15 Feb Happy Black History Month!
Happy Black History Month!
February is nationally recognized to celebrate the achievements of African Americans. As our society and legal profession have become increasingly aware of historic inequities that still impact people of color and in particular—Black Americans—IMLA works hard to provide our membership with the most updated resources on equity, bias, and racial injustice. IMLA acknowledges that legal advancement co-exist with new legal barriers. IMLA will not falter in its mission to aide local governments in achieving sustainable, equitable and inclusive laws, policies, and practices.
IMLA would like to specifically recognize Black lawyers and legal professionals from our membership, who serve as powerful examples of leadership in our legal communities. We are proud to have these attorneys—and many more not included here—as IMLA members and their service in local government and communities across the United States.
City Attorney, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bryan K. Scott earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration (Management) from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1988 and a Juris Doctorate degree from Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College in 1991. An Attorney since October 11, 1991, he has worked for the City of Las Vegas since August 5, 1996 and is currently the City Attorney for the City of Las Vegas. During his time with the City of Las Vegas, Scott has practiced in the areas of General Civil Litigation, Special Improvement Districts, Condemnations, Land Use, Zoning and Planning, Ethics, Cannabis Regulation, Public Records and the Open Meeting Law. From 1996 to 2005 he served as a Deputy City Attorney. From 2005 to 2016 he served as the Assistant City Attorney. From 2016 to 2020 he served as the Senior Assistant City Attorney. On June 17, 2020, Scott was unanimously ratified by the Las Vegas City Council as the 23rd and first African-American City Attorney for the City of Las Vegas in the city’s history (119 years).
From 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2018 Scott was a member of the State Bar of Nevada Board of Governors. He was the 88th and first African-American President of the State Bar of Nevada in 2016-2017. He was a member of the Nevada Board of Continuing Legal Education from 2011 to 2014.
Scott was the first African-American President of the Clark County Law Foundation in 2006 and was elected as the first African-American President of the Clark County Bar Association in 2005. He served as a Board Member/Secretary-Treasurer/President-Elect of the Clark County Bar Association from 2000 to 2004.
Scott is the past Chairman of the State Bar of Nevada’s Diversity Committee and served on the Nevada Supreme Court’s Bench-Bar Committee for three years. Scott currently sits on the Board of the Justice Michael L. Douglas Pre-Law Fellowship Program which seeks to introduce students from underrepresented communities to the rigors of law school and the benefits of having a legal education.
Scott has won a number of awards and accolades for his legal, public service and community service work:
On February 1, 2022 Scott was recognized by the Clark County Black Caucus as one of Nevada’s Black Law Trailblazers and spoke on a panel of distinguished Nevada Legal “firsts” during the Las Vegas Mob Museum’s “Leaders in Law: Celebrating Nevada’s Black Legal Trailblazers” Black History Month Program. On October 1, 2021, during its Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) awarded Scott with “The Burk E. (Buck) Delventhal Legal Advocacy and Education Award”. In June 2021, the State Bar of Nevada honored Scott with the naming and awarding of the Inaugural “Bryan K. Scott Trailblazer Award” to him during its Annual Meeting on Coronado Island. In May 2019, Scott was named the “James M. Bartley Distinguished Public Lawyer” by the Public Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Nevada in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. In 2019, Scott was named as “Trailblazer of the Year” by the Nevada Association of Real Estate Brokers. In September 2018, he was recognized by the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association as “The Attorney of the Year”. Scott was honored by the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association in 2019 by the establishment of the “Bryan K. Scott Book Scholarship” for Law Students. In 2018 Scott was recognized by the Asian American Advocacy Clinic with its “Unsung Hero” award. He was the Keynote Speaker and awarded the “Educational Pioneer Award” by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach in 2017. Scott has been recognized as a “Legal Elite: Nevada’s Top Attorneys (Government) by Nevada Business Magazine in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. In 2005, he received the Martin P. Dowling Volunteer of the Year award from the Clark County Bar Association. In 2002 he was awarded the Clark County Bar Association’s Circle of Support Award.
