The Legal’s editorial staff recently set out to select our Women of the Year, in which we highlight the achievements of top women lawyers across the state. We name a new group of women every two years in an effort to illuminate the valuable work being done by women throughout the state in all areas of the legal profession. Our staff examined our archives and asked for insight from respected legal professionals in coming up with our list of honorees. The scope of our search was broad, looking at women working at law firms, public interest organizations, government agencies and anywhere else that women lawyers are able to make an impact.
Though this is far from a complete list of women who have made a mark with their work, we think this group deserves a special spotlight. These women, who hail from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and many of the smaller communities throughout the rest of the state, positively affected the legal profession in Pennsylvania in a number of different ways over the past two years.
The group contains judges at the heart of high-profile cases and attorneys representing clients in similarly precedential proceedings. These women have fought to protect children and those endangered by sexual abuse in a year in which its dangers have become as prominent as ever. They serve on committees focused on bringing equality to the legal community, and they serve as examples for other women by stepping into roles previously held only by men. They have made an impact from the courtrooms, the board rooms, the benches and the law schools across the state.
We are honored to name the following women as The Legal ‘s 2012 Women of the Year.
Sara A. Begley
Sara Begley is a litigation partner in Reed Smith’s Philadelphia office, focusing her practice largely on employment and breach-of-contract cases.
Over the past year, Begley successfully represented Siemens Medical Solutions USA Inc., in a case in which a Philadelphia trial court decertified a wage-and-hour class action against the company.
Begley also represented Verizon Communications in a case in which the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a civil rights action against the company that had alleged national origin discrimination and retaliation.
Similarly, Begley successfully defended client Amtrak in Eastern District federal court from a suit in which the plaintiff alleged racial discrimination by the Amtrak Police Department.
A 1987 Georgetown University Law Center graduate, Begley has been with Reed Smith her entire legal career.
Virginia “Ginny” Gibson
Virginia Gibson spent the bulk of her career working her way up the ladder of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, rising to first assistant U.S. attorney and then executive assistant. Gibson decided to try her hand at private practice and joined Hogan Lovells’ Philadelphia office in late 2010.
The former prosecutor, who was at one point in charge of all health care and government fraud cases, has become involved in high-stakes litigation in the private sector as well.
In early 2012, Gibson took on the representation of 29-year-old piano teacher Amanda Holt, who led a group of petitioners who objected to the statewide redistricting plan. Gibson’s methodical, well-prepared oral arguments to the Supreme Court, along with the work of other attorneys representing additional objectors, resulted in a victory for her clients.
In February 2012, a split Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the petitioners seeking to throw out the redistricting maps had made a “concrete showing” that the commission’s plan ran contrary to law, demonstrating the commission split counties, municipalities and wards when it was not “absolutely necessary.”
At Hogan Lovells, Gibson serves as a partner in the litigation, arbitration and employment practice groups, splitting her time between the Philadelphia and Washington offices.
Heather C. Giordanella
When Drinker Biddle & Reath counsel Heather Giordanella isn’t focused on special master services, employment disputes, commercial litigation and federal and state qui tam litigation, she is focused on advancing women in the profession.
In July 2011, Giordanella was sworn in as the 112th president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. The organization’s annual survey has shown there has been little in the way of advancement of women to the highest levels of law firm leadership.
A few years ago, NAWL challenged all sectors of the legal profession to get the number of women in their organizations to 30 percent by 2015. Giordanella admitted last year that the vision was put out there to give organizations a goal to work toward, but there is still a ways to go.
“We need to continue to advocate for women to be in leadership positions in law firms,” she said at the time, “because giving women those opportunities definitely helps overall in the retention and promotion of women.”
Giordanella had been involved with NAWL long before taking over as president. Her work for the organization prior to her latest position focused on programming and working with sponsors.
Kristin I. Wells
Kristin Wells joined Reed Smith in 2010 from Pepper Hamilton, along with former Texas Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg. The two had jointly handled their sports and entertainment practice while at Pepper Hamilton, but at the time they switched firms, Greenberg was concentrating on his efforts to purchase and run the Rangers. That gave Wells the opportunity to take a leadership role in transitioning and overseeing the pair’s practice.
