Winter Edition 2019, Vol. 38, Issue 2   
A message from the President   

Interrupting and Confronting Implicit Bias 

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously guide our everyday decision-making (favorable or unfavorable). Over the course of our lives, we develop associations based on other people's race, ethnicity, gender, age, and appearance, etc. Focusing on gender biases, these deep-seated biases impact decisions made at every level of our careers from hiring to promotions and beyond. Jerry Hamilton, the recipient of Miami-Dade FAWL's 2018 Honorable Theodore Klein Award, challenged our legal community to take a step back and ensure that women are included in the boardroom and offered a seat at the courtroom table. We are so glad that one of our allies did so. 

This year, we pledged to focus on implicit bias programming and to interrupt bias ourselves. When we came upon a Florida Bar News letter to the editor stating that "Women need to take responsibility for their own decisions and stop playing the blame game," we knew we had to intervene. This person did not believe that gender disparities in the law were "so insidious." And we agree that it is likely not intentional (for the most part). But he failed to recognize that implicit biases are guiding decision-making and significantly contributing to the disparity. So we responded by inviting him to our upcoming implicit bias seminar.

Much of MDFAWL's programming has focused on how women can overcome these biases on their own. But now it is time to shift the focus on how others can willfully adapt their perception of women in the law. Consider whether the female lawyers you work with are: 

* Consistently assigned organizational/administrative tasks
* Granted access to high-quality assignments
* Offered sponsor/mentoring opportunities with senior leadership
* Promoted to partner after having children
* Evaluated under the same metrics as men
* Assumed to be administrative staff or court personnel

The good news is that implicit biases are malleable but it takes time, patience, and practice to break them. We hope that this one gentlemen is not the only participant in our program. We would like, in particular, law firm management to voluntarily join us for a discussion on implicit bias with professionals who will provide tools to help us all confront and adapt those biases. After all, the first step is recognizing we have a problem. The second is doing something about it. 

The 36th Annual Judicial Reception
December 12, 2018 | JW Marriott Marquis

By Kristin Drecktrah Paz

Another spectacular MDFAWL Judicial Reception took place at the JW Marriott Marquis on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Nearly 300 attorneys and judges from the federal and state benches in Miami-Dade County were in attendance, celebrating the holiday season together.

The 2018 Honorable Theodore Klein Award recipient was Jerry Hamilton, founding partner at Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, a minority-owned law firm with offices in Florida, New York, Virginia, and throughout the Caribbean. Jerry is a huge advocate for the advancement of women within his firm and in the community and promoting work-life balance. During his acceptance speech, Jerry gave the room full of legal minds some food for thought: give women a seat at the boardroom table, the courtroom table, and at the dinner table!

MDFAWL extends a special thank-you to the Judicial Reception Title Sponsor, Wargo French, and to its Grand Benefactors: DLD Lawyers, Greenberg Traurig, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, Shubin & Bass, Shutts & Bowen, and U.S. Legal Support. It is our loyal sponsors who allow us to continue with our ongoing dedication to the professional advancement of women lawyers and the promotion of women's rights. And none of this would have been possible without our Judicial Reception Committee Co-Chairs, Carmen Contreras-Martinez, Jody Shulman, and Carter Sox.

Click here to view more photos from this event.
Style and Substance 
October 25, 2018 | Greenberg Traurig

By Rachel Curtis

On Thursday, October 25, 2018, MDFAWL co-hosted a panel discussion featuring former United States Attorney of the Southern District of Florida and current Partner at Holland & Knight, Wifredo Ferrer; President of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association and Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida, Melba Pearson; Immediate Past-President of MDFAWL and Partner at Berger Singerman, Katie S. Phang; Founding Partner of Ratzan & Faccidomo, Jude M. Faccidomo; President-Elect of the Florida Bar Board of Governors Young Lawyers Division and Associate at Critton Luttier Coleman, Santo DiGangi; and the Honorable Andrea R. Wolfson. The panel discussion was moderated by MDFAWL Young Lawyer Division Co-Chair and Associate at Berger Singerman, Marianne Curtis.

The topic of discussion was captured in the title of the event: "Style and Substance: The Art of Building and Maintaining Your Brand Without Losing Sight of Being a Lawyer." In a sold-out event with a wait-list, the guests enjoyed a delicious catered lunch in a beautiful event space in downtown Miami, thanks to the generosity of Berger Singerman and Greenberg Traurig. The guests included lawyers with a wide variety of different experience levels and practice areas. The event further attracted cross-industry interest, with professionals from the finance and medical fields also in attendance.

