IMLA Honors Our Members for U.S. Hispanic/Latin(o/e) Heritage Month

IMLA Honors Our Members for U.S. Hispanic/Latin(o/e) Heritage Month

Somos únicos. Somos unidos. Somos Latinos.  From September 15- October 15, the United States recognizes and celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month.  This month-long recognition is meant to celebrate the contributions and achievements of members in Hispanic and Latin(o/e) 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/e) 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.  This post is just a small platform to present and recognize our members’ (nominated by their peers) larger contributions to their communities and in their legal careers. Muchas gracias!

Catrina M. Archuleta-Silva

Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney and General Counsel to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA)
Los Angeles, California

Catrina M. Archuleta-Silva is a Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney and currently serves as General Counsel to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a joint powers authority of the City and County of Los Angeles. In her current capacity, Catrina handles LAHSA’s day to day legal challenges ranging in topics such from contract interpretation, federal regulations, ADA compliance, bids and awards, to HMIS regulations, labor relations, grants, Brown Act, Covid-19 related issues and general issues related to the City and County’s homelessness crisis, all in an effort to assist and shelter people experiencing homelessness.

While at the City Attorney’s Office, Catrina also served as the primary contract attorney for the LA Fire Department, City Attorney’s Office, and Chief Legislative Analyst’s Office. She also served as General Counsel to Prop K, a ballot initiative created City department/program that provides recreation and community services for youth. While serving Prop K, Catrina worked with the Department of Recreation and Parks and City engineers to ensure projects were completed within the Prop K ballot measure’s legal framework and with fiscal responsibility. Catrina also served as General Counsel to the City Clerk-Elections Division, advising on election law matters and as General Counsel to the Ethics Commission, advising on a wide range of ethical issues. Catrina began her career at the City Attorney’s Office, serving as General Counsel to the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA). At CRA/LA, Catrina was the lead attorney for the CRA/LA’s Eastside Region, real estate transactions, relocation matters and risk management issues. While at CRA/LA, Catrina handled dozens of redevelopment projects in numerous project areas helping to create jobs, housing, commercial development, and infrastructure within the City of Los Angeles.

Prior to joining the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ Office, Catrina worked in the private sector, yet her clients mainly comprised of public agencies including cities, counties, school districts, redevelopment agencies, and joint powers authorities, wherein she represented them in various types of transactional and litigation matters.

When Catrina was with the widely respected firm Meyers Nave, she served as Deputy City Attorney and/or Deputy Redevelopment Agency Counsel for the cities of La Puente, South El Monte, Pico Rivera and Desert Hot Springs. She also served as Planning Commission Counsel for the City of La Puente and Desert Hot Springs. Additionally, she served as Deputy General Counsel for the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. Catrina also served as special counsel regarding, land use, redevelopment and condemnation issues for various cities and public agencies throughout the State of California. A sample of her past clients include the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Alameda Corridor East-Construction Authority (ACE), Los Angeles Unified School District, City of San Diego and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink).

In her real estate practice, she managed due diligence requirements and served as lead counsel on unlawful detainer actions, adverse possession cases and various real estate disputes. In her land use practice, Catrina counseled clients on zoning, variances, building permits, nonconforming uses and structures, CUP’s, EIR’s, rights of way, and subdivisions. She regularly worked with consultants, engineers, in-house counsel and project managers to devise and implement strategic plans to assist clients with building a substantial project on time and within budget.

In her eminent domain practice, Catrina handled challenging valuation issues on behalf of government agencies for all types of developed and undeveloped properties. Catrina is also experienced in all aspects of the relocation process. Catrina also worked with state and local public agencies in environmental administrative hearings. She has provided case management of multifaceted and highly scientific, technological environmental cases for private businesses. Her litigation experience includes defense representation and negotiations for contamination in freshwater ponds, soil contamination, contamination of groundwater, air quality negotiations, CEQA, water quality control, insurance coverage, and implementation of the Polanco Act.

