Florida State University President Emeritus Talbot "Sandy" D’Alemberte has been selected as the recipient of the 2007 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award. The award will be presented by Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis at a January 25 ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court.
The award, which commemorates Miami civil rights lawyer Tobias Simon who died in February 1982, recognizes extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers in making legal services available to persons who otherwise could not afford them.
D’Alemberte, of the law firm Hunton & Williams, LLP, is a former president of the American Bar Association and served as dean of the Florida State University College of Law from 1984-89. He has a more than 40-year history of pro bono service and was in the forefront of the early days of the modern dispute resolution movement.
In 1962, following his graduation with honors from the University of Florida College of Law, D’Alemberte was named president of the Junior Bar Association of Dade County. Concerned with a tremendous backlog of cases in the Public Defender’s Office, especially in the area of appeals, he took on cases of his own while recruiting other young lawyers to offer their services on a pro bono basis.
Later, while serving as the Florida State University law school dean, he established a pro bono publico requirement for all students, the second such program in the nation. In 1990, D’Alemberte was the lead lawyer in what has become known as the "D’Alemberte Petition," which was signed by 58 Florida Bar members. The petition urged the Florida Supreme Court to make it clear that all members of The Florida Bar have a duty to provide legal services to indigents when ordered by a court.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, which coincided with his term as American Bar Association president, D’Alemberte was the co-founder of what is now known as the Central European and Euro Asian and Eastern European Law Institute. The program is the largest pro bono program in the American Bar Association and, perhaps, the largest single pro bono project in the history of American law. More than 5000 American lawyers, judges and legal scholars have served without pay as volunteers, living and working in 218 countries and providing more than $180 million in pro bono legal services.
During his tenure as FSU president, D’Alemberte established the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and a campus office that promotes public service among all students. In 1996, he received the American Judicature Society’s Justice Award for his efforts to improve the administration of justice in the United States and, in 2003, the American Bar Association Medal, the highest honor given by the organization.
D’Alemberte has provided pro bono representation to four Florida death row inmates. In 2005, he represented William Wilton Dedge, who had been imprisoned for 22 years for a crime that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit. Although his innocence was demonstrated beyond a legal doubt, there was reluctance on the part of some lawmakers to pass a claims bill compensating Dedge for his wrongful imprisonment. D’Alemberte worked for more than a year to loosen the legislative purse strings, which resulted in a $2-million-plus award, plus educational benefits. In addition, Dedge received an unprecedented personal apology from the rostrum by the Speaker of the House.
The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award was created in 1982 and is believed to be the first of its kind in the country conferring recognition by the state’s highest court on a private lawyer for voluntary, free legal services to the poor. A permanent plaque listing the names of all award recipients hangs in the Lawyers’ Lounge of the Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee.