Martha Barnett to Deliver Spring Commencement Address May 11

Published: April 16th, 2007

Category: Feature, News

Martha Barnett (JD 73), former president of the American Bar Association and a partner in the law firm of Holland & Knight, will address the Spring 2007 graduates at the Levin College of Law’s commencement at 2 p.m. Friday, May 11, in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on the University of Florida campus.

Barnett also will be recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of UF at the ceremony.

After graduating from law school, Barnett became Holland & Knight’s first female attorney when she was hired and subsequently mentored by Chesterfield Smith (JD 48), sometimes known as “America’s Lawyer,” the firm’s founding father and the first of four UF Law graduates to serve as president of the ABA. Barnett now serves as chair of the firm’s Directors Committee (the firm’s highest policy-making body). Her primary areas of practice are administrative, governmental law, and public policy.

Considered a groundbreaker for her work championing minorities in the legal profession, Barnett was the second woman president in the ABA’s history.

Born in Lacoochee, a small town in Pasco County, the daughter of a physician, William “Doc Willie” Walters, Barnett earned a reputationas a tough litigator and champion of the underdog. Along with Holland & Knight colleague Stephen Hanlon, Barnett won reparations for descendants of survivors from Rosewood, the predominantly black Levy County town ransacked by a white mob enraged over a black man’s alleged rape of a white woman in 1923.

“The Rosewood case is what Martha is about,” Sandy D’Alemberte (JD 62), president of Florida State University and a past president of the ABA, told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2000. “Martha has made a great reputation as a lawyer and has represented many important clients, but I do not think that she has ever performed legal services which gave her as much satisfaction as the Rosewood case. She was tenacious, sensitive and courageous.”

In addition to serving as president, Barnett chaired the ABA’s main policymaking body, the House of Delegates, as well as serving alongside first lady Hillary Clinton on an ABA task force that studied women in the legal profession. She was also chair of one of its most significant sections, Individual Rights and Responsibilities, and served on the committee that supervises legal education and the committee that sponsors technical assistance for legal reform in emerging Central and East European democracies.

In February, Barnett was one of 11 members appointed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to serve on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. In 2006, she was named by the National Law Journal as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” a prestigious list representing those attorneys who have made a national impact in their fields both currently and over the past five years. In 2004, Barnett was named one of the 174 “Most Influential Floridians” by Florida Trend.

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