When his client was kidnapped by her husband, beaten with a shovel,
sexually assaulted and left for dead in the woods, Jacksonville family
law attorney Daniel F. Wilensky headed to the hospital to be by her
side. He also helped a man reunite with his two boys after a 14-year
And after a family custody mediation failed once with another
mediator, Wilensky mediated the parties to an amicable agreement
within six hours, allowing a child to remain with the only father he’s
The work Wilensky, 46, has done free of charge for the poor will be
recognized today when the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court
awards him the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award the State's highest
public honor in the legal profession.
The award recognizes Wilensky's devotion to providing legal
services to Florida's needy. He is the first Jacksonville winner in 14
But to Wilensky, being honored for something he's been doing for
years feels kind of strange.
"I've been doing it for 21 years," he said. "It's a way of life. I
don't consider it pro bono work. It's just the way I am, so I feel
pretty awkward for getting a prize for it."
The son of a lawyer, Wilensky says he learned from his parents to
help the poor. His father often took pro bono cases, and his mother
helped the elderly and poor, Wilensky said.
While Wilensky may consider what he does second nature, Chief
Justice Major Harding doesn't.
"If every lawyer exerted the pro bono ethic that he did, we would
live in a far different world," Harding said. "One of the problems
that we all have as a society is gaining access to the court system.
Through his efforts, he has made that access possible for people who
otherwise would be disenfranchised."
A graduate of The Boles School, the University of South Florida in
Tampa and Nova University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Wilensky
clerked at the Florida Supreme Court before going into private
practice in the early '80s.
Primarily focusing his practice on family law, Wilensky has
represented many clients pro bono, completed over 200 family
mediations per year for free and is a certified guardian ad litem, a
volunteer trained to represent children's interests in court.
He is one of three finalists for a vacant Circuit Court judgeship.
Miami lawyer Edward Blumberg, head of the advisory committee that
reviewed the nominations for the award, said he was most impressed by
Wilensky's efforts to help families and children, especially as a
"Many, many times he would serve in extraordinarily difficult cases
for free where the welfare and the well-being of children was the
issue," Blumberg said. "In those instances, he was able, through just
a lot of perseverance and hard work and caring, to resolve the matters
in the best interest of the ... children."
Calling the practice of law a privilege, Wilensky said it's a
wonderful opportunity to be in a profession that allows him to touch
the lives of people.
"How many professions," he asked, "can say that they're able to do
what they do and help really change generations of people?"