Christina Estes-Werther

Of-Counsel at Pierce Coleman PLLC
Scottsdale, Arizona

Christina Estes-Werther is Of Counsel at Pierce Coleman PLLC and provides in-house counsel services to several Arizona municipalities in addition to contract work for other local governments. Her public law practice focuses on elections, campaign finance, open meeting law, conflict of interest, public records, government contracts, and state legislation. As a former State Election Director for the State of Arizona and a current certified election officer and elections troubleshooter, Christina has extensive experience in election law, including campaign finance and election administration.

Christina was born in Tucson, Arizona and after moving to the Phoenix area with her family, she returned to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. She managed her studies while working full-time with children and families in child abuse prevention programs as a social worker and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies and Human Development. Christina was the first in her family to attend law school and she received her J.D. from Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington and began her legal career as the Judiciary Committee Analyst in the Arizona State Senate. She subsequently held the position of Policy Advisor and Deputy Counsel for the Office of the Governor and State Election Director in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Prior to moving to Pierce Coleman PLLC, Christina served as the General Counsel to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns for six years and provided legal advice to League staff and the 25-member Executive Committee, filed amicus briefs and drafted model ordinances and legislation, and drafted and revised policies, manuals, and League publications. Christina has a strong relationship with the municipal staff throughout Arizona due to her efforts facilitating workgroups, meetings, and conferences, conducting regular trainings to elected officials and municipal staff, and providing technical assistance to League members and legal research to the municipal attorneys. She continues to provide extensive training and instruction on election matters and other local government issues to elected officials and municipal and county personnel throughout Arizona.

Claudia Aguayo

Assistant City Attorney
North Las Vegas, Nevada

Claudia Aguayo, Esq. is the Assistant City Attorney for the City of North Las Vegas, where she has worked since 2004.  Her primary areas of practice are labor and employment and public safety.  She provides preventative education to employees regarding discrimination and implicit bias.  Aguayo was the 2022 recipient of the Clark County Liberty Bell Award, an award given to individuals who uphold the rule of law and contribute to good government within the community.  Aguayo was named 2021 Volunteer of the Year by the State Bar of Nevada.  She received the 2021 International Municipal Lawyers Association Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  Aguayo served as the 2021 President of the Nevada Latino Bar Association.  She volunteers her time to serve as a pro bono attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada’s Children’s Attorney Project and as a mentor for the UNLV Boyd School of Law La Voz Huellas Mentorship program. She graduated with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Davis, King Hall School of Law and earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nevada, Reno.  Before joining the City in 2004, Aguayo worked as a Deputy District Attorney for Sacramento County and as an Associate with the law firm of Porter, Scott, Weiberg and Delehant in Sacramento, CA.  She has also worked as an Adjunct Professor for the College of Southern Nevada.  Aguayo grew up in downtown Las Vegas, where she currently resides with her husband and two children. Her hobbies include travelling and reading.

Diana Cortes

City Solicitor & IMLA Board of Directors Member
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Diana Cortes is the City Solicitor, the City of Philadelphia’s chief legal officer.  She was appointed by the Mayor on December 11, 2020.  She serves as general counsel to the Mayor and his Administration, City Council, and all City departments, agencies, boards, and commissions.  She manages the City’s Law Department, which employs over 215 lawyers and over 100 professional staff.  The Law Department’s diverse legal practice covers federal, state, and local agency litigation, commercial and real estate transactions, tax, regulatory law, social services, and legislation.

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 and white-collar criminal defense matters.  Diana began her legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable 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 member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. She is also fluent in Spanish.

Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez

Human Resources Director
Hialeah, Florida

Elsa I. Jaramillo-Velez has been working in the public sector for over 20 years.  Currently, Mrs. Jaramillo-Velez is the Human Resources Director in the City of Hialeah’s Human Resource Department.  She was an Assistant City Attorney at the City of Hialeah Law Department specializing in labor and employment. Her prior positions include City of Miami Assistant City Attorney and Interim Director/Deputy Director of the Department of Employee Relations, City of Coral Gables Human Resources Director and City of North Miami Beach Human Resources & Risk Management Director.

