Every two years, The Legal Intelligencer looks across Pennsylvania to compile a list of women lawyers we hold in distinction for their efforts in the legal and public interest communities. Perhaps they led efforts to improve the standing of women in the profession, or maybe they closed some of the biggest deals or won significant pieces of litigation since the last time we named our Women of Distinction two years ago.
The criteria is admittedly broad and far from scientific. The women honored could hail from anywhere in Pennsylvania and could come from law firms, law departments, government agencies, public interest organizations or anywhere else lawyers may find themselves employed. We cull our archives and talk to different stakeholders in the legal community to make the list of names considered the most expansive it can be.
While we are sure the list could be doubled with names of women we haven't been fortunate enough to hear about, we are confident that each woman listed below is more than deserving of the legal community's respect and admiration.
The list includes general counsel, attorneys from large and small law firms, public interest advocates and government players. They hail from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, as well as smaller communities across the state. They led departments in tough economic times, made history with the deals they closed or litigation they won, studied the effects of the recession on women, worked to root out the cause and solutions of racial tensions in public schools, created innovative methods to improve the criminal justice system, advocated on behalf of juveniles in the system, created new legal entities and rose to top leadership roles within their organizations.
We are honored to name the following women as The Legal Intelligencer's 2010 Women of Distinction.
After her interim position on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded at the end of 2007, Cynthia Baldwin moved into private practice in the Pittsburgh office of Duane Morris.
Her tenure there was relatively brief, once she accepted another interim position halfway across the state with Pennsylvania State University. Baldwin agreed to pick up and move in February 2010 to the State College area to help create the school's first-ever office of general counsel and serve at its helm until a permanent GC could be found.
She was selected for the position because of her familiarity with the university, having served as the immediate past chairwoman of its board of trustees. She received both her undergraduate and master's degrees from the university.
Baldwin has her work cut out for her at Penn State. The school has a $3.8 billion operating budget, more than 90,000 students, 39,000 employees, a law school, a medical college and 24 campuses. At the time of her move, she said the office would probably look to hire a paralegal and a staff attorney while the search for a full-time general counsel is under way. Baldwin said she would be handling legal matters as well as the administrative aspects of creating a general counsel's office.
MARISSA BOYERS BLUESTINE
Since the Pennsylvania Innocence Project began one year ago, it has processed requests from over 1,600 inmates, trained at least 225 attorneys and 200 law students, and is investigating 32 plausible wrongful conviction claims.
While the bulk of the work is done by volunteers, the first statewide project of its kind in Pennsylvania is being led internally by one of only a few full-time staff members -- Legal Director Marissa Bluestine. She works closely with the project's other staff member, Executive Director Richard C. Glazer.
Bluestine has worked in both the private and public sectors: as a litigation associate at Duane Morris and as an assistant defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia for over 10 years. In addition, Bluestine has been involved in advocating for the expansion of voir dire, more detailed jury instructions and improved lineup procedures to avoid the occurrences of wrongful convictions.
A member of the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Bluestine lectures across the state on issues related to criminal defense. She joined the Innocence Project, housed in Temple University's Beasley School of Law, in April 2009.
MARIA GONZALEZ CALVET
Maria Gonzalez Calvet is a litigation associate in the Philadelphia office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius and an active member of the Hispanic National Bar Association and the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania.
Calvet served as counsel for the national organization in relation to the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In 2008, she was honored by the Pennsylvania Bar Association for her commitment to pro bono work, including the successful representation of a disabled child in a due process hearing and post administrative appeal on an issue of first impression to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Prior to joining Morgan Lewis in October 2004, Calvet served as a law clerk for Judge Legrome D. Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
PAMELA PRYOR DEMBE
In the year-and-a-half since Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe entered her post, Dembe has overseen the court as it continues to strive to innovate new programs while its budget was slashed by a little over $15 million due to the city of Philadelphia's budget crisis.
