2018-2019 GSCBWLA Leadership

Officers

Melba V. PearsonPresident
Brendalyn V.A. EdwardsPresident-Elect
Sheena Benjamin-WiseVice President
Michelle A. Prescott, Secretary
Danelle Bernten
, Treasurer
Loreal A. Arscott, Historian
Nikki Lewis SimonImmediate Past President
Directors

Sophia N.S. Blair 
Hilary Creary
Cynthia Henry Duval
Camielle Green
Janeen Lofton
Julie Harris Nelson

Kadisha Phelps
Nakia Ruffin
Sherria D. Williams


Melba V. Pearson, Esq• President

A New York native, Melba Pearson has called Miami home for close to  20 years. After receiving her undergraduate degree at New York University, she completed her studies at Hofstra University School of Law.

Ms. Pearson is the Deputy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida.  Before joining the ACLU, Ms. Pearson was an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County for 16 years. After prosecuting a variety of crimes, she was selected to join the Domestic Crimes Unit, focusing on serious domestic violence crimes as well as homicides for close to four years. In her next assignment, Ms. Pearson was integral to the re-launch of the Community Prosecution Unit, whose goal is partnering with the community to find creative solutions to prevent crime and provide outreach. She ended her prosecutorial career as the Assistant Chief in the Career Criminal/Robbery Unit, supervising junior attorneys while prosecuting homicides.

Ms. Pearson is a frequent guest lecturer on a wide array of law enforcement concerns. She lectured nationwide to prosecutors on behalf of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA). She serves as adjunct faculty for the University of Phoenix and Bryant and Stratton College, teaching law to undergraduate as well as master’s students. A prolific writer and blogger, she has published numerous popular and scholarly articles on topics including police encounters, domestic violence, crimes against women, criminal trial procedure, along with everyday legal issues.  Publications that have profiled, featured or quoted her include The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Essence Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Miami Herald, and Ebony Magazine.  She has also been a guest on national media regarding legal trends. Ms. Pearson is a highly sought after public speaker known for her lively and engaging speaking style at corporate, industry and academic events.  She has spoken on and moderated panels for the American Bar Association, the National Black Prosecutors Association, the (Miami) Dade County Bar Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Ms. Pearson has been extensively involved in various community groups, and has taken every opportunity to spread the messages of the dangers of domestic violence, as well as the importance of self-empowerment. She has taken on a leadership/mentoring role in several charity organizations. Ms. Pearson is the Immediate Past President of the National Black Prosecutors Association; Co-Chair of the Prosecution Function Committee of the American Bar Association.

 

Brendalyn V.A. Edwards, Esq. • President-Elect

Brendalyn Edwards currently serves as Associate General Counsel for Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Company, assisting in protecting the legal interests and operations of Florida’s largest homeowner’s insurance company.

Prior to joining Universal, Brendalyn served as the Acting Director of Gaming Enforcement for the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice, where she managed and supervised all functions of the governmental entity responsible for enforcing the casino laws of the territory. She has also served as Assistant General Counsel for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, representing and advising judicial officers and staff in court proceedings, preparing pleadings in response to various actions involving the courts, and handling the litigation of petitions filed against the judiciary. In this capacity, she also provided counsel regarding the court’s administrative matters, conducted ethics training programs for judges and hearing officers, and served as advisor to the court’s Professionalism Committee.

Brendalyn is a graduate of Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee, Florida and she received her B.A. from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Sheena Benjamin-Wise, Esq. • Vice President

Sheena Benjamin-Wise is the managing partner for Benjamin-Wise Creary, PLLC. a law firm with a unique perspective on client services. Ms. Benjamin-Wise provides quality legal services in the area of Marital and Family Law for the past 14 years in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. Ms. Benjamin-Wise focuses primarily in the areas of divorce, parental rights, paternity, division of marital and non-martial assets and liabilities, establishment /defense alimony, and the establishment child support. She believes clients should be educated on the law, duties, responsibilities and entitlements. Ms. Benjamin-Wise is a passionate advocate for her clients.

