Trailblazer Award Recipients

    2019 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    Edward H. Blakemore

    Edward H. Blakemore is Assistant General Counsel, Litigation for Rockwell Automation where he has primary responsibility for the management of all product liability litigation, commercial litigation, environmental liability litigation, toxic tort litigation, and potential claims asserted against the Fortune 500 Company. 

    In addition to managing a team of litigation paralegals, he is primarily responsible for leading several of the Office of General Counsel’s strategic initiatives including those that are specifically focused on: (1) global outside counsel selection, management, and evaluation; (2) career development; (3) monetary recoupment; (4) diversity and inclusion; (5) comprehensive internal employee training; and (6) effective business communications.  In 2017, he became Rockwell Automation’s Chief Investigation Counsel for Ombudsman complaints.  In 2018, he assumed responsibility for the oversight and strategic vision of Rockwell Automation’s Records Management and Retention Office.

    Prior to joining Rockwell Automation, Mr. Blakemore was Counsel-Litigation for Eaton Corporation for 7 years where he managed the defense of a heavy docket of product liability, commercial, employment, and intellectual property disputes for the Fortune 500 Company.  During that time, he managed outside counsel that successfully tried multiple product liability and employment cases to verdict in various jurisdictions and achieved numerous defense victories by obtaining summary judgment or voluntary dismissals of significant litigation and claims. 

    He oversaw a team of litigation paralegals and materially assisted them with their career development including working collaboratively to successfully position them for career advancement opportunities.  For 6 years, he edited the Law Department’s newsletter that provided quarterly legal updates to Eaton’s mid-level and senior management.  For 5 years, he co-chaired its Diversity & Inclusion subcommittee that developed a strategic initiative to increase the Law Department’s spend with female and minority outside counsel and created additional metrics and collaborative tools to ensure that its retained law firms mirrored Eaton’s inclusion-related corporate goals.

    Furthermore, during his tenure at Eaton, he also obtained significant cross-functional experience in other corporate business units including: (1) the negotiation of medium to large scale contracts for the supply chain function; (2) the oversight and management of several corporate environmental, health and safety employee fatalities, serious bodily injuries, and regulatory matters; (3)  volunteering to serve as the human resources business recruitment partner for 3 corporate functions which resulted in filling 34 open job requisitions with new hires within 18 months; (4) service as the primary Law Department point of contact for corporate human resources on potential employee terminations, the investigation of discrimination allegations and EEOC claims, and general employee relations matters; and (5) partnered with several business functions to lead the development and implementation of a comprehensive corporate strategic initiative focused upon facilitating the career development and retention of women in traditionally male-dominated career paths.

    Prior to joining Eaton, Mr. Blakemore's diverse litigation experience included the defense of corporations, insurers and businesses in all of the following types of litigation: product liability, transportation, catastrophic injury, commercial, general liability, appellate, and professional liability. He tried several cases to juries and the bench in many different Ohio jurisdictions and has litigated appeals in 9 of Ohio’s 12 appellate districts. 

    Mr. Blakemore is the Immediate Past President of the Cuyahoga County Public Library Board of Trustees and is a member of the Applewood Centers Board of Trustees.  He is also a member of the Client Advisory Board for ALFA International, a diverse group of experienced North American defense trial lawyers.  

    He earned his B.A. from Morehouse College, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and obtained his J.D. from the University of Dayton School of Law.

    Rufus Sims

    PERSONAL: Married 42 years to Yvonne, two children: Kimili, a teacher at Glenviile High School and Khalida, an attorney with the Cuyahoga County Public Defender, three

    grandchildren: Kadira, 10, Wakil, 6 and Galel, 4.

    EDUCATION :        

    1969 graduate of Glenville High School.

    1969-1971 attended Cleveland Technician School.

    1971-1972 attended Northern Michigan University, while active duty military.

    1973-1974 stationed at Adorn Air Base Thailand, attended college classes through the University of Maryland which made college classes available for active duty military personnel.

    1974-1975 took classes on base from the University of New Hampshire while active duty military.

    1975-1981 attended Cleveland State University (part time), while employed full time as a meter reader with the City of Cleveland, Division of Public Utilities, earned dual bachelor degrees in history and political science.

    1982- 1986 attended Cleveland-Marshall of Law (part time evening student).

    1987, received Juris Doctor Degree

    1988, admitted to the Ohio Bar

    MILITARY SERVICE:      1971-1975 United States Air Force, crew chief on F-4 Phantom and as a result of intense racial friction, became a Race Relations Instructor, Honorably discharged in 1975.


    1969-1971 and 1975-1988, City of Cleveland, Department of Public Utilities.

    1988-1993, Assistant Director of Law and Assistant Prosecutor for the City of East Cleveland.

    LEGAL CAREER:           




    Mary Avery, vs. Walmart, Cuyahoga County Case No. CV-99-386449

    Aisha Salad vs. Cuyahoga County, et. al. Case No. CV-04-532696                                     

    State of Ohio vs. Darrell Houston, Cuyahoga County Case No. 272671

    State of Ohio vs., Sylvester Warren

    State of Ohio vs. Anthony Sowell, Cuyahoga County Case Number Cr-10-534960                             

    City of Cleveland vs. Zullay Pichardo, Case Number: CRB-16-013741


    Former member, Black Male Agenda

    Former member, Future Outlook League

    Former Big Brother/Mentor

    Board member of the Eliza Bryant Village, oldest African American Nursing Home in United States

    Founder and board member of the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Summer Legal Academy. Since 2003 the Academy’s purpose is to identify minority students who possess the skills and passion to become lawyers and judges. Students attend classes/workshops and hear lectures from various Lawyers, Judges and other relevant persons who provide guidance and direction to the students.  The Academy runs for three weeks at Case Western Reserve School of Law and the students are assigned a paid internship with various Lawyers and Judges. At least three (3) former attendees are now attorneys.

    Original founding member of “Judge 4 Yourself. Com which is a Committee of various lawyers that interview either incumbent or candidates running for every level for Judge. The Committee formed in 2001.

