Committee Chairs 2016-2017

Claire Armagnac

Claire co-chairs the Young Lawyers Committee. She is a felony prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Claire graduated with honors from Florida State University College of Law in 2014. While in law school, Claire was a member of the Florida State Law Review and interned for Justice Perry at the Florida Supreme Court. Outside of work, Claire enjoys fitness and traveling.

Angela Benjamin

Angela Benjamin is the Co-Chair of MDFAWL’s Membership Committee and is also a member of MDFAWL’s Leadership and Election Committees. Angela practices in both the Commercial and Construction, and the Finance and Real Property sections of the Broward County Attorney’s Office. Her practice focuses on complex litigation, all aspects of construction law, and real property law. Before joining the County Attorney’s Office, Angela was an associate at the law firm of White & Case, LLP, practicing in the areas of commercial litigation, securities litigation, and intergovernmental disputes. In addition to her activities with MDFAWL, Angela will serve as a member of The Florida Bar’s Code & Rules of Evidence Committee starting in July 2016. Angela is a proud magna cum laude graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she served as Student Works Editor for the Florida Law Review.

Ingrid Benson-Villegas

Ingrid Benson-Villegas serves as Chair of the Awards Committee and Co-Chair of the Website Committee. Ingrid is an attorney at the Law Offices of Isaac Benmergui, P.A., and practices in the areas of real estate, personal injury, labor law, and immigration. She received her B.A. in International Relations from Florida International University (FIU), graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and obtained her J.D. from FIU College of Law, where she was on the Dean’s List. In addition to her work at MDFAWL, Ingrid was selected to be an Associate Editor on the American Bar Association’s TYL Editorial Board. She is admitted to The Florida Bar, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Ingrid also serves as a judge for moot court competitions at FIU College of Law, serves as an attorney ad litem through Lawyers for Children America, and has enjoyed being a subscribing member of the Florida Grand Opera for a decade.

Gabriela E. Castillo

Gabriela E. Castillo is an associate attorney at Llorente & Heckler, P.A., where she focuses her practice on all phases of the government procurement process, including identifying contracting opportunities and assisting with proposal preparation and compliance. In addition to her position at Llorente & Heckler, Gabriela is also a senior associate at LSN Partners and LSN Communications, where she assists clients with issue advocacy and grassroots campaigns, as well as strategic communications, crisis management, and public outreach efforts. Gabriela graduated from Florida International University (FIU) College of Law, receiving a Pro Bono Service Excellence Award for her work serving Florida communities. She was part of the Moot Court Team, and served on the executive board of the FIU Law Board of Advocates as Vice President of Public Relations. Gabriela was selected to the Florida Supreme Court Internship Program for Distinguished Florida Law Students. She was also a judicial intern for the Honorable Barbara Lagoa at the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, and a legal intern at the City of Miami Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade County School Board Attorney’s Office. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Gabriela earned her B.S. in Communications from Florida International University.

Diana Castiov

Diana co-chairs MDFAWL’s CLE Programs Committee. Diana is an associate at Wargo & French, LLP in Miami and focuses her practice on commercial litigation. She represents banks and national insurance carriers in state and federal court actions involving claims for breach of contract, negligence, conversion, and petitions for declaratory relief. She is also an active member of the Junior League of Miami and serves on the Women Who Make a Difference Luncheon Committee. Diana received her law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, where she was a semi-finalist in the regional Jessup International Moot Court Competition.

Madelin D’Arce

Madelin D’Arce serves as chair of the State Court Judicial Liaison and Table for 8/Lunch with the Judges Committees. Madelin is an attorney at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. She counsels individuals, corporate entities and community associations concerning a broad range of general, real estate and litigation matters, as well as real estate closing and title services. Madelin earned her law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Kristin Drecktrah Paz

Kristin Drecktrah Paz serves as a member of the Board of Directors of MDFAWL, chairs the Publications Quality Control Committee, and co-chairs the Membership Committee. Kristin practices in complex commercial and international disputes with Fowler White Burnett. She regularly counsels international clients, especially from Latin America, and she is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. In addition to MDFAWL, Kristin is incoming Co-Chair of the ABA Section of International Law’s International Energy and Natural Resources Committee; currently serves as President of Miami’s young arbitration practitioners group, Future of Arbitration: Miami; and is deeply involved with the International Law Section of The Florida Bar. Kristin is committed to pro bono work and has been representing indigent clients for the past two years in dependency and immigration proceedings through the CABA Pro Bono Project.

