Megan Wall, Managing Attorney for St Johns County Legal Aid in St Augustine, has made her decision to support local attorney Tania Schmidt-Alpers to be this year’s recipient of the prestigious President’s Pro Bono Award for the 7th Judicial Circuit.
In a letter to Dorohn Frazier and the Florida Bar, Wall nominated Schmidt-Alpers based upon what she described as the “tremendous amount” of pro bono work she has contributed for so many years.
“Tania Schmidt-Alpers has represented the victims of domestic violence at our local domestic violence shelter, the Betty Griffin House,” Wall went on to say. “She represents nearly every victim of domestic violence in his or her IFP (Injunction For Protection) case so they will have a court order of protection against future violence.”
Schmidt-Alpers formerly received a grant through the “Violence against women Act” and the “Victims of crime Act” to provide this legal counseling; however, over the years, those funds have all but dried up. There is a small trickle of funding still coming down but that is used up immediately.
“Though the funding runs out Tania continues to represent each and every meritorious victim in her (or his) case—pro bono—and has done so for well over a decade,” Wall added.
Not only does Tania represent these victims immediately in their Injunction For Protection (IFP) cases, she also represents most of them in their dissolution cases as well. She essentially runs her own Legal Aid office for DV victims–hundreds of cases and hundreds of hours every year for many years! Just quietly assisting case after case, client after client, year after year.
Other contributions by Schmidt-Alpers recognized by Wall in her nomination included assistance with Pro Se Classes and Pro Bono Advice Clinics here at St Johns County Legal Aid and public education lectures at the libraries and senior centers on Domestic Violence and family law related topics.
“Tania is truly an unsung hero in this community and has provided countless hours to help those behind the scenes who need her the most,” Wall said. “It is not a stretch to say that her work has literally saved lives—she is working so closely with the domestic violence shelter and their counselors; thus ensuring victims and their children are safe from harm.”
Wall pointed out that the economic downturn has only increased the incidence of domestic violence in St Johns County. Wall estimates that those victims would be “at St. Johns County Legal Aid’s front door by the hundreds each year.” Wall admits that her office would be unable to meet the need sufficiently to ensure those persons safety.
Wall told the Florida Bar that Schmidt-Alpers is “truly deserving” of the recognition; as, without Tania, countless victims who are truly in need of an attorney would have been in court facing their abusers while representing themselves — not a fair fight, to say the least.