    Member of South Euclid United Church of Christ, South Euclid, Ohio


    Attorney Almeta Johnson (deceased)

    Attorney Stanley Tolliver (deceased)

    Judge Edward Wade (deceased)

    Attorney James Hardiman

    Judge Ronald Adrine

    Yvonne Sims (spouse), special mention



    Sanford E. Watson II

    Sanford Watson is a trial lawyer practicing in the areas of business litigation, products liability litigation, and public law.

    The value Sanford provides clients extends beyond the courtroom. A former Director of Public Safety for the City of Cleveland, he brings real-world experience that allows him to provide practical counsel to clients involved in government contracts disputes, administrative law issues, and real estate appropriations cases. Clients benefit from his experience administering government contracts, negotiating mutual aid agreements and consent decrees, developing law enforcement policy, and hearing collective bargaining unit grievances and disciplinary matters. The client gets an experienced trial lawyer who understands the need for the best ethical and practical business solution.

    Sanford has tried to verdict cases involving business acquisitions, contract disputes, and eminent domain. His first trial experiences were as a prosecutor for the City of Cleveland. As first chair, Sanford tried more than a dozen jury trials to verdict and hundreds of bench trials. Later in his career, he returned to the City to serve as Chief Prosecutor, where he supervised and trained assistant prosecutors, reviewed internal affairs and use of deadly force investigations, and issued criminal charges where appropriate. Sanford also clerked for the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals.

    He devotes a significant portion of his practice to defending distributors and sales representatives in products liability, pharmaceutical, and medical products cases. His experience with sales representatives includes preparing them for and defending them in depositions and at trial. He counsels and teaches witnesses to educate when testifying to bring out their best selves as witnesses.

    In addition to his trial practice, Sanford devotes a significant portion of his time to shaping equity and inclusion policy at Tucker Ellis and throughout the Northeast Ohio community. He has served as chair of the firm’s Equity & Inclusion Committee for eight years, and he led the Committee in shaping its mission and objectives for the promotion of diversity and inclusion. Under his leadership, Tucker Ellis has received awards and recognition for its diversity and inclusion best practices.

    2018 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    The Honorable Jessica E. Price Smith

    Judge Jessica Price Smith was appointed to a 14-year term on the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio in 2011.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she is a graduate of Miami University where she was among the first group of students awarded the prestigious Harrison Scholarship.  She also graduated with distinction from the Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law where she was a member of the Law Review, Moot Court Board of Advocates, and was inducted into the Willis Society, the highest academic honor society at the College of Law. Judge Price Smith began her legal career as the law clerk to the Honorable Randolph Baxter, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, whom she succeeded on the bench.  She spent two years as a bankruptcy associate with the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.  And, immediately, prior to becoming a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, was engaged in the private practice of law, representing corporate debtors, creditor committees, and trade creditors in all aspects of commercial bankruptcy cases and out of court debt restructuring as a shareholder at Brouse McDowell, LPA.  She also has the distinction of being the first African-American partner in the firm’s more than 90-year history.  In addition to practicing law, Judge Price Smith was a legal studies faculty member at Ursuline College in the adult accelerated education program.

    Since her appointment to the bench, Judge Price Smith has been an active member of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges.  She currently serves the organization as a member of the Endowment Committee and as a member of the liaison committee to the National Bar Association.  In the Northern District of Ohio Bankruptcy Court, she serves as chair of the Budget Committee and as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee.  She also serves on the Attorney Admissions Fund Committee of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

    Judge Price Smith has balanced her professional life with service to her community as a member of various civic boards and through her membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated, the Drifters, Incorporated and the Western Reserve (OH) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated. She and her husband Gregory Smith are the proud parents of two sons.

    Jillian Elizabeth Charles

    Jillian Elizabeth Charles, is Counsel, Competition & International Trade at Eaton, a power management company. In this role, she advises senior executives on successful strategies for managing legal and business risk related to antitrust, competition, international trade, and other high-impact regulatory areas on a worldwide basis. Jillian is also responsible for conducting investigations related to violations of law and Eaton policy, including in the areas of corruption, bribery, theft, and fraud. In addition, she leads the global risk management team within the Law Department. 

    Jillian joined Eaton in April 2014 from the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division in Washington DC, where she held a number of roles, most recently as an  attorney advisor in the Legal Policy Section. Over the years, Jillian has held various positions of increasing responsibility both in private practice and in-house in the area of U.S. and international antitrust and competition law. Jillian holds a law degree from Cornell Law School (Ithaca, New York) and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts), where she received a Ford-Mellon Fellowship.

    Jillian serves on the Board of Trustees for her alma matter, Williams College,  and has for many years served as a fundraiser for the college.

    She is an admissions agent for Williams College and has in the recent past served as an administrator for a key endowed gift bequeathed to the school. Jillian is a member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, where she sits on both the  Governance Committee and Development Committee.

    Jillian and her family resides in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where they enjoy hiking in the national parks, shopping at local farmers markets, and doing jigsaw puzzles on cold winter nights.

    Marquettes Robinson

    Marquettes is a Cleveland, Ohio native, raised in the Glenville neighborhood. She attended Laurel School and graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in Government. Marquettes received her J.D. from Harvard Law School. In 2010, Marquettes joined Ohio’s newest woman-owned law firm with offices in Cleveland, Toledo and Florida. In 2016, that firm was renamed Thacker Robinson Zinz LPA.  Marquettes is a was a past President of the firm, active member of the Board, and ethics shareholder.  Marquettes is currently a Partner at Brouse McDowell.

    Marquettes’ practice focuses on civil litigation.  She has a wide range of experience both prosecuting and defending complex cases, has represented corporations and individuals in in both federal and state courts in class actions, contract disputes, business torts, employment claims, professional liability actions, consumer lending and creditor’s rights cases, and product liability and toxic tort litigation. She is currently branching out into outside general counsel work for mid-sized Ohio companies.  She was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in September 2016 as “Who to Watch in Law” and in May 2018 as a “Notable Woman in Law.”  In 2016 and 2017, she was one of 17 lawyers selected by Senator Sherrod Brown to serve on the Ohio bipartisan Judicial Selection Commission.

