The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) will host its inaugural awards gala, Steppin’ Out, Friday, April 27th at the Four Seasons Hotel where they will present the first Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award to the law firm of Holland & Knight LLP.
The organization chose Holland & Knight to receive this year’s award “in recognition of their ongoing contributions to the cause of justice.” In 2003 the firm took on the bulk of the pro bono representation of IPF’s first 40 cases to prevent those clients from being time barred by the DNA testing deadline then in effect. Holland & Knight, whose Miami office is one of South Florida’s largest, was also the counsel of record in the Luis Diaz and Chad Heins cases, both of which led to exonerations.
“Holland and Knight played a critical role in getting this project’s mission off the ground,” says Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director. “In 2003 we had hundreds of requests from inmates, a two-person staff, a handful of student volunteers, and an arbitrary DNA testing deadline rapidly approaching. Holland & Knight provided considerable assistance when it was most needed. This state’s innocence movement owes them a huge debt of gratitude.”
D’Alemberte, for whom the award is named, practiced law in Miami for several years and represented Dade County in the Florida House of Representatives. He went on to serve as President of the American Bar Association (1991-1992) and President of Florida State University (1994 -2003). D’Alemberte also served as the founding chairman of IPF’s Board of Directors on which he continues to serve.
“The board wanted to honor Sandy in an enduring and meaningful way in consideration of all that he has done and continues to do in furtherance of the cause of justice in Florida, throughout the U.S., and abroad, including the establishment of the Innocence Project of Florida,” said Mark Schlakman, chair of the board of directors.
The Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award will go to Martin J. “Marty” McClain, Esq., the post-conviction attorney who represented Smith, for whom the award is given. Smith, the first Florida DNA exoneree, died of cancer while on Death Row before his exoneration. It was his struggle that in part led to the passage of Florida’s post-conviction DNA testing law and the formation of the Innocence Project of Florida.
“Marty’s work as a post-conviction litigator representing death row inmates has earned him the deserved reputation as a top defender of those in peril of execution. Among his many successes over the past two decades is the bittersweet posthumous exoneration of Frank Lee Smith. We are so pleased to honor Marty in this way,” said Michael Minerva, IFP’s CEO.
Also slated to be honored are 13 men who spent more than 230 years in Florida prisons for crimes they did not commit. It was not until DNA testing proved their innocence that they were exonerated and released. Florida DNA exonerees planning to attend the Miami event include Alan Crotzer, James Bain, Orlando Boquete, Luis Diaz, Derrick Williams, and William Michael “Bill” Dillon, who will perform some of the songs from his recently released CD Black Robes and Lawyers.
The evening will include a VIP reception with the exonerees, a silent auction, a gourmet dinner with open bar, and keynote address by Professor Lawrence C. “Larry” Marshall, Associate Dean of Stanford Law School and Co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Master of Ceremonies for the evening will be Henry M. “Hank” Coxe, Past President of The Florida Bar. Ticket and sponsorship information is available at www.floridainnocence.org.
The Innocence Project of Florida is a nonprofit legal organization that works to find and free innocent people in Florida’s prisons, helps them rebuild their lives after decades of wrongful imprisonment, and works to reform the criminal justice system so wrongful convictions do not continue to happen. The funds raised from Steppin’ Out will assist the organization’s efforts to fulfill its mission.