Recent Grads Win FL Bar Criminal Law Award

Two pictures of graduating law students.
Stetson Law graduates Haley Kinart (left) and Skyler Jackle (right), who both won 2023 Florida Bar Association Criminal Law Section awards for their work in the field.

In 2022, the Criminal Law Section of the Florida Bar Association began offering a prestigious annual award to a select few third-year students from accredited Florida law schools. The goal of the scholarships, according to 2021–22 Section Chair Jason B. Blank, was “to have a long-lasting impact on the criminal court system.”

This year, two of the three award recipients are from Stetson Law.

Skyler Jackle and Haley Kinart, both recent Stetson Law graduates who were 3Ls at the time they were nominated, have been named recipients of the $2,500 awards for their demonstrated dedication to the criminal justice system at either the trial or appellate level.

To Jackle, the award will help offset a major challenge that follows law school for many recent grads: having enough time to prepare for the Florida Bar Examination.

“I am so grateful to be a recipient of this award as it will allow me to focus on my bar studies,” Jackle said. “Upon passing the Florida bar, I will be starting as an Assistant State Attorney for Hillsborough County.”

Section leadership members say the opportunity will also motivate current law students focusing on criminal law to excel in their academic performance, pro bono service, clinical work, and other endeavors related to this critical area of law.

“Criminal Law Section members are united by the shared goal of providing a fair, just, and efficient criminal justice system for everyone, and the section’s purpose is to assist all criminal law practitioners in this shared goal,” said 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Samantha L. Ward, the 2022-23 Section Chair. “The awards program is an excellent way to encourage academic achievement, community service, and high standards of ethics and professionalism among law students who are pursuing careers in criminal law.”

A thorough vetting process

The two-step selection process for this award begins with the recommendation of a professor who teaches in the area. At Stetson, all members of the Criminal Law faculty work together to identify the very best candidates for this award: students who truly stand out as leaders in the criminal law arena. 

According to the Criminal Law Section of the Florida Bar, winners are chosen based on factors including but not limited to academic achievement, community service, litigation skills or advocacy accomplishments, clinical internships, high standards of ethics and professionalism, letters of recommendation from a law school professor or administrator, as well as one from a judge or practitioner, and one from someone outside the school or legal profession, and the submission of a personal essay.

Law Professor Susan Rozelle said she immediately thought of Kinart, who served as her research assistant, when asked to recommend a student.

“When she spoke in class, she illuminated not only the doctrinal law, but the human impacts of those doctrines,” Rozelle said of Kinart. “She’s wanted to be a prosecutor her entire life; it is her passion to ensure justice for victims and perpetrators alike.” 

Law Professor Ellen Podgor nominated Jackle – who had served as her teaching assistant in her criminal law course – for her award.

Active in the classroom and beyond

Kinart held numerous leadership positions on campus: She was a member of Stetson’s Dispute Resolution Board. As the Clinic Fellow for the Office of Clinical and Experiential Learning, she connected students with experiential opportunities that best aligned with their specific interests. Her primary focus was on the State Attorney and Public Defender Clinics, and she participated in many discussions with students and clinic professors about these opportunities.

Kinart graduated with a concentration in Social Justice Advocacy-Criminal Track, writing multiple papers on the subject of survivors of sexual assault and how the criminal legal system should do better to achieve justice for them. As a certified legal intern for the Office of the State Attorney 6th Judicial Circuit, she has tried criminal cases in circuit court under the supervision of an attorney, a role that has built on previous experience as a certified legal intern in the 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

“I am immensely honored to receive the award. In public service work, sometimes, you are not recognized for the time and effort you put into achieving necessary reform,” said Kinart. “And this work is not about the personal recognition, but the result from that effort.”

She added that the award helps her continue her forward momentum despite the rigors of law school.

Jackle, meanwhile, said she has “a passion for criminal law and advocacy.” A former member of Stetson Law Review, she was a Senior Stetson Ambassador, a member of Stetson’s Dispute Resolution Board, and a competitor and national semi-finalist in the ABA Arbitration Competition for 2021-2022 and Regional Semi-finalist in the ABA Arbitration Competition for 2022-2023.

She has worked as a legal intern at the Public Defender’s Office in Pinellas County, where she returned to complete all of her pro bono hours the following year and participated in the federal judicial externship in the fall of her 2L year. This past spring, she was a certified legal intern at the State Attorney’s Office for Hillsborough County.

“Her academic credentials and success speak for themselves but also reveal her commitment to hard work and her natural intelligence,” said Irene M.G. Maslanik, Deputy Chief, Juvenile, 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, who is among those who nominated Jackle. “She is passionate about criminal justice and has the skills to go far in our field.”

To the faculty members with whom they worked closely, both were an obvious choice for the award.

“I was not surprised at all to see them both win,” Rozelle said. “Haley and Skyler embody the kind of dedication to the criminal justice system this award was designed for.”

The third recipient of the award, Victoria Thacker, graduated from Florida International University College of Law.

The awardees will be honored during a June 22 reception at the Annual Florida Bar Convention in Boca Raton.