Society of Benchers 2021 Inductees

Photo of the 2019 Society of Benchers induction ceremony

Every year, Case Western Reserve University School of Law honors the achievements of distinguished alumni, faculty and prominent members of the legal community by inducting new members to the Society of Benchers – the law school’s Hall of Fame. 

Established in 1962, the Society of Benchers inducts new members on the basis of extraordinary achievement and dedication to the highest principles of the legal profession, as voted on by their peers.

This year, we celebrate 11 new members of the Society of Benchers.

Jennifer Adams

Jennifer is the group leader of Ulmer & Berne’s Health Care Practice Group. Her practice is focused on a range of interconnected legal disciplines, including health care, mergers and acquisitions, and a variety of corporate law matters.

Jennifer puts the focus squarely on her clients, relying on years of experience and a willingness to understand the strategic goals of the individuals and businesses she serves to find creative legal solutions that are practical and impactful. Clients in the health care, automotive, media, and other industries routinely put their trust in Jennifer because of her dedication to client service and expertise in niche areas of the law, such as the friendly physician practice model and the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Act pre-merger notification process.

•    Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Law Firm Giving Challenge Representative, 2014-2020
•    Case Western Reserve University School of Law (J.D., cum laude, 1996)
•    Georgetown University (B.A., 1992)

Professor Bryan Adamson

Professor Bryan Adamson is the David L. & Ann Brennan Professor of Law, and associate dean of diversity and Inclusion. His areas of expertise are mass media and First Amendment law, and he has practiced extensively in re-entry advocacy, housing, mortgage lending and consumer protection. Professor Adamson rejoined Case Western Reserve University School of Law from Seattle University School of Law, where he taught for 18 years, including service as director of its nationally ranked Clinical Program. Professor Adamson has authored scores of articles in publications ranging from Yale Law and Policy Review and Harvard Journal of Racial and Ethnic Justice. His most recent publications include "Debt Bondage: How Private Collection Agencies Keep the Formerly Incarcerated Tethered to the Criminal Justice System" Nw. J. L. & SOC. POL'y VOL. 15 (2020), "Reconsidering Pre-Indictment Media Publicity: Racialized Crime News, Grand Juries and Tamir Rice" 8 ALA. CIV. RTS. & CIV. LIBERTIES L. REV. 1 (2017), and “Thugs, Crooks, and Rebellious Negroes: Racist and Racialized Distortions in Media Coverage of Michael Brown and the Ferguson Demonstrations" 32 HARV. J. ON RACIAL & ETHNIC JUSTICE 189 (2016). In 2016, Adamson was honored with the William Pincus Award for Excellence in Clinical Legal Education by the Association of American Law Schools, and that same year was awarded Seattle University's Provost’s Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship.

Immediately after graduating from CWRU School of Law, Adamson practiced in the Litigation Department of Squire Patton Boggs (then Squire Sanders and Dempsey), and as an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County. He returned to CWRU in 1995 as a professor in the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center, where he and his students practiced civil litigation, defending homeowners in foreclosure actions and against predatory lending practices. During his CWRU tenure he also served as assistant dean for Student Services. He has held visiting appointments at Washington University (St. Louis) and the University of Michigan Law School. Since returning to Case Western in July 2020 to lead the Law School's diversity and inclusion efforts, Adamson has been recognized as the Black Law Students Association Western Region's Institutional Advocate of the Year and he has received the Law School's Distinguished Faculty Service Award, and the University's Think Big Leadership Award.

Carolyn Watts Allen

Carolyn Watts Allen has been a lawyer and activist lawyer for over 49 years. Carolyn began her career in Columbus, Ohio, specializing in VII Civil Rights cases, Carolyn returned home in 1978 to Cleveland to serve in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. In 1990, she was appointed by then mayor Michael R. White to serve as the first woman safety director for the City of Cleveland. During his second term Mayor White appointed her as the chief city prosecutor. Her career led her to serve as a Magistrate for the City of Cleveland and then to the General Counsel’s Office for NASA Glenn Research Center from where she retired in 2013.

In 1990, Carolyn and her husband Robert along with 19 other urban pioneers founded the Renaissance Place housing development in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. Their goal is to bring reinvestment in the Hough community. A recent new housing development has been named the Allen Estates in honor of their vision for this important historic neighborhood.

