Florida's Children First

Howard M. Talenfeld, Esq. – President


Howard Talenfeld is one of America’s leading children’s rights, injury, and child disability attorneys representing the needs of abused and neglected children, especially in cases of foster child abuse, child sexual abuse, child rape, and other harm and abuse of children in the child welfare system. His work has resulted in multimillion dollar damage awards and has created systemic change in how government agencies and private institutions care for those vulnerable individuals.

Since the 1980s, Howard has focused his practice exclusively on protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals in civil rights cases, personal injury cases and systemic reform litigation. He has litigated cases that have resulted in multimillion dollar settlements and jury verdicts that changed how governmental and private institutions care for children and the elderly.

Among his wins, Howard prevailed against New York City and the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, which together paid more than $27 million in the case of Judith Leekin. The former foster mother ran what the courts called a “house of horrors” that imprisoned, abused and starved 10 disabled foster children.

Employing creative legal approaches, he helped establish funding for child welfare programs and employ a federal civil rights damage statute to recover a damage awards in excess of Florida’s sovereign immunity limits. In Florida, Talenfeld is responsible for many million dollar victories in federal civil rights and negligence claims against Florida Department of Children and Families’ employees and agencies. These also have resulted in landmark decisional law protecting the rights of children and disabled persons.

Howard began his career involving at-risk children, seniors and the developmentally disabled in the 1980s and 1990s, when he represented the state of Florida in its major class-action lawsuits dealing with the foster care system, children’s mental health system, juvenile justice system, state psychiatric hospitals and the provision of Medicaid services to the developmentally disabled, among others.

Nationally, he pioneered defending these cases by advocating for the improvement and reform of human service systems, while protecting states’ rights and avoiding federal over-sight. In Florida, he also represented governors, secretaries of state, state agencies, Florida’s Insurance Commissioner, the Florida Legislature and Florida’s Auditor General in civil rights cases in federal and state court.

Howard soon took his knowledge and skill in defending state agencies to help Florida’s at-risk populations, and his successes in trial courts, appellate courts and negotiations formed the foundation of creative legal approaches that have delivered extraordinary results.

In 1998, he served as lead counsel in the Broward County foster care class action, Ward v. Kearney. The resulting settlement agreement greatly improved child welfare practice and more than tripled the District 10 budget for its child welfare system from $38 million to more than $100 million.

In 1999, he achieved another major victory, this time for the Florida’s developmentally disabled population in Baumstein v. Sunrise Community, Inc., 738 So. 2d 420, (Fla. 3DCA 1999). The case established the existence of a private cause of action for damages for the violation of Florida’s Bill of Rights for the developmentally disabled.

He also was the first attorney in Florida to utilize 42 USC § 1983, the federal civil rights damage statute, to recover a damage award in excess of Florida’s sovereign immunity limit of $100,000 on behalf of a foster child. In the 2002 case, Roe v. Florida Department of Children & Family Services, 176 F. Supp. 2d 1310 (S.D. Fla. 2001), Talenfeld negotiated a landmark $5 million settlement and focused the nation’s attention on the case in an episode of ABC’s 20/20.

Throughout his career, Howard has been a forceful advocate for change. He has argued for systemic reform litigation before many state and national groups, including the U.S. Congress, the National Association of State Mental Health Lawyers, the American Public Welfare Association and many Florida legislative committees. In 1996, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Youth Law Center, a national children’s advocacy group. He has helped organizations develop into a viable entity that assist at-risk youth and teens.

In 2013, he co-chaired Citizens for Broward Children, the political action committee that successfully advocated for the permanent reauthorization in November of the Broward County Children’s Services Council. He also was on the original steering committee for the initiative, which provides $62 million a year in funding for critical children’s services in Broward County.

Howard has been equally as effective in the state capital. He helped write the law that required mandatory reporting of child-on-child sexual abuse and rape in community facilities. He also advocated in 2014 for and helped encourage passage and the governor’s signature on House Bill 561 (§ 39.01305/ Appointment of an Attorney for a Dependent Child with Certain Special Needs). The new law ensures children who are victims of sexual abuse, sexual trafficking, are on psychotropic medications, or have been committed to a residential treatment facility, have attorneys representing them in all legal or administrative proceedings. Previously, attorneys were not required, and the best interests of such children were not assured.

Howard’s advocacy dates back almost three decades. He was instrumental in passage of such landmark legislation as the Foster Children Bill of Rights, Florida’s pilot project on representation of foster children in Dependency Court, and Florida’s interagency education bill for foster children. He also is founded President of Florida’s Children First, Florida’s premier child advocacy organization.

Professionally, Howard is a member of the American Bar Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and the National Association of Council for Children. He previously chaired the Litigation/Class Action Committee and was a representative for the State of Florida to the National Association of Mental Health Attorneys (1993). He has received numerous awards, including Lifestyle Media Group’s “Leader in Law” in 2014. He has been recognized as a Top Lawyer in the South Florida Legal Guide and he was named the Daily Business Review’s Most Effective Lawyer in the Public Interest category in 2013.

Additionally, he was selected by the South Florida Business Journal as a Key Partners Awards honoree in 2012 and he received The Florida Bar President’s 2006 Pro Bono Service Award for the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida. Talenfeld is an AV Preeminent® Top Rated Lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell™ and has been named in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine since 2006.

Among other memberships, Howard chairs the Broward Days Children’s Issues Team (2000-present), was a Director of Florida’s Voice of the Mentally Retarded and sat on the Steering Committee for Citizens for Broward’s Children in 2000. He was also former Director with the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, California. Among civic organizations, he was former President and Director of the Cypress Head Club Inc.; and was on the City of Parkland Board of Adjustment and Planning and Zoning Board, which he chaired for many years. He served on the Board of Trustees and chaired the Campaign Committee of Temple Kol Tikvah, was a Board Member of Hurricane Relief for Miami Foster Kids Inc., served as a Big Brother, and has coached various sports teams, including soccer, baseball and softball.

Howard received his bachelors of business administration degree from University of Miami School of Business, and his Juris Doctorate from University of Miami School of Law, cum laude.

Letter from the president of Florida’s Children First


Florida's Children First

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