Howard M. Talenfeld is the founding partner of Talenfeld Law, a Florida law firm focused exclusively on protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals in civil rights cases, personal injury cases and systemic reform litigation.
The sibling of a special-needs child, Mr. Talenfeld discovered early on the concerns such individuals — and their families — confront in trying to assure appropriate care is provided by healthcare and government / social services organizations.
Mr. Talenfeld has earned a reputation as a thoughtful and skilled practitioner in the areas of children’s, elderly and disabled rights — accolades he believes to be among his greatest personal accomplishments. In 1996, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Youth Law Center, a national children’s advocacy group. He helped the organization develop into a viable entity that assist at-risk youth and teens. Continuing that path, he began an effort to coordinate a statewide organization of child advocates who would help Florida’s at-risk children. In 2002, he became the founding President of Florida’s Children First! (FCF). Comprised of advocates from throughout the state of Florida, FCF works through multi-forum advocacy before the executive branch, the Florida Legislature and the Florida Courts to protect children who are at risk in foster care and in the delinquency system in Florida. Mr. Talenfeld was instrumental in the passage of landmark legislation in Florida, including the Foster Children Bill of Rights, Florida’s pilot project on representation of foster children in Dependency Court, and Florida’s breakthrough interagency education bill for foster children.
Mr. Talenfeld has litigated cases that have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements and jury verdicts that changed how governmental and private institutions care for children and the elderly. Mr. Talenfeld is also experienced in litigating complex commercial and class action cases in state and federal courts.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Mr. Talenfeld represented the state of Florida in its major class-action law suits 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. He has 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.
Mr. Talenfeld’s litigation successes have utilized creative legal approaches to achieve 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), Mr. Talenfeld negotiated a landmark $5 million settlement and focused the nation’s attention on the case in an episode of ABC’s 20/20.
Beyond his courtroom successes, Mr. Talenfeld 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.
Mr. Talenfeld is a member of the American Bar Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the National Association of Council for Children and a representative for the State of Florida to the National Association of Mental Health Attorneys. He previously chaired the Litigation/Class Action Committee (1993) and is a member of the American Public Welfare Association. Mr. Talenfeld has received numerous awards, including the Florida Bar President’s 2006 Pro Bono Service Award for the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida. He currently is AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell.
Mr. Talenfeld 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.
· University of Miami, J.D. 1979, cum laude
· University of Miami, B.S. 1974
Professional Associations and Memberships
· Florida Bar Association, admitted 1980
· American Bar Association
· Florida State and Appellate courts
· United States Supreme Court
· United States District Court of Appeals/ 1st, 5th and 11th Circuits
· United States District Court for the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida
· Association of Trial Lawyers of America
· National Association of Council for Children
· Representative for the State of Florida to the National Association of State Mental Health Lawyers and the American Public Welfare Association
Civic and Community Involvement
· Florida’s Children First! President (2002 until present)
· Broward Days, Chair Children Issues Team (2000 to present)
· Broward Days Steering Committee Chair (2000-2006)
· Citizens for Broward’s Children Steering Committee member (2000)
· Florida’s Voice of the Mental Retarded, Director (2002-present)
· City of Parkland Planning Zoning Board, Member (1990-96) and Chairman (1996 to 2007)
· Former Director with the Youth Law Center, San Francisco, CA
· Former President and Director of the Cypress Head Club, Inc.
· Former Temple Kol Tikvah Board of Trustees member and Campaign Committee Chair
· Former Board member of Hurricane Relief for Miami Foster Kids, Inc.