    Marquettes is starting a two-year term as President of the Epilepsy Association (a cause that is near to her heart) and is a board member for the Northeast Ohio Lawyer’s Chapter of the American Constitution Society.  She is the co-chair of the CLE Committee for the National Association of Women and Minority Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF).  She has a 1L mentee through the Norman S. Minor Bar Association and is helping a Hurricane Maria transplant re-build her professional life in the States. 

    Outside of “legal life,” Marquettes is a mentor, or more like Auntie by Adoption, to a family of 11 Congolese refugees who resettled in Cleveland in February, 2016.  She sees them 2 to 3 times a week.  She regularly volunteers with her church’s youth ministry which includes participating in monthly food pantry collaborations with the Cleveland Foodbank.  She loves to travel, try new food, and watch comic-oriented movies. She is learning to swim. Her mother is her hero.

    Jacqueline A. Johnson

    Jacqueline A. Johnson, J.D., has been the First Assistant for the Federal Public Defender Office for the Northern District of Ohio since 2008 and an Assistant Federal Defender for 17 years. She was the first female attorney hired by the Defender Office in 1986. She is most proud that an additional 18 female attorneys since have been hired. Attorney Johnson is a 1983 graduate of Cleveland Marshall College of Law, a 1980 graduate of Wittenberg University and proud graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, Cleveland Municipal School System. Attorney Johnson is a national speaker on federal criminal law.

    • Recipient of Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation Public Servants Merit Award 2017

    • Recipient of Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association The Honorable William K. Thomas Professionalism Award 2014

    • Witness at the 2009 Congressional Hearing, 25th Anniversary of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission held in Chicago, Illinois

    • Served as chairperson on the Reappointment Magistrate Judge Merit Selection panel by appointment of Chief Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., October 2013

    • Served on the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection panel by appointment of Chief Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., May 2011, January 2016 and June 2016

    • Served as a Judge for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Ethics and Professional Essay competition

    • Serves on the Federal Court African American Heritage Program Committee

    • Serves on the Federal Court-Northern District of Ohio Advisory Board and Co- Chair of its Criminal Rules Advisory Board

    • Serves on the Board of Trustees Federal Bar Association Cleveland and Co-chair of its Diversity Committee

    • Awarded Outstanding Alumni of Wittenberg University Wittenberg Today Alumni Magazine, Summer 2012


    • Federal Public Defender National Seminar

    • Federal U.S. Probation and Pretrial National Seminar Conference

    • Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Annual White Collar Crime Seminars

      2011, 2012

    • Case Western Reserve Summer Academy for high school students

    • 2011 American Constitutional Society at Cleveland Marshall College of Law

    • Akron Law and Leadership Program July 2014

    • John Carroll University Street Law Program

    • Career Day at Cleveland, Suburban, and private schools

    • Moot court judge for MLK High School Moot Court Competition


    • U.S. Sentencing Commission Annual National Seminars 2011, 2012, 2014

    • Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Diversity Inclusion Career Fair

      September 2014

    • Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Women’s Leadership Symposium, 2018

    • Ogletree Deakins Association of Corporate Counsel and Street Law Inc., Diversity

      Pipeline Program 2013

    • Moot court judge for trial advocacy courses at Cleveland Marshall College of Law

      and Case Western Reserve Law School

    • Guest on American Law Radio 2012



    Attorney Johnson has successfully defended federal criminal cases resulting in a judgment of acquittal after a jury trial where the potential penalty was life imprisonment. She has handled hundreds of cases in federal and state court including oral arguments before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney Johnson specializes in defending white collar crime cases and has successfully obtained dismissal of prosecution or significantly reduced sentences on many state and federal cases.

    Attorney Johnson is a member of Mt. Zion Church of Oakwood Village, Ohio and participated as a panelist in past Annual Retreat Women’s Day Conferences and focuses on the Women’s Ministry Programs. She is the Vice President of S.H.I.G., a local women’s organization which supports underserved Cleveland area youths with camp music scholarships and volunteered for non profit organizations like Rotary Cleveland East which focus on education, legal rights, providing for the elderly, and the underserved. She is a past member of the Board of Trustees, Legal Aid Society, Murtis Taylor Community Center and United Black Fund. She mentors young people with an interest in college and the legal field.

    Currently a member of Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and Board of Trustees Federal Bar Association Cleveland and Co-chair of its Diversity Committee. Attorney Johnson was featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Magazine articles Four African American Women Who Make A Difference, Author Connie Schultz.

    Attorney Johnson has been married to Robert Johnson for 37 years and is the mother of three college graduates and a grandmother of two.


    2017 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    The Honorable Benita Y. Pearson

    Judge Pearson was appointed to serve as United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio by President Barack Obama on December 27, 2010, making her the first African American female to serve as a United States District Judge in the State of Ohio. Prior to her appointment as District Judge, Judge Pearson served the Northern District of Ohio as a Magistrate Judge following her appointment on August 29, 2008.

    Judge Pearson’s service as a judicial officer was preceded by an eight-year tenure as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, litigation in private practice, and service as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Honorable John M. Manos.

    As an Assistant United States Attorney, Judge Pearson distinguished herself while prosecuting several high-profile cases, including Unites States v. Emmanuel Onunwor (prosecution of former sitting mayor of City of East Cleveland, Ohio, 2004), United States v. Nate Gray (prosecution of several public officials, including Chief of Staff and Director of Building Services, City of Houston, 2005)United States v. Norman Gore (prosecution of former supervisor, City of Cleveland, Water Division, 2005), United States v. Terrence Gasper (prosecution of former Chief Financial Officer, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, 2006), and United States v. Mark Lay (prosecution of an investment advisor whose fraudulent activities caused the loss of over $200 million dollars held in trust for injured Ohio workers, 2007).

    Judge Pearson earned her Juris Doctorate at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. At her alma mater, she has taught Animal Law and Advanced Brief Writing.

    Prior to earning a law degree, Judge Pearson worked as an accountant and remains a certified public accountant for the state of Ohio.

    Judge Pearson’s professional and community activities have included serving on the Boards of Trustees for the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation, and the Eliza Bryant Village. She is President and founding member of the newly formed Nathaniel R. Jones Inn of Court.

    Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Judge Pearson graduated from Hathaway Brown School, Cum Laude, and Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. 

