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Presented by the Chief Justice
The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award commemorates Miami civil rights lawyer Tobias Simon, who died in February of 1982. It is intended "to encourage and recognize extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers in making legal services available to persons who otherwise could not afford them, and to focus public awareness on the substantial voluntary services rendered by Florida lawyers in this area."

The award was created in 1982 and is believed to be the first of its kind in the country conferring recognition by a 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


Jacksonville, Florida

The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service

Award Recipient

Daniel F. Wilensky was born March 21,1952 in Jacksonville, Florida. His father, Joseph S. Wilensky, was a Florida attorney and J.A.G. officer in the United States Marine Corps. His mother, Fran, was one of the first women to join the United States Navy in World War II. She was a Chief Petty Officer. Both his parents served and met in the Pacific Fleet.

The Wilensky family has lived in the Jacksonville area for approximately 100 years, having immigrated from Eastern Europe. Wilensky grew up in Jacksonville and graduated from The Bolles School in 1969. He later graduated from the University of South Florida where he earned a B.A. and then from Nova University Law Center where he earned his Juris Doctor degree.

Dan Wilensky married Cathy Boatwright in 1981 and they have four children, Life - 26, Mari - 14, Tess - 9, and Jess - 3.

As a senior law student, Wilensky was in the intern program at the Dade County Public Defender's Office. He was assigned to the Felony Division where, under the supervision of an attorney, he represented defendants from investigation through jury trial. His clients were mostly migrant farm workers.

During law school he was elected to the Student Bar Association as a Representative and was elected as one of three Judges on the school's first Student Judicial Tribunal.

Upon graduation from law school, Wilensky was hired by Florida Supreme Court Justice James C. Adkins as his Law Clerk/Research Aide. Working with Justice Adkins exposed him to every type of case imaginable in Florida. Justice Adkins was a major influence on him, both personally and professionally.

Wilensky has been in private practice as a sole practitioner since the early 1980's. During that time he has handled all sorts of civil, criminal and administrative cases including appeals. He has earned the highest rating, AV©, from Martindale-Hubbell. The Fourth Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission has nominated Wilensky for a judgeship three times.

Since about 1990, Wilensky's practice has evolved into one of primarily family law and family mediation. He is a Barrister in the Florida Family Law Inns of Court. He is a Certified County Court Mediator and a Certified Family Mediator He has completed as many as 237 family mediations per year, usually involving complicated children's issues.

Some of Wilensky's pro bono work has been recognized by his being the recipient of the 1997 Fourth Judicial Circuit Family Court Pro Bono Attorney Award. He has co-authored Family Law teaching materials for attorneys to assist them in conducting seminars for pro se litigants. He has conducted several large seminars for pro se litigants. Wilensky has mediated numerous cases, pro bono, for the Duval County Family Mediation Unit and the County Court Mediation Program, and was one of three seminar leaders for the Family Law bar and judges when the new family law rules were presented.

Wilensky is a trained and certified Guardian Ad Litem. As such he has been involved in many cases where he only represented the child or children as their guardian. These cases involved custody, all sorts of family issues, sexual abuse of the child, other physical abuse and neglect. He has, with Judge Jack Schemer and attorney Lisa March, conducted seminars in Orlando and Jacksonville for hundreds of guardians ad litem to teach them how to testify and be more effective in cases where they were the children's advocates. Wilensky also provides legal representation for the guardians who are involved in legal proceedings relating to the children. This has meant being present for multiple days of trial.

Recently, the Guardian Ad Litem Program asked Wilensky to mediate a case pro bono. Mediation had already been attempted with another mediator but failed. The issue was clear but complex from a human standpoint. There were two children, ages 10 and 14. The children were very bonded with each other and with the husband. The 14 year old was born prior to the marriage and was not the biological or adopted child of the husband. The husband and wife raised both children since birth. Under current Florida law, the husband had no legal right to custody or visitation with the oldest child. It was a crossroad in the children's lives.

The case settled after six hours of mediation. The settlement provided that the husband have primary residential custody of both boys. It was worded in a creative way to satisfy the Court and protect any potential rights of the birth father of the oldest son. That mediation had a profound impact on those children. Wilensky knew he had just been a part of shaping the rest of those children's lives. He had an impact on how those boys would turn out, not only now but later as citizens, spouses and parents themselves.

A trial would have likely had a different result. Clearly this kind of family law case impacts and affects generations of people and our whole community. Wilensky helped the parties put their egos aside and determine what is in the best interest of the children. He set a tone for how the parties should work with each other at mediation and in years to come, therefore helping the family avoid future strife and litigation. This was a very emotional and rewarding experience for all involved.