· Former Big Brother
· Former sports team coach, including soccer, baseball and softball
· AV Preeminent® Top Rated Lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell™ for 30 years
· Daily Business Review, Professional Excellence Lifetime Achievement award (2016)
· Lifestyle Media Group, Leaders in Law Winner for Personal Injury (2014)
· Daily Business Review, Most Effective Lawyer recognition, Public Interest (2013)
· South Florida Business Journal “Key Partners Awards” honoree (2012)
· Daily Business Review, Most Effective Lawyer recognition, Pro Bono (2011)
· Featured in Florida Super Lawyer Magazine Article “Fostering Hope” (2010)
· Florida Bar Association “President’s Award of Merit” (2010)
· Broward Days “Community Advocate Award” (2010)
· Lawyers for Children America “Policy Advocate Award” (2010)
· South Florida Business Journal’s Let’s Do Something Giant Award Recipient, Legal Category (2008)
· Florida Trend’s Legal Elite (2004, 2006)
· President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the 17th Judicial Circuit (2006)
· March of Dimes Award (2007)
· Daily Business Review, Most Effective Lawyer recognition (2006)
· Russell Carlisle Award from Legal Aid Service of Broward County 2004 for outstanding contributions to social justice in Broward County
· Kathleen Wright Award for a professional who has improved the quality of life for children in Florida, Family Central (March 2002)
· Medallion Recipient (2002)
· “Making a Difference” Award, Justice for Children and Families (April 27, 2002)
· Blue Ribbon Hero Award for Guardian ad Litem Pro Bono Attorney (2001-2)
· Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Broward Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse (April 2000)
· Florida Super Lawyers List (2006-2016)
· Listed in The Best Lawyers in America © 2017
· The Heart Gallery of Broward County, Child Advocate of the Year (2016)
· Named a “Top Lawyer” in the South Florida Legal Guide (2007-2017)
Speaking Engagements & Presentations:
· Presentation to Palm Beach County Guardian ad Litem Office, “The Federal Rights of Dependent Youth,” Palm Beach County, May 9, 2008
· Florida’s Children First, “Improving Outcomes for Older Youth,” Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Feb. 14, 2008
· Presentation on Children’s Mental Health Issues to Judge Steven Leifman, Special Advisor to the Florida Supreme Court, May 22, 2007
· Presentation for Florida Coalition for Children on Avoiding Legal Risk Management within Case Management, November 4, 2004
· Presentations for Florida’s Children First on the Hidden Federal Powers of the Florida Juvenile Dependency Court Judge in Jacksonville, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale & Naples, 2004
· Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Resources, Hearing on Child Protection Programs in Florida, December 14, 1998
· Presentation before New York State (NYS) ARC, Inc., Presentation discussing issues relating to waiting lists for residential services for persons with mental retardation and developmental disabilities in Florida, Albany, New York, August 1, 1998
· Annual Education Meeting of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges With Florida’s Federal Trial Judges and the Judges of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, “The Hidden Powers of the Juvenile Court Judge to Protect the Rights of Children,” Jacksonville, Florida, November 30-December 3, 1997
· Florida State Guardianship Association, Inc., 9th Annual Conference, “Abuse and Neglect–What Every Guardian Should Know,” Dania, Florida, September 20-21, 1996
· National Association of State Mental Health Attorneys – 13th Annual Conference and Annual Conference of Interstate Compact Coordinators on Mental Health, “Institutional Reform Litigation and Mental Health: The Impact of Federal Supervision on Mental Health Systems through Section 1983 Litigation,” San Antonio, Texas, October 24-27, 1993
· University of South Florida, Department of Law and Mental Health, The Florida Mental Health Institute, “Violence and its Challenge to the Juvenile Justice System: Implications for Advocacy Programs and Research – Advocacy Strategies: A Systems Approach,” Tampa, Florida, June 16, 1993
· HRS District Legal Counsel Workshop, “Federal Court Update and Status of Section 1983 Liability,” Tallahassee, Florida , May 6-7, 1993
· HRS District Legal Counsel Workshop, “Federal Court Update and Status of Section 1983 Liability,” Wakulla Springs, Florida, October 29-30,1992
· National Association of State Mental Health Attorneys – 12th Annual Conference and Annual Conference of Interstate Compact Coordinators on Mental Health, “Defenses Unique to State Entities and Officials in State and Federal Courts and Class Action Suits,” Portland, Oregon, September 19-23, 1992
· Testimony before the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy, Impact of the Suter Amendment, Washington, D.C., September 17, 1992
· Florida Council for Community Mental Health – 1992 Annual Conference, “In Stride with Change – Shaping the Future: Court Mandates and ADM’s Service Delivery System,” Daytona Beach, Florida, September 16, 1992
· Fourth Annual ACLU of Florida Lawyers Conference, Presentation on Children’s Rights and Parent’s Rights, Key West, Florida, August 21-22, 1992
· University of Miami Law School – Mental Health Law, Presentation on the Defendants’ View of Mental Health Litigation, Miami, Florida, March 3, 1992
· National Association of State Mental Health Attorneys, Presentation of Section 1983, “Strategies for Defending Class Action Claims for Injunctive Relief,” Orlando, Florida, October 15, 1991
· American Association of Public Welfare, Presentation regarding Florida’s experience in defending child welfare litigation at the state and local level, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1991
· The Center for the Study of Youth Policy, Nova University, Shepard Broad Law Center, Presentation on The Broward Detention Initiative, its impact on detention practices, population and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1990 symposium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 27, 1991
· HRS District Legal Counsel Seminar, Presentation to all District Legal Counsel on utilization of Extraordinary Writs, Tallahassee, Florida, May 23, 1991
· National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Zinermon v. Burch Presentation, Kansas City, Missouri, November 1990