Dembe has openly cooperated with tightening the court's bottom line in light of a citywide fiscal crisis. But when Mayor Michael Nutter's administration floated the idea of further cuts to the court in the next fiscal year, Dembe showed her teeth by stating another cut was "outrageous;" the proposal of a further cut for the next fiscal year was shelved.
Dembe has been active in coordinating criminal justice policy in the city as the co-chair of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board, which convenes the stakeholders in the city's criminal justice system to work on cross-jurisdictional public policy problems. Dembe also has been vociferous in seeking reforms, including in the operation of the First Judicial District's court for criminal cases, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and her call to make Philadelphia's mass torts program more attractive to the mass torts bar.
DIANNE B. ELDERKIN
Last year was a good year for Dianne Elderkin and one of her largest clients, Johnson & Johnson. Elderkin, who took a team of lawyers from Woodcock Washburn to the Philadelphia office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in February, helped secure the largest patent infringment verdict in U.S. history.
She represented Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Centocor Ortho BiotecelInc. in a patent infringement battle against Abbott Laboratories over technology used in the making of both companies' rheumatoid arthritis medications. A jury returned a verdict in June 2009, awarding Centocor $1.67 billion in damages.
Elderkin had served on Woodcock Washburn's policy committee and was the chairwoman of its litigation practice services group when she moved to Akin Gump with partners and fellow litigators Barbara L. Mullin and Steven D. Maslowski and three other attorneys. Along with trying patent infringement cases, Elderkin counsels pharmaceutical and medical device clients on strategic patent matters.
RISA VETRI FERMAN
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman became the first female district attorney in that county with her election in 2007. But Ferman's greatest accomplishment as a prosecutor has been with her leadership on assisting children victimized by crimes.
Ferman was part of the founding of a project to provide pro bono child advocate attorneys for abused children. The Montgomery Child Advocacy Project originated in the District Attorney's Office and became a standalone nonprofit in January 2005. Ferman also spearheaded the founding of another nonprofit, Montgomery County's child advocacy center, Mission Kids. The center opened its doors in 2009 to streamline the multiple child abuse investigative processes of police departments, prosecutors' offices and child welfare agencies into a collaborative model that minimizes the number of interviews alleged child abuse victims must go through.
In March, Ferman received a national award in recognition of her work in support of Mission Kids, the National Children's Advocacy Center's Outstanding Service Award for Prosecution. Ferman also has been leading her office in a time of budget squeezes and rising criminal cases.
KATHLEEN MISTURAK GINGRICH
Harrisburg attorney Kathleen Misturak Gingrich does a little bit of everything in her practice -- business law, construction, labor and employment, environmental litigation.
So far in 2010, though, the story for Misturak Gingrich has been an en banc Superior Court panel's decision to grant gay parents equal standing in child custody cases -- an opinion she described as "long overdue."
InM.A.T. v. G.S.T., Misturak Gingrich successfully argued that the panel should repudiate a 1985 Superior Court ruling, Constant A. v. Paul C.A., that forced gay parents to prove there would be no adverse effect on their children if they were to be exposed to the relationship.
In the decision, the panel unanimously dismissed the requirement, giving homosexual and heterosexual parents equal footing in custody battles.
"It's a case of fundamental fairness," Misturak Gingrich said after the opinion. "We think the court recognized that and removed the unlevel playing field."
Though she'll be connected to the M.A.T. decision for some time, Misturak Gingrich is also her firm's assistant managing member and chief operating officer.
Prior to joining Zucker Meilton Miner & Gingrich, Misturak Gingrich was a member of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office antitrust division and in-house counsel to Sprint's local telephone division.
SARAH V. HART
Sarah Hart, a deputy district attorney in charge of the newly created division for performance and policy, has been a key aide to former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham and current District Attorney Seth Williams in addressing public policy problems like prison overcrowding and the efficiency of adjudicating criminal cases.
