Family Law Section gives its third $75,000 gift to The Florida Bar Foundation

Family Law Section gift
Family Law Section gift

Florida Bar Foundation President Donny MacKenzie, left, and CEO Bruce Blackwell, right, accept a $75,000 check March 4 from The Florida Bar Family Law Section, presented by Section Chair Maria Gonzalez and Past Chair David Manz, a Foundation board member.

With a unanimous vote of its Executive Council Jan. 30, The Florida Bar’s Family Law Section approved its third $75,000 donation to The Florida Bar Foundation

since 2012. Section Chair Maria C. Gonzalez presented the gift at the Foundation’s March 4 board meeting along with David Manz, who as Family Law Section chair in 2012 helped steer the section’s first major gift to the Foundation and has since joined its board of directors.

The most recent gift is designated for the Foundation’s Children’s Legal Services grants, which provide representation for children in foster care as well as low-income children needing access to special education, medical, developmental and mental health services that are required under law.

“The Family Law Section’s mission statement emphasizes the importance of enhancing Florida’s judicial system, the legal assistance provided to Florida’s children and families, and ensuring that Florida’s families have open and meaningful access to and obtain appropriate relief from our state court system,” Gonzalez said. “All of these important goals are unquestionably advanced by The Florida Bar Foundation’s efforts to provide access to justice for low-income families. Supporting the Foundation’s efforts and its Children’s Legal Services grants will assist those most vulnerable and in need in our state.”

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The Foundation’s board of directors approved grants totaling $926,405 for 13 Children’s Legal Services projects at their March 4 meeting. Of the funds available for 2015-16 Children’s Legal Services grants, $385,670 came from donations restricted for that purpose. These include the Family Law Section’s 2015 gift of $75,000, as well as lawyers’ voluntary donations on The Florida Bar fee statement, Kids Deserve Justice license plate sales, and individual gifts designated for Children’s Legal Services. The remainder came from other sources, including the Foundation’s reserves and a loan from The Florida Bar.

“We are grateful for the Family Law Section’s tremendous generosity and continued dedication to promoting equal access to justice for children, many of whom would be without an advocate were it not for the support provided by the Children’s Legal Services program,” Florida Bar Foundation President Donny MacKenzie said. “The continued support to the Foundation from Florida Bar sections, especially in these times of reduced legal aid funding, is critically important and greatly appreciated.”

The Family Law Section has now donated a total of $225,000 to the Foundation since 2012, placing it in the Barrister’s Society for lifetime contributions to The Florida Bar Foundation. The section’s most recent gift will support 2016-17 Children’s Legal Services grants. Meanwhile, the section is also taking steps to support legal aid organizations directly.

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“Legal aid cases involving family law continue to rise,” Gonzalez said. “As a direct result of the Family Law Section’s continued commitment and efforts to advance the proper training of Guardians Ad Litem in the state, the Family Law Section has committed additional charitable funds directly to local legal aid organizations over the next three years.”

The Foundation has had to cut grants to its legal aid grantees by 78 percent since 2010 due to the decline in revenue from Florida’s Interest on Trust Accounts program. Although the Federal Reserve recently raised the federal funds rate by a quarter percent, the Foundation will have to replenish its depleted reserves, replace investment income borrowed from its endowment, and repay a $6 million loan from The Florida Bar. For these reasons, any near-term increase in IOTA revenue is not expected to result in increased grants to legal aid.

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by Rayven Wright

Rayven Wright is an intern from the University of Central Florida’s Office of Experiential Learning assigned to The Florida Bar Foundation.