Ellen English

Ellen co-chairs MDFAWL’s Mentoring Committee. Ellen is an associate at Wargo & French, LLP in Miami. She practices in the areas of general corporate and securities, technology law, and mergers and acquisitions. Ellen received her law degree in 2014 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, magna cum laude and Order of the Coif, where she served as Managing Editor of the Florida Law Review.

Amanda L. Fernandez

Amanda L. Fernandez serves as the Co-Chair of the Mentoring and Young Lawyers Committee of MDFAWL. Amanda is an associate at Damian & Valori LLP and practices in the areas of complex business litigation, receivership and securities litigation, and bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. In addition to her duties with MDFAWL, Amanda is an active member with The Florida Bar Business Law Section, where she serves as Vice-Chair of the Membership Committee. Amanda received her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law in 2013 and was a member of the Villanova Law Moot Court Board, for which she served as Director of External Competitions. Upon graduation, Amanda was awarded the Moot Court Distinguished Service Award and the Dorothy Day Pro Bono Award. Amanda was also the President of the Hispanic American Law Student Association.

Maite Garcia

Maite Garcia co-chairs MDFAWL’s Young Lawyers Committee. Maite is an associate with the Law Office of Ramon de la Cabada. She practices in the areas of criminal defense, licensing, and regulatory compliance. Maite received her undergraduate degrees in Political Science and International Affairs from Florida State University. In addition to her involvement in MDFAWL, Maite is an active member of the Junior League of Miami and Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Mallory Gold

Mallory Gold is currently serving her second year as Co-Chair of the Scholarship Committee. She previously served as a member of the MDFAWL Board of Directors and co-chaired the Mentorship and Continuing Legal Education Committees. Mallory is Assistant General Counsel for Memorial Healthcare System. She received her B.S. from the Pennsylvania State University before obtaining her J.D., summa cum laude and Order of the Coif, from the University of Miami School of Law. Mallory also sits on the Board of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s young professional division, The Network.

Keri T. Joseph

Keri T. Joseph serves MDFAWL as a Co-Chair of the Scholarship Committee. Keri is an appellate attorney at the Florida Office of the Attorney General. Her practice involves representing the State of Florida in criminal appellate and civil federal habeas corpus litigation. She received her bachelor’s degree from Rollins College in Political Science with a minor in Writing, and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University, where she was a member of the Nova Law Review. Keri also serves on the Florida Bar’s Appellate Court Rules Committee (2015-2018).

Olivia Kelman

Olivia Kelman focuses her practice on financial institutions and services litigation, compliance, and enforcement matters, with a concentration on fair and responsible lending. She has successfully litigated on behalf of clients in federal district and circuit courts, as well as in state trial and appellate courts. Olivia frequently defends investigations, examinations, and enforcement actions by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Reserve Board, and various state regulators, including the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. Her experience includes matters arising under various federal laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Housing Act, Community Reinvestment Act, and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Olivia represents clients large and small, including residential mortgage lenders, small-business lenders, banks, mortgage insurers, loan servicers, broker-dealers, and industry trade groups. Olivia is also a subscribing member of the Florida Grand Opera and holds season tickets to Miami Hurricanes football.

Amber Kornreich

Amber Kornreich is proud to be a Co-Chair of the MDFAWL Mentoring Committee. Amber practices marital and family law at Kornreich & Associates. She earned her J.D. from Florida International University College of Law and is a former President of the FIU Law FAWL Student Chapter.

Liana Kozlowski

Liana Kozlowski is the Chair of MDFAWL’s Pro Bono Committee. Liana practices commercial, real estate and land use litigation with Shubin & Bass, P.A. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Miami and her law degree from American University Washington College of Law. Before attending law school, Liana worked as a reporter for The Miami Herald for seven years, focusing largely on zoning and land use issues throughout Miami-Dade County.

Linda Leali

Linda Leali serves as Miami-Dade FAWL’s Leadership Committee Chair. She is a seasoned insolvency attorney who has handled countless debtor and creditor representations having spent over twelve years in the Financial Restructuring and Insolvency department of a large international firm. Ms. Leali frequently serves as a receiver and has handled cases both on the creditor and debtor side in a variety of industries, ranging from real estate, energy, manufacturing, telecom and automotive. Ms. Leali received her law degree from the University of Miami School of Law in 1999 graduating magna cum laude. She is also very involved in the local community including currently serving on the boards of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, the Southeastern Division Children’s Home Society, and Legal Services of Greater Miami. Additionally, Ms. Leali currently vice-chairs both the Avoidance Power and Consumer Bankruptcy Committees of the American Bar Association. Ms. Leali serves as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University in business law. Ms. Leali is a member of the Resource Board for the National Association of Women Judges and currently serves as development co-chair for its “Informed Voters. Fair Judges.” flagship project. Ms. Leali speaks and writes on a regular basis on various insolvency topics.

