Jacksonville attorney William A. Van Nortwick Jr., formerly a judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, received The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2015 Medal of Honor Award, the Foundation’s highest award.
Partner-in-charge of Akerman LLP’s national pro bono program and a member of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, Van Nortwick is being honored for his decades of work contributing to the infrastructure for pro bono and legal services organizations in Florida.
“In addition to performing legal work for the poor, Bill served in leadership capacities in virtually every organization related to or supporting pro bono and legal aid,” said Tampa attorney Kathy McLeroy, who has served alongside Van Nortwick on several committees. “As a member of the judiciary, he served as a role model for other judges, encouraging them to actively promote pro bono work from the bench. He was instrumental in the formation of a pro bono committee in the Business Law Section of The Florida Bar and in developing and implementing the One Campaign to promote pro bono work in Florida, and he presided over the first statewide Pro Bono Week in Florida.”
Van Nortwick is a past president of The Florida Bar Foundation and was a director and two-term president of Foundation grantees Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and Florida Legal Services. He is immediate past chair of The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service, on which he has served since 1997, and previously chaired The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent, which led to the creation of rules requiring reporting of pro bono hours. He also chaired The Florida Bar’s symposium on equal access to justice, whose recommendations led to the first state funding for civil legal aid.
“Bill was instrumental in securing as a gift from the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce a prominent building in downtown Jacksonville which we were able to convert into offices of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid,” wrote John A. DeVault III, who served on the legal aid organization’s board with Van Nortwick in the 1970s.
Van Nortwick’s own pro bono work began during his first year in private practice at the Jacksonville law firm of Milam, Martin and Ade, which he joined in 1970 straight out of law school at the University of Florida. In one of his early cases he helped represent three African-American students who were expelled from school following a racially charged incident on a school bus. The students were eventually reinstated. He later put in more than 200 pro bono hours helping establish a medical clinic in an underserved Jacksonville neighborhood.
Van Nortwick received the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award in 1995 and 10 years later was the first recipient of the Florida Supreme Court Distinguished Judicial Service Award. He also has been honored with The Florida Bar Pro Bono Award for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, the Thurgood Marshall Award for Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit, the Robert Beckham Equal Justice Award from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the Pro Bono Award of The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, and The Florida Bar President’s Award of Merit.
“His enthusiastic approach to pro bono easily convinces those with whom he comes in contact that pro bono is an essential element of the practice of law,” said Katherine E. Giddings, a colleague of Van Nortwick at Akerman and a partner in the Appellate Practice.
He has served on the Florida Supreme Court Professionalism Commission, chaired the District Court of Appeal Performance and Accountability Commission and is the current chair of The Florida Bar’s Business Law Section.
“Simply put, Bill Van Nortwick, by his constant and consistent dedication to service, elevates everyone in the room, whether the room is a conference room, an appellate courtroom, the State Capitol, or the State Bar,” wrote Jim Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and a fellow member of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice.
The Medal of Honor Award is sponsored by Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company and is presented annually to a member of The Florida Bar who has demonstrated his or her dedication to the objectives of The Florida Bar as set out in the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar: “…to inculcate in its members the principles of duty and service to the public, to improve the administration of justice, and to advance the science of jurisprudence.”
Van Nortwick received the Medal of Honor Award at The Florida Bar Foundation’s 39th Annual Reception and Dinner June 25 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
The Florida Bar Foundation Medal of Honor Award Program was established in 1977. See a list of past recipients.