Recognizing our 2023 Society of Benchers inductees

Group photo of 2023 society of bencher inductees
From left to right: Margaret J. Grover, Deborah Pergament, Christopher M. Rassi, Laura E. McNally, S. Michael Lear, Joseph J. Allotta, Charles E. Fleming, Nicole Braden Lewis, Lewis I. Winarsky, Douglas W. Charnas and Thomas Mester

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, each year the Society inducts new alumni members, as well as a faculty member and public member, on the basis of extraordinary achievement and dedication to the highest principles of the legal profession. 

This year, we are proud to celebrate 13 new members of the Society of Benchers. Read their full biographies here. 

Joseph J. Allotta (LAW ‘72)

Born to second-generation Sicilian immigrants, Allotta spent his formative years in a low-income Italian ghetto in Rochester, New York. Allotta entered the workforce at eleven years old, persuading a newspaper company to hire him a year earlier than their regulations stated. He has been employed continuously since then. 

Allotta saved enough money to attend American University where he was active in student government and worked in his congressman's Washington, DC office. After the first few weeks of law school, Allotta realized how intelligent his classmates were and recognized that to succeed he had to do what he always did - work extremely hard. He was selected as an editor of both the Law Review and the International Law Journal. He was fortunate to serve as a law clerk for a United States District judge in Toledo, Ohio. 

Throughout his career, Allotta is proud to have assisted unions and their members to improve their working and retirement lives. His most cherished accomplishment is raising three wonderful children and having seven exemplary grandchildren. 

Ann Amer Brennan

Ann Amer Brennan attended Our Lady of the Elms and Catholic University and received a teaching degree from the University of Akron. Brennan taught social studies for one year in the Akron Public School system. After her four children were grown, Brennan returned to school to earn a law degree at the University of Akron. She worked several years for the law firm founded by her late father, Bernard J. Amer, before devoting herself full time to community service. 

A longtime community activist, Brennan served as a board member and chair for a long list of charitable organizations. Brennan was a major force in fundraising for many Akron area nonprofits. She chaired capital campaigns for many organizations, most notably Summa Health Systems capital campaigns for the Critical Care Center, and the "Then, Now and Always" campaign. 

Brennan was the recipient of numerous awards. The awards include the Polsky Award in 2000, the Saint Thomas More Award in 2012 and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Akron. Most recently, she was awarded the Spirit of Saint Julie from the Julie Billiart Schools. 

Nicole Braden Lewis (LAW ‘01)

Nicole Braden Lewis, a Cleveland native, is a Partner at Tucker Ellis LLP and President of the Case Western Reserve University Law Alumni Association Board. Her commitment to the law school is evidenced by her more than a dozen years on the Alumni Association Board, serving as development chair, secretary and vice president until her election as president in 2022. Lewis has played and continues to play a pivotal role in guiding Tucker Ellis to achieve 100% participation in the Law Firm Giving Challenge for more than a decade. 

Lewis is committed to empowering women in the legal profession and fostering their advancement. She served ten years as a founding co-chair of the Tucker Ellis Women's Initiative inclusion resource group until 2023. 

Her diverse background and experiences, including her emotional intelligence training with the Weatherhead School of Management, form the foundation for her unique ability to consistently foster positive relationships and provide effective leadership within the legal community and beyond. 

Douglas W. Charnas (LAW ‘78)

Douglas Charnas, a native Clevelander, is a member of the McGlinchey Stafford law firm in its Washington, D.C. office. Upon graduating from law school, Charnas joined the IRS Office of Chief Counsel in its national office. During his six-year tenure, he served as the IRS's lead lawyer for the Windfall Profit Tax and as an Assistant to the Chief Counsel. He entered private practice in 1984 and has spent the last 39 years counseling clients on a wide-range of corporate and tax issues. For more than 30 years, Charnas has taught at Georgetown Law School in its LLM tax program. 

In connection with the United States Tax Court, Charnas runs the J. Edgar Murdock Inn of Court, which is the only Inn in the United States that focuses on tax. At the request of the Chief Judge of the Tax Court in 2019, Charnas formed the United States Tax Court Historical Society and is a founding board member and its President. 

From 1989 to 2005, Charnas served as a Regional Vice President for Alumni Affairs for the law school. 