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 Civil Service Board and before arbitrators handling employment disciplines and grievances. She has also served as counsel 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 from 2013-2019 as an adjunct professor at Florida International University (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 IMLA and serves as a member of the FIU MPA Advisory Board.

Erika Lopez

Assistant City Attorney
Austin, Texas

Erika Lopez is a rising star in the City of Austin Law Department.  Erika was born and raised in California and moved to Texas to attend the University of Texas Law School.  After graduation, Erika worked as a law fellow for the Austin Law Department.  From the beginning, she became known for her sharp analytical skills and her dogged pursuit of an answer for any question she was given.  After passing the bar, Erika became an Assistant City Attorney in the Land Use and Real Estate Division where she tackles a multitude of development issues.  Of recent note, Erika was involved in the Reagan sign case, a U.S. Supreme Court case with significant implications for municipal sign regulations.  Erika is an active contributor to legal scholarship. In 2021, she presented at the IMLA Mid-Year Conference and is scheduled to present at the 2002 IMLA Annual Conference in Portland.  Erika mentors law students at the University of Texas Law School and is a part of Austin Law Department law clerk team that is responsible for recruiting, selecting, and mentoring summer law clerks.  Erika is well-respected by her fellow attorneys, clients, and the general legal community.

Jesse Sendejas

Associate City Attorney/Prosecutor
Kansas City, Missouri

Ms. Jesse Sendejas is a second generation Mexican-American and a first-generation attorney. She is currently an Associate City Attorney/Prosecutor for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and attended Law School at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, School of Law. Ms. Sendejas joined the Law Department for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, in January of 2007. She started as an Assistant City Attorney, Neighborhood Improvement Attorney. In that position she pursued collections actions to recover special assessment tax bills for the costs of demolition and board-up of dangerous buildings and property nuisance abatements. She also pursued public nuisance actions and defended against wrongful demolition, damages, and quiet title actions. Ms. Sendejas worked closely with the Neighborhoods Department to review and revise processes and procedures for dangerous buildings and nuisance abatement and she worked to draft several ordinances to further the goals of the department. After a few years, she also took over collection of past-due water services accounts and worked with the Water Department on their collection needs.

In 2011, Ms. Sendejas began working as a fill-in courtroom prosecutor for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, City Prosecutor’s Office. She quickly was assigned the role of municipal appeals prosecutor, handling trial de novo cases appealed to the associate and circuit courts. In addition to the appeals assignment, in December of 2012 she transferred full-time to the City Prosecutor’s Office and became the Domestic Violence Program Director/Prosecutor. Her practice during that time specialized in prosecution of domestic violence and child abuse cases, including working with victims, victim advocates and service providers to ensure offender accountability. As Program Director she managed a staff of seven and oversaw reporting and application of one state funded and two federally funded grants. She participated in a multi-disciplinary team review and assessment of child abuse cases and also helped to draft an ordinance that added the ability for the City to prosecute violations of ex-parte orders of protection. Ms. Sendejas also helped to draft and obtain the grant that established the City’s Domestic Violence Court Compliance Docket.

In January of 2017, Ms. Sendejas transferred out of the domestic violence unit to a courtroom prosecutor position. She now handles all manner of cases and dockets across the Kansas City Municipal Court. She is the supervisor of the City Prosecutor’s diversion program and diversion coordinator position and is the prosecutor assigned to the Regulated Industries division.