Ms. Benjamin-Wise also provides wise and affordable mediation services to South Florida families in the family law arena for dissolution of marriage, parent rights, timesharing and child support. She enjoys assisting individuals and families during in their time of need and transition. She believes that an individual and their family can be empowered in order to reach the greater stage in life.

Ms. Benjamin- Wise also worked a a Blogtalk radio Co-Host for the Family PowerHour Broadcast from August 2013 to September 2015, www.blogtalkradio.com.

Some of the honors received include Keeper of the Flame Award, The Florida Bar Family Law Section (2010-2011), Rising Star Award, Florida Super Lawyers Magazine (2010 and 2011), Rising Star Award, Florida Bar Executive Council of Family Law Section (2008), and Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award (2009) (2005).

She is an active member of The Florida Bar - Family Law Section Executive Council Member from (2009 – present) where she serves as the Co-chairperson of Children’s Issues Committee, Chair of the Ad Hoc Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Liaison to the Florida Bar, Co-Secretary of Legislation, Co-Chair of Ad Hoc Probate Jurisdiction Committee and a member of Finance Committee. She has previously served as Chairperson of Membership Committee (2008-2010); Co-Chairperson of Rules and Forms Committee (2010 -2011); Member of Legislative Committees (2008-2013); Commentator Family Law Section Newsletter – Contributor (2008-2009),

Ms. Benjamin-Wise also serves as board member of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Lawyers Association Broad Member (2015 – present).  As a board member, she leads the Broward and Palm Beach Outreach Committee and the Media Committee. She has previously served on the Broward Bar Association (2002-2009), Palm Beach Bar Association (2009–2011); Member of Florida Association of Women Lawyers (2009-2010), Member of T. J. Reddick Bar Association (2002-2012); Member of Haitian Lawyers Association (2005-2013).

Ms. Benjamin-Wise is also member of the Board of Directors and Parent Policy Council Member for Florence Fuller Child Development Center from 2010 to present) and the Boca Children's Museum.

Ms. Benjamin-Wise is a current member of the Broward BNI Networking Fortune Builders Chapter since 2015 and also a member of the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce and Leadership North Broward 2014. She was a previous member of Tri-County Networking Group Boca Chapter (2010-2013), Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce (2010 -2011), the National Council for the Education of Young Children (1997-2000), Business Networking International (BNI) Gold Coast Chapter (2007-2009), Women and Wishes Organization (2008-2009) and the Young Children with Special Needs and Disabilities Council (2007-2008)

Ms. Benjamin-Wise has had the opportunity to write several articles such as:

“Final Judgments”, Good Advice, Simply the Best Magazine, April/Ma 2012,

“Divorce in 2010”, Good Advice, Simply the Best Magazine, November/December 2010, pg. 91.,

“If you Offer Inclusion Training, They will Come”, Children Our Concern: The Journal of the Early Childhood Association of Florida, Inc., Volume XXII, Number 2, page 24, co-authored with S. Gold, S. Liepak, M. Scott, (1998), and

“Creating Inclusive Classrooms: A Report from the Field”, Young Exceptional Children, Volume 2, Number 2, page 2, co-authored with S. Gold, S. Liepack, M. Scott (1992).

Ms. Benjamin-Wise has also served as Guest Lecturer for or presented the following:

"Unbundled Services" with Hilary Creary, at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law School, Florida Bar CLE Course, June 2016,

“Family Law In Practice” Nova Southeastern University ShepardBroad Law School, Law Student level course for General Magistrate Phillip Schlissel,

Family Law Litigation Workshop, as a Panelist-Discussions on the Impacts of Financial and Legal Changes on the Community–Parenting Plans and the Disestablishment of Paternity”, Radio Broadcast and the Caribbean Bar Association, June 2008,

“Parents, Children, Custody and School Systems”, Miami-Dade Community Action Agency Early Head Start Programs, Miami-Dade County, Florida, March 2008,

“Impact of WAGES and the Preschool Inclusions Project, the Administration of Developmental Disabilities Annual Commissioner’s Forum, with S. Gold, Washington DC, April 1997,

“Seeing Children First: Training Child Care Providers to Include Children with Special Needs into the Regular Child Care Setting: National Association of Resource and Referral Agencies and the South Florida Early Care and Education Community, May 1997, and

“Working Together for the Sake of Children” the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference, with B. Hernandez, Anaheim, California, November 1997, to name a few.