Wilensky represented, pro bono, a woman whose husband kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her, beat her with a shovel and left her for dead in the woods. This was a horrible human drama involving divorce with three young children. After the tragedy, the family had no source of income. The wife survived the violence and the husband is serving a 26 year prison term. Wilensky was with his client in the trauma unit and represented her through the final hearing.

In another pro bono case, Wilensky represented a man who was able to reunite with his two minor sons after not seeing them for 14 years. The case is a reminder that as an attorney and advocate you are often involved in cases that affect generations of people in such a positive and profound way. The father will now enjoy a relationship with his boys and with their families and their children in the future. All of their lives will be different because of that case. Wilensky's client wrote to him afterward saying " don't practice law, you practice life!" He also sent a handmade wooden gavel with a note stating,

"From a block of wood, an old lathe, and much gratitude from me, please accept the enclosed gavel as a reminder to you that you and your work do make a difference in people's lives. The gavel isn't fancy but it is from the heart and it's meant to be a symbol of justice for all lives you touch with your magic, kindness, and true understanding of your fellow man."

Wilensky provided over 100 hours of pro bono services in representing a young mother in a four-way nasty custody case involving alleged sexual abuse of a child. This case lasted over 1-1/2 years and involved numerous hearings and multiple all day trials.

Wilensky has often provided free mediation services when he discovered the desperate financial condition of a family, especially when there were children involved. He has become known for keeping litigants (and attorneys) "civilized" while moving them towards a sensible settlement of their cases. His mediations are famous for the presence of a crystal ball and casino dice for use when someone wants to guess at the outcome in Court.

Wilensky often conducts pro bono mediations. Most of them end with creative results, keep families out, of court, save lots of legal fees, save court and judges time, maintain dignity for all parties, and help steer all concerned in the right direction to avoid future conflict and litigation. The parties leave with a positive impression of how our legal system can work and end up with civilized results.

This type of pro bono work uniquely affects not just one person in one case but affects present and future families and our whole community. The fruits of Wilensky's work may truly be reaped for generations.

Wilensky has provided countless hours of free consultations to pro bono clients needing guidance in a myriad of areas. He has been equally dedicated to working for the public good in areas other than law. He has been especially involved in improving the lives of senior citizens.

For 15 years he was the President of the Board of the Directors of Mt. Carmel, a senior citizens' high rise apartment community. For years this involved sometimes daily management. His study of gerontology along with the hands on management of this facility gave him insight into the physical, emotional, medical and environmental needs of our senior citizens.

Wilensky also was a founding Director at Grove House and is now on their Honorary Board of Directors. This is a group home for developmentally disabled adults, a segment of our community with real special needs and sensitivities.

He has worked for many years as an adult scout leader for Boy Scout Troop 14. Wilensky, his father, his son and his brother were in Troop 14 which was chartered in 1919. He has served as Assistant Scoutmaster and Troop Committee Chair, and led nine scouts on a 10-day backpacking trek in the mountains of Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

Wilensky is also on the Board of Directors of the Jacksonville Jewish Center and previously served as a Board member of the Jacksonville Jewish Federation, River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged, and Jewish Community and Family Services. He has also been the site chair and judge at the annual "Jail and Bail" Program for the American Cancer Society.

Wilensky's career has touched all areas of law and has provided him the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on people's lives.

After the Supreme Court clerkship, Wilensky worked for the Jacksonville law firm of Lewis, Paul, Isaac & Castillo, P.A. He primarily worked with David R. Lewis on personal injury and product liability litigation. He was co-counsel on one of the early lawsuits against Ford Motor Company involving injuries from a classic Ford Pinto explosion. He was also involved in a "skunk bite" case, one of the first successful. punitive damage cases against an insurance carrier.

Wilensky appeared on national television on the program American Journal. The program was about injuries and death from "accidental" shootings with the Glock 9mm handgun. He represented the estate of a 13 year old boy killed accidentally by a police officer. The case helped lead to the redesign of that weapon to make external safety features available. The old design was arguably responsible for needless injuries and death.

Wilensky handled the test case where the state prosecuted his client for alleged violation of the Florida Hypnosis Law. He won the case and has been explaining this esoteric area of law to county officials and attorneys around the state ever since.

Wilensky's family has been understanding and supportive of his pro bono and community involvement. Cathy and the kids spend months organizing and gathering literally hundreds of Christmas gifts, clothing, money, and food to personally deliver to homeless and needy families. Mari, a gifted singer and entertainer, has entertained and worked for homeless people for years. She traveled to New York City to film a national public service commercial to benefit homeless people. The personal satisfaction resulting from helping those in need seems to be contagious in the Wilensky family.

Wilensky believes that by combining humanity with expertise and dedication, you can really make a difference in the world. His guiding principles are the prophetic words of Micah:

"It hath been told thee o'man what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee,
only to do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

Biography reprinted as it appeared in the Supreme Court Ceremony Program



copyright©2000 STR Publishing, Inc.


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