    The Honorable David A. Ruiz

    David A. Ruiz was appointed to the position of United States Magistrate Judge by the Judges of the Northern District of Ohio effective October 1, 2016. Federal magistrate judges exercise jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters delegated to them by federal law and assigned by district judges, such as presiding over preliminary hearings in criminal cases—initial appearances, arraignments, bond-detention hearings—issuing warrants and related orders, and overseeing civil actions upon the consent of the parties involved or by referral from district judges. Magistrate Judge Ruiz embraces the opportunity to perform other judicial duties, such as mediating federal court lawsuits, participating in the Northern District of Ohio’s Re-entry court, and serving on the court’s IT and personnel committees. He is the twenty-first full-time magistrate judge and the first federal judge of Latino heritage to serve the Northern District of Ohio. 

    Before his appointment to the federal bench, Magistrate Judge Ruiz served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Cleveland, Ohio from 2010 to 2016. He represented the United States of America, its officers, employees and federal agencies in a variety of complex civil matters, including medical malpractice actions; employment discrimination lawsuits; social security and tax matters; and constitutional challenges to federal statutes, regulations and prisoners’ detention. While handling a full civil defense docket, he also assisted the criminal division and prosecuted a violent carjacking case from arraignment through trial.

    Magistrate Judge Ruiz worked in private practice as a litigator between 2000 and 2010, most recently at the law firm Calfee Halter & Griswold, LLP. As a commercial and corporate litigator, he represented national and regional clients in federal and state court litigation, antitrust compliance, federal regulatory compliance and contracting matters, construction disputes, and tort litigation. Beyond litigation, he also worked as a counselor and investigator for clients, conducting internal investigations into white-collar criminal matters, antitrust compliance, and contracting misconduct for private sector and government clients.

    Born in Toledo, Ohio, Magistrate Judge Ruiz is a graduate of The Ohio State University and The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. While in law school, he was a judicial extern for the Honorable George C. Smith in the Southern District of Ohio and served two years as a staff member and a managing editor on The Ohio State University College of Law Journal on Dispute Resolution.

    In 2007, Magistrate Ruiz was awarded the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship. A year prior, he was inducted into Kaleidoscope Magazine’s Cuarenta/Cuarenta “40 under 40” Class of 2006. Magistrate Judge Ruiz has always found value in community service, and has volunteered his time to institutions in Northeast Ohio such as Catholic Charities, Legal Aid Society, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s 3Rs program and the Hispanic Roundtable.

    But his most cherished role is husband and father, where he loves being a cub-scout dad, sports coach, and cheering fan to their many activities.

    Michael L. Nelson, Sr.

    Attorney Michael Leroy Nelson, Sr., spent his early years in Public Housing where his life was touched by tragedy at the early age when his biological father Leroy Nelson lost his life on the mean streets of the city.  His mother Gladys remarried and she and his stepfather, Osa Reid instilled in Michael and his younger brothers and sister (Marvin, Duane, and Marlene) a sense of community and family values.

    Michael graduated from Cleveland’s Glenville High School in 1967, and immediately applied for and was accepted at Central State University.   During his years at Central State, Michael’s organizational skills and commitment to the black community were nurtured and developed.   His first real test of leadership occurred when he organized Central State students to campaign for Carl Stokes in his successful bid to become the first Black Mayor of a major American city. 

    Upon graduation from Central State in 1972, Michael returned to Cleveland and joined the Cleveland Public Schools as a teacher.  His teaching career which spanned nine years also included stints in East Cleveland and Springfield, Ohio.  In 1974, he organized The Alliance of Concerned Teachers, which was dedicated to protecting the rights of African-American Teachers and students during the tumultuous days of school desegregation in Cleveland.

    In 1986, Michael fulfilled a personal goal when he entered the Case Western Reserve University School of Law from which he graduated in 1989.  His practice areas include public finance, criminal and civil litigation and small business development.

    Michael’s civic involvement was recognized by Ohio Governors George Voinovich and Bob Taft, who appointed him to successive stints on the Central State University Board of Trustees, and by Cleveland Mayors Michael White and Jane Campbell who appointed him to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and the Civil Service Commission of the City of Cleveland.

    Michael has served as the President of the Central State University National Alumni Association, and as the founding President of the 100 Black Men of Greater Cleveland, Inc.  Michael currently serves as President of the Cleveland Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

    Michael’s honors include, The Thurgood Marshall Fund Alumnus of the Year, The Central State University Alumnus of the Year, and induction into The Central State University Alumni Achievement Hall of Fame.

    Michael is the proud father of four children, Michael Jr., Nichole, Ebony and Rayne, and has four grandsons, two granddaughters and a great grandson. 

    Michael is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, The Cleveland Chapter of the National Negro Golf Association and the Grace Community Seventh Day Adventist Church.

    2016 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    Paul N. Harris

    Paul N. Harris is secretary and general counsel of KeyCorp and oversees the corporation’s legal and government relations functions.  Prior to joining KeyCorp in 2003, Paul served as partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office of Thompson Hine LLP where he managed significant client relationships and oversaw the office’s community and charitable support programs and administrative operations.  Paul joined Thompson Hine in 1983 and practiced in the firm’s Corporate and Securities practice group before leaving the firm in 1988 to join Revco D.S., Inc. (now CVS), where he was elected as an executive officer in 1993.  He rejoined Thompson Hine in 1997.

    Paul serves on behalf of KeyCorp as a member of The Clearing House Association Managing Board of Directors and is immediate past Chair of the Association and current Chair of the Association’s Governance Committee.  He is the author of numerous articles, including “Effective Bank Governance in the Age of Heightened Expectations” in the 2nd Quarterly 2014 edition of Banking Perspective, the quarterly journal of The Clearing House.  Paul is a recipient of the ORT America Jurisprudence Award (2007), and served, as an appointee of Senators Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich, as Chair of the United States Senate Judicial Nominations Commission for the Southern District of Ohio (March 2009 to February 2011).  He is active in the Cleveland community, serving as a director and immediate past President of The City Club of Cleveland and as a member of the boards of Hawken School, Breakthrough Charter Schools and The Law and Leadership Institute, LLC.

