01 Oct IMLA Recognizes Our Members for National Hispanic Heritage Month
For more than 30 years, from September 15- October 15, the United States has recognized and celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month. This month-long recognition is meant to celebrate the contributions and achievements of members in Hispanic and Latin(o/x) communities. IMLA and its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group are committed to providing our members resources that highlight DEI issues affecting Hispanic and Latin(o/x) attorneys and the communities they represent.
Attorneys with Spanish-speaking roots have slowly made their mark on U.S. legal history and—only recently—assumed some of the highest levels in legal/judicial office. In 2009, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, was appointed as the first Hispanic associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
IMLA would also like to recognize our members, nominated by their peers, who serve as powerful examples of leadership in our legal communities.
Attorney at Law, Bojorquez Law Firm, PC
Bertha has over 30 years’ experience in a broad range of municipal and local government law. Most recently, she served as Senior Assistant City Attorney with the City of El Paso. During her 8 year tenure, she provided legal assistance in real estate, tax and budget, financial services, procurement (both for goods and services and construction), employee benefits and risk management, information technology, utility regulation, including telecommunications, as well as general municipal law matters such as public information and open meeting laws. Bertha received her Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law and graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts.
Diana Cortes (she/her/ella) is the City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia and is the City’s first Latina City Solicitor. Raised in New Jersey, her parents immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica. She was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney on December 11, 2020, and unanimously confirmed by City Council on February 18, 2021.
She serves as general counsel to the Mayor and his Administration, City Council, all City departments, agencies, boards, and commissions, and the City’s elected offices. She manages the City’s Law Department, which employs over 215 lawyers and over 100 professional staff. The Law Department’s diverse practice includes representing the City and its officials in all litigation; negotiating, drafting and approving City contracts for commercial, real estate and finance transactions and representing the City in social services matters.
As of 2020, the Law Department obtained Mansfield certifications from Diversity Lab. Under Cortes’ leadership, the Mansfield Rule has been extended for all exempt Law Department vacancies – not just leadership positions. Interviews also require at least one diverse interviewer and at least one DEI question to be answered by candidates. In the upcoming fiscal year, the Law Department will include a DEI assessment in all of its performance evaluations.
Diana has worked with Mayor Kenney’s Administration, City Council, DAO, and other stakeholders to improve efforts on gun violence prevention. In November 2019, she filed the first lost and stolen firearm preemption civil prosecution in Philadelphia. After defeating a motion for permanent injunction, the decision was appealed and is scheduled for argument before the Commonwealth Court in November 2021. Also, in October 2020, the Law Department along with the Public Interest Law Center and the firm Hogan Lovells filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth and General Assembly challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s firearm laws. The case is currently pending before the Commonwealth Court.
Prior to joining the Law Department, Diana was a litigator at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. in its Professional Liability Department. She represented municipalities, school districts, and police officers in civil rights litigation involving excessive force, wrongful arrest, due process violations, and malicious prosecution, among other matters.
Prior to Marshall Dennehey, she was an assistant district attorney for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, where she tried felony jury trials. She also worked in the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s Office, where she worked with juvenile victims of sex crimes in testifying against their adult perpetrators. Before the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Diana was an attorney at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP in its Litigation Department. There, her practice included a wide range of commercial litigation, white-collar criminal defense matters, international anti-trust matters, and pro bono cases.
Diana began her legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable Chief Juan R. Sánchez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and Cornell University.
Diana is a commissioner for the Governor’s Advisor Commission on Latino Affairs, member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. She is also fluent in Spanish.
Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez
Assistant City Attorney
Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez has been working in the public sector for over 20 years. Currently, Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez is an Assistant City Attorney at the City of Hialeah Law Department specializing in labor and employment which involves union negotiations and contracts, grievances and arbitrations, disability retirement benefits, FMLA, ADA, USERRA, FLSA, EEOC allegations of discrimination based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other state and federal laws. She also handles other aspects of local government – such as procurement, contract-administration, Grants, Emergency Management, garnishment, and forfeitures. Prior to her current position, she was the Director of Human Resources and Risk Management at the City of North Miami Beach. Prior to joining the City of North Miami Beach, she served for nearly 7 years as the Director of Human Resources at the City of Coral Gables. Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez also worked at the City of Miami as the Interim Director/Deputy Director in the Department of Employee Relations. While at the City of Miami (serving over 10 years), Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez also served as an Assistant City Attorney in the City Attorney’s Office assigned to the Employment & Land Use Divisions.
In her capacity as an Attorney and Human Resources professional, she works closely with the Mayor or City Manager regarding all aspects of labor and employment/personnel matters. She serves as the City’s representative before the Personnel/Civil Service Board and before arbitrators handling employment disciplines and grievances. She has also served as counsel/member for various boards/committees, including the Coral Gables Retirement/Pension Board and the City of Miami Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee, the Historic Environmental Preservation Board, the Plat & Street Committee and the Urban Development & Review Board.
Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez has a law degree from the University of Florida, College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Florida International University. She is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar. She also served since 2013 as an adjunct professor at FIU, teaching Human Resources Management & Policy in the MPA Program as well as Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector in the EMPA Program. Currently, Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez is a member of the International Municipal Law Association (IMLA) and serves as a member of the FIU MPA Advisory Board.
Kristina Escamilla Gilmore
Assistant City Attorney
Kristina Escamilla Gilmore serves as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Henderson City Attorney’s Office. She has worked for the City for 8 years. Kristina specializes in labor and employment law and provides comprehensive support to the City’s human resources department. She previously worked in the Las Vegas office of Littler Mendelson and as a law clerk for the US District Court, District of Nevada. Kristina frequently serves as a panelist for industry seminars and continuing legal education presentations discussing issues affecting public employers. She is also an active member of the Nevada Latino Bar Association.
Managing Partner, Best Best & Krieger
Managing Partner of the firm’s Ontario office, Ruben Duran represents exclusively public agencies in the Municipal Law and Government Policy & Public Integrity practice groups of Best Best & Krieger LLP. He brings a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to the practice of public law. With an emphasis on open government and transparency and complex conflicts of interest issues, as well as elections law, land use and planning issues, Ruben also provides special counsel to many of the firm’s clients. These include cities, school districts, public health plans and special districts.
He serves as city attorney for the cities of Ontario and Fontana and general counsel for the Oxnard Harbor District, which owns and operates the commercial Port of Hueneme in Ventura County. Ruben also serves as Board Counsel to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the state’s largest Metropolitan Planning Organization representing over 190 jurisdictions across six counties. As general counsel of these public entities, Ruben is responsible for all legal services, including advising the elected boards and staff at public meetings and day-to-day transactional and advisory services on issues such as public bidding and contracting, environmental laws and regulations, land use and planning, labor and employment matters, as well as oversight and management of litigation.
He has experience with public-private partnerships and is instrumental in assisting his public agency clients partner with large financial institutions and nonprofit organizations to finance and construct public projects. These include the use of New Markets Tax Credits for the development of shore-side power infrastructure and an intermodal transportation facility for the Oxnard Harbor District, where he serves as general counsel (completed 2015), and a state-of-the art health and wellness facility in the City of Desert Hot Springs, where he was city attorney (completed 2013).
Ruben previously served as city attorney of Adelanto (2017-2018) and Desert Hot Springs (2006-2012) and general counsel of the Fontana Unified School District (2011-2012).
While attending the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, Ruben was a two-time national moot court champion in the Hispanic National Bar Association’s moot court competition. Prior to attending law school, Ruben served a year as a Public Affairs Fellow in the prestigious Coro Fellowship Program in public affairs.