Associate, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole Bierman
Chanae L. Wood is a municipal and land use attorney with a particular interest in issues dealing with First Amendment, medical marijuana and hemp laws. Chanae counsel clients on compliance with public records, sunshine law and ethics, and matters dealing with comprehensive planning, general municipal, procurement, utilities, administrative, and constitutional law. Chanae serves as the Chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Committee. A magna cum laude graduate of St. Thomas University School of Law, Chanae clerked for the Honorable Judge Marcia G. Cooke in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. During law school, she was selected as the first black Editor-in-Chief of the St. Thomas Law Review. Her article, “Black and Poor: The Grave Consequences of Utah v. Strieff,” was published in the Review’s “Voice of the Voiceless” Anniversary Issue. As a trial team member, Chanae competed in the 2018 ABA Labor and Employment National Trial Competition. She and her teammates were named National Champions — beating teams from UC Hastings College of Law and Harvard Law School. She also served as President of the Black Law Students Association, during which time the organization was bestowed the coveted Student Organization of the Year Award.
Prior to law school, Chanae worked for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan as a Commission aide and for Florida State Senator Oscar Braynon, II as a legislative aide. She also interned for Congresswoman Federica Wilson in Washington D.C.
Deputy City Attorney, Austin, Texas
Deborah Thomas has been with the City of Austin Law Department for 28 years. She has been a part of the management structure of the department for 15 years and currently serves as the Deputy City Attorney. Deborah’s areas of expertise are municipal and land use law. She works closely with the City’s planning, development, environmental, transportation, parks, and housing departments. Prior to working for the City of Austin, Deborah worked as a hearings officer for the State of Texas environmental agency.
Deborah received her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Planning and Administration from the Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in Health Administration from the University of Texas School of Public Health.
Deborah has been married for 30 years and has two children.
Gary Jemal Anderson
Assistant City Attorney, Long Beach, California
“The City of Long Beach prides itself as being one of the most diverse cities in the nation and the employees of the City Attorney’s office mirror that diversity demographic. Among our staff members is an individual who has distinguished himself as a father, community leader, mentor, and attorney who has represented the City, its interests, and our residents since 2002. In short, as we celebrate Black History Month, Gary Anderson is truly one of those individuals who deserves to be honored and celebrated because he is, and will continue to be, a powerful example of leadership in our Office and in our community; and there is no one I know who is more deserving of this recognition.” – Charles Parkin, City Attorney, City of Long Beach, California
Gary Jemal Anderson received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law (USF) in May 1995, after receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, San Diego in May 1991. While attending USF, Gary was a member of the Black Law Students Association, an active participant in the Moot Court program, a member of the Public Interest Law Foundation, a participant in the Big Brother Program, and a participant in the
University’s Street Law Program. Gary was admitted to the California State Bar in December 1996 and shortly thereafter began a long and distinguished career of public service. In February 1997, Gary started his career as a Deputy District Attorney with the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office in California. In 1999, Gary moved to Southern California and continued his prosecutorial duties and functions as a Deputy City Prosecutor with the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s Office, where he served until 2001.
In 2002, Gary was hired as a Deputy City Attorney with the Long Beach City Attorney’s Office, where has served with distinction for the past 20 years. Gary represented the City until 2015. In 2015, Gary was promoted to the position of Principal Deputy City Attorney. From 2014-2015, Gary also served as an Adjunct Professor at Pacific Coast University School of Law, teaching civil procedure to first and second year law students.
In December 2021, Gary was promoted to be one of two Assistant City Attorneys in the Office. Gary continues to maintain his role as the primary legal advisory to the Civil Service Commission and to all of the City’s various Employment and Personnel matters, including litigated matters.
Gary is a quality individual and human being. Since starting in the City Attorney’s Office in 2002, Gary has always served as a mentor and advisor to newer or younger attorneys, as well as to other office personnel. He has always been a person that others in the office look up to and emulate, as his work and moral ethics are impeccable and above reproach. He has received many commendations and accolades over the years from supervisors, co-workers in the City Attorney’s Office, fellow City employees, as well as the public that he has served.