    Paul received a bachelor of arts degree from The University of Chicago and his jurisprudence degree from Stanford Law School.

    Yvette McGee Brown

    A series of firsts defines the judicial and professional career of Yvette McGee Brown. She was the first African-American woman elected to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. She was the founding president of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. And, in January 2011, she became the first African- American woman to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Ohio. She is presently a partner at the global law firm of Jones Day specializing in litigation and appellate practice.

    McGee Brown was first elected to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations and Juvenile division in 1992. As lead Juvenile Court Judge, she led the creation of the Family Drug Court and the SMART Program, a truancy and educational neglect intervention program. She served on the Common Pleas Court until 2002, when she retired from the bench to create the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. The Center is a multi-disciplinary child abuse and family violence organization that services children and families experiencing abuse.

    While a common theme in McGee Brown’s professional and community work is her advocacy for children and families, she is also an active community and corporate leader. She serves on the board of directors of Motorists Insurance Company and has previously served on the board of directors of Glimcher Realty Trust, M/I Homes, Inc., Fifth Third Bank of Central Ohio, Ohio University, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. She is the former chair of the United Way of Central Ohio, The Ohio State University Alumni Association and the YWCA Columbus Board of Directors. In 2008, McGee Brown was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2014 she was inducted into the Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame.

    Among her many honors are The Ohio University Medal of Merit, The Ohio State University Distinguished Service Award, Women of Color Woman of the Year, the Girl Scout Great Award and the Columbus Bar Association Nettie Cronise Lutes Award.

    McGee Brown graduated from Ohio University in 1982 with a degree in journalism/public relations and The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 1985. She has honorary doctorate degrees from Urbana University, Ohio Dominican University, Wilberforce University and Central State University.

    McGee Brown is married to Tony Brown and they have three children and two grandchildren. 

    The Honorable Randolph Baxter

    A native of Columbia, Tennessee,. Judge Randolph Baxter is a retired U. S. Bankruptcy Judge of the Northern District of Ohio.

    Initially appointed to serve a fourteen year term in 1985, he was reappointed to serve a second fourteen year term in 1999.  In 1996, he was appointed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to serve as a charter member of its Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.  In 2004, he was appointed to serve two terms as Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of Ohio. Primarily appointed to handle cases filed in Cleveland, he also served as a visiting judge by assignment in Delaware, New York, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida.

    Judge Baxter retired from the bench in 2011 after 26 years of years of Judicial service.

    In addition to his Judicial duties,  Judge Baxter served on several civic and professional boards.  He taught the basic bankruptcy course and the advanced seminar in business reorganization at the University of Akron School of Law  (1989--1999).  He also served as an adjunct professor in the College of Business at Kent State University, teaching a course in real estate law (1974--1978).

    A former federal prosecutor with the U. S. Department of Justice (1978--1985), Judge Baxter also held memberships for several years with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and the Canada-U.S. Law Institute.

    His military service included his combat service in Vietnam and Cambodia, where he served as a tank unit commander with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Vietnam war and was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.  He resigned his officer commission as a U.S. Army captain in 1971 upon returning to civilian life.

    Judge Baxter and his wife (Yvonne) are the very proud parents of four adult children and six grandchildren.

    B.S. degree in Political Science, Tuskegee Institute (1967); J.D. degree in Law, University of Akron (1974).

    ABA Immediate Past President Paulette Brown - Keynote Speaker

    Paulette Brown, Partner and co-chair of the firmwide Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Locke Lord LLP, is immediate past president of the American Bar Association.

    Brown has held a variety of leadership positions within the ABA. She has been a member of the ABA House of Delegates since 1997 and is a former member of the ABA Board of Governors and its Executive Committee as well as the Governance Commission.  While serving on the Board of Governors, Brown chaired the Program, Planning and Evaluation Committee.  Brown has served on the Commission on Women in the Profession and was a co-author of "Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms.” Brown also chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice (now Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice) and is a past co-chair of the Commission on Civic Education in our Nation's Schools. Brown served on the Section of Legal Education’s Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and its Executive Committee. Brown joined the ABA Young Lawyers Division in 1976. She became active in the Section of Litigation in 1995, which has continued to be her section “home” ever since. She is a former member of The Fund for Justice and Education (FJE), FJE President's Club and a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

    Brown has held many positions throughout her career, including as in-house counsel to a number of Fortune 500 companies and as a municipal court judge. In private practice, she has focused on all facets of labor and employment and commercial litigation.

    Brown has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of "The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” and by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the “prominent women and minority attorneys in the State of New Jersey." She has received the New Jersey Medal from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and currently serves on its Board of Trustees.

    Brown has repeatedly been named as a New Jersey Super Lawyer and by US News as one of the Best Lawyers in America in the area of commercial litigation. In 2009, Brown was a recipient of the Spirit of Excellence Award from the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. In 2011, she was honored with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. Brown, who served President of the National Bar Association from 1993-1994, received the NBA’s highest honor, The C. Francis Stradford Award, in 2015. 

    Brown earned her J.D. at Seton Hall University School of Law and her B.A. at Howard University.

    2015 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    Ronald V. Johnson, Jr.

    Ronald V. Johnson, Jr. is senior vice president and director of Fair & Responsible Banking, Privacy and Ethics in KeyCorp’s Risk Management Group.  In this role, he is responsible for compliance governance over several consumer regulations as well as Key’s Employee Ethics program.  Prior to joining Risk Management in November 2014, Mr. Johnson spent ten years as in-house counsel providing legal advice and decision support to business executives and other key decision-makers on matters relating to corporate real estate, administrative policy, regulatory compliance, fiduciary responsibilities, employee ethics and risk management. 

    Mr. Johnson’s community and civic involvement includes leadership roles with several local non-profit and professional organizations, including the Board of Governors of the National Bar Association, the Board of Governors of the Ohio State Bar Association, Treasurer/Secretary of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Foundation, President of the Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation and the Board of Trustees of the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland.  Ron is also a past president of the Norman S. Minor Bar Association.    

