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Federal court entrusts Foundation with $3.6 million award for increased representation in courts

The Florida Bar Foundation has received $3.6 million from a four-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the result of a case in which sanctions against two law firms were levied. The Foundation will disburse the money to qualified legal aid organizations in the Middle of District of Florida to assist litigants in obtaining representation in court.

“Sometimes lemons can be turned into lemonade,” United States District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr. said upon receiving the Florida Supreme Court’s Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Pro Bono Award last week for his previous work in establishing resources for pro se litigants in federal court. “The U.S. District Court recently had the unpleasant task of imposing sanctions on lawyers in connection with the massive volume of tobacco litigation. It is true that out of challenge springs opportunity.”

Dalton, along with United States District Judges Timothy J. Corrigan, Marcia Morales Howard and William G. Young, presided over the case which stemmed from the Engle tobacco litigation. The Court had found that certain lawyers had engaged in unethical and unprofessional conduct, thus resulting in a sizeable sanctions award.

In October 2018, following the termination of litigation, the Court deemed it appropriate that the bulk of the sanctions funds be disbursed to qualified legal aid organizations whose purpose is to increase access to the courts for those who do not otherwise have it.

On February 6, 2019, the Court ordered that $3,623,987.26 of these funds be sent to The Florida Bar Foundation. The Foundation will use the money to promote robust, professional, ethical and competent representation of low-income Floridians through grants made to civil legal aid organizations. It will be required to allocate the funds to legal aid organizations in the Middle District of Florida; the Middle District is comprised of counties surrounding Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Ft. Myers.

In addition, the Court awarded $400,000 to the Florida Bar Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism to, in conjunction with the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar, develop and maintain long-term professionalism and ethics programming for Florida law schools, as well as young Florida lawyers.

“This order represents a monumental act which promotes the very principles of our democracy and the aspirations of our justice system,” Florida Bar Foundation Executive Director Donny MacKenzie said. “The Court is setting an admirable example of how fiscal sanctions can be used in unique situations such as this to promote professionalism, ethical representation, and increase access to justice. The Foundation sincerely appreciates the Court selecting and tasking us with the honor of responsibly disbursing these monies in so worthy a cause.”

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