CLEARWATER — For the past 12 years, Circuit Judge Irene Sullivan has worked with thousands of children involved in family and juvenile justice cases.
Friday, the Clearwater Bar Association handed her the John U. Bird Distinguished Jurist Award for demonstrating high ideals, personal character, judicial competence and service during her career.
After receiving her award, she said she is retiring but won't forget the children who can be "funny, sad, resilient and frustrating all at the same time."
"They are very complicated, today's kids. The make me laugh and make me cry, and I'll miss them all," she said.
Sullivan was one of several award winners recognized by the Clearwater Bar Association during its 49th Law Day Luncheon and Annual Meeting at Clearwater Beach Hilton.
The Ralph Richards Award, which recognizes those who demonstrate extraordinary care and dedication for both the legal profession and community, went to attorney Jewel White Cole, an employee of the Pinellas County Attorney's Office who has held a variety of leadership positions on both the Clearwater and Florida bars.
Sgt. Steven Sears of the Clearwater Police Department received the Allen Moore Gold Badge Award for outstanding law enforcement efforts.
Allen Moore was a Clearwater police officer who died of cancer before he could receive the Bar's first Gold Badge Award in 1988, so they named the award after him.
Sears is an 18-year veteran of the department and Clearwater's front line supervisor for the federally funded Department of Justice Task Force on Human Trafficking. During his career, he has helped rescue victims of human trafficking and ensure the traffickers were prosecuted.
The practice involves selling, transporting or profiting from human beings, held against their will and forced to work as slaves, often in the sex or labor trades.
"It takes a team effort to achieve this," he told the audience of several hundred people. "Human trafficking is a crime against humanity, and it's happening in our back yard. Our objective is to rescue the victims and dismantle the whole organization."
This year, the Liberty Bell Award went to an organization: the League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County. The league was acknowledged for its co-sponsorship of judicial candidate forums with the Bar Association.
High school students — possibly future lawyers — also were recognized.
Joshua Allen, 15, and Stephanie Punko, 16, students at the Criminal Justice Academy at Pinellas Park High School, won $150 each and the Harry Fogel traveling trophy for their debating skills.
The competition was coordinated by the Clearwater Bar's Young Lawyers Division.
The team argued that foreign terror suspects held by the government should be afforded the same right to due process as those detained for nonterror crimes.
"I really believe that if we're going to spread democracy we need to give them their rights," Joshua said later.
Several others were honored for their service — or for what they served.
Josh Chilson and Zack Zuroweste won the Oyster Roast Cup for having the best "decadent desserts" at the Bar association's 64th annual Oyster Roast.