Ms. Sendejas has been an advocate for diversity and inclusion throughout law school and her career. She served as President of both the Hispanic Law Students Association and the Association for Women Law Students during law school. She was appointed as the Student Representative to the Inclusion and Empowerment Committee for the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Ms. Sendejas currently serves on the board of directors for the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association (KCMBA) as a Member at Large and is a member of the Diversity Section, Criminal Law Section and Municipal Court Committee. She has served KCMBA in many roles for over 15 years. She previously served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City, was recognized as Big Sister of the Year for Kansas City as well as the State of Missouri in 2017 and was a Big in the program starting in 2007. Ms. Sendejas was recognized by Missouri Lawyers Weekly as an “Up and Coming” Lawyer in 2018, by KC Magazine as an Influential Woman in 2015 and most recently was selected to join Centurions, a two-year intensive leadership program through the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Jonah Santiago-Pagan

Assistant City Solicitor
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mr. Santiago-Pagan is an Assistant City Solicitor at the Philadelphia Law Department’s Child Welfare Unit. His lived experience as a Hispanic, transgender man allows him to contribute a diverse perspective to case analysis as an ACS. He received his B.A. from New College of Florida with concentrations in both Forensic Psychology and Spanish Language and Culture. He graduated from Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law with a concentration in Criminal Law in 2018. Prior to joining the Law Department, he practiced Immigration Law at HIAS PA and served as the judicial law clerk to the Honorable Tiffany L. Palmer in Philadelphia Family Court.  Mr. Santiago-Pagan has indicated that the most rewarding aspect of his position at the Law Department is supporting the social workers of DHS in ensuring the safety, well-being, and stability of children and families in the City of Philadelphia. Every child and family have their unique circumstances and it is his great pleasure to have the privilege of working towards the best possible outcome for children and families in Philadelphia. Mr. Santiago-Pagan’s experience in this position cemented his resolve to establish himself as a litigator and continue to serve the City of Philadelphia. To that end, he will be joining the Law Department’s Civil Rights Unit in November 2022.

Karla Nieman

City Attorney
El Paso, Texas

Karla currently serves as the City of El Paso’s City Attorney. Although born in Chihuahua, Mexico, El Paso has been her home since the age of five. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Karla has been practicing law for seventeen years, she has focused her practice in the area of municipal law at the City Attorney’s Office in El Paso for the last 15 years. During her time with the City of El Paso she has focused her practice in the area of Civil Rights and Monell liability and property rightsghts litigation. However, her true passion is in land-use law particularly economic development and zoning issues. She is married and has two young children.

Luis Santaella

Deputy City Attorney
Scottsdale, Arizona

Luis Santaella was nominated by the City Attorney of Scottsdale, Arizona, Sherry Scott:

“It would be my honor to nominate Luis Santaella to be recognized as an outstanding Hispanic IMLA member.  Luis has selflessly dedicated his career to helping others and making other peoples’ lives better.  Luis’ strong community-oriented nature always has him thinking about how he can better assist those in need.

Luis Santaella’ career with the City of Scottsdale began in 2001 in the City Prosecutor’s Office.  Luis has consistently been promoted over the years and he was most recently promoted to the Deputy City Attorney position.  His diverse practice in the Civil Department, which includes being the legal advisor for Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and Government Relations, has allowed him to work on many significant projects including the short-term vacation rentals ordinance, public nuisance and unruly gathering ordinances, as well as safety and emergency management planning.  Just by way of a few examples, Luis was a critical member of the team in implementing the City’s use of Narcan to help save lives within our City.   He has also been critical to developing a citywide public records program and acts as the legal advisor for that program.  He has most recently been instrumental to the preparation of the City’s new recreational marijuana ordinances and has helped other cities and communities by sharing his work on this project.

Prior to being promoted to Deputy City Attorney in December 2019, Luis took on the added responsibility of supervising the Victim Advocates.  Luis had extensive experience dealing with victims’ issues due to his prior work as a Prosecutor and his service as police legal advisor and thought he could be helpful to the City’s Victim Advocates.  Since being promoted to Deputy City Attorney, he continues to supervise the Victim Advocates, and has now also taken on the additional role of supervising the entire Prosecution Department on top of his regular assignments.  This allowed the City to eliminate the top City Prosecutor position and gain significant budget savings.  This also allowed other experienced prosecutors in the Department the opportunity to step up and help manage the department’s operations, providing them with additional career growth and advancement, while also providing for a more collaborative management system within Prosecution.  Since this time, Luis has helped to improve many processes in the Prosecution Department, which also benefit the community.  Prosecution is now flourishing under Luis’ leadership with a more team-focused and collaborative tone.