Ms. Benjamin-Wise completed her undergraduate studies the University of Miami and obtained her law degree from Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center. She is of Haitian decent and was born in Brooklyn, New York. She currently lives in Coral Springs, Florida with her husband and her two children.

Michelle A. Prescott, Esq.  • Secretary 

Born in Washington, D.C., Michelle Prescott is a graduate of the Catholic University, Columbus School of Law and a fierce advocate for the protection of children and the preservation of families. For nearly twenty years, Ms. Prescott has advanced the cause of children and families through her work as a litigator with Legal Services of Greater Miami, the Department of Children and Families, the Miami Dade Public Defender’s Office, and as a solo practitioner for the Prescott Law Firm, P.L. She has also served as an adjunct professor for the Florida International University’s Family and Education Law Clinic.

Currently, Ms. Prescott is the Director of Compliance and Risk Management for the Center for Family and Child Enrichment, a full case management agency within the foster care system with a Federally-qualified community health care center. Her passion for this work stems from a belief that healthy families produce children who thrive and become productive members of society.

Toward this end, Ms. Prescott has volunteered with various organizations including the University of Miami Children and Youth Law Clinic, the Guardian Ad Litem Program, Girl Scout Troop 1098 of Miami Gardens, and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Historic Hampton House located in the Brownsville community of Miami, Florida. When not at work, Ms. Prescott enjoys reading, exercising and spending quality time with her family.

Danelle Bernten, Esq. Treasurer 

Loreal A. Arscott, Esq. Historian

Loreal A. Arscott is an original Miamian, who is born and raised in the “Magic City. She is currently an attorney in the Corporate Law Department of State Farm.  Prior to joining the State Farm Team, she initially dedicated her practice to Family and Dependency Law, serving the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, for several years as Division Chief for Florida’s Department of Children and Families’ Children’s Legal Services and handled Unified Family Court Cases (hybrid cases of family, domestic violence, and dependency issues). Ms. Arscott also continues to serve as an Attorney Ad Litem for Dependency cases.

In addition to her involvement with GSCBWLA, Ms. Arscott is very active in the Florida Bar and in and her local community. She is a member of the Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee and the Trial Lawyers Section. She is also a member of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, where she is the Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Children Issues Committee; Guest Editor for the 2015 Winter Commentator (the first African American Woman Editor of this publication); 2013-2014 Secretary of the Publications Committee; 2013-2014 Legislation Committee Member;  and recipient of the Outstanding Service Award and Raising Star Award for the 2012-2103 Bar Year. Locally, she serves on the Board of Directors for the following organizations: Dade County Bar Association; Friends of the Miami-Dade County Public Library; and KidSide, Inc. KidSide is the fundraising arm of the Family Court Services for the Family Court Division in Miami-Dade County. Ms. Arscott has served as the Committee Chair for the Annual Cook-Off Event for the past three years. Ms. Arscott is also a member of the Spellman-Hoeveler Inns of Court, and theMiami DadeCounty Chapter of Florida Association of Women Lawyers.

As an active member of GSCBWLA over the past years, she has served as Treasurer and volunteers her time with GSCBWLA's mentoring program for high school law magnet students at her alma mater, Miami Carol City Senior High School, and serves as a coach for their mock trial competitions.

She does all this with style, class, and professionalism while balancing a married life with two toddlers.

Ms. Arscott was recently awarded the Rising Star Award at the National Summit of Black Women Lawyers held in Chicago, Illinois.

