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Board of Trustees

April 5, 2018

Southwestern Law School Adds “Magnificent Seven” to Trustee Roster

Southwestern proudly announces adding seven members to its Board of Trustees. They all stand out individually, and collectively, they bring fresh eyes, energy, and perspectives to Southwestern’s second century of educating new lawyers.

In celebrating these appointments, Trustee Chair, Michael Downer expressed his "excitement about the accomplishments and energy of the new group of Trustees. Their breadth of experience and dedication is already benefitting Southwestern. It's great to be working with each one of them," added Downer, a Senior Attorney and Executive with Capital Group ǀ American Funds.

The school’s Dean and Chief Executive Officer, Susan Prager pointed to “Southwestern’s powerful history as a place that has welcomed everyone, including women, immigrants, older students, full-time workers, and people previously characterized as “minorities.” Today we are one of the most racially diverse law schools in America, and we are a school with many “first generation” higher education students. Southwestern students and graduates are well known for being prepared to hit the ground running in practice."

"Our Board understands the power of creating such a diverse, determined, and hardworking community.  These new Board members add to our capacity to take advantage of Southwestern’s extraordinary strengths in a wide variety of ways,” said Prager, “and I feel privileged to be working with them.”   

Introducing (in alphabetical order) Southwestern’s newest Trustees:

The Honorable Deborah S. Brazil ’96 – President, Southwestern Alumni Association / Judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court: A seat on Southwestern’s Board is reserved for, and coincides with, the Alumni Association President’s two-year term. (Upon completing the two-year term, Alumni Board Presidents remain on the Board as non-voting members for an additional two-years.) Judge Brazil joined the Board of Trustees last May and actively serves on its Educational Policy Committee. As an Assistant Los Angeles District Attorney, Judge Brazil garnered national attention and respect for her handling of high-profile cases like that of Dr. Conrad Murray who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for Michael Jackson’s death. Judge Brazil often pays it forward to her alma mater by speaking to new students at orientation, acting as an ambassador at dozens of alumni and board events, and serving as an adjunct professor who teaches trial skills. Judge Deborah Brazil is an extraordinary, inspirational speaker, and a caring, demanding, and effective mentor to young people who have experienced adversity.

John M. Gerro ’77 – Real Estate Attorney, Law Offices of John M. Gerro: Mr. Gerro joined the board this February and sits on its Ad Hoc Real Estate Committee. Mr. Gerro brings 37 years of experience in transactional and litigation real property law. He also manages numerous commercial and residential properties. Mr. Gerro’s exceptional reputation and expertise are admired by both peers and industry leaders.  He also serves on several professional organizations and boards including The Association of Real Estate Attorneys (past president); Southwestern’s Alumni Association; Real Property Section, Finance Subsection (LACBA); and, Burbank Chamber of Commerce Development Committee. Because of Mr. Gerro’s leadership and generous support, Cal. State Los Angeles’ College of Business and Economics holds an annual Real Estate Symposium. Each January, the symposium provides a platform for faculty, students, and real estate professionals to explore and discuss emerging local/regional trends.  Even during his days as a law student, John Gerro was developing opportunities for Southwestern students, and over the ensuing decades, he has never stopped helping the law school!

Karen A. Henry ’03 – Counsel, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP:  Ms. Henry joined the Board this February and sits on its Educational Policy Committee.  An accomplished litigator, Ms. Henry passionately defends the First Amendment freedoms of creators and distributors of a wide variety of entertainment content, from television programs to video games. She strategically leverages California’s anti-SLAPP statute and other speech-protective defenses and procedural devices to defeat a host of claims brought against content creators and publishers, including claims for copyright-infringement, right-of-publicity, idea submission, defamation, and Lanham Act violations. Ms. Henry expertly leverages California’s Public Records Act and other state and federal rules to compel the disclosure of public and judicial records and to ensure that the operations of our courts remain open to public view and scrutiny.  Ms. Henry has been named as a Southern California Rising Star and to the ranks of the Top 100 Black Lawyers along with other honors relating to her extraordinary community service and pro-bono work.  Karen Henry worked in the Los Angeles courts after college.  Southwestern will forever thank the Judge who encouraged her to go to law school, and feels fortunate that she chose to attend Southwestern’s evening program while working full time throughout law school!