Luis has been instrumental in the City’s emergency management response related to the pandemic and the civil unrest which erupted in the City and across the nation related to the Country’s reaction to police violence.  Luis often stayed late into the evening and early morning in order to provide the legal support and advice that was needed during such a challenging time.

Because of his breadth of knowledge, assistance, and reputation for excellent work (both within and outside of the City), Luis has been asked to speak at conferences and serve on many public service committees.  Other agencies and municipalities also consistently seek out his legal advice and leadership. For instance, Luis has helped to organize and present at Arizona City Attorney Association conferences and helped to create the new City Attorney Association Awards Program to recognize outstanding municipal lawyers.  He has been appointed to serve on the Arizona State Law Enforcement Officer Body Camera Legislative Committee and the Arizona Supreme Court DUI Case Processing Workgroup.  Luis has served as both the Chair and the Secretary (consecutively) for the Public Layer Section of the State Bar, where he remains a very active member.   In 2013, he was also recognized by the Arizona State Bar and received the Distinguished Public Lawyers award himself, as a further testament to his public service.  Luis has also served as the President, Vice President and Secretary (consecutively) of the Arizona Law Enforcement Legal Advisors Association.

In addition to these activities, Luis has also managed to find the time to serve on the Eparchial Review Board of the Byzantine Catholic Church.  The goal of this Board is to protect the Church’s youth from sexual abuse and misconduct through proper investigations, background checks and policies.

Over the years, Luis has dedicated himself not only to community and public service, but also to the mission of promoting diversity while encouraging and empowering others.  He has also been an adjunct instructor at Northern Arizona University since 2012, teaching upper level division Administration of Justice courses.  He has nominated many prominent public attorneys for various awards within the legal community in order to recognize the public service contributions of others.  When anyone in the City needs a Spanish translator, Luis is also always available to stop what he is doing and lend a helping hand.

The City Attorney’s Office is so very proud of Luis’ never-ending commitment to public service and our wonderful community.  He fully exemplifies the caring spirit and selfless dedication of public service.”

Luisa Garcia

Assistant City Solicitor
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Since graduating from La Salle University with a degree in Criminal Justice and Sociology, Ms. Luisa Garcia has dedicated her career to Public Service and the Philadelphia community.  Ms. Garcia began her career as a social worker for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in January of 2000. While working full-time at the DHS, Ms. Garcia attended Widener Law School, attending the evening program.  Ms. Garcia graduated from Widener in May 2019 and transitioned to the City of Philadelphia Law Department as an Assistant City Solicitor in the Child Welfare Unit.  During her time as a solicitor, Ms. Garcia has continuous demonstrated her commitment to the children and families of Philadelphia and has utilized her twenty-years of experience as a social worker to provide a unique and valuable perspective to her legal career.  She is an exemplary colleague and resource for her colleagues.  Ms. Garcia never hesitates to answer questions, provide suggestions, or step-in to assist a colleague.

Marisa Rodriguez

Senior Deputy City Attorney
North Las Vegas, Nevada

Marisa Rodriguez has worked at the City of North Las Vegas, in the civil division since early 2020. She practices transactional and employment law and litigation.  She served on the Nevada Latino Bar Association board from 2016 to 2021. During Marisa’s presidency in 2019, the LBA launched the ¡Andale! 5K, which raises scholarship funds for Latinos aspiring to attend law school. During the first three years, the event raised over $200,000 and 93 students received the ¡Andale! scholarship.  Marisa enjoys mentoring students and young attorneys and has a robust pro bono practice. She also serves on the State Bar of Nevada board of governors, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada board of directors, the Access to Justice Commission, and the Justice Michael L. Douglas PreLaw Fellowship Program advisory board.  Marisa obtained her B.S. and J.D. from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she is currently an adjunct professor.  Marisa was recognized by the Hispanic National Bar Association as a Top Attorney Under 40 in 2019 and the Latina Attorney of the Year in 2022. She received the 2020 William S. Boyd School of Law Alumna of the Year award.