Sophia N.S. Blair, Esq. • Board Member 

Hilary Creary Esq.   Board Member

Hilary A. Creary is an attorney in Pompano Beach, Florida.  She received her B.A. from Nova University in 1993, and her J.D. from Nova Southeastern University in 1997.  She opened her practice, Hilary A. Creary, P.A. in 1997 and expanded the firm to Baxter & Creary shortly thereafter.  Ms. Creary also opened her mediation firm, Affordable Mediations in 1997.  She was certified in Family and County Civil Mediations.  After ten years in private practice, she joined the Guardian ad Litem Program in Jacksonville, Florida as Contract Attorney in 2005.  She was promoted to Senior Attorney, Supervising Attorney and ultimately became the Circuit Director for the Program in Jacksonville in 2010.  In 2012, she brought her training and experience home to Fort Lauderdale, where she served as Circuit Director for the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 17th Circuit until 2015 when she became the Statewide Recruiter for the Program.  She left the Guardian ad Litem Program in May, 2015 to join Sheena Benjamin-Wise, P.A.  The new partnership Benjamin-Wise Creary, PLLC, focuses on family law matters, as well as Guardian ad Litem, Immigration, Probate, and Corporate cases.  In addition to her legal practice, Ms. Creary is an active member of several voluntary bar associations, serves on the Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee as Co-Chair of the Certification Sub-committee, is active in the Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce where she is an Ambassador and involved in the North Broward Leadership Program, and the South Florida Business Connections Group.  She is also a founding member and board member of the Jamaican Women of Florida, Inc., a non-profit which mentors and supports the next generation of Jamaican Women.  She currently resides in Plantation, Florida with her husband Daryl, and her rescue cat, Sampson.  She is the mother of one son, Charles, mother-in-law of Amy, and doting grandmother to her beloved grandson, Gavin.

Cynthia Henry Duval, Esq. • Board Member

Cynthia Henry Duval is the Associate Director of Career and Professional Development and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center. She is a first generation Haitian-American who grew up in Newark New Jersey. Early in her career she served two terms as a federal judicial law clerk for the United States District Court Middle District and Southern District of Florida. She also worked in local government as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Hialeah and as an Assistant Regional Counsel for the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel. She is the current President of Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association and speaks on issues related to diversity and talent development. She is a proud graduate of University of Miami School of Law, devoted wife and mother of four.

Featured in Law Practice Today

 Camielle N. Green, Esq. • Board Member

Camielle Green is a corporate associate in the K&L Gates Miami office. She has experience handling a variety of corporate and securities law matters for private and public companies, including mergers and acquisitions, credit facilities, private placements, SEC reporting company filings, and corporate governance matters. Camielle focuses her practice on startup and emerging growth companies, private equity, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, and securities law matters. 

Ms. Green began her career as a corporate associate with a New York law firm, where her practice was focused on securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and shareholder activism. Immediately prior to joining the firm, Ms. Green was a corporate associate in the West Palm Beach, Florida office of an international law firm. She has experience representing entrepreneurs in early-stage and startup enterprises in all aspects of their development, including organization, structure and capitalization. 

Julie Harris Nelson, Esq• Board Member 

J. Lofton, Esq Board Member

Ms. Lofton is currently an Attorney at Liebler, Gonzalez & Portuondo:  a law firm based in Miami, Tampa and Orlando Florida servicing banking, business, commercial, and real estate law needs throughout the State of Florida, Southeastern United States and the US Virgin Islands.  Her background hails from Wall Street whereas she was an Investment Banker in the area of Asset Backed Securities.  After graduating law school, Ms. Lofton served as an Attorney Advisor for the Washington, DC Court Systems, then transitioned out of public service back into the private sector at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm where she worked in the Fixed Income Group, then later clerked for Honorable James S. Carroll.

Janeen received her B.A. & B.S. from Xavier University and her J.D./M.B.A. through the Howard University/Texas University consortium. Currently, Janeen works in LGP’s Commercial Banking Litigation Group premised on her extensive experience in banking law litigation and regulation litigation practicing USVI matters and managing Florida trials.  She is a community advocate happy to serve as a Board Member of Gwen S. Cherry’s Black Women Lawyers Association, Board Member of Miami’s Bach Society, an active member of the Young Patronesses of the Opera, member of the Bach Miami Symphony as a violinist, a member of Junior League Miami, and actively leads programs for Camillus’ House community.

