2020-2021 GSCBWLA Leadership

Officers

Sheena Benjamin-WisePresident
Kadisha PhelpsVice President
Candice Michael, Secretary
Natalie E. Oce
, Treasurer
April Martindale, Historian
Brendalyn EdwardsImmediate Past President

Directors

Etta Akoni
Mark Berrios-Ayala

Romona H. Carr

Iris A. Elijah
Ashley Gantt
Janeen Lofton
Michelle Prescott
Nakia Ruffin
Sherria D. Williams


Sheena Benjamin-Wise, Esq. • President

Sheena Benjamin-Wise practices Marital and Family Law in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach Florida, serving Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties. Ms. Benjamin-Wise’s work primarily focuses on marital and family law litigation and collaborative divorce cases, parental rights and paternity, and other child-related matters for the past 18 years.

In addition to being the President for Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, she is an active member of the community and current member of the Broward BNI Networking Fortune Builders Chapter since 2015, and a member of the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce and Leadership North Broward 2014.

Sheena has been an active member of the Florida Bar Family Law Section Executive Council Member since 2009. She currently serves as the Co-Chairperson of Legislation Committee, and previously served as the Co-Chair of Children’s Issues Committee, Chair of the Ad Hoc Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Section Liaison, Co-Secretary of Legislation, Co-Chair of Ad Hoc Probate Jurisdiction Committee and a member of Finance Committee, as well as the Chair of Membership Committee (2008-2011); Co-Chairperson of Rules and Forms Committee (2010-2011); Commentator Family Law Section Newsletter – Contributor (2008-2009). She believes in her continued work with the Family Law Section to serve the Florida community.

Some of the honors received are Super Lawyer (2020), Rising Star Super Lawyers (2010 and 2011), Rising Star, Florida Bar Executive Council of Family Law Section (2008), Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award (2008) (2009) (2005), Florida Bar Family Law Section Rising Star (2009), Florida Bar Family Law Section Keeper of the Flame Award (2010), Featured in HERLIFE Spotlight, HER Magazine April 2014, Florida Bar Family Law Section Chair’s Award of Merit (2017), and Florida Bar Family Law Section Spotlight Award (2018).

Ms. Benjamin-Wise graduated from the University of Miami and 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.

Kadisha Phelps, Esq• Vice President 

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.

photoCandice Michael, Esq Secretary 

Candice L. Michael, Esquire is a licensed Florida attorney, practicing marital and family law with a focus on children’s issues, domestic violence, and divorce.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology with honors from the University of Florida in 2009, and her Juris Doctor degree from Howard University School of Law in 2014.  Ms. Michael was admitted to license law in the state of Florida in 2014. 

Following graduation, Ms. Michael served as a Judicial Law Clerk in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, and later developed her career as a litigation attorney while working for Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. in Fort Myers, Florida, and Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. in Miami, Florida.  Ms. Michael has successfully advocated, and obtained favorable results, for countless clients in marital and family law cases, including but not limited to contested divorces, guardian advocacy, relative adoption, paternity, temporary custody by extended family members, and child support matters.  Ms. Michael also has litigation experience with private and federally subsidized landlord-tenant defense work.

Natalie E. Oce, Esq. Treasurer

Being the last of seven children, born to Mr. Rastee and Mrs. Lola Oce, has not made Natalie Oce the least in any aspect of her life.  It has in fact, empowered her to serve this community through her skills as a lawyer, educator, and leader. The hard work ethics instilled by her family helped to earn the respect of her peers, judges, and members of the community.  She educated herself at the University of Florida, graduating with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Education.  She later went on to earn a Juris Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center where she served on the Executive Board of the Moot Court Honor Society.

Ms. Oce’s employment footprint began while she was a law student. As a law student she became a child advocate.  She investigated pending cases which assisted judges in making important decisions regarding the best interests of children.  After finishing law school she was admitted to The Florida Bar to practice law. Attorney Oce accepted a position as an Assistant Public Defender in West Palm Beach, Florida. Her dedication, commitment, and leadership skills were quickly recognized as she represented children and adults who were accused of law violations. Ms. Oce also served as a Special Master in the city of Miami Gardens. Attorney Oce preceded over cases pertaining to city code violations and issued findings of fact based on evidence presented at hearings and conclusions of law.