J. Philip Calabrese

J. Philip Calabrese is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He formerly served as a Judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Before becoming a judge, Phil was a highly respected lawyer who was a partner at two leading firms (Porter Wright and Squire Patton Boggs); he also was an associate at Thompson Hine. He has been a long-time adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He also was very active in the bar and in the general community. For example, he has been active in the Federal Bar Association, serving as the President of the Northern District of Ohio Chapter. He was a Northeast Ohio board member of the Ohio Innocence Project, member of the Northern District of Ohio Advisory Group (which enhances bench-bar relationships in the federal courts), board member and treasurer of Community Legal Services, member of the advisory council of the Cleveland Orchestra, and member of the Ohio Advisory Council of the Trust for Public Land.

Phil graduated summa cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Judge Alice M. Batchelder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Before law school, Phil was chief of staff to the Hon. Lynn Adelman, who at the time was a Wisconsin State Senator and is now a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. It is worth noting that Judge Batchelder is a Republican and Judge Adelman is a Democrat. This reflects Phil's longstanding interest in maintaining and elevating the level of public discourse, which is also shown by his role as a founder of the Bipartisan Political Education Project.

  • Harvard Law School, J.D. (cum laude) (J.D., 2000)
  • College of the Holy Cross (summa cum laude) (B.A., 1993)
  • Fulbright Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece
Laura Hong

As chair of the Tucker Ellis Mass Tort & Product Liability Group, Laura leads nearly 50 lawyers and 26 non-lawyer timekeepers, motivating and guiding them through management and client relations and business development, as well as training and mentoring, while maintaining a full-time national litigation practice. She has decades of first-chair trial experience and appears in state and federal courts throughout the nation. She serves as national, trial, and local counsel for many companies, spearheading legislative initiatives and leading strategy for clients sued in product liability, mass tort, and commercial litigation. Laura is a frequent speaker on these topics, as well as ethics and professionalism.

Laura was featured in the “Big Suits” column in The American Lawyer, detailing a victory on behalf of BP involving a 19-week refinery contamination trial. Her testimony supporting Ohio’s Asbestos Medical Criterial Bill (H.B. 292) helped shape that legislation and is cited in its legislative history.

Laura’s relentless commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is the bedrock of her personal and professional life. She is well known for her leadership in Ohio and national bar associations, most notably as a founder (and the first president) of the Asian American Bar Association of Ohio and the past president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, where she currently serves on the Leadership Advisory Council. Laura also serves on the Deans’ Cabinet for Diversity & Inclusion at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, strategically focusing on the recruitment, education and professional development of law students of color. Her own intersectionality makes her uniquely sensitized to the challenges faced by women and BIPOC women in particular. 

Laura is ranked in Chambers USA 2021 in the area of Product Liability & Mass Torts (Nationwide), as well as in the Spotlight Table in Product Liability: Toxic Torts (Nationwide).

Valissa Howard

Valissa Turner Howard, Esq. is vice president, Talent and Legal Affairs, at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Prior to joining the Food Bank, Valissa was first assistant deputy inspector general and chief diversity officer at the Cuyahoga County Agency of Inspector General; an associate attorney with a legal and consulting firm in the Bay Area; clerked for a federal Judge in Akron, worked as a law firm diversity manager and law school senior administrator in Cleveland, Ohio, and practiced with a mid-size law firm in San Diego, California.

Throughout her professional life, Valissa has also been an engaged and resourceful community leader who is passionate about increasing diversity, equity and inclusion. In her first year of practice, Valissa was appointed co-chair of the San Diego County Bar Association inaugural Diversity Fellowship Program. Later, she also served as a member of the Women of Color in Law Board for ten years; a member of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law Alumni Board, and as vice president of communications for the Junior League of Cleveland.

Currently, Valissa serves as immediate past president—Norman S. Minor Bar Association; 
vice president of Inclusion & Diversity at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association; co-chair of the Junior League of Cleveland Diversity and Inclusion Committee; parliamentarian of the Top Ladies of Distinction Greater Cleveland Chapter; member of Ohio State Bar Association Advisory Council on Diversity Initiatives; member of CWRU School of Law Dean’s Diversity Cabinet; member of the Lakeland Foundation Board; member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; and member of Western Reserve (OH) Chapter, The Links, Incorporated.

Valissa has been recognized for her experience and commitment to serve with several awards, including the 2021 Ruth T. Lucas Award from the Junior League of Cleveland; 2018 Distinguished Young Woman Award from the YWCA Greater Cleveland; 2017 Francis Payne Bolton Award from the Junior League of Cleveland; 2017 Who’s Who in Black Cleveland recognition; 2016 Crain’s Cleveland 40 Under Forty Honoree; and 2016 Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Rising Star Finalist.

Valissa obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Irvine, and received a Master of Arts and Certification in Diversity Management from Cleveland State University. She received her J.D.
from CWRU School of Law, where she was awarded a three-year Merit Scholarship and a 3L Leadership Award. Valissa is married to Karrie D. Howard, Esq., and lives in South Euclid, Ohio. They have four children.

