By Rayven Wright
Not long after his retirement in 2012, Gulfport attorney Larry Markell, then in his mid-70s, began offering his legal services pro bono to low-income residents throughout Pinellas County through the Community Law Program. In Markell’s first case with the program, he represented a divorcee about his age.
His client had been awarded permanent alimony of $800 a month in a 1979 divorce settlement. However, her ex-husband, still employed, rarely paid it at all, and when he did the payments were consistently late.
Markell donated his time to the case for nearly four years, assisting his client about eight separate times by writing letters, filing motions for contempt, and appearing in court on her behalf. During Markell’s time on the case, his client, now 81, had open heart surgery.
“She has some very significant health challenges, as we all do when we get to be that age,” Markell said.
Markell’s pro bono work enabled the client to collect the money she desperately needs to cover her ongoing medical expenses. Since taking on that first client, he has continued to accept some of the Community Law Program’s most challenging cases, often representing domestic violence survivors. Since 2012, he has tackled about 40 contested family law cases as a volunteer.
In a parental kidnapping case involving an out-of-state father and a disabled child receiving Social Security disability, Markell represented the mother, a Florida resident, after the father refused to return the child following a summer visitation.
“If it weren’t for Larry, I don’t know where we would be today,” she said, “but it wouldn’t be good.”
Including his time volunteering at workshops and legal clinics, Markell has donated more than 1,000 hours of service.
“In this climate, with so many pro se filings, in order for the judicial system to be effective, it is important for clients to be represented by competent attorneys,” Markell said. “There is no substitute for competent attorneys in the courtroom.”
Earlier this year, Markell received The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, recognizing his exceptional commitment to pro bono.
“When you shine a light on our pro bono clients, you shine a light on yourself,” Markell said, quoting someone he’d recently heard.
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