    Nominated by colleagues, Mr. Johnson has been named a rising star in Crain’s Cleveland, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Ohio Super Lawyers.  Ron is a graduate of the University of Akron School of Law and holds a Master of Business Administration from Baldwin-Wallace University and a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance from Cleveland State University.

    Mr. Johnson and his wife Concetta are the proud parents of triplets, Isaiah, Joshua and Alexandria.

    Marlon A. Primes

    Marlon A. Primes was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, and graduated from Akron’s Archbishop Hoban High School.  Mr Primes subsequently attended Ohio University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, with honors, in 1986, and was named one of five Outstanding Senior Leaders, the Outstanding Graduate in Broadcast News Journalism, and the Outstanding Black Graduating Senior.  After graduating from Ohio University, Mr Primess served as a Fellow for the Council of Legal Education Opportunity Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Mr Primes received his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1989, served as a law clerk for the Honorable Wilford Johansen of the National Labor Relations Board, and has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Cleveland for the past twenty-three (23) years. 

    Mr Primes is the current and first African-American president of the William K. Thomas Chapter of the American Inns of Court in Cleveland, where he is a Master of the Bench. Mr Primes is a 2015 Fellow at the Ohio State Bar Association Foundation, and he recently served as Chairman of the Litigation Section of the Ohio State Bar Association (“OSBA”) from 2013-2015, and has served as a member of the OSBA Council of Delegates. Mr Primes was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association (“CMBA”) from 2012-2015, the Board of Trustees of the CMBA Foundation from 2005-2011, and the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Bar Association (“CBA”) from 2001-2004, where he chaired the CBA’s Litigation Section and the CBA’s Justice For All Committee, which planned and coordinated the bar association’s volunteer activities.

    Mr Primes has also served from 2002-2008 as the national vice president of the National Bar Association (“NBA”), which is the oldest and largest association of African-American attorneys in the country, and he served as the president of the NBA’s Cleveland affiliate chapter, the Norman S. Minor Bar Association, in 1996-1997.  And, from 1999-2013, Mr Primes served as an adjunct professor at the University of Akron’s Paralegal Studies Program.       

    In 2012, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association named Mr. Primes the Volunteer of Year.

    Some of the many volunteer activities Mr Primes has participated in over the years include:  (1) organizing a free legal clinic in New Orleans, which was simulcast to various cities around the country to help those impacted by Hurricane Katrina; (2) a volunteer day program at a former, local youth detention facility, where volunteers mentored youth and participated in a cook out,   flag football, and basketball games; and (3) a mock suppression hearing and annual field trip for local high school students to the federal courthouse.

    Mr Primes lives in Cleveland Heights, with his wife (Kathi) of twenty-four (24) years, who he met while they both were volunteering at their alma mater, Ohio University. They are the proud parents of Markus, who is a recent graduate of Purdue University and an analyst in the aviation industry in Washington, D.C., and Kayla, who is a sophomore at Howard University.

    Chief Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr.


    Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by President Clinton on May 9, 1994.  He has served as Chief Judge of that court since June 1, 2010.

    Judge Oliver was born in Bessemer, Alabama, the fourth of ten children of Reverend Solomon Oliver and Mrs. Willie Lee Oliver.  He attended the segregated public schools of Bessemer, graduating from J. S. Abrams High School in 1965.  Oliver graduated from the College of Wooster with honors in 1969, majoring in philosophy and political science.  He received a J.D. degree from New York University in 1972, and a Master's degree in Political Science from Case Western Reserve University in 1974.

    Oliver served as Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Wooster from 1972 to 1975.  From 1975 to 1976, he served as a law clerk to the late Judge William H. Hastie of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Hastie was the first African American to serve as an Article III judge.  From 1976 to 1982, Oliver served with the U.S. Justice Department as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland.  From July, 1978 to March, 1982, he was Chief of the Civil Section of the United States Attorney’s Office.  In March of 1982, he became Chief of Appellate Litigation in that office.  Oliver joined Cleveland-Marshall College of Law of Cleveland State University as a faculty member in the fall of 1982.  From May, 1991 to May, 1994, he served as Associate Dean of Faculty and Administration at the Law School.

    Judge Oliver has written articles and lectured on a wide range of topics at colleges and universities, at continuing legal education seminars and at judicial conferences.  Judge Oliver was especially gratified to deliver a keynote address entitled, “The Role of Judicial Review in a Democracy” in March of 1995 at a conference of East African judges in Arusha, Tanzania.  His most recent publications include an article on educating law students for the practice of law, an article on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and a chapter on summary judgment.

    Oliver has received various awards, including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Wooster and the Distinguished Alumni Award from New York University Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association.  He has served as Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence at Touro College of Law and Jurist-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.  He has also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Akron and an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from New England School of Law-Boston.

    Judge Oliver previously served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body of the federal judiciary, and currently serves on its Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.  He is a member of the American Law Institute, the American Bar Foundation and the Board of Trustees of the College of Wooster.  He previously served as Chair of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and is its Immediate Past Chair.  He has also co-chaired the ABA Litigation Section’s Minority Trial Lawyer Committee. While a faculty member at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, he served on the Board of Trustees as a faculty representative.

    Judge Oliver is married to Louisa S. Oliver, and they have two adult sons, Solomon Michael of Portland, Oregon and Jonathan Douglass of New York City.

    2014 Trailblazer Award Recipients


    Blazing Trails from the Community, the Bench, and the Boardroom!

    Community Trailblazer:

    Reverand Dr. Stephen Rowan, Bethany Baptist Church

    Bench Trailblazer:

    Honorable Melody J. Stewart, Ohio Court of Appeals - Eighth District

    Boardroom Trailblazer:

    Michelle Johnson Tidjani, Deputy Chief Legal Officer at Cleveland Clinic

    Honorable Melody J. Stewart

    Elected to the Ohio Court of Appeals – Eighth Appellate District in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, Judge Melody Stewart has over 25 years of combined administrative, legal, and academic experience.  She has been an administrator for a healthcare management company, a music teacher, a civil defense litigator, and a law school administrator and professor. In 2013 she served as the court's Administrative Judge.