Keith Karakul

Kurt Karakul recently retired as the first president and executive director of the Third Federal Foundation, a $55 million foundation created at the time of Third Federal’s minority public offering in April 2007. He transitioned from the role of president on June 30, 2021, but will continue to work on projects for Third Federal and the Foundation.

Before joining the Foundation, Karakul practiced law for 28 years and was a partner, member of the management team of Weston Hurd, LLP and served as head of the Real Estate Section. He is a 1973 graduate of Kenyon College and received an Honorary Degree from Kenyon in 2015. He graduated from Case Western Reserve School of Law Class of 1979 where he served as the president of the Student Bar Association. He served as an adjunct professor at CWRU Law School from 2000 to 2019 teaching Community Development Law; and from 1985 to 2006, he co-authored a real estate column in the Plain Dealer Saturday Real Estate Section, “Law of the Land.”

He has received numerous awards for his law practice and volunteer work, and for three years was named an Ohio Super Lawyer in real estate by Law & Politics Media, Inc. He is a past chairman of both the Young Lawyers Section and the Real Estate Section, as well as a past trustee of the Greater Cleveland Bar Association,

Among his many activities as Foundation executive director, he has led the Slavic Village P-16 Project with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in an effort to work with the system and community partners to create an educational program to impact children from pre-birth to college graduation. The Foundation has invested $1.5 million per year over the last ten years in Community Partners, as the P-16 has begun to move the needle by investing in programs promoting literacy, stabilizing housing, promoting health and ensuring safety in the neighborhood. The long-term investment in programs from pre-birth to graduation from college in the P-16 schools has shown remarkable improvement in attendance and test scores. 
During its short existence, the Foundation has earned numerous awards, including Kurt being named a Hometown Hero in 2018 by the FBI Cleveland Citizen’s Academy. The Foundation received the 2015 Corporate Partner Award at the Vibrant City Awards Luncheon for its Slavic Village P-16 work, and the Foundation was awarded “Foundation of the Year” awards issued by The Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, Cleveland Alcohol and Treatment Services, Inc., and University Settlement House. In 2010 the Foundation earned a Community Impact Award by the Dominion Foundation for the Service Scholarship Program created with Cleveland Central Catholic High School in which students and their parents can earn $10 an hour toward their tuition for approved community service projects. As a result of the program, more than 500,000 hours of community service has been performed in the Broadway/Slavic Village community. Kurt was in the Leadership Cleveland Class of 2012 and has participated in 4 different LC 2 classes.

He presently serves on the boards of The Literacy Cooperative, The Cleveland Arts Prize, ChamberFest Cleveland and the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland.

Tanya Miller

Tanya Miller is comfortable in the spotlight, whether engaging the judge and jury in the courtroom, appearing as a legal analyst and commentator on broadcast media, or leading high-profile cases that have earned national attention for her strategies and successes.

Tanya’s path to success is impressive. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University, with honors and bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy in 1996. She earned her law degree with honors from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1999. While a student at CWRU Law, she served on the Case Western Reserve Law Review and was a standout leader in the Black Law Students Association. She was eventually selected by law students across the country to serve as the executive director of the national organization.

After earning her degrees from CWRU, Tanya worked as an associate at the nationally prominent law firm of Jones Day in Cleveland. Afterwards, she served as a federal judicial law clerk to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., in the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland. When her clerkship ended, Tanya was appointed as an assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of New York. While serving as a federal prosecutor, Tanya was recruited by Baker & Hostetler, LLP, a large law firm in Cleveland, to take on the role of a defense attorney in their White-Collar Crime practice group. Tanya’s prestigious appointment as chief senior district attorney for the Fulton County District’s Attorney’s Office in Atlanta was a result of her years of experience tackling complex criminal matters. As a homicide prosecutor, Tanya remained undefeated at trial. Her exemplary track record was solidified by her reputation as a meticulous, passionate and fair prosecutor in and out of the courtroom. 

As a lawyer in private practice and a founding partner at DuBose Miller in Atlanta, Tanya continues to be a passionate advocate for each and every one of her clients, standing strong to give voice to the injured and to the wrongfully accused. Tanya’s practice areas include wrongful death, complex criminal defense and representing plaintiffs in civil rights matters. Tanya can be found at the helm of some of Atlanta’s most high-profile cases, often using her voice to defend the voiceless in police brutality cases. Tanya has a soft spot for children, victims and underdogs, and she is relentless in her determination to set things right. 

