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The Foundation: Past, Present and Future



by Shekka Drayton, Dutton Law Group

The Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Foundation, established in 1985, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. As the philanthropic arm of the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association, the Foundation’s mission is to foster greater accessibility to the judicial system, improvements to the overall quality of the administration of justice, law-related education, increased public awareness of the judicial system, and improved management and operation of the court system.

What began as a small organization with a modest endowment has grown into a community resource with a six-figure endowment. The Foundation’s longevity and success is a testament of the dedicated efforts of its past leadership. Appreciating the tenacity and effort this trajectory required, the current Board of Directors seek to increase awareness and support of The Foundation.

The Foundation’s early funding was derived directly from the ESRBA. Early donations were largely derived from the ESRBA’s success in the implementation and facilitation of continuing legal education courses, a function ESRBA maintains at present. In 1988, The Supreme Court of Florida adopted the measure, requiring all members of The Florida Bar to continue their legal education. The early CLE system was not the robust bank of courses that attorneys are currently accustomed to. The local bar met a critical need by providing these required courses. The endeavor proved to be lucrative. From the success of the CLE program, the Association made a sizeable gift to the Foundation. The initial endowment was around $15,000. With this support, the Foundation went on to carry out its critical function, providing grants to community initiatives that align with its mission. Past President Matt Dannheisser, Law Offices of Matt E. Dannheisser, recalls the early focus of The Foundation as two fold: 1. Improving the reputation of the Bar Association and local attorneys and 2. Community outreach and development.

The Foundation’s history is intimately tied to the local judiciary. There was a time in its history where the Foundation’s endowment was very near utter depletion. A tragedy, the shooting and murder of Judge W.L. Bailey during an alimony hearing in Port St. Joe, sent shock waves through the legal community. Courthouse security became an urgent issue. Past President Stephen Echsner of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC, vividly recalls the dilemma of courthouse security. Escambia and Santa Rosa counties owned the courthouses, respectively, yet the buildings housed State of Florida employees. This conundrum created a debate as to which entity was responsible for funding security measures. The safety of the local judiciary, court staff, and community sat at the center of a bureaucratic paradox. Realizing the urgency of this need, the Foundation contributed a substantial amount of its endowment to purchase security-screening machines for the Escambia and Santa Rosa courthouses. Although the grant aligned with its mission and met a critical need, the Foundation’s endowment suffered from the significant expenditure. Since then, the Foundation’s Board of Directors has adopted amendments to safeguard the balance of the endowment.

The revitalization of the Foundation is often credited to its longest serving President, Attorney Stephen Echsner. Past President Echsner tirelessly guided the Foundation through its lean years. Although he

was at the forefront, he attributes the Foundation’s success to support from the Foundation’s Board of Directors, The Association, especially the ESRBA Presidents he served alongside, and the Executive Directors of ESRBA. When asked what motivated him to serve as president for nearly two decades, he responded, “I did not want to give up. It was a worth while cause for the benefit it provided the public.”

Another source that aided in the rebuilding on the Foundation’s endowment is The Wall of Honor. In 2007, The Wall of Honor, a memorial wall honoring and commemorating deceased attorneys and judges of the First Judicial Court, was established. For a set contribution to the Foundation, the honorees’ name is etched on the Memorial Wall. The Wall of Honor is prominently displayed on the first floor of the M.C. Blanchard Center. This funding, alongside annual individual donations, ensures The Foundation has the ability to carry out its mission.

The Foundation, through periods of growth and reduction, has been steadfast in its community support. Historic initiatives include supporting John Appleyard publications for Middle Schools, Law Week, High School Mock Trial competitions, and collegiate scholarships. Education is a central pillar of the Foundation’s mission. The Foundation has also elevated the aesthetic of local courts through the “Art in the Court” project. The Foundation continues to fulfill its mission. Recent grant recipients include Santa Rosa Teen Court, Jazz for Justice, Pensacola Kappa Charity Foundation, and Pine Forest High School.

At present the Foundation is led by President Shekka Drayton, Vice President Steve Traylor, and Treasurer/Secretary John “Buz” Windham. The Foundation’s Board of Directors include Past President Stephen Echsner, Past President Adrianna Spain, ESRBA President Aaron McCurdy, Heather Lindsay, Warren Todd, Jeremy Branning, Jodi Dubose, Patrick Martin, Cameron Gore, Sheldon Bernau, and Mikaela Ziko. The Foundation in its current composition hosts several Past Presidents of ESRBA as well as Past Presidents of the Foundation. This institutional knowledge ensures the Foundation’s leadership has both an understanding of the past and a clear direction for the future. The Board of Directors thoroughly vets every grant application to ensure it aligns with the mission of the Foundation. With such experienced and passionate members, the community can rest assured that The Foundation will continue to be a beacon of support.

Looking to the future, Past President Echsner’s desire for the Foundation is simple. Echsner wishes “for the continual and perpetual existence” of the Foundation. The Foundation’s success relies on an ongoing synergy- financial support from donors and grant applications from community organizations. It is the intention of the current Board of Directors to increase the awareness of the Foundation in order to grow its endowment and increase its community impact. For more information about The ESRBA Foundation and how to support its mission, visit our webpage at esrba.com.