The panelists effortlessly fielded questions, interacted with the guests through their answers, and exhibited a genuine chemistry among each other that was undeniable. The message from the panelists was clear: (i) be true to yourself; (ii) learn your craft; and (iii) in the words of Santo DiGangi, "Don't be a jerk." The overwhelming sentiment from the guests after the event was captured by guests as "inspiring."

It was an honor for MDFAWL to co-host this event along with the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association and the Dade County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. MDFAWL further thanks the panelists for engaging with the guests in what can be a challenging topic for lawyers of any experience, and professionals within any industry, to fully grasp and truly understand. Finally, and with great appreciation, MDFAWL thanks Berger Singerman and Greenberg Traurig for sponsoring the event.

Table for Eight with Jay Shehadeh

November 29, 2018 | Morton's The Steakhouse

By Julissa Rodriguez

MDFAWL's Table for Eight and Corporate Counsel Liaison Committees had the pleasure of hosting a dinner at Morton's for the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of U.S. Century Bank, Jay Shehadeh.  Jay grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.  He was closely involved in his family's international business ventures, real estate purchases, and business operations, which gave him a strong practical foundation for what he does now.  

His legal career began in 2009 as an assistant state attorney.  He transitioned into the private sector after 2012 and for five years now has been at U.S. Century Bank.  Jay is a gifted storyteller, who kept us riveted and laughing as he fielded questions on his transition to becoming general counsel, managing complex litigation, quality control of legal work product and, of course, maneuvering corporate politics. 
We are grateful to Jay for spending time with MDFAWL members and we look forward to seeing him at our upcoming Corporate Counsel Summit in 2019.

Table for Eight with Judge Mavel Ruiz

October 30, 2018 | Bulla Gastrobar

By Neda Ghomeshi

MDFAWL's Table for Eigh t Committee hosted a dinner in honor of Judge Mavel Ruiz-- a progressive woman with a dedication to growing the legal community in Miami. Though the Table for Eight dinners are intended for eight guests, as the name suggests, over 15 people attended the dinner. The night was filled with wisdom, laughter, stories, and pure joy. 

MDFAWL is grateful for the insights shared over dinner.

MDFAWL Recognized as Small Affiliate of the Year
January 17, 2019 

MDFAWL recently won the Small Affiliate of the Year Award at The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division's Affiliate Outreach Conference.  This award was given to MDFAWL for the various projects and unique programming organized throughout the previous year.  Particular recognition was given to MDFAWL for its collaboration with NAWJ on the launch of the Book Club with Incarcerated Women, and its annual Foster Youth Picnic, which serves hundreds of current and former foster youth with a day of food, games, and a variety of activities for children of various ages .  MDFAWL was also commended for its CLE programming and Character and Fitness events.

Click here to learn more.
Recent Study Reveals 47% Gender Pay Gap in the Legal Industry

T he Florida International University Metropolitan Center published a recent study entitled, Women in Miami-Dade County Economic Participation, Opportunity and Equity.  This study was prepared by legislative Prime Sponsor Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, along with her seven Co-Sponsors, Bruno A. Barreiro, Audrey M. Edmonson, Sally A. Heyman, Barbara J. Jordan, Dennis C. Moss, Rebecca Sosa, and Xavier L. Suarez.  This was the second study conducted to track the economic conditions of women in Miami-Dade County.  Among other things, this study found a 15% pay gap between men and women overall, and it also revealed a 47% earnings gap between men and women in legal occupations.

MDFAWL is working to further research and address this issue and intends to organize programming on the gender pay gap in the coming months.

Click here to learn more.
MDFAWL Publishes Database of Courthouse Lactation Rooms 

MDFAWL has put together a database of publicly available information for courthouse lactation rooms.  This database provides useful details for these spaces, including where each room is located, and contact information for each courthouse.   MDFAWL hopes that members and future members will be able to benefit from these spaces.  

Click here to access this database.

MDFAWL's Pro Bono Committee focuses on identifying volunteer opportunities for members to provide legal services to persons of limited means, or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. The committee also organizes programs and activities that allow members to provide volunteer non-legal services to civic groups, arts organizations, human services nonprofits, and organizations that are not necessarily law-related.   Most recently, the Pro Bono Committee hosted a holiday toy drive to benefit families at the Lotus House Shelter in Miami.

