.
Blackwell, a partner in the law firm of King, Blackwell, Downs & Zehnder, is a past Foundation president and currently serves as a trustee of The Florida Bar Foundation Endowment Trust. He also is a past president of the Orange County Bar Association, past member of The Florida Bar Board of Governors, and current president of the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.
The impact of Blackwell’s service is evidenced by the tremendous support his nomination received. His nomination letter was signed by 42 leaders of the legal profession, including past recipients of the Medal of Honor; past presidents of the American Bar Association, The Florida Bar, the Orange County Bar Association, and The Florida Bar Foundation; a former justice of the Florida Supreme Court; a law school dean; 11 judges; and many current and past members of The Florida Bar Board of Governors.
Described in the nomination as a “workhorse for our profession who leads by example,” Blackwell has a reputation for taking on tough pro bono cases and often going well beyond providing legal help. After handling a pro bono landlord-tenant case, for example, Blackwell and his family decided to invite the family’s eldest daughter, a teenager named Sabrina Wiggins, to live with them while she finished high school and applied for college.
Wiggins is now a veterinarian who credits much of her success to Blackwell and his family. She recalls that at the time she did not understand the reason for the generosity she was shown.
“I was waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Wiggins said. “Then, I realized, the shoe is never going to drop. This was the kind gesture of a kind person. It blew my mind.”
Beyond providing pro bono legal services to the poor, Blackwell has worked to secure funding for legal aid locally, statewide and nationally. In so doing, he has received accolades for his political acumen, diplomacy, and countless hours of dedication.
“The continuing thread over more than 30 years has been his commitment to enthusiastically serve others who can never, ever repay his kindnesses, his compassion, or his often life-changing services,” Blackwell’s nominators wrote. “He has a daily commitment to provide access to justice, and his behind-the-scenes work on key policy matters at the state and national level regarding our profession, and particularly service to the underserved, is extraordinary.”
The American Bar Association recognized Blackwell in 2008 with its Grassroots Advocacy Award for his sustained and effective lobbying of Congress on behalf of federal funding for legal services to the poor. That same year he received the Outstanding Voluntary Bar President Award from the Florida Council of Bar Association Presidents. In describing Blackwell’s impact on the statewide legal profession, this group noted that he served with “quiet diligence and sincere goodwill” and that he provided the lawyers of Florida the example that is the foundation of leadership.
“Because of his leadership, others watch, others learn, othersfollow and others serve,” the Bar nominators wrote.
Blackwell has received awards for his pro bono service, both from the Ninth Judicial Circuit and from The Florida Bar. Hewas also recognized by the Orange County Bar Association in 2003 with its highest award for professionalism, by the George C. Young First Central Florida American Inns of Court in 2009 with its highest award for professionalism, ethics, and civility in the practice of law, and by the Florida State University College of Law in 2009 with the Alumni Service Award, its highest award for service to the law school.
While selected as one of 48 lawyers statewide for inclusion inFlorida Trend’s first Legal Elite Hall of Fame in 2010, Blackwell’s passion is to ensure access to justice for those in poverty and otherwise without hope.
“I consider the work of the Foundation to be the most rewarding of my legal career,” said Blackwell, who served for 11 years on the board, playing a vital role in policymaking, fundraising and advocacy. “We work to provide access to justice for thousands of Floridians who live in poverty.”
The Florida Bar Foundation Medal of Honor Award Program was established in 1977 to honor those who have made outstanding achievements in improving the administration of justice in Florida.