Hart, who was chief of the civil litigation unit under Abraham, sat with Abraham on the Criminal Justice Advisory Board, a stakeholder group for the city's top criminal justice leaders to coordinate public policy. In her role in the CJAB, Hart was part of crafting successful initiatives that led to the number of prisoners in the overcrowded Philadelphia Prison System falling by hundreds in the last year.
Hart also was one of the drafters of a prison reform package that also helped lead to the falloff in the number of inmates in city lockup because counties can now request that more of their state-sentenced inmates be transferred to the state correctional system. Now, she has been put in charge of quantifying the office's job performance and tracking for the public the success of Williams' policy goals for his office.
MAUREEN L. HOGEL
Maureen Hogel is the first woman to serve as chief operating officer of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Light Co. in the utility provider's 130-year history.
Hogel joined the company as an employment lawyer in 1996 and has logged a number of achievements since then, including having led the negotiations team that closed the $3 billion merger between Duquesne Light and the Australia-based Macquarie Consortium in 2007.
Following that merger, the COO position sat vacant until Hogel was elected by a board of directors to fill the role in late 2008.
Prior to becoming COO, Hogel moved up the ranks during her 12 years at Duquesne Light, serving in a number of roles including vice president of legal matters; vice president of development, legal and administrative affairs; senior vice president of human resources and administration; and senior vice president and chief legal and administrative officer.
Now, as COO, Hogel is responsible for about 1,000 regional employees and also oversees the company's community work.
When two Luzerne County judges announced plea agreements related to federal corruption charges in January 2009, the story grabbed Pennsylvania's attention.
To Marsha Levick and Lourdes Rosado, the chief counsel and associate director at the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, the news only marked the beginning of the end.
Even before the plea agreements, the Juvenile Law Center had been fighting tirelessly for the rights of juveniles who were appearing before former Luzerne County judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. without counsel and without proper colloquies. But with news of Ciavarella and fellow former judge Michael T. Conahan allegedly accepting $2.8 million in payouts from a former co-owner and builder of a private juvenile detention facility, the legal fight for juveniles in Luzerne County changed.
It took more than a year, but Levick and Rosado successfully argued that every juvenile who was adjudicated delinquent by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008 should have their records vacated and expunged.
The two women have also led the charge by representing juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella in a civil suit for violating their due process rights in what Levick has called "the most significant and largest judicial corruption scandal in the United States."
ROBERTA D. LIEBENBERG
When she isn't focusing on her class action and antitrust litigation practice, Roberta "Bobbi" Liebenberg is focused on her work as chairwoman of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession.
The senior partner at Fine Kaplan & Black in Philadelphia was named to the leadership position on the commission in late 2008 for a two-year term. Under Liebenberg's watch, the commission has looked into how women and minorities were affected by recessionary layoffs, discussed how to remove bias from attorney evaluations, followed up on a 2006 report about minority women in the law and tracked statistics about women within the legal profession.
In 2009, the Commission on Women in the Profession and the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession teamed up to create "Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters—Strategies for Success from Multicultural Women Attorneys," a compilation of inspirational and instructional letters from 44 experienced women lawyers of color.
Aside from her work with the ABA, Liebenberg has previously served in similar roles for the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations.
Jodi Lobel, who was recently named the chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office's charging unit, is leading an initiative that could make an epic difference in the administration of justice in Philadelphia's criminal cases. Lobel has been charged with improving the analysis that goes into charging defendants and ensuring that the cases approved for prosecution are more meritorious.
The goal is to improve conviction rates and improve stringency in the prosecutor's role as the gatekeeper in charging defendants. Lobel, who was chief of the felony waivers unit under former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, has been creating protocols for assistant district attorneys about deciding how defendants should be charged after receiving arrest information from the Philadelphia Police Department. With Williams' imprimatur, Lobel handpicked several experienced prosecutors from the trial division that she has supervised in the past to work in the unit for a six-month period. The unit's staffing has swelled to 13 attorneys.