Shawn Holley ’88 – Partner, Kinsella, Weitzman, Iser, Kump & Aldisert LLP: Ms. Holley joined the Board this February and sits on the Institutional Advancement Committee. Ms. Holley began her career as a Los Angeles County Public Defender. She was the Managing Partner of the Los Angeles office of The Cochran Firm and the head of its national Criminal Defense Section. She is a unique trial attorney practicing in both civil and criminal litigation and often represents high profile clients.   As a young lawyer, she was the only woman on the O.J. Simpson defense team. Ms. Holley is a television and on-air personality in her own right and frequently speaks about high-profile cases, women in the law, and representing celebrity clients.  The media and her peers consistently regard her as a top entertainment/power/super lawyer. Shawn Holley has always said yes when Southwestern or its students have asked her to speak at the school.  Her legendary reputation as a speaker is well earned.

Maria Mehranian – Managing Partner and Chief Financial Officer, Cordoba Corporation: One of the few Board members without a Southwestern Degree, Ms. Mehranian became a Trustee in February and lends her extensive background and expertise to its Finance & Audit Committee and Ad Hoc Real Estate Committee. Cordoba Corporation is a nationally recognized Los Angeles based infrastructure development firm.  Ms. Mehranian is directly responsible for the firm’s strategic financial planning and operations overseeing the company’s statewide financial operations.  She holds leadership positions for other academic institutions, including the Woodbury University Board of Trustees and the Dean’s Leadership Board at Cal Poly Pomona College of Engineering.  Recognized by legislators of the 43rd and 44th Assembly and 21st Senate Districts of California, Ms. Mehranian received the prestigious Corporate Woman of the Year Award. Mujeres De La Tierra declared her an environmental champion and recipient of the 2016 Healer of La Madre Tierra award. She received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for exemplifying outstanding qualities in both her personal and professional life while continuing to preserve the richness of her Armenian heritage. Southwestern is fortunate that such a vibrant, accomplished, and thoughtful leader and urban planner has agreed to serve on the law school’s governing board.

Carlos A. Siderman - Chief Executive Officer, Property ID Corp./Founder, Fulbright- José Siderman Human Rights Fellowship: Mr. Siderman received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Southwestern in 2012. Mr. Siderman joined the Board in December 2017 and sits on the Ad Hoc Real Estate Committee. Mr. Siderman is widely recognized as the founder of the real estate disclosure industry. His company, Property I.D. Corp., is dedicated to protecting consumers when purchasing real property and protecting sellers from unwanted and avoidable litigation by ensuring timely disclosure. Mr. Siderman’s lifelong passion-- promoting human rights-- began as a reaction to the human rights violations forced upon his own family in Argentina.  In a landmark human rights case heard and decided in federal court in Los Angeles in September 1996, the government of Argentina agreed to settle damage claims made by the Siderman family after a 14-year legal battle.  Today, nearly all cases in human rights abuse cite the historic Siderman decision as legal grounds to protect individuals from human rights abuse around the world. To honor his late father, Mr. Siderman partnered with the Fulbright Commission in Argentina to create and fund the Fulbright-José Siderman Human Rights Fellowship at Southwestern in 2008.  The Fellowship brings Argentine lawyers to the law school to complete their LL.M. degree in Civil Liberties and Human Rights Advocacy. Fellowship graduates hold top positions in Argentina and the United Nations. Through his own life experiences, Carlos Siderman knows the importance of the Rule of Law, and he has furthered the law school and the cause of human rights with grace and determination in significant ways.

Walter M. Yoka ’80 – Partner, Yoka & Smith, LLP: Mr. Yoka is a nationally recognized trial attorney who has tried cases in a wide variety of areas of the law, but who is particularly well- known for his defense of products liability cases.  He has tried many complex and high-profile cases to verdict on behalf of Yoka & Smith's corporate clients and successfully argued in California's Supreme and Appellate courts. Mr. Yoka believes in giving back and serving the profession.  He is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and served as the 2014 President of the Los Angeles chapter.  He belongs to numerous industry counsels on product liability and legal defense.  He was appointed by then Chief Justice of California, Ronald George, to several influential panels and committees guiding California’s legal profession. Mr. Yoka received the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) Lee B. Wenzel Civility Award and was the inaugural inductee into the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel (ASCDC) Hall of Fame. He was recently named Southwestern’s 2018 Alumnus of the Year. One of the most impressive facts about Wally Yoka is the regard his opposing counsel have for him.