She is now a private attorney owning her own law office, L and O Law Firm, Pa. and was named a Top Attorney in North America by the Who’s Who Directory due to her zealous and effectual advocacy for her clients. Currently, Ms. Oce is also an Assistant Regional Counsel Attorney for the Third District of Florida. While managing her busy law practice, Attorney Oce finds time to reinvest in the community that nurtured her.  She educates aspiring young adults by teaching as an adjunct professor at Florida International University.

Additionally, Attorney Oce volunteers to help guide teens back to the right track in life through her service as a Judge for Teen Court. She also volunteers her time and is committed to assisting this community in the following ways:

■ Miami-Dade Homeowner’s Association. Member, providing presentations on laws and how those laws impact the community.

■ Concerned African Women: Recognized for Outstanding Leadership

■ Alternative Program Executive Board Member, a program that employs services to give defendants and the court system alternatives to incarceration.

■ North County Citizen’s Association, President, January 2017.

■ Miami Gardens Citizen’s Advisory Commission: Member on panel who advises the police department on current issues.

In addition to her membership in The Florida Bar, Attorney Oce’s career affiliations include being a member of the District Court, Southern District of Florida, 2013; the American Bar Association; and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Attorney Oce commitment to service is embodied in her mantra:

“Service is an Honor that we can all afford to waste sitting on the steps of privilege.”

April Martindale, Esq. • Historian

April R. Martindale is the owner/managing partner of Martindale Law, a law practice located in Broward County, Florida where she focuses on Contract Law, Intellectual Property, Business Law and Entertainment Law. April is licensed to practice law in the State of Florida and the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.

Ms. Martindale earned her Bachelors of Science Undergraduate degree from Florida Metropolitan University, where she graduated magna cum laude in Paralegal Studies. In recognition for her efforts, April was on the Dean’s List or President’s List every semester throughout college.

April earned a Masters of Business Administration in Management from Strayer University where she graduated summa cum laude, and was inducted into Golden Key International Honor Society, and Alpha Chi National College Honor Society in a period of 11 months.

April subsequently earned her law degree from Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law and was chosen by her peers and professors as the December 2015 Graduate Reception Speaker. Throughout law school, April served as treasurer for the Evening Law Student Association and participated in educating 1L’s and 2L’s about the pitfalls to avoid in law school and the tools necessary to succeed.

April is a current member of the Florida Bar, Broward County Bar Association, American Bar Association, South Palm Beach County Bar Association and Gwen S. Cherry Bar Association, IP Law Association of Florida (IPLAF), Florida Association of Women Lawyers and ASCAP-American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. In addition to practicing law, April is also a co-founder and managing member and director of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, New York Wins, Incorporated, headquartered in the city where she was born and raised. New York Wins, Inc. is designed to provide charitable and educational resources that train the mindset of the younger generation to engage with purpose, organize with passion, and contribute to the well-being of their communities, while learning the prerequisites of becoming socially responsible and progressive citizens.

April finds a way to actively balance single parenthood, educational commitments, professional obligations, and personal responsibilities and commitments. April lives in Coral Springs and is a single-divorced parent of three children, Jada (21), Jalen (17), and Jordan (12), and their beloved shih tzu dog, Prince.

Brendalyn Edwards, Esq Immediate Past President

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.

Etta Akoni, Esq. • Board Member 

Mark Berrios-Ayala, Esq. • Board Member

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.

Romona Carr, Esq.   Board Member

Romona H. Carr is a native of Kingston, Jamaica. Ms. Carr currently serves as VP, Regional Compliance Officer at FirstBank Florida, focused on assisting the bank to comply with various state and federal laws and regulations. Prior to joining FirstBank, Ms. Carr served as a Banking Attorney and Senior Compliance Officer at USAA Federal Savings Bank.

Ms. Carr received her B.A. from the University of Florida (Go Gators!!!) and her J.D. from Western Michigan University and has over a decade of legal experience, primarily in the financial services industry.

Ms. Carr previously served as the Diversity Committee and Community Relations Committee Chairperson for the Lawyers Association for Women-Marion Griffin Chapter.. She is the current Parliamentarian of Jack and Jill of America-Greater Fort Lauderdale Chapter and actively participates in various civic organizations.

Iris A. Elijah, Esq.  Board Member

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. 

Ashley Gantt, Esq. • Board Member

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.

Janeen 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.

Michelle A. Prescott, Esq.  • Board Member 

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, 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 B.A. from the University of Florida and her J.D. 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.



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