Kadisha Phelps, Esq. • Board Member

Kadisha Phelps is an associate of the Miami office of Sweetapple, Broeker & Varkas, P.L. A native of Long Island, New York, Kadisha has worked in both the Miami and Boca Raton offices of the firm since the fall of 2006, after graduating from Washington and Lee School of Law. While at Washington and Lee, Kadisha participated in the Virginia Commonwealth Clearing House, a legal clinic where she assisted court-appointed attorneys in defending capital cases and served as a legal intern at the New York Stock Exchange’s Enforcement Division.

Kadisha completed her Bachelor of Arts in History at Florida State University, with minors in Black Studies and Urban and Regional Planning.

In Tallahassee, Kadisha held prominent government internships with then U.S. Senator Bob Graham and Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, as well as RBBO Public Relations LLC, a leading lobbyist firm at the Florida capitol.

Kadisha has successfully litigated in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, handling both the plaintiff and defense side of matters for numerous business owners, defending various south Florida developers during the recent real estate crash and representing former NFL players in various complex business and investment disputes. Kadisha’s primary practice area is in General Commercial Litigation.

Nakia Ruffin, Esq. • Board Member

Nakia Ruffin is as an Assistant General Counsel for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. Ms. Ruffin is responsible for providing legal advice to the judiciary on administrative and court-related matters. In addition to judicial advisement, she also provides legal services to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Ms. Ruffin received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology with a Minor in Economics from the University of Florida and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law.

Sherria D. Williams, Esq Board Member  

"Where there is no struggle, there is no strength"-Oprah Winfrey  

Sherria Williams born December 8 a proud native of Miami, Florida insists that those words have guided her into some of many personal, professional, and spiritual accomplishments in life. Attorney, entrepreneur, and community supporter are few, of the many hats, worn by Williams.

Williams graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology, from The Florida State University, and later earned her Juris Doctor degree The Florida State University College of Law in 2009. During law school, Sherria worked for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation in the Division of Professions where she prepared and argued cases at the Division of Administrative Hearings. As a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Charles Francis,  ​she reviewed and analyzed writs of mandamus and prisoner petitions. During law school she participated as a regional board member of the Southern Region of the National Black Law Students Association, as well as the American Bar Association representative for her school. 

Sherria was fortunate to return to her hometown as she started her legal career protecting the residents of Miami-Dade County at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. As an Assistant State Attorney, Williams prosecuted cases from criminal traffic infractions to drug trafficking. Williams was persistent and during her four (4) years she tried 100’s of bench trials and over 25 jury trials. Sherria has always enjoyed giving back to others, and was given the opportunity to work in the Community Prosecution Unit where she was instrumental in starting the Junior ASA Program at local high schools, supporting and educating community members about the law and the criminal justice system. Williams practiced as a litigation attorney with Butler & Hosch, P.A., representing national banks in residential foreclosure matters from Monroe County to West Palm Beach. Presently Sherria Williams works at United Automobile Insurance Company​ in Miami Gardens, FL in the House Counsel defending personal injury protection claims and investigating fraudulent automobile accidents and treatment. In addition to her contribution as an advocate of the law she still makes time to serve her community through her quarterly Fatherhood Empowered events.

Nikki Lewis Simon Esq. • Immediate Past President

Nikki Lewis Simon serves as Greenburg Traurig LLP's Director of Client Development and Corporate Social Responsibility. As part of this evolving role, Nikki works to strategically align the firm’s diversity and inclusion programming and initiatives with client needs thereby serving as an integral component of the business development function on a global scale, as well as to expand the current efforts of the firm’s diversity initiatives in collaboration with cross-firm stakeholders, among other things. Prior to joining the business side of the firm, Nikki represented her cross-industry clients’ business objectives by protecting their capital, whether human, intellectual or financial, against claims of wrongdoing in complex commercial litigation matters that span the full panoply of issues targeting businesses’ corporate character and brand, like claims for discrimination, defamation, fraud and misrepresentation, professional negligence and malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, securities law violations and wrongful death.

Copyright © 2018 Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association