Allison Jade Leonard

Allison co-chairs MDFAWL’s Public Relations Committee. Allison is a litigation associate at Damian & Valori, LLP where she practices complex business litigation, receivership and securities litigation, and bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. Allison also represents local businesses in Fair Labor Standards Act wage and hour claims. She is licensed to practice in Florida and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In 2016, Allison was appointed to the Eleventh Circuit Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee of The Florida Bar. Allison is also an active member of the community and currently serves on the Executive Committee of Olympia Center, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to managing and maintaining the Olympia Theater, downtown Miami’s oldest historic performing arts center. She received her law degree from Florida International University College of Law where she served as Vice President of the Student Bar Association.

Liana Matthews

Liana Matthews co-chairs the Government Attorney Liaison Committee. Previously, she has been involved with MDFAWL’s Website and Elections Committees. Liana is currently an Assistant Public Defender for the Law Offices of Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez, where she zealously advocates for indigent criminal defendants. She is a proud alumna of the University of Miami School of Law, where she was awarded the Order of the Barristers, the Roger Sorino Award, and was tapped into Iron Arrow Honor Society. Liana is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a graduate of The Florida Bar Leadership Academy Class II, and currently is appointed to The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Diana C. Mendez

Diana C. Mendez serves on MDFAWL’s Board of Directors, and she co-chairs the Website and Corporate Counsel Liaison Committees. Diana is a senior associate at Llorente & Heckler, P.A. where she counsels clients through all phases of the government procurement process, including identifying government contracting opportunities, financing sources, and opportunities for public-private partnerships. She also assists clients with teaming arrangements, proposal preparation, responsiveness, and responsibility review; minority and disadvantaged business enterprise certifications; contract negotiations; and bid protest litigation. In addition to her position at Llorente & Heckler, P.A., Diana is also a senior associate at LSN Partners, LLC, where she conducts legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and analysis. Before joining Llorente & Heckler, P.A., Diana served as an attorney-advisor for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Herndon, Virginia. She received her B.A. in Economics and International Relations, magna cum laude, in 2006 from Florida International University. In 2010, she received her J.D., cum laude, from the American University, Washington College of Law, and a M.A. in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service.

Sheila Oretsky

Sheila Oretsky is a partner at Legon Fodiman, P.A., which she joined in March, 2006, and has since focused her practice on complex commercial litigation. Sheila was selected for inclusion in Florida Trend’s Florida Legal Elite 2010 as a top “Up and Comer”; has been selected by her peers as an honoree for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 40 Under 40 Outstanding Lawyers of Miami-Dade County Award in 2012; and was selected as a “Rising Star” in Florida by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2015-2016. Her litigation experience has been applied to many industries, including real estate, healthcare, construction, money transmitters, moving and mobile storage, automobile dealerships, professional services, and hotels. Legal matters include partnership and business disputes, director and officer liability, motor vehicle dealership law, consumer fraud, bank litigation, commercial landlord/tenant disputes, commercial foreclosures, trademark disputes, condominium law, entertainment law, and public adjuster compliance nationwide. Sheila also has experience in assisting clients with general corporate and contractual matters.

Kelly M. Peña

Kelly M. Peña serves on the Board of Directors and co-chairs the Public Relations Committee of MDFAWL. Kelly is a labor and employment attorney with the Miami office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. Kelly’s practice focuses primarily on employment litigation. Kelly represents management in administrative proceedings, as well as all phases of litigation. She litigates various discrimination claims, retaliation claims, and wage and hour claims, and also responds to Charges of Discrimination brought under the EEOC and Florida Commission on Human Relations. In addition to her MDFAWL work, Kelly also serves on the Publications Subcommittee for The Florida Bar’s Labor and Employment Law Section, and she serves as an attorney ad litem for abused and neglected youth through Lawyers for Children America. Kelly earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and her J.D. from Northeastern University, where she served as a fellow at Oxfam for the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy.

