Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll’s Michael Dolce brings justice to sexual abuse survivors. To change Florida’s statute of limitations in abuse cases, he had to tell another story: his own.
It’s a sunny day in Florida, and Michael Dolce is on his way to meet with a new client. He drives with the convertible top down and the radio volume up. For Dolce, this is therapy. A way to clear his head.
He knows what his first question to the client will be, and he knows the likely response. He’ll ask what the client hopes to get out of the case. And the client will say they want to prevent what they experienced from happening to anyone else.
Dolce, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, has spent the last twenty-five-plus years representing adult and child survivors of sexual abuse. “This is hard work,” he says. “But we do it because we can achieve financial recovery so our clients can get the help they need.”
During his time at Stetson University College of Law, Dolce spent twenty hours a week in the legal aid office, where he interviewed domestic abuse survivors. He met dozens of victims, heard their stories, and developed increasing compassion for their experiences. Upon graduation, Dolce settled into private practice. While he took a variety of cases, his desire to help abuse survivors never dimmed.
A 2004 meeting with Patty Robinson changed Dolce’s life and career forever. Although Robinson’s son, Jeff, had been abused by a karate instructor, the boy didn’t immediately come forward. That’s not uncommon. Research shows the average delay in disclosure for child victims is fifteen years. Florida’s statute provided just four. By the time Jeff was ready to tell his story, it was too late. Distraught, Jeff took his own life.
“Patty asked me to make sure her son didn’t die in vain because the courthouse doors were locked,” Dolce recalls. “I told her I would fight to change the law in Florida.” He set out to deliver on his word and convinced Senator Skip Campbell to sponsor a bill that would extend the time limit for filing charges.
To prevail, Dolce decided to disclose his own story of abuse. When Dolce was seven, he fell off his bicycle and sought help from a neighbor. He found a predator instead. That neighbor took Dolce into his basement, restrained him, and sexually abused him at gunpoint with the help of a teenage son. Under threat of death, Dolce returned several times. Like many of his clients, Dolce was too traumatized to report the experience to his parents or the police.
Dolce broke his lifelong silence before the Florida legislature in 2004. The rising lawyer, who had once worked in the statehouse, revealed his story to a room full of reporters, lobbyists, staffers, and lawmakers he knew well. He gripped the podium as he spoke.
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