While it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of Lobel's work, the stated goals in revamping charging by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office has been welcomed by other criminal justice leaders for the possibility that fewer cases will be pushed through the system just to fall apart.
For Sara Manzano-Diaz, public service has meant spending her career advocating on behalf of working class families, women and children.
In February 2010, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as the 16th director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. She was nominated for the post by President Obama in October 2009.
She formerly served as deputy secretary for regulatory programs at the Pennsylvania Department of State, where she was the highest ranking Latina in the state's government. In that role, she was responsible for overseeing the licensure of approximately 1 million professionals throughout the state.
Manzano-Diaz is also a member of Gov. Edward G. Rendell's STEM Initiative Team that supports the development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and workforce development programs. Previously, she served as deputy general counsel for civil rights and litigation at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
JOAN ORIE MELVIN
It hasn't taken long for Justice Joan Orie Melvin to make her mark on the state Supreme Court.
Elected to the high court in November 2009, Orie Melvin let loose a fiery dissenting opinion in the legal showdown between the Judicial Conduct Board and the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice less than a month into her time on the bench.
It's the independent, outspoken stand on reform the justice promised throughout her campaign and which she seems determined to follow.
During her campaign, Orie Melvin promised increased court transparency and "independent recusal," in which a panel of judges would decide whether a fellow judge can sit on a case where there is a potential question regarding impartiality. She also called for a greater amount of information to be released from the state's Judicial Conduct Board in response to the Luzerne County judicial corruption scandal.
Orie Melvin was elected to the Superior Court in 1997 and retained in 2007. She made headlines in 2006 when she sued the state for the right to return her salary increase under the controversial 2005 pay raise bill. In addition to her appellate judgeship, Orie Melvin served seven years as an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge and five years as chief magistrate of Pittsburgh's Municipal Court.
SANDRA MAZER MOSS
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Sandra Mazer Moss has twice led Philadelphia's nationally recognized program for streamlined case management for mass tort cases. Moss was a key leader behind the creation of the program that became the Complex Litigation Center in 1987 when she was the asbestos calendar judge.
In Moss' second time at the helm of the Complex Litigation Center, she has implemented a number of successful changes. Moss instituted the wider use of discovery and settlement masters in mass torts cases. Even as the number of mass tort cases has jumped up in the last year, Moss has prioritized getting cases to trial to meet her goal that no cases be out of compliance with the 1980s-era American Bar Association's general standard that civil cases should be concluded within two years of their filing. A serious backlog in the appeals from arbitration program has been largely wiped out. Moss also fostered an idea to add volunteer judges pro tem to hear arbitration appeal pretrial conferences.
HELEN P. PUDLIN
In 2009, Helen Pudlin was elevated from senior vice president and general counsel to executive vice president and general counsel of PNC Financial Services Group. She joined PNC in 1989 from Ballard Spahr and currently makes the commute each week from her Philadelphia-area home to PNC's Pittsburgh-headquarters, spending Thursday night through Sunday at home in Philadelphia.
Over the course of the last year and a half, Pudlin has headed up integration efforts of the legal departments of PNC and National City Bank. PNC announced in October 2008 that it would acquire National City, and the deal was complete by the end of the year. Since then PNC has looked to sell off various National City branches.
Pudlin serves as co-vice chairwoman of The Wistar Institute, an independent nonprofit biomedical research institute that researches causes of various diseases. She also sits on the advisory board of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and various committees of the American Bar Association.
ANNETTE M. RIZZO
The mortgage foreclosure diversion program that Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Annette M. Rizzo helped launch in April 2008 is now two years old, but the need for the innovative program is still strong as the fallout in the country's housing and job markets continue to reverberate. Rizzo, the judge overseeing the program's listings in City Hall 676, has been the most visible presence for the program and a tireless cheerleader for the need to provide conciliation conferences before sheriff's sales can be held on owner-occupied residences in foreclosure. The conferences provide an opportunity to work out refinancing of mortgages or payment plans with lenders, or to provide an opportunity for, as Rizzo puts it, a "graceful exit" for homeowners.
