Approaching pro bono work as a “calling rather than an obligation,” Jacquie Valdespino is a tireless advocate for ensuring the voices of children are heard in the courtroom. She is fully committed to the phrase “access to justice for all” and her hope is that no one ever enter the courthouse without a competent lawyer leading the way. In her first year as a sole practitioner, Valdespino received the Put Something Back Pro Bono Service Award in recognition of her outstanding commitment and service to the disadvantaged. She has received that recognition every year since. In 1997 she was the Put Something Back Guardian ad Litem of the year. Since 1992, she has accepted appointments through the Put Something Back program, as well as at the request of the judges of the Family Division in dozens of pro bono guardian ad litem cases, one spanning seven years. In 2000, she received the Ray H. Pearson Guardian ad Litem Award and again, in 2019, she received the very same honor by the Family Court Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. In addition to accepting cases, Valdespino serves as a lecturer, mentor and role model to many young lawyers in family law cases.
In 2003, Valdespino received the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award during a special ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court. The annual award commemorates Miami civil rights lawyer Tobias Simon, who died in February 1982, and is intended to encourage and recognize extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers, like Valdespino, who make legal aid available to the indigent and to highlight the extraordinary pro bono work provided by lawyers across Florida.
Fighting back tears during the ceremony some 15 years ago, Valdespino said she was honored to accept the award and share it with all of the lawyers who give back their time and talent to provide poor people with meaningful access to the court system, especially in family law cases where it is quite difficult given the stakes.” Valdespino, a Bar member since 1988, began her commitment to children even before she became a lawyer. In college, she volunteered as a guardian ad litem representing children in dependency and delinquency proceedings, and she continued to volunteer her time after entering law school.
“Our efforts lead us to the homeless, the accused, the oppressed, the cheated, the elderly, the poor, the ignored, the abused, those deprived of their civil rights, those in need of advocacy, and to the most needy, our children,” Valdespino said. “We answer the call, but every day there are more in need. While the call is answered, the need is barely lessened. So very much still needs to be done.”
Valdespino said she could not do all she does without the assistance of the dedicated lawyers and staff of Miami’s Put Something Back Pro Bono Project, the official pro bono program of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. “Not only does the impressive staff work hard to assure that the legal needs of the disadvantaged are met, they provide free CLE seminars to educate lawyers so that they can competently serve,” Valdespino said. “I accept this award on behalf of my friends and colleagues at the Put Something Back Project because I know that without their commitment to providing justice for all, I would not be standing here.”
Valdespino said her inspiration for service comes from her mother, Norma Valdespino, who immigrated to America from Cuba in 1959. “She left behind all that she had and all that she knew for the promise of this great country,” Valdespino said. “She arrived with nothing but has managed to give me everything. Her sacrifices and hard work are the ladder for my success.”
Valdespino said her mother’s example instilled in her the knowledge that there was always someone less fortunate who could benefit from her help. “If my mother is my inspiration, my friends are my constant reminder that if service is not rendered with kindness and civility then it fails the mark,” Valdespino said.