Hon. Charles E. Fleming (LAW ‘90)

Charles Esque Fleming was recommended for nomination for the position of US District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio by US Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman on July 2, 2021. He was later nominated for the position by President Joseph Biden on Sept. 30, 2021. He was confirmed by the US Senate on February 1, 2022. Prior to that, Fleming served as a criminal defense attorney in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Ohio from 1991 to 2021. In that capacity, he also served as the Investigative and Paralegal Staff Supervisor from 2010 to 2016. He was the Cleveland Trial Team Supervisor from 2016 to 2021. 

Fleming was an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cleveland State University School of Law from 2007 to 2018. He was engaged in civil practice as an associate attorney with the Forbes, Forbes & Associates law firm in Cleveland from 1990 to 1991. 

He received his Juris Doctorate from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1990 and his Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Kent State University in 1986. 

Margaret J. Grover (LAW ‘83)

Margaret Grover began practicing in California in 1984. She has been active in bar association activities throughout her career. She chaired the San Francisco Barrister's Club, an association for new lawyers, and was a member of the Board of Directors for the Bar Association of San Francisco. She has also chaired the Employment and Alternative Dispute Resolution sections of the Contra Costa County Bar Association and served on the steering committee for the Alameda County Bar Association's Wellness Section. 

In 2011 and 2012, Grover served as chair of the Conference of California Bar Associations (CCBA), a statewide association of attorney volunteers who work to improve the laws of California by drafting, debating and promoting creative, non-partisan changes to the law. In 2022, Grover was honored to receive the CCBA's Pfeiffer Award, given annually to a person of the highest integrity and professional excellence, with a passion for giving and service for a more just society through the law. 

Grover currently coaches for Oakland United Rowing, which supports athletes from multiple Oakland, California high schools. She has also coached adult cyclists riding for Team in Training, which raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. 

S. Michael Lear (LAW ‘88)

Michael Lear is a Partner of Zukerman, Lear & Murray Co., L.P.A., where he has practiced since 1996. Previously, he was employed at Bernard, Haffey & Bohnert Co., L.P.A. For over three decades, he has focused his practice on defending the constitutional rights of those accused of criminal offenses in local, state and federal courts, as well as defending the professional licensure of doctors, lawyers and other licensed professionals, and aggressively seeking compensation for deprivations of constitutional rights. 

During the course of his career, Lear has tried numerous local, state and federal cases throughout the State of Ohio. He has handled various professional licensure defense matters and has argued appellate matters in numerous Ohio appellate districts, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Ohio. 

Since 2016, Lear has been an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he teaches Criminal Pretrial Practice. 

Laura E. McNally

Laura E. McNally is the Associate Dean for Experiential Education and the Director of the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center. She brings a wealth of experience to this position based on her work in clinical legal education. McNally has focused her practice and research in the areas of poverty law, disability rights, children's rights, health law and interdisciplinary education. 

In her role as director of the Health Law Clinic, McNally established interdisciplinary collaborations with local hospitals, medical centers, and community organizations to provide legal representation and engage in systemic advocacy regarding legal issues that impact community health. Currently, she is teaching in the law school's field placement program which includes our robust externship and semester-in-practice programs. 

McNally is committed to experiential education and enjoys mentoring folks who are new to clinical teaching. She has held positions with the Clinical Legal Education Association and the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education. 

Thomas Mester (LAW ‘69) 

Thomas Mester graduated from Cleveland Heights High and attended John Carroll University where he graduated Cum Laude. In 1969, Thomas graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He was employed with the law firm of Nurenberg, Paris, Heller and McCarthy LLC (NPHM) for more than 50 years. 

Mester was a litigator who primarily handled catastrophic injuries, such as infant cerebral palsy. Many of his cases included medical malpractice, products liability, employment injuries and intentional tortes. In these cases, Mester was able to win numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts and settlements. He's appeared before the Ohio Supreme Court, Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals and is a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the Ohio Association of Justice, the United States Court of Federal Claims and Delegate, the Eighth District Court of Appeals Judicial Conference and has been admitted to the U.S. Northern Court of Ohio.

Mester also assisted teaching undergraduate courses at CWRU, with his wife of 54 years, Dr. Terri Mester. Thomas has two sons who practice law and six grandchildren, one of whom is attending Ohio State Moritz School of Law this fall. Mester is proud of his life's work, protecting individuals and obtaining just compensation for their injuries. 

