Richard C. Milstein received the 2019 Medal of Honor for a lawyer at the Foundation’s Annual Reception and Dinner for his exemplary and unending capacity for pro bono work as a volunteer guardian ad litem for more than 35 years, his leadership and advocacy for marriage equality and civil rights, and his efforts to enact legislation to protect minors in the dependency system.
Milstein, a partner in the Miami office of Akerman, was appointed to his first pro bono case by a U.S. District Court judge just months after being admitted to the Bar in 1974. This led to more cases, and before the concept of ad litems had even been formulated, Richard was volunteering his time protecting children during divorces.
In 1986, Milstein was appointed to oversee a case involving the misappropriation of a minor’s funds in guardianship. After recovering a considerable sum for the child, he worked to draft and enact legislation to protect the interests of children in the same situation.
“Richard’s pro bono work knows no bounds, as evidenced by the realm of his pro bono legal services to indigent clients, civil organizations, voluntary bar associations and to all who have nowhere else to turn to for assistance,” said Karen J. Ladis, executive director of Dade Legal Aid, in a letter of recommendation for Milstein. “He has gone above and beyond for decades to champion causes for the defenseless and disenfranchised, donating his time generously, helping to make legal services accessible to those in greatest need.”
Milstein was the pro bono guardian ad litem in a highly-publicized case in 2000 in which a three-year-old had been beaten into a coma, and he was charged with advising the court on whether the child should be removed from life support. He has represented children during contentious custody battles and helped children achieve permanent reunification after being placed in foster care.
Milstein’s involvement in civil rights extended to his personal life when, in 2014, he and his husband, who had married in Iowa in 2010, challenged Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in marriage equality statewide a year later.
“Florida and its residents will have more and improved access to justice because of Richard’s work,” said Judge Vance E. Salter in his letter of recommendation for Milstein. “Countless individuals and nonprofit groups have received donations of legal advice, and those persons and entities view our profession positively as a result. His essential virtues of humanity, tolerance and charity have always set him apart.”
In 2016, in another high profile case, Milstein served as a guardian ad litem for a transgender teen who wanted to change the name and gender marker on his birth certificate. The decision set a precedent for transgender teens in Florida, who can now amend their birth certificate’s gender markers.
Milstein has served as president of the Dade County Bar and received the Florida Supreme Court’s Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award in 1996.