The Clearwater Bar Association honors Judge George Greer with its highest award for his handling of the case despite criticism and threats.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 15, 2004
CLEARWATER - The outgoing president of the Clearwater Bar Association had a hard time fighting back tears as he introduced the man who would deliver the opening prayer at the bar's 43rd Annual Law Day Luncheon.
"Rarely is a person's mettle and faith tested in such a strenuous and public way as this gentleman's has been over the last few years," Robert Dickinson III said. "Rarely do mortals pass the test with such flying colors."
Dickinson referred to the way Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer handled himself while overseeing the Terri Schiavo case. Among his judgments was a 2000 ruling that Schiavo's tube legally could be removed.
For his decisions, Greer has received criticism, insults and death threats.
But Friday, his record garnered Greer the Clearwater bar's highest honor for a judge.
"Yet, in the teeth of all that, he has steadfastly demonstrated exactly what the John U. Bird award was created to honor: high ideals, personal character, judicial competence and service," lawyer Wally Pope said before bestowing the honor.
Greer became the first judge to win the award twice since its establishment in 1986. Also, he received a similar award from the St. Petersburg bar two weeks ago.
After a brief, perplexed stare at his plaque, Greer said: "It was incredible three years ago when I was honored with this award, and it was even more incredible today."
Because of the exceptional standards it represents, it is not awarded every year, Pope said. It was established in memory of Bird, who served as Pinellas County prosecutor, county judge and circuit judge from 1927 until his retirement in 1963.
Greer, 62, who has served almost 12 years on the bench, was born in New York City and grew up in Dunedin. He graduated from Clearwater High School and received his law degree from the University of Florida. Since taking office, he has served in the juvenile, probate and guardianship, criminal law and family law divisions.
"It feels really good to have people that you know rally around and be this nice," Greer said.
Shelly M. Johnson, of Figurski & Harrill, was inducted as Clearwater Bar Association president and three other individuals were honored for their contributions to law and the community.
Robert D. McIntyre, president, chief executive and chairman of the board of Ditek, Inc., was presented the Liberty Bell Award which recognizes a nonlawyer for outstanding contributions to the legal profession and society. Education has been a key focus for McIntyre, who is Pinellas Education Foundation vice chairman and corporate sponsor of the foundation's Yes I Can and Pride Awards.
Clearwater police Capt. Tony Holloway received the Allen G. Moore Gold Badge Award, which recognizes north county law enforcement officers for demonstrating the ideals and objectives of the legal system. Holloway is commander of the patrol division and has progressed through the department's ranks during his 18-year career with the department. Holloway also served as a patrol officer with the late Allen Moore.
William J. Falkner, senior assistant Pinellas County Attorney, was awarded the Ralph Richards Award for professional excellence. Falkner, who serves as a colonel in the Army Reserves, was unable to accept his award in person. A few months ago, he returned from Iraq, where he worked with the U.S. civil affairs operation. He has worked in the County Attorney's Office since 1985 in several arenas. He is still on military leave, keeping track of civil affairs military operations.
Chris Altenbernd, chief judge of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, addressed the group on Brown v. Board of Education and it's 50th anniversary, the luncheon's theme.
He spoke about certain mistakes of our founding fathers, who gave complete rights chiefly to white men. And he explained the history behind the Brown case, which helped end legalized segregation.
"Our kids and our grandkids are having an opportunity to grow up together in an environment where multicultural is viewed as natural and good," Altenbernd said.
Pinellas Park High School students Maria Forlivio and Kaitlin Towell-Volpe earned first place in the annual Great Debate contest for high school debate teams. They garnered $150, plaques and the hefty Harry Fogel traveling trophy.
The luncheon is part of Law Week, which is celebrated annually and includes a variety of public service activities sponsored by the members of the Clearwater Bar Association.