Cristina Pérez Soto

Cristina Pérez Soto practices in all areas of cross-border litigation and disputes before United States federal and state courts, international arbitration institutions, and other tribunals, representing clients in the United States and abroad. She also has significant experience in defending corporate investigations and white collar crime matters, with a particular emphasis on Latin America. Cristina has been instructed in international arbitration matters before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and other arbitral institutions, including matters conducted solely in Spanish. Cristina served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the Southern District of Florida, focusing on major fraud cases, including securities, investment, mortgage, tax, and other large-scale fraud matters. There, she tried more than 15 jury cases to verdict. Cristina is a member of the American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association. She is a member of ICC-YAF and Young ICCA, and she serves as a Board Member of Future of Arbitration: Miami. Cristina graduated from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Julissa Rodriguez

Julissa Rodriguez serves as Co-Chair of the Table for 8 Committee. She is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, P.A., where she is Chair of the firm’s Miami Appellate Department. Julie is Florida Bar Board Certified in Appellate Law. She focuses her practice on state and federal appeals and trial support, specializing in all types of litigation. Julie earned her law degree from Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center.

Deborah Ross-Ocariz

Debbie Ross-Ocariz serves as the Chair of the Diversity Committee of MDFAWL. Debbie is Senior Attorney at The Law Offices of Aliette H. Carolan, PA, handling family and marital law matters. She handles complex financial and emotional issues using a combination of strong advocacy, objectivity, and compassion. In addition to her duties with MDFAWL, Debbie is an active volunteer and leader in her community. Debbie holds a B.S. from the University of Florida and a J.D. from Nova Southeastern University.

Chanel Rowe

Chanel co-chairs the Mentoring Committee. She is an Associate at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP where she defends Fortune 500 companies in product liability actions regarding pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices. Currently, Chanel is a member of the national trial team litigating the multi-district litigation involving Boston Scientific’s mesh products. Chanel ranks mentorship and diversity among her highest priorities. She is a mentor in Shook’s summer associate program and she also mentors college and law school students at various schools throughout Florida. Additionally, Chanel is a member of Shook’s Diversity Recruitment Subcommittee. Chanel earned her J.D. from Florida International University, where she graduated as the valedictorian and served as the Executive Business Editor of the FIU Law Review. She received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Florida Atlantic University where she graduated summa cum laude. Chanel was selected as a Fellow in the 2015-2016 class of the Florida Bar’s Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy.

Jennifer V. Ruiz

Jennifer V. Ruiz serves as a Director of MDFAWL and co-chairs the State Court Liaison Committee. A partner with the law firm of Cole, Scott, & Kissane P.A., Jennifer is a civil litigator, practicing in state and federal courts, at both trial and appellate levels. Jennifer dedicates a significant amount of time to community service as a member of numerous judicially-appointed committees. She currently serves on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel, as well as the Hispanic Heritage Planning Committee for the Southern District of Florida. Jennifer also has served as a Dade Legal Aid Leader since 2014, and she was appointed to multiple Federal Magistrate Judge Merit Selection and Reappointment Panels for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida from 2011 through 2014. She earned her B.S. in Psychology from the Florida State University, cum laude, and her J.D. from Nova Southeastern University, where she served as an Articles Editor for the Nova Law Review.

Paige Saperstein

Paige Saperstein serves MDFAWL as Co-Chair of the Government Attorney Liaison Committee. Paige is an Assistant State Attorney with the State Attorney’s Office of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. Currently, Paige concentrates her practice on the prosecution of complex fraud and theft cases within the Economic Crimes Unit. Prior to joining the Economic Crimes Unit, Paige held the position of Division Chief where she handled the litigation of homicide prosecutions. Paige received a B.A. in Political Science from Union College in 2004, graduating cum laude. She also received her J.D. in 2007 from Albany Law School of Union University.

Jody Shulman

Jody Shulman serves as a Director of MDFAWL and Chair of the Judicial Reception Planning and Sponsorship Committees. She has been a member of the Massachusetts bar for 27 years, and during 17 of those years she was a litigator specializing in divorce, paternity, and family law matters. Jody also serves on the Board of B’nai B’rith Justice Unit 5207, the Board of Legal Services of Greater Miami, and on the 11th Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee. Jody is currently employed with U.S. Legal Support where she focuses her time on providing court reporting, record retrieval, transcription/translation, trial presentation and ediscovery services to the legal community. She specializes in finding solutions for complex, class action and multi-district litigation cases. Lastly, Jody is a co-founder of “Make a Difference Miami,” which is committed to raising monies for both Dade Legal Aid and Legal Services of Greater Miami.