Gary has been an active member of the Long Beach Bar Association for many years and has also served for many years as a “community volunteer” donating countless hours to the Long Beach Bar Foundation’s “Shortstop Program.” This Program, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Probation Department, serves as a diversion program for a variety of culturally and ethnically diverse young offenders (and their parents) in the hopes that these minors can see and follow a different path in life. As a “community volunteer” Gary engages with the involved juveniles on a “one on one” basis in a very interactive setting giving them a “second chance” to become productive citizens. This program is recognized in Long Beach as one of the best and most effective programs to provide youth with another perspective and to help them see how their actions affect not only their futures but also their families and friends and to help them learn how to make better choices.
Assistant Director, Municipal Operations, Denver, Colorado
Kwali Farbes joined the Denver City Attorney’s Office in 2015 as a Senior Assistant City Attorney and represented the Denver Economic Development Opportunity (formerly known as the Office of Economic Development) and Denver Arts and Venues. In 2018, Kwali was promoted to an Assistant Director in the Municipal Operations Section. Now, in addition to assisting with the leadership and management of the Section, she oversees the contracting function of the office and provides legal advice to client agencies throughout the City. In the summer of 2020, she led the development and implementation of the Municipal Operations Equity, Race, and Social Justice Program.
Prior to joining the City, Kwali spent ten years in private practice with a focus on public finance, assisting governmental entities and nonprofits with financing significant capital improvements. She continues to advise the Department of Finance on finance related matters, including the Elevate Denver and RISE General Obligation Bond Programs.
Kwali was honored to be included in the Denver Business Journal’s 2009 Forty under 40 class. Kwali graduated from CU Law School in 2005 after receiving a M.A. in Folklore and Folklife and completing her PhD coursework from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Yale University. Prior to attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, Kwali worked in the Anthropology Department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
City Attorney, Avondale, Arizona
“Nicholle, has represented cities both in private practice and now as city attorney in Avondale. Representing cities in private practice is not easy, as many cities are small and rural. However, Nicholle developed an outstanding reputation in helping those communities, such as Winslow a small city in Northern Arizona. As City Attorney in Avondale, she started having to rebuild a city attorney’s office after the City Attorney and Senior Paralegal left the City. She has created a high performing office with diverse talent. Further, she has earned the confidence and respect of her elected officials who rely on her advice and counsel. Having served in a number of jurisdictions as the Chief Legal Officer, I have seen city attorneys who are leaders in our profession as well as others who are not. Nicholle has become a leader in our profession in Arizona and is an outstanding example to the upcoming generation of young students of color as to what they can accomplish and aspire to. I strongly request that you recognize her achievements in our profession.” – Stephen Kemp, Assistant City Attorney, City of Avondale
Nicholle Harris serves as the City Attorney for the City of Avondale, Arizona, handling all legal matters for the City. Prior to joining the City of Avondale, she was a partner at Gust Rosenfeld, PLC and also served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona. She has a broad range of experience in municipal law and has special expertise in procurement law and public records law. Ms. Harris has been recognized by Attorney at Law Magazine as the “February 2019 Attorney of the Month, the Arizona Business Magazine as one of the “2016 Most Influential Women in Arizona Business” and as one of the “2016 Top Minority Business Leaders.”
Patrick W. Baker
City Attorney, City of Charlotte, North Carolina
Patrick W. Baker was appointed to serve as City Attorney by the Charlotte City Council in March of 2019. In his role as City Attorney, he is responsible for providing policy and legal advice as well as transactional and litigation services to the Mayor, City Council, City Manager, City Administration and all City Boards and Committees. This includes providing legal services in support of community safety initiatives, economic and neighborhood development, affordable housing and community building initiatives. The City Attorney’s Office is also responsible for providing in-house legal counsel to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD), the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT), and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). To carry out these responsibilities, he manages a staff of 41 exceptionally experienced and well qualified employees, including 32 attorneys and 9 paralegals and administrative support staff.