Tanya remains a sought-after media source and expert legal commentator and has regularly appeared on local and national news television networks as an expert in criminal law and investigations. She gained notoriety for her feisty opinions in support of the prosecution during the George Zimmerman trial, and has continued to be a source for legal commentary for preeminent national news networks such as Court TV, CNN, Fox News and HLN, and numerous local networks.

Matt O'Connell

In his 38-year career as a trial lawyer, Matt O’Connell has represented some of America’s largest companies in products liability, intellectual property, breach of contract, environmental and toxic injury cases. He has successfully defended non-compete clauses, premises liability and employment matters. While attending Case Wester Reserve University School of Law, Matt worked as an investigator and law clerk at the firm then known as Reminger and Reminger, joining the firm as an associate in 1984 and named as a partner in 1989. While at Reminger, Matt co-tried Bradosky v. Volkswagen of America, successfully defending Audi in an automotive unintended acceleration case, named by the ABA Journal in November 1989 as one of the ten major defense verdicts of 1988. 

In 2002, Matt and the late Larry Sutter founded Sutter O’Connell in Cleveland and Nashville, which continues to be a premier litigation boutique firm with a national practice. Matt served as managing partner of the firm from 2017 until 2020.

Matt has received numerous honors from professional associations, including the Litigation Counsel of America and the John M. Manos American Inn of Court. Matt has given back to the legal community, serving as a mentor with the Ohio Supreme Court new lawyer mentoring program and as a senior fellow of the Cleveland Bar Foundation. He frequently serves as a judge and advisor to mock trial teams at several Ohio law schools.  

  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Law Alumni Association Board
  • Member and Nominating Committee Chair (current); Secretary-Treasurer (2021-24)
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law (J.D., 1983)
  • University of Wisconsin—Madison (B.A., 1979) 
Dominic Perry

Dominic Perry has over 40 years of experience in the trusts and estate industry. Dominic, together with William Karnatz, Jr., and Mark Swary, formed Western Reserve Trust Company, an independent, administrative trust company that received its charter from the Ohio Division of Financial Institutions in 2018. Dominic was elected as CEO and continues to serve in that role.

Dominic began his career at Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers), then joined the law firm of Roudebush, Brown & Ulrich, which was later acquired by Arter & Hadden, LLP, where he practiced trust, estate, and tax law, leaving as a partner in 1995. He co-founded the law firm Perry & O’Brien, LLP in 1995. In 2001 he founded Dominic V. Perry & Assoc., which in 2007 became Perry & Karnatz, LLC, a boutique law firm specializing in probate and trust administration, the coordination of legal and financial matters for individuals and family organizations, estate and succession planning and tax planning and compliance for individuals and fiduciaries. He was the firm’s managing member beginning 2007. Dominic is admitted to practice law in Ohio and Florida and is licensed as an active Certified Public Accountant in Ohio. 

Dominic is a charter member of Case Western Reserve University’s Estate Planning Advisory Council (EPAC) and served as its Chair for five years. EPAC’s purpose is to bring together estate planning professionals for programs at CWRU so they will have an awareness of the many exciting developments at the university. The advisors are then able to share this information with their respective clients who in turn may wish to contribute to one or more of these programs at CWRU.

Dominic has been an active member of the Board of Directors of St. Martin De Porres High School in Cleveland and served as its Board chair for the past five years. He is a member of the Legacy Council of Providence House, Inc., Cleveland, a crisis nursery, and former chair of its Board of Directors. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Achievement Centers for Children in Cleveland.

Dominic is a member of the Board of Directors of The Howley Foundation, a member of the Board of Managers of The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Foundation and a trustee of the RJR Charitable Foundation.

●    Case Western Reserve University School of Law (J.D., 1980)
●    The Ohio State University (B.A., 1977)

Bret Trier

J. Bret Trier is the managing partner of the Vorys Akron office and a member of the corporate group. His practice focuses primarily on representing public and significant private companies, which he counsels regularly on a broad range of matters involving acquisitions, dispositions and other transactions, corporate and board governance, securities law compliance and reporting including executive compensation and disclosure issues, and public offerings of debt and equity securities. Bret is particularly experienced in representing public financial institutions and plastics manufacturers and multi-generational family-owned businesses.

Bret has been actively engaged in the greater Akron community his entire career and currently serves as chair of the Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital board of directors, director and secretary of the Akron Community Foundation, director of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, director and past chair of the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation, director of the International Soap Box Derby, and director of the Akron YMCA Endowment Foundation.

  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law (J.D., 1985, cum laude)
  • Bowling Green State University (B.S., 1982, magna cum laude)