A frequent speaker and presenter on ethics and open government, Ruben enjoys meeting and interacting with public officials and employees from throughout the State, sharing a common goal of efficient, effective and ethical public service. He was appointed to the California State Bar Board of Trustees in 2018 by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and appointed chair of the Board in 2021. He is past president of the City Attorneys Association of Los Angeles County and a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Ruben serves as a volunteer trainer for the Institute for Local Government, providing AB 1234 and ethics training for cities throughout California, and has presented on the New Markets Tax Credits program at the American Association of Port Authorities and the Association of Pacific Ports.
Ruben is married with two adult sons. He enjoys reading, playing horseshoes and cooking. Ruben is admitted to the U.S. District Court for the Central and Northern districts of California and the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Samantha M. Vazquez
Assistant State’s Attorney
McLean County, Illinois
Samantha graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 with a BA in Linguistics and Legal Studies. She taught English as a foreign language to students aged 13 to adult in Vladimir, Russia. Upon completion of her year-long contract in Vladimir, Samantha enrolled in law school. She graduated from Saint Louis University in 2014 taking advantage of SLU’s concentration programs, earning one in civil litigation and one in criminal litigation. After graduation, she returned to her home county of McLean, Illinois and began working for a sole practitioner in the areas of family law, wills/trusts/estates, and mediation. In 2016, she joined the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) prosecuting in the criminal division for four years before transferring to the civil division in March 2020. Samantha has prosecuted everything from minor traffic to felonies, juvenile abuse and neglect to juvenile delinquency. In the civil division, she advises the County as a public entity in all areas faced by county and municipal lawyers.
Samantha considers her core values to be inclusiveness, community, and professionalism. To advance diversity, inclusion, and equity in McLean County, Samantha has designed and presented trainings to the State’s Attorney’s Office and County Administration on topics of implicit bias and equity in the workplace. The attorneys in the SAO received CLE credit for Samantha’s efforts. She continues to push to make diversity, inclusion, and equity pillars of the County by working with Administration and Human Resources to reshape the overall structure of hiring/firing and promotion within the County. Samantha has been asked to contribute to the County’s quarterly, employee newsletter on the topic of Equity.
Samantha is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent. Her work in leading and promoting the Latinx community began as a young adult at Northwestern University. There, she received the Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs Rising Leader Award, created philanthropic, academic, and social programing as a sibling in the Lambda Theta Alpha, Latin Sorority, Inc., and was a founding member of the Latino Studies Program committee which successfully petitioned and convinced NU to create and offer a Latino Studies Program to its students. In law school, Samantha continued to bring about programs and public conversations in furtherance of the needs and issues of the Latinx community. She was twice-elected as president of the Hispanic Law Students’ Association allowing her to connect with students, faculty, alumni and other community leaders promoting awareness and change on behalf of the Latinx community.
Outside of the office, Samantha is busy raising two – soon to be three – daughters with her spouse Casey.
Senior Assistant City Attorney
Durham, North Carolina
Sofia Hernandez is a Senior Assistant City Attorney for the City of Durham, North Carolina. Sofia joined the City of Durham City Attorney’s Office in 2019 and her practice areas include emergency communications and management; fire department; minimum housing code enforcement; non-discrimination ordinance enforcement, including fair housing; cemeteries; and parks and recreation. Sofia also manages the Office’s internship program, which attracts diverse and talented students from the laws school at North Carolina Central University, Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, and Campbell University.
Sofia also currently teaches Legal Writing to first-year law students at Duke University. Prior to joining the City Attorney’s Office, Sofia practiced in the areas of commercial litigation, intellectual property, and securities. Sofia attended law school at Duke University and undergraduate at Seattle University. She studied law in Argentina and served for the Hon. Jose Fuste in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.
Sofia is a trailblazer, both in her family and within her profession. She was born in Honduras and immigrated to the United States at the age of 7. Sofia is the first member of her family to attend college and law school. Beyond this personal achievement, Sofia is an indispensable addition to the legal profession in North Carolina. She is the first Latina attorney in the Durham City Attorney’s Office, one of few Latino municipal attorneys in North Carolina, and the only Latina professor at Duke University School of Law.