Fairies, and Pirates, and Cats, Oh My!
October 28, 2018 

By Carolina Piñero 

In the spirit of Halloween, the Pro Bono Committee hosted a Halloween party and costume drive for women and children living in a domestic violence shelter in Miami-Dade County on October 28, 2018. The Pro Bono Committee partnered up with Dade Legal Aid to collect new and gently used costumes, which were later distributed at the party. Thanks to your donations, there were plenty of costumes to go around. There was a beautiful, little Elsa, a friendly dinosaur, a baby pirate, a punk-rock fairy, two twin kitty cats, Hawaiian hula girls, and more! 

Guests and volunteers alike enjoyed the different crafts and games stations including designing your own masks, pinning the smiles on the jack o'lanterns, and candy corn bowling. All women and children were given goodie bags at the end of the festivities. The mother's gift bags included face masks and candy-flavored lip balms. Likewise, the children enjoyed candy-filled goodie bags. Overall, it was a spook-tacular success, and we thank everyone who donated and costumes and volunteered their time to partake in the festivities.


The mission of the Character and Fitness Committee is to host activities that improve MDFAWL members' physical and mental well-being.  MDFAWL recognizes the importance of health and wellness in the legal profession and offers events to benefit its members.

Cooking Up a Healthy Holiday with the Character and Fitness Committee
December 8, 2018 | The SisterYard

By Amy M. Bowers-Zamora

On December 8, 2018, the Character and Fitness Committee hosted a holiday-themed cooking class and dining event for MDFAWL members at The SisterYard in South Miami. The cooking class was led by The SisterYard's owners, sisters Yami and Tina Correa, a chef and a nutritionist, respectively. 

Class attendees were greeted at The SisterYard with fizzy kombucha mocktails and refreshing water flavored by herbs and a citrus blend, as well as bite-sized breads topped with a creamy spread and microgreens. Appetites sated, attendees proceeded to follow instructions from the Correa sisters to prepare a kale salad with Japanese persimmons dressed with olive oil and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Attendees also learned how to perfectly poach an egg, which was placed atop a bed of wild rice spooned into a colorful, crunchy radicchio cup; and how to caramelize onions, which were mixed with a sweet potato gratin and finished with feta cheese, pecans, honey, lime, and mint. The Correa sisters next led the group in preparing a rich cauliflower-based stuffing that contained coconut milk for creaminess and the familiar holiday flavors of onions, celery, rosemary, and thyme. For the pièce de résistance, the Correa sisters treated attendees with a deconstructed vegan apple pie, fragrantly spiced with cinnamon and vanilla.

Members who attended this event left The SisterYard with the knowledge and skills required to prepare a whole holiday dinner for family and friends, featuring dishes that-aside from being delicious---are jam-packed with nutrients, prepared with local produce, and free of artificial flavorings and preservatives. As an added plus, while attendees learned how to prepare the holiday meal, they were able to enjoy a few relaxing hours together, leaving the stresses of the holiday season outside The SisterYard. 

MDFAWL Spins the Stress Away
September 22, 2018 | UFC Gym

By Amy M. Bowers-Zamora

On September 22, 2018, the Character and Fitness Committee hosted members at an indoor cycling class at UFC Gym in Kendall . The cycling class was led by Charles Paternina, who is as much a motivational speaker as he is a fitness instructor. Mr. Paternina provided instructions on proper form and technique and cheered members on during the challenging yet fun hour-long ride. Attendees enjoyed a pre-workout elixir that provided participants with a burst of energy and a delicious post-workout smoothie packed with protein. 

While cooling down from the cycling class, attendees learned about the benefits of a cardiovascular and strength-training exercise like cycling and were encouraged to maintain a well-rounded exercise regimen as one way to combat stress and counterbalance the toll taken on our bodies by the sedentary nature of the legal profession.

Ringing in 2019 with Positive New Year's Resolutions

By Ingrid Benson-Villegas

It is easy to slip into melancholy when you read the everyday news and hear about the negative occurrences that happen around the world, but in this new year 2019, you should challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and spread kindness throughout your community. The first new year's resolution to spread kindness and happiness throughout your community is to participate in a pro bono case provided by your favorite organization, such as Lawyers for Children America, with a good friend. There is nothing like seeing the big smile on a child's face when they meet with you and learn that you are representing their best interests. To view potential cases at LFCA, contact Paula Velazquez.