    Judge Stewart earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, obtained her law degree as a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellow from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University, and completed her Ph.D. as a Mandel Leadership Fellow at Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

    After practicing law as an assistant law director for the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland, Judge Stewart worked as a lecturer, an adjunct instructor, and an assistant dean at Cleveland-Marshall before joining the faculty. Her primary teaching areas were ethics and professional responsibility, criminal law, criminal procedure, and legal research, writing and advocacy. Additionally, she taught at the University of Toledo College of Law, at Ursuline College, and was Director of Student Services at Case Western Reserve’s School of Law.

    Judge Stewart has served on many boards of trustees and been a member of various professional, civic, and community organizations. She also served as a Volunteer Magistrate Judge for the Cuyahoga County juvenile diversion program and was a commissioner and chair of the Board of Planning and Zoning for the City of Euclid. Currently, she serves on the board of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College and on several committees of the Judicial College and the Ohio Judicial Conference. Judge Stewart is admitted to practice in the state and federal courts in Ohio, the District of Columbia, and the United States Supreme Court.

    Rev. Dr. Stephen Rowan

    Rev. Dr. Stephen Rowan currently serves as Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, located in Cleveland’s Glenville community where their mission focuses on being “God’s People, Doing God’s Business, God’s Way.”  Bethany Baptist Church engages in numerous outreach ministries, some of which include: Food Bank, Shoes and Clothes for Kids, and the newest outreach ministry, Kingdom Korner, which is a center focused on building and uplifting the community by providing resource referral and support services.

    He is the former Assistant Director of Development and Program Officer for Faith Based/Digital Divide Programs at The Cleveland Foundation, the nation’s oldest and second largest Community Foundation. He is the former Chief Deputy Administrator for Cuyahoga County, where he also served as Director of Operations for the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging. He is a former partner with the law firm of Ulmer & Berne, LLP, where he specialized in public law and minority and female businesses. Over the years he has served on local, regional and national boards, Committees and Task Forces that seek to build and sustain healthy communities.

    Current activities include membership in several Ministerial Alliances, The Cleveland Foundation Board of Directors, the Cleveland State University NEOMED Advisory Board, and the Cleveland Clinic Ethics Committee. A graduate of Glenville High School, Pastor Rowan holds degrees from Knox College (BA), Northern Illinois University (MPA), Cleveland State University (JD), Trinity Theological Seminary (M Div.) and Ashland Theological Seminary (D Min.).

    Michelle Johnson Tidjani

    Michelle Johnson Tidjani is a healthcare lawyer with 15 years of experience representing physicians and hospitals throughout the country. She currently serves as Deputy Chief Legal Officer at the Cleveland Clinic foundation and is a recognized strategic partner in healthcare reimbursement, reform, antitrust, and regulatory matters.

    During her tenure with the Cleveland Clinic she has served as: Assistant Secretary, Cleveland Clinic Health System Physician Organization; Counsel, Cleveland Clinic Medicare Accountable Care Organization; Counsel, National Orthopedic and Spine alliance; Member of the Executive Diversity Counsel; Co-Chair, Women in Search of Excellence; and Mentor, Cleveland Clinic Young Business Leaders Summer Program. Ms. Johnson Tidjani also serves as an Assistant Soccer Coach, a Girl Scout Mom and is an active participant in the Solon Parent Teacher Association. She is married to Nassirou Tidjani, and together they are the proud parents of Kennedy and Obafemi.

    Prio to joining the Cleveland Clinic, Ms. Johnson Tidjani served as Senior Counsel at Tenet Healthcare, in Dallas, Texas, and was an Associate at Smith, Haughey, Rice & Roegge, PLLC and Hall, Killian, Health & Lyman in Michigan.

    Ms. Johnson Tidjani is a 1995 graduate of Cornell University, with honors, and a 1998 graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

    Redia Anderson- Guest Speaker for the Traiblazer Luncheon

    Redia Anderson is an executive coach, diversity and inclusion strategist, author and speaker. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of Anderson People Strategies, LLC a Human Resources management consulting and executive coaching firm committed to aligning talent, performance and business results.

    Nationally recognized as a leader in the field of Diversity & Inclusion, Redia is a senior executive with more than 25 years experience in Human Resources and Inclusion management. As a former Chief Diversity Officer, across industry leading organizations recognized for their management depth and leadership strength - Deloitte & Touché LLP, Equiva Services (JV between Shell, Texaco, and Saudi Aramco), Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Abbott Laboratories - Redia has successfully engaged and led organizations in enterprise-wide change efforts focused on the advancement and retention of top performing talent inclusive of women and people of color in an inclusive work culture for all. She has coached and engaged highly talented leaders and executives in positive behavioral shifts which tightly align their performance and business results. Redia’s work as an Executive Coach has helped leaders gain greater insight into their leadership strengths, learning edges, and interpersonal skills as each area impacts their ability to succeed in driving business results in today’s complex, global business environments. Redia has worked closely with executives at Deloitte, Shell, the University of Houston, KPMG, ExxonMobil, Hewitt, PwC, ConAgra, and many other organizations.

    Redia brings a unique style and approach for driving comprehensive, tangible, and practical business results for accelerated leadership development and organizational change in an inclusive environment. She is a Certified Hudson Institute Executive Coach and a member of The International Coach Federation, the American Society of Training and Development, National Speakers Association, Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Network and Society for Human Resource Management.

    Redia received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Incarnate Word University and her graduate degree in clinical psychology from Trinity University, both in San Antonio, Texas. Redia consults and holds certifications in Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence, Myers-Briggs, The Birkman Method, Leadership Effectiveness Analysis and several other assessment instruments. She is the co-author of Trailblazers: How Top Business Leaders Are Accelerating Results through Inclusion and Diversity and founder of AuthenticAllies® a 21st Century Women’s Leadership Development Program. She has served on numerous boards focused on health, children’s, and women’s issues.

    Redia lives in Houston, Texas.

