2019-2020 GSCBWLA Leadership
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 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.
Julie is an experienced insurance defense trial attorney who has personally tried more than 50 criminal and civil jury and bench trials involving automobile liability personal injury protection (PIP) litigation and insurance law.
Julie worked as in-house and private counsel for many major insurance companies, with responsibility for the investigation and defense of personal injury protection litigation files involving fraud, insurance coverage, and breach of contract issues.
Her work includes the investigation and practice of Special Investigation Unit (SIU) claims. She is court-approved to serve as an attorney fee expert in litigation matters.
Julie began her legal career as an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County under Katherine Fernandez Rundle. She later began practicing insurance defense with an emphasis on premises liability and bodily injury.
While attending St. Thomas, she was a member of Black Law Students Association, the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Appellate Moot Court and Trial Court Teams, and the Peter Faye Inns of Court.
She served as summer federal law clerk to the Honorable William Hoeveler in 1992. In 1993 and 1994 she served as a law clerk for the City of Miami Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Transportation.
Julie is a native of Detroit, Michigan and the devoted wife and mother of three talented children.
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.
Iris A. Elijah serves as the Associate General Counsel of Florida International University (FIU). Previously Iris was the Assistant General Counsel at the State University System, Board of Governors and the Assistant General Counsel of Florida A&M University. Iris is a graduate of the FIU College of Law and University of South Florida. Iris is active in the civic and legal community serving on the Executive Board of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL), as an officer for the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, Board of Governors of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, several The Florida Bar committees, committee chair for the Miami-Dade Chapter of FAWL, an active member of the Miami Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and a frequent volunteer with Smile Miami. Iris has been honored with several distinctions including Brickell Magazine Top 20 Under 40, FIU's Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award, University of South Florida Outstanding Young Alumni, and the Tallahassee Network of Young Professionals Golden A.C.E. Award.
Nikki Lewis Simon, a commercial litigator with more than 20 years of experience, primarily serves as Greenberg Traurig’s Chief Diversity Officer. In this capacity, Nikki designs and guides strategic initiatives and programs to deepen firmwide diversity and inclusion efforts that further enrich client engagements and community investments.
Her role is indicative of, and integral to, Greenberg Traurig’s core values of collaboration and inclusion – principles that inform the firm’s operations and legal business in meaningful, positive ways.
Prior to assuming responsibilities on the business side of the firm, Nikki has represented her cross-industry clients’ business objectives by protecting their capital – human, intellectual, and financial – against claims of wrongdoing in complex commercial and class action litigation. Those matters have spanned the panoply of issues and claims businesses often face, from discrimination to wrongful death, defamation to fraud and misrepresentation, professional negligence and malpractice to breach of fiduciary duty and securities law violations.
Melba Pearson, known as “The Resident Legal Diva”, is an attorney and 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. She ended her prosecutorial career as the Assistant Chief in the Career Criminal/Robbery Unit, supervising junior attorneys while prosecuting homicide cases.
Ms. Pearson is a frequent guest lecturer on a wide array of legal issues. 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 concerns. 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 The Root, Ebony Magazine. Ms. Pearson is a regular guest on the Local 10 Sunday morning political television show "This Week in South Florida." She has also been a guest on national media regarding legal trends. Lastly, she writes her own blog covering real life and the law at The Resident Legal Diva https://melbapearsonesq.com/.
Ms. Pearson is the Immediate Past President of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in South Florida; Co-Chair of the Prosecution Function Committee of the American Bar Association; and Past President of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), now serving as the NBPA Foundation President.
Mark Berrios-Ayala currently is In House Counsel to Jefferson Capital Systems, LLC. Previously, Mark worked at two firms dealing with personal injury and bankruptcy while a student at the University of Central Florida. Mark also worked as the legal intern for the Honorable Migna Sanchez-Llorens of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Miami. Mark also served as a Certified Legal Intern at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Being a first-generation college graduate, Mark graduated from Florida International University College of Law in the spring of 2017. During law school, Mark was awarded the pro bono medallion for over 200 pro bono hours completed while in law school. Mark obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in 2014: graduating honors in the major. Mark obtained his Associate of Arts degree from Valencia College in 2011. In his free time, Mark authors articles on trending topics in the Puerto Rican community, is the Vice President of Communications of PROFESA, community organization, and enjoys traveling around the world.
Sophia NS Blair, Esq. is a native of St. Mary, Jamaica. At the age of ten, she moved to Massachusetts and, in 2001, she moved to Florida. She is the founder of SNSB Law Firm, PLLC and Health Affixed, LLC.
She obtained her B.A. degree in Political Science with a focus in International Comparative Politics from the University of Central Florida. Upon graduation, she attended the University of Florida: Levin College of Law where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of the University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy, worked as a representative for Westlaw Student Services, and held leadership positions in several on-campus organizations including President of the Caribbean Law Students Association. After obtaining her law degree in 2009, she worked as an intern in the Appellate Division of the Public Defender’s Office in West Palm Beach. Upon completion of her internship, she worked as an appellate attorney in a boutique appellate firm. In addition to her appellate law career, she has worked as a title attorney for several years. She has a penchant for the law and enjoys solving complex legal issues.
Outside of the law, she known as "The Healthy Attorney." She believes that the key to good health is developing sustainable healthy habits. She shares tips, food recipes, and health related information via healthaffixed.com. According to her: There are no mistakes in life, only decisions and each decision is an opportunity to walk a different path.
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.
Ashley V. Gantt, Esq. was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She was a 2007 Teach for America Mississippi Delta Corps (TFA) member and taught in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a middle and high school teacher. In 2016, Ashley graduated from Nova Southeastern School of law serving as secretary and president of the Nova Black Law Students Association. She competed in the National Black Law Students Association Southern Region Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition and the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition. Ashley was inducted into The Order of the Barristers and is currently a Broward County Assistant Public Defender since 2016 and has received a “Hat Trick” Award from the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys for two consecutive years as recognition for attaining not guilty verdicts in at least three successive trials. Ashley has continued to be active in her community by serving on the executive board of the T.J. Reddick Bar Association as corresponding secretary, recording secretary, and will be inducted at the President-Elect for the 2019-2020 year. She also serves as the treasurer for the Broward Association of Criminal Defense attorneys. Ashley is also a Wm. Reece Smith Jr. Leadership Academy Fellow for 2019-2020. Ashley is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the University of Florida Association of Black Alumni South Florida chapter.
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.
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.
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.
"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.