Renee Garcia

Chair of the Litigation Group for the City of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Renee Garcia is a litigator and advocate committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  As an award-winning attorney, she spent her career striving to put others first and drive positive change. For over a decade, she excelled in litigation, strategic planning, risk management, and legal analysis. Above all, making a difference in society continues to fuel her work. Renee is inspired by the recent shift in the law field to care more deeply about social justice and be integral to making improvements in society.

In her current role as Chair of the Litigation Group for the City of Philadelphia, she leads 150 people to create programs that will improve the city. Additionally, she counsels city work groups, and defines, implements, and assesses legal and policy issues for City agencies as it pertains to litigation strategy. She also leads the counsel group in high-profile litigations filed against and on behalf of the City of Philadelphia. Renee considers it an honor to be at the forefront of the law department’s active role in improving the city she calls home. In previous roles, she proactively identified risk and crafted strategic plans that mitigated it – consistently exceeding metrics YoY in critical thinking, risk management, and legal analysis. As a leader, Renee always feels the most successful when her team succeeds. One of her proudest accomplishments is when all four members of her team were promoted in 2020.

Renee is truly passionate about my work – especially as it relates to increasing diversity and inclusion efforts within the law field and the community. She was previously the Chair of the PNC Legal Pro Bono Committee and independently provided pro bono legal services through the SeniorLaw Center, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Support Center for Child Advocates, and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, amongst others. Renee was also a former Director on the Boards of Community Legal Services/Philadelphia Legal Assistance, the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, and arts non-profit Intercultural Journeys. She is also a Fellow, Pathfinder, and a Mentor with the Leadership Counsel on Legal Diversity.  Renee has earned accolades such as the 2020 AL DÍA Top In-House Lawyer Award; the 2017 PNC Market All-Star Award; the 2017 Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, Young Hispanic Corporate Achiever Award; and the 2015 Rising Star Corporate Counsel Award from the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Ruben Duran

Partner, Best Best & Krieger LLP
Ontario, California

Best Best & Krieger LLP Partner Ruben Duran, who leads the firm’s Ontario, California office, represents exclusively public agencies in municipal law and government policy matters. He brings a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to the practice of public law, with an emphasis on open government, transparency and complex conflicts of interest issues, as well as elections law, land use and planning issues. He also provides special counsel to cities, school districts, public health plans and special districts.

During college, Ruben switched from pre-med to political science after realizing he enjoyed student government and public policy. He commenced law school at the University of California as a young father driven by the goal to improve cities and ensure his kids could grow up in a strong and healthy community. “Our day-to-day lives are affected more by city hall than almost anything that happens in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” Ruben says. “Whether it’s an after-school program for kids, the development of affordable housing, or planning for transportation and jobs, local governments make decisions and provide programs that help communities and people thrive.”

Ruben now 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, and the Crescent City Harbor District at the Oregon border. Ruben also serves as board counsel to the Southern California Association of Governments, the state’s largest Metropolitan Planning Organization representing more than 190 jurisdictions across six counties. As general counsel of these public entities, he 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. 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).

As an esteemed Latino leader in his field, Ruben was named to the Profiles in Diversity Journal’s inaugural “Latino Leaders Worth Watching” list in 2021. In further recognition of his talents, esteem and accomplishments across California, he was appointed to serve two consecutive terms as chair of the California State Bar Board of Trustees. He is the only individual to ever be reappointed to the role, and proudly serves as the second Latino to ever hold this role. Additionally, Ruben will be presented with IMLA’s 2022 Brown, Mulligan, Rocha Distinguished Public Service Award at this year’s annual conference, in recognition of his tireless dedication to service.