    Contact Redia:; 713-906-2866

    2014 Trailblazer Luncheon Sponsors

    Signature Sponsor: Thompson Hine

    Barrister: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Squire Patton Boggs & Taft, Stettinius & Hollster LLP

    Advocate: Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Cleveland Marshall Law Alumni Association, Thacker Martinsek, Tucker Ellis, Dominion, Ulmer & Berne LLP, The Cleveland Foundation & Roetzel & Andress

    Counselor: Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Ohio State Bar Association, Sheryl King Benford, Reminger, Parker Hannifin Corporation & Special Counsel

    Table: Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, Legal Aid Society, Littler Mendelson, Bethany Baptist Church, Pinkney-Perry/Hylant Group, Cleveland Municipal Court, Brouse McDowell & Gallagher Sharp

    Academic: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Squire Patton Boggs, Britton Smith Peters Kalail Co. L.P.A. & Eaton Corporation

    2013 Trailblazer Award Recipients

    Sheryl King Benford

    Since April 2000, Sheryl King Benford has served as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's General Counsel and Deputy General Manager for Legal Affairs. GCRTA was named North America's Best Public Transit System by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in 2007. She supervises a staff of 35 employees who handle litigation, labor issues, workers' compensation, risk management, safety, and the office of equal opportunity.

    Attorney Benford was the first African American to serve as Law Director for the City of Shaker Heights. She was the first African American woman to serve as Assistant Dean at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.

    She is a past president of the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association, Cleveland Chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and the Cuyahoga County Law Directors Association. Ms. Benford was the first African American to serve as President of the Ohio Municipal Lawyers Association. She is currently President Elect of the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA). Ms. Benford is also a member of the American Public Transit Association (APTA) Legal Affairs Committee.

    Ms. Benford is affiliated with a number of volunteer organizations. She is Secretary of the Board of the Cleveland Sight Center and is the first woman and the first African American to serve as Chair of the Board of The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio (formerly NCCJ).

    She has received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association, was named a "Woman of Note" by Crain's Cleveland Business, and was listed in the "Top 500 Most Influential Women in Northeast Ohio" by Northern Ohio Live Magazine.

    Ms. Benford received the Charles Rhine Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in local government law from IMLA; The George B. Davis Distinguished Alumni Award for her service to Cleveland State University. She has been recognized for advocacy and commitment to fair housing by both The Housing Research and Advocacy Center and Cuyahoga Plan of Ohio.

    Sonali Bustamante Wilson

    Since 2004, Sonali has served as general counsel of Cleveland State University. She was first affiliated with the University in 1996 as a lecturer in the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law where she taught advanced brief writing. She became assistant university legal counsel in 1997 and board secretary in 2000, a position she held until 2011.

    She is board member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, serves as the first Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and is a member of The Norman S. Minor Bar Association. Sonali holds a bachelor's degree in history from Boston University, a master's degree in government studies from Harvard University, and a juris doctorate degree from Georgetown University Law Center. In 1986, she served as the first law clerk to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert R. Brown, now retired. From 1988-1994, she was an appellate litigation associate with the Cleveland office of Arter & Hadden, and in private practice from 1994- 1997.

    Active in community service, she is currently a member of the Cleveland Institute of Music Board of Trustees, the University Hospitals' MacDonald Women's Health Leadership Council, the National Legal Committee of The Links, Incorporated., a member of The Greater Cleveland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the National Leadership Advisory Council to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Boston University. She takes time to serve several other charitable and service organizations, and loves spending time with her husband, Dr. N. Stephen Wilson, II, and their children, Martine and twins Joy and Julian, who are attending college.

    Audrey H. Davis

    Audrey H. Davis, Chief General Counselor, has over 35 years of broad-based legal experience. She has worked both in the public and private sectors. Her prior experience includes serving as a Prosecutor for the City of Cleveland for over four (4) years. She commenced employment with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in December, 2000 as a Senior Staff Attorney, and in June 2004 was appointed to the position of Chief General Counsel. She is currently in charge of CMHA's Office of Legal Affairs, which includes supervising other attorneys and legal staff, and the Risk Management and Environmental Affairs Departments. She handles all phases of legal matters necessary to CMHA's business operations, including but not limited to the responsibility for major and minor litigation filed by or against CMHA in the areas of personal injury, housing, labor and employment, insurance, construction, workers' compensation, labor arbitrations, and matters pending before administrative legal tribunals, etc. She also renders legal advice and opinions to agency clients.

    Attorney Davis received her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia State University, and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. She is a member of numerous professional, community and social organizations. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She is admitted to the Ohio State Bar, the Federal District Court, and to practice in the Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. She was recently awarded the prestigious 2013 Glass Ceiling Award. She is married to Ollie Davis, a forty-year retired veteran of the City of Cleveland Police Department and the mother of Travee Davis Sanderson. She is the proud grandmother of two grandchildren, Aiyana and James.

    Renee Tramble Richard

    Ms. Richard provides legal counsel and advice to every department of the College. Reporting directly to the Board of Trustees and the Office of the President, Ms. Richard and her team handle all in-house legal issues, including Board of Trustee resolutions and matters, employment issues, contract review, academic and student issues, and public record requests. In addition, Ms. Richard oversees the College's Records Management Department, which includes the College archives, and sets policies related to records retention and storage.

    Ms. Richard comes to the College after being a Partner with Roetzel & Andress, LPA, in their Public Finance Department. While with Roetzel she focused her practice on public law and public finance. She has experience serving as bond counsel, underwriter's counsel, bank counsel and placement agent's counsel. Ms. Richard managed both tax-exempt and taxable bond financings from the initial structuring session to the bond funding and closing. Her financings included various revenue and general obligation financings, including industrial development revenue bonds, housing revenue bonds, special assessments, water revenue bonds, airport revenue bonds, conduit financings and 501(c)(3) bonds. She worked extensively with municipal and state governments, nonprofit organizations, housing finance agencies, housing authorities, institutions of higher education and community development corporations.

    Ms. Richard served for two years as general counsel to the Cleveland Citywide Development Corporation and served for four years as general counsel to the Cuyahoga County Housing Consortium. She also served on numerous boards and audit committees, including the Economic Development Loan Review Committee for the Cuyahoga County Community Improvement Corporation.

    Ms. Richard worked in a similar capacity with the following law firms: Squire Sanders (2000-2007) Senior Associate, Calfee Halter (1992-2000) Associate and Benesch Friedlander (1989-1992) Associate. Prior to her legal career, Ms. Richard was a Principal in the Cleveland Accounting firm Watson, Rice & Co.