Officially, it’s Law Day in Highlands County, but it was also awards and recognition day for Linda Nagel, Don Applequist, Kelly Carpenter, Andrew Jackson and David Langford.
Nagel won the Judge Clifton Kelly Award. A native Floridian, she entered the banking business in Miami but chose a different path, Langford said.
After law school, she entered private practice in 1990 and eventually won the Pro Bono award from the Florida Bar Association. She has been a Teen Court magistrate.
“And she loves to ride her little motor scooter around in her matching red helmet,” Langford said, to the laughter of more than five dozen in the audience.
The Law Day Award, for contributions to the community well being, went to Don Applequist, who has been at South Florida State College so long, he started as a biology professor when it was a junior college. Applequist is currently executive director of the SFSC Foundation, and he directs the Take Stock in Children Program, which mentors at-risk students.
Although the students are by definition unlikely to achieve, they have a 95 percent success rate. Many of the students have never had a stable influence in their lives.
“Those who are involved are very proud of it,” Applequist said.
The Jani Branham Scholarship, named for an Avon Park lawyer who was murdered by her husband, went to Kelly Carpenter. Even though the girl was still in high school, on some days she was the primary caregiver for her late mother during a fatal fight with cancer.
Carpenter wants to become a registered nurse, said Andres Oliveros, president of the local bar association.
Langford also recognized “the large loss of one of our members.”
Andrew Jackson died in January. He was born in Sebring, lived in Venus until the third grade, then returned to graduate in Sebring. He played baseball most of his life and lettered at the University of Florida before he graduated from law school in 1964.
At his funeral, Langford recalled remarking to another attorney, Mike Swaine, “There sure are a lot of bar association members here.”
“That’s because Andy was a number-one good guy,” Swaine replied.
Before Langford could leave the stage, Oliveros stepped up for one more award.
Langford, he said, took the bench in 1987. “That’s 26 years of continuous service – just a few years less than I am old. He’s a confident, fair-mined jurist. Anyone knows they’re going to get a fair shake from Judge Langford.”
Langford received a standing ovation, the third but the longest one of the day.
“I’ll say thank you, because that’s the way I was raised,” the circuit court judge said. “But I’m still going to retire on 30th of June.”
The 2013 Law Day theme “not only merits but demands that we think about what equality is, being equally treated under the law. Many of you have visited other places in the world where the overall acceptance of equality for all is not taken for granted. Even if we have not reached the absolute equality we have strived for, we have at least reached a presence of that in our society.”
The keynote address was delivered by Gwynne Young, president of the Florida Bar Association and a current partner at the Tampa law firm Carlton Fields, where she practices business law.
She recognized locals in the audience: “Judge Estrada is originally from Tampa. And Judge Langford reminded me that when he started at the University of Florida that I was in a somewhat older group of law students who showed him around.”
Law Day is a special day for the law itself, she said, set aside to celebrate the rule of law, and the contribution to legal freedoms that everyone shares.
Last year, when an attempt was made to politicize the retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices, Young said she lived and breathed the Nov. 6 election. Floridians did vote to retain the judges, and they learned “why it’s important to keep politics out of the judicial system as much as we can.”
But she told an anecdote about being at a reception at a law office in Tampa were everyone hired was law school honor graduates. When she mentioned retention, a young associate replied, “Those teachers, it’s a real problem.”
“Wasn’t Justice Quince just at your law firm last week?” Young asked. “And then I went over and asked a partner what rock they’d been keeping her under.”
Law protects everyone’s equality, Young reminded the audience. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, and 150 years ago that Abraham Lincoln helped pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Even so, Americans are still fighting over the equality of same-sex marriages, and human trafficking remains a major issue in Florida.
“There are still issues involving women and children,” Young said. “We’ve made progress, but there’s still more to do.”
At the end of 1975, the Florida Bar Association was 97 percent male.
“There were less than 1,000 women practicing law,” Young said. In 1984, the Florida Bar started tracking race, age and ethnicity: 94 percent of its attorneys were white; 4 percent were Hispanic, 1 percent were black.
Today, 64 percent of Florida lawyers are male, 36 percent are female. She is only the fifth woman elected president of the bar association; the first black will be installed after her.
“We have become more diverse,” she said, but women law partners still lag far behind men in pay.