Is there a political issue that you feel strongly about that needs to be addressed? If so, then your second resolution should be to contact your favorite legislator or political leader regarding this matter. Remain aware about local matters and reach out to your mayor or council members about issues that you care about. Speak to your neighbors and ask not only about their opinions on local issues, but also about how they are doing.

A third new year's resolution is to get involved and renew your membership in your favorite local voluntary bar organization that you feel is aligned with your passions. MDFAWL is the perfect avenue for me, as its mission is its dedication to the professional advancement of women lawyers and the promotion of women's rights. As John Donne stated in 1624, "No man [or woman] is an island entire of itself; every man [and woman] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . . therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." 

Above all, this new year 2019, be kind to yourself and to others. Make an effort to explore different cultures, travel if time allows, and test your boundaries by learning about different perspectives in your community and around the world.

Spotlight on Our Members*
News and Accomplishments of the People Who Make MDFAWL 

Dori Foster-Morales Confirmed as The Florida Bar President for 2020-2021 Term

MDFAWL member and prominent family law attorney, Dori Foster-Morales, was certified as The Florida Bar's next president-elect last month. She will be sworn in at the June 2019 Annual Convention in Boca Raton and will begin her term as president in June 2020.

MDFAWL congratulates Ms. Foster-Morales and looks forward to an exciting year under her leadership as President.

Click here for more information.
The Honorable Bronwyn Miller Elevated to the Third District Court of Appeal

The Honorable Bronwyn Miller was recently appointed to the Third District Court of Appeal. Judge Miller, a long-time member of MDFAWL, has served for years as a judge with the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County.
MDFAWL congratulates Judge Miller on this new appointment!

Lindsey Lazopoulos Friedman Appointed to Serve on Judicial Nominating Commission 

MDFAWL member Lindsey Lazopoulos Friedman was recently chosen to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Third District Court of Appeal.  With this appointment, she will be the second woman on the commission.

As a commissioner, Ms.  Lazopoulos Friedman will do the important work of locating, recruiting, investigating, and evaluating judicial applicants.

MDFAWL congratulates Ms. Lazopoulos Friendman on this new appointment!

Elisa D'Amico to Receive The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award 

MDFAWL President-Elect  Elisa D'Amico was selected to receive The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award for her work founding and managing the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, in addition to her significant pro bono contributions across the United States.   The Florida Bar President, Michelle Suskauer, will present the award to her on February 7, 2019, at the Florida Supreme Court. 

MDFAWL commends our President-Elect for all of her efforts and for this incredible achievement!  

Click here for more information.

About the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project:  Ms. D'Amico, through  her law firm, K&L Gates, founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project to help victims of nonconsensual pornography by providing them legal assistance on a pro bono basis. The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project is founded on the principle that people have a right of privacy in their intimate photographs and videos, and that the public, online dissemination of that media without consent is an invasion of that sexual privacy amounting to a "cyber civil rights" violation. Click here 
to learn more.
Iris Elijah Awarded the Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award 

MDFAWL committee member Iris Elijah was awarded the Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award at the  Florida International University's  17th Annual Torch Awards Gala in November 2018.

The annual Torch Awards Gala attracted a record number of attendees, honoring 15 FIU alumni and one faculty member deemed to be making a difference in their professions, in the community, and at FIU.  Proceeds from the gala went to benefit FIU's First Generation Scholarship Program.

Ms. Elijah presently works as an attorney with the Office of the General Counsel for Florida International University.  She was also the first African-American attorney in the history of the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors.
Stephanie Casey and Denise Georges Settle Excessive Use of Force Case on Behalf of Mother Who Lost Son


MDFAWL members Stephanie Casey and Denise Georges secured a $750,000 settlement on behalf of their client, Jean Suarez, mother of Daniel Tyson, who was killed during a police encounter in October 2014.  The case is believed to be one of the first settlements in Florida for a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in connection with a police arrest.  Tyson was tased 10 times by City of Hollywood police officers, including at least four times after he was in handcuffs and leg shackles.  Tyson suffered from severe mental illness, a fact that was reported to the police officers who responded to the call for assistance. The complaint alleged that when police officers arrived on the scene they failed to make reasonable accommodations to account for Tyson's mental illness, which ultimately resulted in his death.  

Although Casey and Georges asserted a claim for wrongful death, that claim was subject to a sovereign immunity cap on damages.  Claims under the ADA, however, are not subject to a cap.  After extensive briefing on summary judgment, on November 17, 2018, Judge William P. Dimitrouleas agreed that the ADA claim could proceed.  The settlement was approved by the City Commission of the City of Hollywood on December 19, 2018, shortly before the commencement of trial.  