Patrick has practiced law since 1993 and has worked exclusively in municipal law and government since 1997. As an Assistant City Attorney in Durham, NC, he focused extensively on civil litigation. He defended police liability/Section 1983 claims as well as personal injury, contract and employment law claims. In 2004, Patrick was appointed by the Durham City Council to serve as City Manager. In that role he was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of a city administration of over 2500 employees. During his time as City Manager, he played an important role in positioning Durham as a leading community for economic development and quality of life. This included the successful pursuit and implementation of public infrastructure municipal bond initiatives in excess of $150 million, completion of a major downtown streetscape project, multiple affordable housing initiatives, the construction and management of the nationally acclaimed Durham Performing Arts Center and the renovation of the legendary Durham Athletic Park, highlighted in the 1987 feature film Bull Durham. In 2008, Patrick returned to his legal roots when the Durham City Council appointed him to serve as City Attorney. In that role, he oversaw all aspects of legal and policy advice as well as transactional and litigation services to the Durham City Council and city administration with a staff of eight attorneys and three support staff. In 2019, he concluded his 21+ years of public service in Durham with his acceptance of appointment as Charlotte’s City Attorney. Patrick is unique among local government attorneys nationwide in holding the distinct honor of serving as both City Manager and City Attorney.
Patrick is well known and respected in North Carolina and national municipal law circles. He has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, Board of Directors and President of the North Carolina Association of Municipal Attorneys and Board of Directors and President of the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Patrick is a North Carolina native born at USMC Base Camp Lejeune and raised in USMC Air Station Cherry Point and Havelock in eastern North Carolina. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the Wake Forest University School of Law.
Deputy City Solicitor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Raina Yancey, Esquire is a Deputy City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia as well as the owner of Philadelphia’s premier walking tour experience, The Black Journey: African-American History Walking Tour of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of Temple University Beasley School of Law and Richmond University in London where she studied International Relations, History, and Economics. Prior to returning to her hometown of Philadelphia, Raina was an international lawyer working in Project Finance in the Beijing, China, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates offices of an international law firm. She currently practices Intellectual Property and Technology law. When she is not practicing law, Raina’s major passion is history. Her main area of focus is the history of Black lawyers in Philadelphia. Follow her on Instagram @theblackjourney.
Rita McNeil Danish
Founder, CEO, and Principal of JD2 Strategists, LLC
Partner and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Business Partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP
A highly accomplished attorney, transformational leader, and community changemaker, Rita McNeil Danish possesses more than 30 years of professional legal experience across a range of industries and business sectors. In her roles as partner and consultant, Rita is especially skilled at fostering intercultural interactions that embrace and celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion, resulting in communities that are both empowered and strengthened. Leveraging her breadth and depth of insights into municipal and government law, she has a proven history of building bridges across party, racial, and gender lines, fostering open cultures, dismantling prejudices, and empowering individuals to uniquely contribute to society.
Rita’s work is that of passion and history. Her mother, an English professor, and her father, a Chicago criminal defense attorney and civil rights leader, established a foundation committed to community, advocacy, and justice and that fueled Rita’s pursuit of law. She earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Howard University and her Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University College of Law. Her law career began at Schottenstein, Zox and Dunn (now Ice Miller) before she moved to the Governor’s office as Assistant Deputy Legal Counsel. She then transitioned to the Ohio Department of Commerce as Chief Legal Counsel & Acting Superintendent of the Division of Real Estate, a role in which she thrived.
In 1994, Rita served as Magistrate of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic & Juvenile Division before she was later invited by the Attorney General to serve the Ohio AG’s Civil Rights Section as Section Chief. In 1998, she moved to the City of Dayton as City Attorney & Director of Law where she began her work forging positive relationships with police. This work proved pivotal when, in 2002, she moved to the City of Cincinnati, one of the world’s top five most competitive cities, to serve as the City Solicitor. There she negotiated and implemented one of the nation’s landmark and most notable memorandum of agreements with the Department of Justice, delivering critical police reform.
In 2008, Rita transitioned to Vice President for Government Affairs for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and in 2010 she was recruited to the City of Greensboro to serve as the City Attorney. In 2014, she was appointed by then-Governor John Kasich to serve as a Judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Domestic & Juvenile Division.
