Richard “Dick” C. Woltmann, president and CEO of Bay Area Legal Services, received the Foundation’s 2022 Jane Elizabeth Curran Distinguished Service Award in June. Woltmann, who has led Bay Area Legal Services (BALS) since 1980, was honored for his four decades of being a staunch advocate and effectuating positive and lasting change by increasing access to civil justice for communities and underserved individuals, particularly seniors and veterans, in Florida and across the nation.
In his early days at BALS, Woltmann, who earned his law degree from the University of Florida, secured funding to create the Senior Advocacy Unit to provide services and legal representation to seniors facing obstacles like foreclosure, construction fraud, and unaffordable mortgage payments. He also worked to ensure access to justice for persons with AIDS, building partnerships with groups like the Tampa AIDS Network.
“Dick is a visionary and has approached his role as the leader of one of Florida’s legal aid organizations as a true CEO – always looking out for opportunities and threats with an eye to capitalize on any potential opportunities and minimize or eliminate any perceived threats on the horizon,” DLA Piper LLP partner Michael Bedke said in his nomination of Woltmann. “After four decades of selfless service to our less fortunate neighbors, Dick’s commitment and efforts continue to effect positive and lasting change. He is as passionate today as he was in the early 80’s when I first saw him advocating for what is right.”
When Woltmann realized the need for telephone legal assistance for Florida’s seniors, he used funding from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs to create a hotline. More than 130,000 Floridians have received free legal assistance through the statewide Senior Legal Helpline.
Woltmann also facilitated a partnership with local law firms and volunteer attorneys to provide assistance to pro se litigants at the Hillsborough County Court House. The partnership culminated in one of the first “courthouse walk-in” projects in the nation. At the request of the federal judges, the project expanded into the Tampa federal courthouse. To date, the program has assisted more than 120,500 individuals with consumer debt, housing, guardianship, child support and more. Woltmann’s vision has resulted in efficiencies that help unclog the judicial system while ensuring civil pro se litigants have their proverbial day in court.
Also under Woltmann’s direction, BALS began providing on-site lawyers at The Spring of Tampa Bay, one of the oldest and largest domestic violence shelters in the country. Dick employed lessons learned from that partnership in the development of medical legal partnerships with Bay Pines VA Hospital and James A. Haley VA Hospital to provide free legal services to eligible veterans. Then, Woltmann worked with the United Way’s Mission United Program, the Governor’s “Forward March” initiative and with state Sen. Danny Burgess to obtain legislative funding for a statewide free legal helpline for veterans.
“There has never been a time in his life when he has not concentrated his energies on serving others,” Judge Catherine Peek McEwen said in a letter to support Woltmann’s nomination. “He took BALS from a solid little legal aid law firm to a sophisticated, large legal aid law firm dedicated to providing free civil legal services to low-income Tampa Bay area residents through traditional representation as well as innovative programs targeting discrete legal problems and client populations.”