October 13, 2023
Bill Shmidheiser Receives 2023 Powell Pro Bono Award
William E. “Bill” Shmidheiser III of Harrisonburg, who recently retired from Flora Pettit, has been named the 2023 Lewis F. Powell Jr. Pro Bono Award recipient.
The Powell award was established by the Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Committee to honor attorneys who have made outstanding pro bono contributions. This year’s award will be presented October 18 during the Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Conference and Celebration in Richmond.
A graduate of Duke University and the University of Iowa College of Law, Shmidheiser practiced as an active litigator in federal and state courts across Virginia beginning in 1980. He was one of the founding members of the Harrisonburg and Charlottesville law firm now known as Flora Pettit, where he specialized in complex financial disputes, bankruptcies, and the representation of creditors, among other litigation and trial work.
In their nomination, John E. Whitfield and Molly Bell of Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) in Harrisonburg said of Shmidheiser, “Over the last forty years he has taken pro bono referrals faithfully, and he has consistently provided ‘topdrawer’ legal assistance to the lucky clients who were referred to him.” He began handling pro bono cases in 1982, and since 1990, when BRLS started keeping computerized records, Shmidheiser has handled 27 often lengthy, frequently difficult cases.
Of Shmidheiser’s skills and dedication, Whitfield and Bell said, “We quickly learned that if we had a client with a complicated morass of a legal problem where the stakes were high and the opposing party seemingly held all the cards, we needed to get that case to Bill Shmidheiser.
“Through his commitment and his loyalty to his clients, his outstanding litigation skills, and his tireless, dogged determination to find a solution for his clients’ situation regardless of the legal obstacles blocking their way, Bill would almost invariably work miracles for his clients.
Among numerous examples, BRLS noted a pro bono case in which Shmidheiser represented a student and sued the U.S. Department of Education to help her settle a very old, long closed student loan case so she could earn her teaching certificate. After winning in bankruptcy court, Shmidheiser fought the case in the U.S. District Court, where he won the appeal and secured $26,000 in damages for his client.
Long recognized as a preeminent lawyer by his peers across the Commonwealth, Shmidheiser has been active in state and local bar organizations, serving on the Executive Board of the Virginia Bar Association and twice serving as president of the Harrisonburg Rockingham Bar Association.
A father of five grown children with ten grandchildren, Shmidheiser plays recreational "Old Fellow's Soccer" and is an occasional rock climber.
BRLS noted that among Shmidheiser’s many gifts are his storytelling skills, which serve him well in court, and his pure desire to help others and to see their lives improved. After succeeding in a complex child custody case that lasted over two years and 51 hours of pro bono work and resulted in a mother overcoming her dependence on addictive substances, Shmidheiser summarized the case for BRLS and concluded simply, “I therefore thank you for the opportunity to have handled this case."