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2024 Mattie Belle Davis Award Recipient - Melissa Damian

We are thrilled to present this year’s Mattie Belle Davis Award to Judge Melissa Damian who exemplifies the ideals of professional achievement, perseverance, and dedication that honor the late Judge Davis’ legacy. Juge Damian recently reached her longtime dream of serving on the federal bench. Her extensive experience in the courtroom, handling both civil and criminal matters, have uniquely prepared her to serve as a district court judge. And combined with her longstanding commitment to Miami-Dade FAWL, makes her the most qualified candidate for this prestigious award.

The Honorable Melissa Damian is a South Florida native who grew up in Coral Gables, Florida. She received a B.A. from Princeton University in 1990 and a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law in 1995. After graduation, she clerked for Judge Ursula Ungaro on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. What she didn’t know at that time, was that in November 2023, the President of the United States of America would nominate her to fill the seat vacated by Judge Ungaro who took senior status in May 2021.

Following her clerkship with Judge Ungaro, Judge Damian joined Kenny Nachwalter P.A. as an associate. In 1999, she became a federal prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Damian served as an Assistant United States Attorney until 2010, most recently serving in the National Security Section where she earned the Attorney General’s Award for her work on matters of national security.  During that time, she refined her skills as a trial lawyer and grew to love the courtroom even more.

In 2010, Judge Damian joined The Ferraro Law Firm as appellate counsel and thereafter, moved to Damian & Valori as Of Counsel in 2013. During those years, she specialized in civil appeals and complex federal litigation.

In January 2022, Judge Melissa Damian was sworn in as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Florida. In February 2024, she was confirmed as a District Court Judge, and she has since taken the bench.

Career Highlights: United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida

During her 11 years as an Assistant United States Attorney, Judge Damian saw much success. Among her accomplishments was Operation Render Safe, an international investigation she led that targeted the export of U.S. goods to Iran that were being used to kill American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The investigation led to numerous arrests and indictments, and also stopped several pipelines of illegal exports of dangerous goods to Iran.

Between 2010 and 2021, Damian worked in private practice handling a variety of civil actions, including a personal injury lawsuit brought against Disneyworld by a plaintiff allegedly injured on a roller-coaster. See Randall v. Walt Disney World Co., 140 So. 3d 1118 (Fla. App. 5th 2014). Judge Damian also sued attorneys representing a company founded by “financier-turned-fraudster” Aubrey Lee Price in seeking to recoup losses suffered by investors from the fraud. See Damian v. Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, 317 F. Supp. 3d 1228 (N.D. Ga. 2017). Judge Damian has also represented plaintiffs in products liability actions. See, e.g., Rouviere v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 560 F. Supp. 3d 774 (S.D.N.Y. 2021).

Notably, Judge Damian represented Ariel Quiros, who was sued for securities fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). See S.E.C. v. Quiros, 966 F.3d 1195 (11th Cir. 2020).

Career Highlights: On The Bench

Judge Damian has served as a federal judge for Southern District of Florida since 2022. As a Magistrate Judge, she presided over matters where parties consented to her jurisdiction, wrote reports and recommendations for district judges to review, and handled discovery disputes, release matters, and pretrial motions. For example, Judge Damian denied a motion by Royal Caribbean to disqualify a plaintiff’s expert witness in a maritime negligence case in which a passenger was injured by slipping on a gangway. See Jay v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 608 F. Supp. 3d 1249 (S.D. Fla. 2022).

Among the notable cases where the parties consented to her jurisdiction, Judge Damian partially granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings from the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, which filed suit seeking to enforce an arbitration award against the Italba Corporation. See Oriental Republic of Uruguay v. Italba Corp., 606 F. Supp. 3d 1250 (S.D. Fla. 2022). Specifically, Judge Damian denied the portion of Uruguay’s request for prejudgment interest on the award, finding that the arbitration panel already denied Uruguay’s request for prejudgment interest. See id. at 1261.

Civic Engagement

Throughout her career – both as a practicing attorney and a judge – Judge Damian has been active in numerous voluntary bar organizations, including leadership positions with the Florida Bar Federal Court Practice Committee and the American Bar Association Business Law Section. She has also been actively involved with Miami-Dade FAWL and the Federal Bar Association, among other organizations. Judge Damian frequently speaks throughout the country on myriad legal topics with a strong focus on trial skills and professionalism in the practice of law.

Mom and Friend

When she is not on the bench, Judge Damian is most often found spending time with her children, traveling, and surrounded by friends and family that love her dearly.


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