Sofia shares her unique perspective generously. She is always finding opportunities to foster a more equitable and inclusive environment, whether for young attorneys or in Durham’s larger community. She has volunteered on panels at local law schools regarding issues important to women lawyers, Latino lawyers, and first generation lawyers. She has formalized and grown the Office’s internship program significantly and mentors the law students who spend time in our Office.
Members of our Office are fortunate to work alongside Sofia. Her intersectional leadership is truly a model, and she has many more trails to blaze ahead of her.
Susana Alcala Wood
Susana Alcala Wood was appointed City Attorney on March 19, 2018. An attorney specializing in Municipal law, Susana has worked for multiple cities throughout California. Susana previously worked for the City of Sacramento as a Supervising Deputy City Attorney from April 2001 to June 2006 where she supervised the Code Enforcement Section, and the Advisory Section. As the Code Enforcement Supervisor, Susana directed a team of 5 lawyers and 4 support staff and spearheaded all code enforcement, criminal prosecutions, blight and nuisance abatement activities for the Office. She advised and trained all city enforcement staff on strategies, code compliance and administrative abatement procedures, as well as overseeing and working on the City’s first gang abatement action civil injunction. Susana also transferred to the Advisory Section where she oversaw and directed the work of the advisory lawyers that provided general governmental advice to all City Departments. Prior to returning to the City of Sacramento in March, Susana served as the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Stockton from November 2013 to March 2018, where her responsibilities included serving as legal advisor to several Council Committees and Citizen advisory commissions. Susana also served as the principal Legal Advisor to the Stockton Police Department and was responsible for all administrative functions of the office, including budget and personnel matters. She worked closely with the City Manager’s Office and City Clerk’s Office.
Prior to her work at the City of Stockton, Susana Alcala Wood served as the City Attorney for Modesto from 2006-2013. She was the primary legal advisor to the City Council, Council Committees, City Manager, City Clerk and City Auditor. Susana was responsible for all administrative functions of the Office along with overseeing and directing hundreds of investigations involving allegations of harassment, discrimination, and related complaints involving city staff, department heads, and city management. While at Modesto, Susana guided the City Council through their shift from general elections to by-district elections, and all the accompanying Charter changes. She worked closely with the City Manager’s Office and City Departments to implement any applicable recommendations.
Susana also previously worked as a Deputy City Attorney for City of Stockton from January 1993 – April 2001 and for the City of El Monte from December 1991 to December 1992. In both offices she was responsible to advising multiple departments including Code Enforcement, Fire, Library, and Police. She worked with city staff on addressing and eliminating blight, deteriorated and dangerous housing, and all nuisance conditions including quality of life issues, drug, red-light, and gang activity. Susana began her work with the City of El Monte in 1988 while still in law school and clerked for the City Attorney for three years. Upon passing the California Bar exam in 1991, she was appointed as a Deputy City Attorney.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Attorney Vanessa Chavez has served as Green Bay City Attorney since 2016. Attorney Chavez has provided Green Bay with strong legal counsel, and is the most prominent Latina and woman in Wisconsin municipal law. She has ably guided her council through complicated ethics matters, a pandemic election, and significant economic development. Ms. Chavez also serves on the board of the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes. She has received the Wisconsin Women in Government Rising Star Award and has been named as one of Wisconsin’s 32 Most Powerful Latinos.
Prior to her service with Green Bay, Attorney Chavez was in private practice in New Mexico. While in New Mexico, she served as Vice President of the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association and Vice President of the New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.
Interim City Attorney
Victor Flores currently serves as Interim City Attorney for the City of Brownsville, Texas. However, he has developed a career in providing legal counsel to municipalities across Texas, including Plano, Rio Grande City, McAllen and Denton. Last year, he received the International Municipal Lawyers Association’s Daniel J. Curtain Young Public Lawyer Award. In addition, Victor Flores is a United States Marine Corps – Iraq War Veteran.