Since joining Reed Smith, Wells has had a lead role in a number of sports-related deals and has expanded her mergers and acquisitions practice to areas outside the sports and entertainment arenas.
In 2010, Wells led the deal team in six countries in the acquisition by SKF, the world’s largest ball bearing manufacturer, of a lubrication pump maker with operations in the United States, China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Canada, for a purchase price of more than $1 billion. She also led the deal team in five countries in the acquisition by SKF of a bearings manufacturer with operations located in the United States, China, Thailand, Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Wells has represented investor groups in the acquisition of major and minor league sports franchises. She also counsels major and minor league sports franchises in their daily operations, negotiating all material agreements.
Carol Nelson Shepherd
Carol Nelson Shepherd is a founding member of Philadelphia-based personal injury firm Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig. She has long been prominent in her field, serving as the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association’s first female president and the second woman to serve as president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, now known as the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.
But it is her continued work, and strong results, in high-stakes litigation cases that warrants her being included among The Legal ‘s Women of the Year.
In May 2011, Shepherd obtained a $4.5 million settlement shortly after trial began in a dental malpractice case arising out of a suburban Philadelphia county. In November 2011, she reached a $4 million settlement in a Western Pennsylvania obstetrics case. In late 2010, Shepherd reached a $1.2 million settlement in a wrongful death case against a health care provider in New Jersey.
Shepherd’s practice is devoted to catastrophic injury claims arising from medical negligence.
Patricia L. Dodge
For Patricia Dodge, the last few months have brought with them a number of leadership positions added to her list of duties both at her firm, Meyer Unkovic & Scott, and beyond.
At the start of 2012, the commercial litigation and products liability attorney took over as managing partner of her firm. With that role, she also maintains her position as head of the firm’s business litigation group. She also recently took over as president of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County.
Dodge isn’t just focused on leadership positions, however. She has been involved in a number of significant cases in the last few years. Perhaps most notable was her work with Meyer Unkovic partner Russell J. Ober Jr. to secure a $104 million verdict in May 2011 for the plaintiffs, Allegheny Energy Supply Company and Monongahela Power Company, in a breach of contract dispute over coal delivery.
Dodge has represented a wide range of foreign and domestic corporations, closely-held businesses, municipal agencies and individuals in connection with complex commercial litigation, securities fraud, products liability and land use litigation. She frequently serves as a mediator and neutral evaluator in lawsuits pending in federal court.
Catherine M. Recker
White-collar criminal defense attorney Catherine Recker of Welsh & Recker has made appearances in some of the region’s highest-profile matters in the last few years.
Most recently, Recker’s firm was hired by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to oversee the civil and criminal litigation relating to the priest sex-abuse scandal. The firm has taken a lead on filings related to privilege issues in the criminal case against Monsignor William Lynn, along with overseeing the logistics of the archdiocese’s response to the litigation.
Recker has also served as the attorney for Jeffrey Rotwitt, the former Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel partner fired after it came to light that he represented both the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania and the proposed developer of a new family courthouse site the FJD hired Rotwitt to help implement. In litigation brought by the FJD against Rotwitt and Obermayer Rebmann, Recker is representing Rotwitt’s real estate company, Deilwydd Property Group FC LLC.
Recker has handled cases involving allegations of antitrust and securities violations, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other import/export violations, tax fraud, environmental violations, public corruption charges and Food Drug and Cosmetic Act violations, False Claims Act and anti-kickback laws.
Sharon L. Caffrey
Sharon Caffrey is chairwoman of the products liability and toxic torts section of Duane Morris’ trial practice. Caffrey has long counted among her clients auto manufacturing giant Ford Motor Co.
It was her work for Ford that has landed Caffrey among The Legal ‘s latest Women of the Year.
The case of Webber v. Ford Motor Co. involved several unique legal issues.
After more than two weeks of trial, a Philadelphia jury found for three defendants in a case involving the theory that Ford was liable for the plaintiff’s asbestos-related disease because the design of the Ford vehicles necessitated the use of brake products containing asbestos.