Click here for more information on this case.
Attorney Michal Meiler Named Shareholder at Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A.

MDFAWL member Michal Meiler was recently elevated to Shareholder at insurance and bad faith litigation boutique, Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A. Ms. Meiler focuses her trial practice in the areas of insurance coverage and bad faith, representing both policyholders and injured parties. In addition to her trial practice, Ms. Meiler is a frequent lecturer in insurance law. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Florida Justice Association and is an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Miami-Dade Trial Lawyers Association, the Dade County Bar Association, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and the Spellman-Hoeveler Inns of Court. 

Ms. Meiler has been recognized as a Florida Rising Star by SuperLawyers and was voted one of the 2018 40 Under 40 Outstanding Lawyers in South Florida by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Ms. Meiler's civic involvement includes coordinating the annual Overtown Youth Center Mock Trial Competition, leading young professionals in monthly volunteer services at the Miami Bridge in her role as Chairwoman of the Board of the Tribe, and participating in the 2015-16 class of Leadership Miami. Ms. Meiler received her B.A. degree, cum laude, from George Washington University and earned her J.D. degree, cum laude, from the Georgetown University Law Center.

"It is an honor to become a Shareholder at Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin. VPL is a driving force in the legal community and beyond. The firm's mentorship was instrumental in my growth as an attorney and a leader in the community, supporting my involvement in numerous charitable organizations. I continue to be a part of the VPL family."

Click here for more on this story, and visit
Diana C. Mendez Promoted to Partner at Llorente & Heckler, P.A.

MDFAWL Director Diana C. Mendez has been elevated to Partner at government affairs law firm Llorente & Heckler, P.A. Ms. Mendez has been with the firm for about seven years, during which time she was an Associate and later promoted to a Senior Associate. Ms. Mendez counsels clients through all phases of the government procurement process, including advising and representing clients with teaming arrangements, proposal preparation, responsiveness and responsibility review, minority and disadvantaged business enterprise certifications, contract negotiations, and bid protest litigation. She also has been recognized as a Florida Rising Star by SuperLawyers.

"Diana has provided excellent legal counsel to our clients and we look forward to her continued growth and success," said Alexander P. Heckler, the firm's Partner. "We are grateful for her dedication, loyalty, and friendship," added Marcelo Llorente, the firm's Managing Partner.

*Have something to share or know someone who does? Email us at We want to put you in the spotlight!
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MDFAWL is a voluntary bar association dedicated to actively promoting the 
advancement of women in the legal profession, expanding the  l eadership role 
of its members  in the community at large, and promoting women's rights.    
Our Leadership (2018-2019)




Lara Bueso Bach

Elisa D'Amico

Ardith Bronson

Kristin Drecktrah Paz

Newsletter Editor
Kelly Peña

Ingrid Benson-Villegas
Lauren Brunswick
Dana Chaaban
Allison Jade Leonard
Diana C. Mendez
Stephanie Moot
Cristina Pérez Soto
Julissa Rodriguez
Jennifer V. Ruiz
Jody Shulman
Schuyler Smith

Immediate Past President  
Katie Phang

Committee Chairs

Giovanna Abreu O'Connor
Claire Armagnac-Rodriguez
Yvette Ayala
Angela Benjamin
Amy Bowers-Zamora
Tammi Calarco
Stephanie Casey
Gabriela Castillo
Diana Castiov
Stephanie Chaissan
Adriana Collado-Hudak
Carmen Contreras-Martinez
Marianne Curtis
Rachel Curtis
Liana de la Noval
Tiffany-Ashley Disney
Iris Elijah
Ileana Garcia
Neda Ghomeshi
Keri Joseph de Freitas

Amber Kornreich
Christie Louissaint 
Freddi Mack
Melissa Madsen
Vannessa Mari-Milhem  
Liana Matthews
Sheila Oretsky
Tamara Pallas
Carolina Piñero 
Iva Ravindran
Laura Reich
Melissa Roca Shaw
Tiya Rolle
Deborah Ross-Ocariz
Jessica Saiontz
Jessica Shraybman
Carter Sox
Alice Sum
Sylmarie Trujillo 
Alicia Welch
Trisha Widowfield

Kelly Pe ña, Newsletter Editor | MDFAWL |