Throughout her career, Rita has worked as Of Counsel & Associate with Crabbe, Brown & James where she transformed the culture to better encompass DEI. Additionally, Rita serves clients as the Founder, CEO, and Principal of JD2 Strategists, LLC, and she is currently a Partner and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Business Partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP. In both roles, she diligently supports and provides counsel to small, minority- and women-owned businesses. Through collaboration and communication, Rita engages elected officials, state legislators, community stakeholders, and business leaders to find a foundation of unity on which to build systems that deliver safer communities with justice for all.
While Rita’s professional contributions to DEI, MWBE, and community advocacy are prolific and significant, she is equally adept at combining her legal acumen, budgetary leadership, and business management to deliver strategies and vision that transform businesses. This unique set of skills is why often she is sought after to contribute to boards including her recent 5-year term appointment on the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Additionally, she serves the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the National Civic League, and she is the Chair of the Public Contracting Committee of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law and the National Board Chair for Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD).
Rita’s work includes publications that highlight municipal law and the government’s potential to provide constituents with economic equality for all. Licensed in Ohio, Illinois, and the United States Supreme Court, Rita’s vast experiences have generated recognition from Columbus Monthly where she was the cover feature and she was a Best Lawyers in America Honoree.
City Attorney, Beaumont, Texas
Sharae Bassett Reed is a Beaumont native. Reed graduated from West Brook Senior High and went on to attend Lamar University; where she obtained her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management and Marketing. Reed left Beaumont to attend Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas. Upon graduation she returned to Beaumont to join the City of Beaumont legal team as an Assistant City Attorney.
In December 2021, Reed was appointed as the first female City Attorney for the City of Beaumont. She assumed the position on January 10, 2022, on her 11th Anniversary with the City. Reed’s legal experience with the City ranges from Municipal Court prosecution to advocating at the Federal, Texas and United States Supreme Court level.
Reed is a 2014 Forty Under Forty of Southeast Texas Most Successful Individuals recipient, and 2016 Leadership Beaumont graduate. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., The Golden Triangle Chapter of the Links Inc., and of several other civic and professional groups, in where she holds leadership positions. Reed is faithful a member of Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church in Beaumont. Reed is a retired “Basketball Mom.” In her spare time she enjoys traveling, eating good food, and shopping with her daughter, Madison.
Whitney Payton Aboko-Cole
Assistant City Attorney, Huntsville, Alabama
Whitney Payton Aboko-Cole is currently a Prosecutor for the City of Huntsville. Affectionately dubbed by her peers as “Tough, but approachable,” she is one of four Attorneys responsible for prosecuting violations of city ordinances and state law. A young pioneer and history maker in her own right, it is worthy to note that Whitney is in fact the youngest and first African American woman hired as a Prosecutor for the City of Huntsville.
Whitney is a graduate of Faulkner University’s Thomas Good Jones School of Law. During her tenure in law school, Whitney excelled in both her academic and extra-curricular endeavors. Whitney served as a member of the Board of Advocates mock trial and moot court teams, and was a student ambassador. She was also a recipient and fellow of the Public Interest Law Society Award, and Quarter Finalist in the 1L Moot Court Competition.
Whitney has clerked for the renowned Beasley Allen Law Firm, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Whitney also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Communication Arts and Philosophy from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Whitney has a broad foundation in law. Prior to her current position, she managed a private practice in Huntsville, specializing in Criminal Defense, Domestic, and Contracts law.
She is currently a member of the Alabama State Bar Young Lawyers Executive Committee, where she serves on a host of committees that include Minority Prelaw and Continuing Legal Education conference planning. She has previously held a position on the Huntsville Madison County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Executive Board. Serving in these capacities affords Whitney the opportunity to help facilitate the exchange of information and resources between the local and state bar associations. These experiences have proven tremendously beneficial to her legal community, and have helped to foster diversity and inclusion within the Alabama State Bar Association.
Whitney is licensed to practice law in all the Courts of the state of Alabama. She has held and currently holds positons on a variety of civic and social organizations, including but not limited to Epsilon Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and Parliamentarian of the Madison County Democratic Women. Whitney is married to her high school sweetheart, Jonathan Aboko-Cole. They have two sons, Wynter (5) and Denver (1) whom they adore. She resides in Huntsville, AL with her family where they are members of the First Missionary Baptist Church.