A frequent speaker and presenter on ethics and open government, Ruben enjoys meeting and interacting with public officials and employees from throughout California, sharing a common goal of efficient, effective and ethical public service. 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 and has presented on the New Markets Tax Credits program at the American Association of Port Authorities and the Association of Pacific Ports.  Ruben continues to be inspired by his father and personal hero, the late Ray Duran. “He was born to immigrant parents and unable to complete schooling beyond middle school, but he still built a solid working class life, bought a house, raised six kids, sent me to college, and left a legacy of the value of hard work and caring for others in a quiet and unassuming way.”

Sofia Hernandez

Senior Assistant City Attorney
Durham, North Carolina

With the City of Durham, Sofia Hernandez is Senior Assistant City Attorney. Her work focuses on public safety, code enforcement, and enforcement against fair housing, employment, and public accommodation discrimination.  She is counsel to the following departments and divisions: Durham Fire Department, Neighborhood Improvement Services, Community Safety Department, Emergency Communications, Cemeteries, Racial Equity, Intellectual Property.  She previously served as liaison to the Clerk’s office regarding boards, commissions, and taskforces.  She has worked on special projects such as participatory budgeting and outside counsel contracts.

Sofia enjoys working with law students and helping mentor the next generation of diverse municipal attorneys. She is a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law teaching Legal Writing and next semester, Contract Drafting. She also serves as Durham’s City Attorney Office’s Intern/Extern Program Coordinator.  This year, she will receive the IMLA Daniel J. Curtin, Jr. Young Public Lawyer Award recognizing her as a “public law practitioner who has provided outstanding service to the public and who possesses an exemplary reputation in the legal community, the highest of ethical standards and who revels in maintaining a life that balances a passion for professional excellence and the joy of family and friends.” Her recognition highlights her “qualities of openness and humility coupled with a sincere concern for the interests of others, including the professional development of newer practitioners.”

Sofia was born in Honduras and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 7. Sofia is a graduate of Seattle University (B.A. 2006) and Duke University School of Law (J.D. 2009). She also studied law at the Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires, Argentina and served as a clerk for the Hon. Jose Fuste in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Prior to joining the City Attorney’s Office, she gained varied experience at Olive & Olive, P.A., Red Hat, Inc., Alston & Bird, LLP and K&L Gates, LLP in the areas of commercial litigation, intellectual property, and securities.

Susana Alcala Wood

City Attorney & IMLA Board of Directors Member
Sacramento, California

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.

Sylvia Borunda Firth

Of Counsel, Bojorquez Law Firm, PC
Austin, Texas

Sylvia Borunda Firth is the past- President of the State Bar of Texas. Prior to joining our Firm, she was employed by the City of El Paso for nearly 20 years, including serving as City Attorney. As an Assistant City Attorney she supported the Department of Economic Development and advised the city council regarding economic development initiatives, including tax increment financing, (TIFs), tax abatements, 380 agreements and public improvement districts (PIDs). She negotiated and drafter complex resolutions, ordinances and contracts. Sylvia gained experience in legislative matters as the City of El Paso’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Sylvia is the Immediate Past-President of the Texas City Attorneys Association. She graduated from University of Texas School of Law with a Doctor of Jurisprudence and Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (Magna Cum Laude).

Valerie Flores

Managing Senior Assistant City Attorney
Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, General Counsel Division

Valerie Flores is a Managing Senior Assistant in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.  Ms. Flores supervises 28 lawyers in the General Counsel Division, providing legal representation to the Mayor, City Council, and Departments of Recreation and Parks, Public Works, Transportation, Library, General Services, Ethics Commission, Information Technology Agency, Neighborhood Empowerment, Animal Services and Zoo.  Ms. Flores handles legal issues relating to persons experiencing homelessness, including drafting ground-breaking ordinances balancing the rights of homeless individuals with the need for clean and passable public areas.  Ms. Flores has managed litigation on elections, voting rights, immigrant protections, and redistricting issues.  Ms. Flores had drafted and overseen the production of progressive ordinances including the City’s minimum wage, paid sick leave and wage enforcement laws.  Ms. Flores received her B.A. from U.C.L.A. and J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law.  Ms. Flores started her legal career as an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, went on to become a partner in the law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson.  Ms. Flores joined and has worked in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office since 2003.

