It was too late when I realized that the suit I’d chosen to wear had a hole in the bottom of the left pocket rendering the pocket useless. I only own 3 suits and they’re all several years old and coordinated with the pair of brown wing-tip dress shoes that constitute my only pair of dress shoes. I’d already discarded one dress shirt as being too threadbare which cost me time and I’d spent a lot of time trying to find the new tie I wanted to wear that suddenly went missing after being in my hand. I eventually located the new tie hiding out in my sock drawer with no idea how it got there. My wife was handing me a collection of things she wanted me to carry since she had no pockets at all. Her cell phone, a lipstick, her ID in a little plastic case, her keys,… it turned out to be a lot of stuff. I struggled to find places for all the items. My working pocket bulged and I feared that I would soon have no working pockets at all. I also wondered when my wife decided that my role in life was to be a pack mule?
We were headed to the Florida Supreme Court for a ceremony in which I was one of couple dozen lawyers who were being honored for our pro bono work. Thanks to a nomination by Legal Services of North Florida, I was to receive the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Award for the Second Judicial Circuit. The entire Florida Supreme Court, less one Justice who was recovering from surgery, would be there along with the president of the Florida Bar. This was my first time inside the Florida Supreme Court and one of the biggest honors I’ve ever received. My close friend, James Cook, who is one of the best lawyers I’ve ever known, won the award last year, and the list of previous recipients included the names of several other friends and noted lawyers for whom I have great respect and admiration.
The award ceremony was very nice. It was dignified without being stale. The presentation of awards to deserving recipients was punctuated by heartfelt sincere speeches on the importance of pro bono work that held my attention without going on too long or becoming too preachy. I sat with the other award recipients on cushioned benches inside the well, the area between the railing that separates the spectators’ gallery and the bench where the Judges sit. When the time came for me to receive my award, they called my name and I walked to the podium where I was presented with a large certificate by the Florida Bar president. He said some nice words to me, and then shook my hand while a photographer took our photo. As I posed for the photographer I could see my wife, Barbara, camera in hand, directly behind him. As previously instructed by the organizers, I went and stood in front of the bench where the Supreme Court Justices were sitting and waited while they presented the other awards. I breathed a sigh of relief that I managed to get through the process without stumbling or forgetting to zip up my pants.
After the ceremony, there was a photo session with all the award recipients that made me feel a bit like a rock star. There were big complex looking cameras wielded by serious looking photographers. There was Barbara too, with my little Olympus, making sure she documented the experience for me. When everyone was done taking pictures, I joined the crowd of guests in the rotunda area where an incredible reception awaited. I was especially delighted to see that had those little spanakopita bites that are a favorite of mine. Barbara was waiting for me there and proudly introduced me to a gentleman from St. Petersburg, Florida as her award-winning husband.
Later that night, when the festivities were finished and the routine quiet of our lives had once again returned, I thought about the experience of winning this award. It occurred me that the pro bono cases for which I was honored weren’t only my sacrifice. In every single one of those cases, my wife Barbara, was by my side every single step of the way. She proofread pleadings, helped me strategize, attended Court hearings with me, encouraged me when I was discouraged. It’s important to note that although they give you awards for the cases you win, there were other pro bono cases we’ve done that we didn’t win, yet she was always there right by my side. Losing for me is devastating, but she helps me pick myself up every time. She could have objected to my pro bono work since it takes me away from the money-making cases that we depend upon and there have been many times when we’ve had to pinch pennies to get through. Contrary to what the insurance companies and their paid-for politicians tell you, the vast majority of trial lawyers are not millionaires. Most of us live precarious lives, investing our own money while taking on other people’s causes as our own, hoping for a fair judge or jury and the skill to navigate the procedural hurtles required to be allowed to tell our clients’ stories. Such a life wouldn’t be possible for me without the unwavering support of my wife, Barbara, who remains confident in me even when I start to doubt myself.
It occurred to me again on Saturday as I marched through the streets of Tallahassee for Women’s Rights in the rain, one person among a crowd of 14,000, how much I owe in my life to the women who have been part of it. My wife, mother, mother-in-law, step-mother, sister-in-law, nieces, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, nurses, doctors, classmates, clients who trust me to be their lawyer,…the list is endless. So much of my passion for justice on behalf of working-class families comes from growing up in a female-led single parent home. I’ve witnessed the struggles of the women in my life for equality and justice, and I know that while education and economic well-being provide some protection for women, the inequality never completely goes away. I also know that I wouldn’t be who I am today, or able to do the things I’m able to do today, without the many women who have given me their love and support throughout my life.
I didn’t get to give a speech at the award ceremony, which was probably a good thing. I don’t think that I could compete with the great words that were offered. However, I do want to say something, and that’s thank you to my wife and all the other women who have supported me, trusted me, and helped me to pursue my dreams. Words simply cannot express my respect and adoration for you all.