The case was one of the very first asbestos cases to be tried straight through after the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court ordered the end of reverse-bifurcation in asbestos cases unless both sides agree to it. It was also the first case arguing such a liability theory to be tried through to trial, one of the attorneys had said.
A verdict against Ford would have meant the first time plaintiffs would have won a verdict on the theory that a car manufacturer was liable for the design of a product that required asbestos-containing brakes.
Caffrey heads Duane Morris’ women’s initiative.
In February 2012, Keir Bradford-Grey rose to the rank of Chief Public Defender of Montgomery County. Prior to that, Bradford-Grey had been an assistant public defender in Delaware.
Bradford-Grey is the first African-American and second woman to hold the position in Montgomery County. She is also the first African-American woman to head a department in the county government.
Bradford-Grey joined the Delaware Federal Defender’s Office in 2007, and between 1999 and 2007 she was an assistant public defender in Philadelphia. She became known for pioneering the use of DNA, linguistics and handwriting expertise in constructing effective criminal defenses. She also helped bring the Delaware Federal Defender’s Office to number one in acquittals among the nation’s federal defender organizations by winning a number of cases.
As part of her goals as chief public defender, Bradford-Grey said she wanted to focus on reducing recidivism for juvenile offenders, reducing wrongful convictions, respecting the victims of crime, efficiently using limited taxpayer resources and ensuring fair administration of justice from law enforcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marilyn May has achieved success as a prosecutor in the field of health care law by taking on cases involving pharmaceutical companies as well as nursing home facilities. She is the civil health care fraud coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and in the last several years she has been involved in the criminal and civil resolutions of numerous cases against pharmaceutical companies totaling $3 billion. Her latest prosecutions include cases against Novartis, Schering Plough, Cephalon, Eli Lilly and Pfizer. The Lilly resolution, which totaled $1.4 billion, was the largest pharmaceutical fraud resolution at that point in U.S. history, and the most recent resolution, involving Novartis in fall 2010, totaled $422.5 million. Her efforts have helped make the Eastern District’s office one of the leading offices for health care fraud in the country.
May has also pursued cases that aimed to reform the field of nursing homes and care facilities. In a case against Willowcrest nursing home in which she was the lead counsel, May included in the resolution of the case a requirement that the facility hire a full-time physician’s assistant. In another case, she convinced the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to join an injunction action that caused the closure of a facility providing substandard care to medically fragile children.
Mary Cushing Doherty
Mary Cushing Doherty is a partner at High Swartz and head of its family law practice. In her professional career and in her service as a teacher and lecturer she has advanced the interests of women and women lawyers.
Doherty received recognition from the Pennsylvania Bar Association last year for working with the bar association’s family law section to construct custody legislation. As a member of the state’s advisory committee on assisted reproduction technologies, she also helped construct legislation now pending registration that creates guidelines for establishing legal parents for children born with the assistance of reproductive technologies.
Doherty also teaches and lectures on family law for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and Upper Dublin High School, and in the past she has lectured at the Villanova University School of Law and Widener University. She will be awarded the 2012 Lynette Norton Award by the bar association’s commission on women in the profession for her litigation skills and her history of teaching and mentoring young women lawyers.
Elizabeth K. McManus
Beth McManus is the associate director for professional development at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is the first person to hold the position, which was created two years ago. McManus develops courses and extracurricular programs that focus on teaching students the kinds of intangible skills that they will need for a career in law: client development, working as outside counsel, mentoring, the economics of running a firm and looking at cases from a client’s point of view. Her job is to fill the gap between standard classroom material and hands-on experience to ensure that Penn Law students will succeed after graduation.
McManus has previously worked at Proskauer Rose in New York and Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia, and she clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Renee Bumb in Camden, N.J.
Pearl Kim is an assistant district attorney in the special victims and domestic violence division of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office. She handles cases in the areas of rape, physical and sexual child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking and internet crimes against children. Kim recently secured the first trafficking of persons conviction under Pennsylvania’s trafficking statute.