Yvonne R. Meré

Chief Deputy City Attorney
San Francisco, California

Yvonne R. Meré is the Chief Deputy City Attorney with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, overseeing all litigation filed by and against the City and County of San Francisco.  During her more than 18 years at the Office, Yvonne has supervised dozens of lawyers litigating complex affirmative and defensive matters pending in state and federal court, in trial and on appeal.  Yvonne has served as both the Chief of the Complex and Affirmative Litigation Team as well as the Chief of the Code Enforcement and Resident Protection Team.  During her tenure with the City Attorney’s Office, Yvonne has also personally litigated a wide variety of matters, in particular affirmative unfair competition cases, public nuisance matters, and constitutional challenges including:

  • People of the State of California v. Recology, et al., lead attorney responsible for securing a $100M settlement to reimburse San Francisco rate payers who were overcharged for residential refuse collection services;
  • People of the State of California v. Uber, Lyft, et al., led a team litigating an unfair competition action filed in conjunction with the California Attorney General’s Office and the City Attorneys of Los Angeles and San Diego challenging the misclassification of TNC drivers;
  • People of the State of California, et al. v. CitiApartments, et al., lead attorney in an unfair competition and public nuisance action filed against a very large residential property owner in San Francisco challenging their pernicious business practices targeting vulnerable tenants.  The matter was settled for more than $10,000,000 and significant injunctive relief that protected tenants from the defendants’ unlawful and harassing tactics;
  • People of the State of California v. Exxon, et al., led a team litigating a public nuisance action filed against the largest fossil fuel producers challenging their role and contributions to climate change;
  • People of the State of California v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, worked as part of a team of lawyers who achieved a victory at trial against an educational regulator who resorted to using unfair and unlawful tactics in its accreditation review of City College of San Francisco.  Gave opening at trial and took three witnesses;
  • Abbott Laboratories v. Superior Court of Orange County, successfully argued at the California Supreme Court on behalf of a coalition of local governments that the California Legislature had vested city and county prosecutors coextensive authority along with the Attorney General to seek and secure statewide remedies in unfair competition actions.  The Court agreed with amici and now all authorized civil prosecutors across California can bring actions seeking statewide relief for the benefit of California consumers;
  • City and County of San Francisco v. Donald J. Trump, led a team challenging the constitutionality of President Trump’s Executive Order 13768, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” and of 8 U.S.C. § 1373, which resulted in the entry of a nationwide permanent injunction enjoining Section 9(a) of the Executive Order;
  • City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, et al., led a team that successfully challenged DHS’s revisions to the public charge rule to make it harder for individuals who use any public benefits to adjust their immigration status; and
  • City and County of San Francisco v. Alex M. Azar, II, et al., led a team that successfully challenged the “conscience rule”, an effort that would have permitted anyone in the healthcare industry to refuse to provide care to patients on religious or moral grounds.

In addition to supervising and litigating cases, Yvonne has served as a guest lecturer at Yale Law School as part of the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project, a collaboration between Yale Law School and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, and served on the Office’s Amicus Committee.  She is also actively involved in the Office’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, previously co-chairing the Office’s Racial Equity Task Force and serving as a member of the Women’s Initiative and La Alianza officewide affinity groups.

Prior to joining the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Yvonne worked at Stanford Law School as a lecturer and clinical supervising attorneys with the Stanford Community Law Clinic, at the San Francisco Bar Association’s Justice and Diversity Center, and at the New York County District Attorney’s Office.  She is a graduate of Pace University School of Law and the University of California, Los Angeles.

As a proud Latina and daughter of two Cuban parents, Yvonne’s practice and values have always been grounded and informed by who she is and where she is from.  She lives in San Francisco in an old two-unit Victorian building with her husband, daughter, and parents.