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Sylvia H. Walbolt graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1963 as the only woman in her class. She was soon hired at Tampa, Fla.’s Carlton Fields, and her career path seemed set. She was expected to work in the firm’s probate and estates practice. “Then that was considered something a woman could do,” she recalls. At the time, “there were no women trial lawyers. Not in 1963. Not in the South.” Within months, under the firm’s rotation program, Walbolt went to litigation — and never left. She became one of the nation’s most prominent appellate lawyers. She has appeared as counsel in more than 150 cases leading to published decisions and on behalf of amici curiae in many more. This year has been one of her best ever. In February, Walbolt won reversal of a $22.8 million jury verdict against Columbia/JFK Medical Center Inc. and the University of Miami that had been awarded in 1999 to radiation oncologists in a breach-of-contract, tortious interference lawsuit. In September, Walbolt was part of the team winning reversal of a $79.62 million verdict against Humana Insurance Co. of Florida Inc. in an insurance bad-faith action. The verdict included the largest individual punitive damages award in Florida history, for $78.5 million. In other cases this year, she won reversal of a $3.7 million verdict against an insurance company and, in the Florida Supreme Court, won reinstatement of a verdict for a whistleblower. While other women have horror stories of working with male lawyers in law firms in the 1960s and ’70s, Walbolt has nothing but praise for her mentors of the time. The partners not only brought her in on major litigation but altered firm practices to adapt to her growing family. After her first child was born, the firm allowed her to work part time. This only delayed her status on the partnership track, and she made partner within 10 years. When her first child was born, she recalls, “I was working on a massive antitrust case against Florida Power.” Her daughter was born two months prematurely. The briefs on Florida Power’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court were due the next day. Walbolt’s role in the appeal was so critical that Carlton Fields partner Reece Smith brought the galley proofs to the hospital. “I sat there in the hospital bed proofing the galleys,” she says. Florida Power won, and then-Chief Justice Warren Burger signed a copy of the decision for her. Before her second child was born, Walbolt was ordered to bed five months into the pregnancy, she notes. “We were in the middle of a case for Florida Power. The firm moved the case to my bedroom.” In 1981, Alan Sundberg, who had been chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, joined the firm, and it began getting a wider range of appellate work. Walbolt began gravitating toward appellate work exclusively. Walbolt is also heavily involved in pro bono work. She recently represented Florida plaintiffs who were protesting portions of the Swiss banks’ Holocaust settlement; the case has been resolved. She was also counsel for Florida death row inmate Ronnie Lee Jones; his conviction was reversed and the death sentence vacated.

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