The program has been touted as a national example, and court leaders from around the country have visited Philadelphia in order to learn about it and implement their own homegrown versions. Rizzo, as well as the mortgage foreclosure program, have received numerous local, state and national awards in honor of the innovative court program.
GINA FURIA RUBEL
Gina Furia Rubel has had a busy few years to say the least. The non-practicing attorney has kept her hands in the bar, serving since 2008 as chancellor of the Justinian Society, a group for Italian-American lawyers. In that role she was successful in bringing Justice Samuel Alito to speak in Philadelphia as well as prominent Pennsylvania jurists and lawyers.
Rubel also heads up the Bar-News Media Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, putting on a number of programs that bring together local lawyers with general circulation and trade press representatives.
As head of her woman-owned public relations agency, Furia Rubel Communications, she has been aggressive in growing her presence across the communications spectrum. She recently merged with HG Marketing Group, making their longtime affiliation official and adding a branding and marketing component to the firm.
Along with her representation of several law firms, Rubel has become a nationally recognized speaker on how law firms can use social media.
Susan Devlin Scott
When Susan Devlin Scott became the Bucks County Common Pleas Court's first female president judge in January 2009, she assumed a prestigious position and an unenviable situation.
The county board of judges unanimously elected Scott, who also holds the distinction of having started Bucks County's first female-owned law firm in 1976, to succeed David W. Heckler, who is now the county's district attorney.
But with that honor came the responsibility of overseeing a bench that had only 10 active judges, three short of its full complement.
At the time, Scott told the Legal being shorthanded wasn't easy, but she lauded her colleagues on the bench for their willingness to take on more work in an effort to keep up case flow.
Fast forward to 2010: There are now 12 judges on the bench, and Scott is able to focus more administrative energy on overseeing the planning of a proposed $100 million Bucks County justice center in Doylestown, which could break ground as early as this fall.
DEBORAH R. WILLIG
Deborah Willig has long been a glass-ceiling breaker and supporter of women in the profession just by the path her career has taken and the way she has modeled her own firm -- Willig Williams & Davidson.
Willig served in 1992 as the first female chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. And since 1979 she had been building her own firm, which now is comprised of 34.4 percent female attorneys and 6.3 percent minority lawyers, according to PaLAW 2009 magazine.
Willig has focused her practice on labor relations and employment law since 1976, representing a wide range of labor unions. Over the past two years, she has worked on some of the largest labor deals in Philadelphia's history.
In 2008 she negotiated on behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, non-professional employees of the school district, Philadelphia firefighters and the Cheltenham Education Association. In 2009 and into 2010, Willig represented those same unions along with the Hatboro Horsham Education Association and the United Steelworkers.
Willig currently serves as president of the French International School of Philadelphia, a nonprofit independent school offering a dual curriculum in French and English.
KAY KYUNGSUN YU
Kay Yu recently moved her ERISA and employment law practice from Pepper Hamilton to Tucker Law Group where she became the firm's third equity partner. Yu said at the time she was interested in practicing at a smaller firm where she could more closely blend her public interest life and legal background.
When she isn't running marathons or handling litigation, Yu serves as the chairwoman of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations -- a role she said has made her more public-service minded.
It is in large part her efforts on that commission in 2010 that has landed her on this list. Yu is heading up a series of public hearings to address school violence, ethnic intimidation and racial tension in the Philadelphia School District. The impetus for these hearings was December's racial conflict at South Philadelphia High School between Asian-American and black students that struck a chord in the community and many looking for answers. The hearings began in January and will last through the summer.
This article was written by The Legal Intelligencer editorial staff.