Schuyler Smith

Schuyler A. Smith is an associate in the Miami, Florida office of Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP. She represents hotels, international businesses, physicians and medical providers, major cruise lines, product manufacturers and distributors, transportation companies, and underwriters, including major marine domestic and international underwriters, in state and federal court. Schuyler is admitted to practice in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and was recognized in 2015 as a Florida Super Lawyers “Rising Star.” She began her legal career as a trial attorney for the State of Florida Department of Children and Families. Schuyler was born and raised in Mandeville, Jamaica. She obtained her J.D. from St. Thomas University School of Law and her B.S. in Political Science, with honors, from the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. While in law school, Schuyler served as an Editor for the St. Thomas Intercultural Human Rights Law Review and was active in the Moot Court and Mock Trial Programs. Schuyler served as both a competitor and coach for the Moot Court Team and wrote the brief for the winning team in the 2008 Robert Orseck Memorial Moot Court Competition. She also served as an intern to the Honorable Chief Judge David Gersten of the Florida District Court of Appeal, Third District.

Alice Sum

Alice Sum is the co-chair of the Corporate Counsel Liaison Committee. She is a shareholder with Fowler White Burnett, PA in its Miami office. She represents business entities and individuals in complex, commercial litigation matters. Alice assists clients with a wide range of business disputes, involving corporate governance issues, partnership and joint venture agreements, director and officer liability, errors and omissions, and shareholder derivative claims. Alice also handles intellectual property matters. She is experienced with copyright and trademark infringement, trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, false advertising and domain name disputes. A portion of Alice’s practice is devoted to financial services litigation representing banks, mortgage lenders, auto finance companies in disputes involving unfair deceptive trade practices, consumer fraud, and consumer protection issues. Alice has been recognized by several publications and organizations as a “top” lawyer in business litigation. Alice is active in the legal community and the Florida Bar. She is a recent graduate of Class II of the Florida Bar’s Leadership Academy, is a member of the Annual Convention Committee for the Florida Bar, and is a founding member, past President and served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of South Florida. Alice is a “double Gator” having received her B.A. and J.D. from the University of Florida.

Courtney Walter

Courtney Walter co-chairs the Federal Court Liaison Committee. Courtney is currently serving a two-year judicial clerkship with the Honorable Ursula Ungaro of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Pennsylvania State University and her law degree from FIU College of Law, where she graduated as the Valedictorian of her class and served as Editor-in-Chief of FIU Law Review. Prior to her clerkship, Courtney practiced in the areas of products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, catastrophic injury, and bad faith insurance litigation for two years. In addition, Courtney serves on the Executive Board of the FIU College of Law Alumni Association, is on the Florida Bar Journal/News Editorial Board, and was appointed to the Law Review Diversity Committee for Ms. JD, a non-profit national organization committed to the promotion of women in the legal field.

Alicia Welch

Alicia H. Welch serves as a Director of MDFAWL and Co-Chair of the Federal Court Liaison Committee. Alicia is an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida. Formerly, Alicia was a litigation associate at Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman in Coral Gables where she focused her practice on representing municipalities and private clients in a variety of litigation matters. Alicia also previously served as a law clerk to the Honorable Patricia A. Seitz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Prior to clerking, Alicia was an Assistant Corporation Counsel at the New York City Law Department Labor and Employment Law Division. Alicia received her J.D., cum laude, and her Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Maryland, and her B.A. in political science and public communication, magna cum laude, from American University.

Trisha Widowfield

Trisha Widowfield is a Co-Chair of the Leadership Committee for MDFAWL. She is a partner at Haliczer, Pettis, & Schwamm and handles complex civil litigation, focusing her practice in the areas of medical malpractice and personal injury. Trisha represents both Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, including HCA hospitals, Starbucks, G4S Secure Solutions and Darden Restaurants. She graduated bachelor’s degree in psychology/sociology, cum laude, in 1999 from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and she earned her J.D., cum laude, in 2007 from the University of Miami School of Law. Trisha is admitted to The Florida Bar as well as the U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts of Florida. Her professional affiliations include membership in the MDFAWL, Broward County FAWL, Dade County Bar Association, Broward County Bar Association, and Miami Law Young Alumni.