Deborah Pergament (LAW ‘98)

Deborah Pergament has devoted her legal career to advocating on behalf of children with special needs and their families. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with high honors in history and holds masters' degrees in history and library science from Indiana University. Prior to attending CWRU, Pergament was a reference librarian for a large insurance defense firm in Chicago. 

After graduating from CWRU, Pergament served for four years as an Assistant Public Guardian in the Cook County, Illinois Office of the Public Guardian. She then co-founded Children's Law Group in Chicago. As a member of Children's Law Group, Pergament represented parents of students seeking appropriate educational placements and services from school districts. Her practice focused on children with complex genetic conditions, children on the autism spectrum, those with learning difficulties or mental health challenges, and students with hearing loss. She also directed the DePaul University College of Law Special Education Advocacy Clinic from 2009-2014. She retired from practice in 2021. 

Pergament continues to serve on the Board of Trustees of Roycemore School (Evanston, IL) and dedicates her time to international philanthropic activities on behalf of children with hearing loss. 

Christopher M. Rassi (LAW ‘03)

Christopher Rassi is currently Chief of Staff and Director, Office of the Secretary General at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), a position he has held since 2020. He is a member of the Senior Leadership Team, the executive committee that supports the Chief Executive Officer/Secretary General in the overall management of the IFRC. He is also a member of the Global Leadership Team, which formulates policies and ensures effective management and accountability in worldwide operations. 

He is active on several boards and committees, including on the Board of the Jean-Pictet Competition in International Humanitarian Law and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, and as a member of the Dean's Cabinet for Global Legal Studies. 

Rassi has worked in various roles with the IFRC, including most recently as Head of Delegation based in Bangkok, Thailand and Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific. In this capacity, Rassi led the IFRC in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and worked with Red Cross and Red Crescent leadership throughout Southeast Asia. He was previously Head of Delegation in Jakarta covering Indonesia and Timor-Leste and serving as Representative to ASEAN. He has also managed teams in Lebanon and Yemen. Rassi originally joined the IFRC in 2012 in the General Counsel's office, before moving to his first management role in 2015 as Senior Executive Officer and Deputy to the Chief of Staff. 

He lives in Geneva, Switzerland with his wife and two children. 

William P. Rogers, Jr. (LAW ‘78)

William P. Rogers, Jr. (Bud) retired from Cravath's Corporate Department in December 2015. He joined Cravath in 1979 and became a partner in 1985. From 1998 to 2001 he served as the Managing Partner of the Corporate Department and from 2001 to 2007 headed the Firm's London office. He most recently served on the Firm's Strategy Board. His practice encompassed the representation of both corporate and financial institution clients in a wide variety of matters, including international securities offerings, corporate governance and SEC compliance matters, mergers and acquisitions and derivative financial products. 

Rogers regularly advised Cravath's corporate clients on derivatives matters, including the implications of the new Dodd Frank swaps regulation. He was involved in the formation of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and, prior to his move to London, regularly represented ISDA on legislative, regulatory and documentation matters. He advised a wide variety of corporations, including Bacardi Limited, Time Warner Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, CBS Corporation, Incorporated, and FactSet Research Systems Inc. 

Rogers has been repeatedly recognized as one of the country's leading practitioners in capital markets by, among others, Chambers USA, Chambers Global, The Legal 500 US and IFLR1000. 

Lewis I. Winarsky (LAW ‘72)

Lew Winarsky is Managing Partner of Sky Properties LLC, which owns and manages commercial real estate properties. Winarsky retired as counsel to Washington Gas Light Company (WGL), the gas public utility serving the greater DC metro area. Prior to WGL, Winarsky served as an Administrative Judge for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio; Senior Attorney with the Consumer's Counsel in Ohio (representing the interests of residential utility consumers before the Ohio Public Utilities Commission), Assistant Attorney General for the State of Ohio (Consumer Frauds Section and as staff member to the Attorney General's Committee examining juvenile justice reform.). He is admitted to practice law in Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States and related Federal District courts. 

Winarsky's service extends beyond the academic. He served in the Office of Delegate Talmadge Branch, Majority Whip, Maryland House of Delegates as well as a Democratic precinct chair. He was a board member of the non-profit District of Columbia Apartment Improvement Project and Chair of its project review committee. He also served on the board of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center, and the Fessenden Chamber Music Ensemble. Winarsky is a 1972 graduate of the CWRU Law School and a former member of The Journal of International Law. Winarsky and his wife Susan, reside in Sarasota, Florida.