Kim is highly regarded as an expert in her field of work. She was appointed to serve on the Joint State Government Commission’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking, and she was a faculty member for the 2012 Institute on the Prosecution of Human Trafficking. She has been cross-deputized as a special assistant district attorney for Montgomery County, and she helped create the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce Initiative.
A graduate of Villanova School of Law, Kim sits on the executive committee of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the board of directors for the Institute for the Advancement of Women in Law Enforcement and the board of directors for Pearl S. Buck International.
Marci A. Hamilton
On the cover of Marci A. Hamilton’s 2008 book, Justice Denied , reads, “What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.”
In 2011, that message resonated particularly clearly in Pennsylvania, where Hamilton’s Washington Crossing, Pa., practice focuses on helping victims of childhood, and childhood sexual, abuse. Last year, Pennsylvanians watched two former Luzerne County judges go off to federal prison for their roles in a scandal dubbed by prosecutors as “Kids-for-Cash,” a once-revered assistant football coach from the state’s most prominent football program arrested on charges of sexually abusing at least 10 boys, and prepared for the start of a landmark sex-abuse trial in Philadelphia against members of the archdiocese.
Hamilton, who is also a Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law professor, is representing the first alleged victim to file civil charges against the former Penn State assistant, Jerry Sandusky.
A clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Hamilton said she has focused her career on fighting sex abuse for about 15 years.
The sitting Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Cardozo, Hamilton is recognized as a leading church and state scholar and an expert in constitutional law.
According to the website for the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, Hamilton is “frequently asked to advise Congress and state legislatures on the constitutionality of pending legislation and to consult in cases involving important constitutional issues.”
And there’s one piece of legislation Hamilton would happily see through the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Hamilton has long advocated for the passage of “window statutes” in state legislatures to allow alleged victims of sex abuse to bring claims that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.
She called it the “one tried and true measure we know of that levels the playing field and protects children most effectively.”
Cynthia M. Rufe
In 2011, Cynthia M. Rufe, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, issued a number of opinions defining the scope of the massive, multidistrict litigation over alleged side effects from the diabetes drug Avandia.
In two opinions last fall, Rufe rejected efforts by the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to significantly limit the scope of the case.
But, in a win for GSK, Rufe issued six separate opinions dismissing proposed class action suits by former users of the drug who have suffered no side effects, but who sought medical monitoring and demanded refunds under state consumer protection law.
The body of rulings points to a daunting task for Rufe, controlling litigation that could come in the tens of thousands of cases after cases in state courts around the country are factored in.
Several of the cases under Rufe’s jurisdiction have settled.
At issue in the multidistrict litigation is whether GSK included adequate warnings in February 2001 about the risk of congestive heart failure associated with taking Avandia.
On top of presiding over the massive lawsuit, Rufe was also honored with the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Sandra Day O’Connor Award in 2011.
Chosen in part for her leadership on civics education, Rufe joins 17 other female attorneys who have demonstrated superior legal talent, achieved legal accomplishments and advanced women in the profession and the community.
Rufe joined the federal bench in 2002. She was a Bucks County Common Pleas Court judge from 1994 until her federal appointment.
Cheryl L. Austin
With her election in November 2011, Judge Cheryl L. Austin became the first African-American woman to sit on the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.
Before the former Montgomery County prosecutor was sworn into her post, Judge Garrett D. Page was the only African-American on the 23-judge bench.
With her election, the retired Navy captain also added to another thin field of representation in Montgomery County — military veterans. Austin has said she focused on her military experience in her second judicial campaign. (She ran unsuccessfully in 2009.)
Before her election to the bench, Austin was a Montgomery County assistant solicitor who focused her private practice on elder law. She also has worked for the public defender’s office. Austin attended Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, in the evening program while working during the day.
Deficiencies in the legal representation of youths in cases in which it is alleged their families harmed or neglected them inspired statewide training in 2011. Butler County Common Pleas Judge Kelley Streib chaired a work group to look at improving dependency practice as part of a reform effort by the state Supreme Court. The court has a five-year-old initiative to improve dependency courts around the state. The training sessions, developed under a state roundtable of child welfare leaders convened under the auspices of the Supreme Court, were the first of their kind in Pennsylvania to specifically address the needs of attorneys representing children and parents in the child dependency system. There is little turnover in the dependency bar, so because the series of six statewide trainings involved about 450 trainees, most of the attorneys doing this kind of practice regularly were likely reached by the trainings. Streib hears dependency, divorce, custody and adoptions in her county.
Roberta D. Pichini
Roberta “Bobbie” Pichini became the first woman president in 2011 of an invitation-only group that aims to promote the rule of law and administration of justice internationally. As president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, Pichini started work on expanding the academy’s cultural exchange programs to other countries. Currently, members host lawyers from China and Ireland in cultural exchange programs in which the American trial lawyer hosts open their homes and their law offices to a foreign delegate to show them American life and law. More than 500 actively practicing American attorneys are in the group. Invitations are based upon a trial attorney’s litigation history, including information from lawyers on the other sides of cases and from judges in front of whom the attorneys have appeared.
Pichini is a plaintiffs attorney with Feldman Sheperd Tanner Weinstock & Dodig in Philadelphia. Her practice includes medical malpractice, products liability and catastrophic accident cases.
Naomi K. McLaurin
Naomi McLaurin was hired in the fall of 2010 as the Philadelphia Bar Association’s director of diversity. The office of diversity serves to unify Philadelphia’s minority, LGBT and specialty bar associations. McLaurin had already worked for a decade on the issue of recruiting and retaining attorneys from diverse backgrounds in Atlanta and in Washington, D.C. In working on the issue of diversity in the legal profession in Philadelphia, McLaurin was a key organizer of the bar association’s first-ever national event looking at the issue. While the association has hosted many events through the years on diversity in the legal profession, the National Symposium on Diversity in the Legal Profession in October was the first time the association has pulled so many speakers from around the country to Philadelphia. McLaurin has been clear that an exclusive focus on reaching out to attorneys of diverse backgrounds has not worked very well in diversifying the legal profession. McLaurin has both written and spoken publicly about the roles that white men can play in advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. For herself, McLaurin says that some of her most important mentors were white men.
M. Teresa Sarmina
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is presiding this spring over the trial of the first Catholic Church official charged with endangering the welfare of children sexually abused by members of the priesthood. However the case turns out, Sarmina will likely set legal precedent in her rulings. In addition, as one of the city’s homicide judges, Sarmina worked to improve the system for selecting attorneys who handle homicide cases. In March 2011, the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Board of Judges approved a new system for selecting attorneys who handle homicide cases. Instead of judges appointing attorneys, a screening committee, including judges and lawyers, is vetting the qualifications of attorneys. The new system takes into account an attorney’s education and experience, the continuing legal education an attorney has obtained and the kind of work the attorney has done on other homicides. The theory behind the system is that more prepared attorneys are less likely to result in the costs associated with convictions getting reversed because of ineffective assistance of counsel. Though the homicide appointment system committee was temporarily suspended, the committee is slated to start accepting new applications for court appointments beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
Marsha H. Neifield
When Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield was elected by her peers to lead the court, Neifield said she was a litigator at heart. It turns out that Neifield was a problem-solver at heart, as several programs aimed at addressing the underlying problems that have brought defendants into the criminal justice system have been started under her watch. Even before her president judgeship, Neifield presided over an initiative to centralize the cases of criminal defendants who have mental health issues in her courtroom. With prosecutors and defense attorneys, the court has developed a more expansive model of community-based diversion programs for lower-level crime. Alternative Misdemeanor Program (AMP) started in July 2010. The goal of AMP is to adjudicate more types of crimes with restorative sanctions and to enable people to move on with their lives without being forever tarnished with a conviction for a less-serious brush with the criminal justice system. The court also put together a “crash court,” which allows defendants to resolve their cases faster through an appearance in court over a video link, and a problem-solving court for veterans. Neifield also became the first woman to serve as the municipal court’s president judge.