The Fifteenth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (“JNC”) takes pleasure in certifying the following nominees to fill the vacancy for a County Court Judge position created by the elevation of Judge James Sherman:

  1. Lourdes Casanova
  2. Santo DiGangi
  3. Gabriel Ermine
  4. Jeremy Franken
  5. Lawonda Warren

A list of members of the Fifteenth Circuit JNC is available at https://www.flgov.com/judicial-and-judicial-nominating-commission-information/.

If you have any questions, please call Mr. Dieterle at (561) 734-5552, or by email at gdieterle@feamanlaw.com.

Mediating Through Hostility: Strategies for Mediating a High Conflict Divorce

Published: December 2023
Written by: Damary V. Stokes

A divorce can be a stress-induced, chaotic time in people’s lives.  Selling one’s home, splitting holidays with the children, and dealing with the reality of a one-income household can all bring on high emotions.  In most cases, the problem isn’t that high-conflict people are bad people or bad parents; they just have more limited coping skills and need help reframing their perspectives in order to work cooperatively for the good of the family. As a mediator, being empathetic can be one of your “superpowers” in situations where both parties are high on emotions.   Empathy absorbs tension. 

A structured mediation process with appropriate support can make all the difference.  So, how do you define a high-conflict case? Some will say that all divorce cases are high conflict.  In my experience, however, it usually involves two people with deeply embedded hostility, whose modality of dealing with stress is attack.   As a mediator, being able to DISARM the hostility in the room allows parties to have a clear mind in order to make the best decisions for their family.  In law school, one of my studying tools was using acronyms to help me remember rules of law.  Using the acronym DISARM can help mediators disarm the hostility in the room, in turn facilitating open communication in a  productive and peaceful manner. 

The “D” stands for Defuse the Situation.  In order to defuse the situation, we need to address the conflict as soon as you see it.  Don’t wait and think it will smooth over.  Address it head on so the parties can address it and focus on the more important things.  Asking parties what they don’t like about the situation and what they would like to see done differently can be an effective way to communicate because it engages the problem-solving side of the person’s brain, which can break their pattern of attacking the other side or otherwise create drama. 

The “I” stands for Ignore the Words. I know, it seems to be counterintuitive to what we know.  As mediators, we are required to be active listeners.  I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t be, but ignoring the words to identify the emotion that the party is showing and expressing that emotion can be an effective way to de-escalate a hostile angry person quickly and effectively.[1]  It’s a different way of listening and responding that turns out to be a powerful tool. 

 The “S” stands for Say the EmotionOnce you have listened for the emotion, state the emotion in a short declarative “You” statement. 

The “A” stands for Acceptance.  Helping parties picture the new reality of their new normal can help people accept that they may have to downgrade in size of home or won’t see the children on an important holiday every year.  As a litigator, I would always compare a divorce as a death to my clients when they became emotional.  So much is lost in a divorce, not just money, but time with the children, loss of relationships with relatives from your spouse, etc. 

The “R” stands for Reframing.  Reframing can be used for many things when managing conflict. For example: defusing inflammatory language, refocusing attention, acknowledging strong emotions in a productive manner, and translating communication so that it is more likely to be heard and acknowledged by other parties.


 The “M” stands for Manage.   Managing the expectations of the parties can help the parties keep an open mind on different alternatives and new ideas to help resolve their issues.    Caucuses is a great place to do so.  Caucuses create a safe environment for a “reality test” of the positions of each party.  In other words, the caucus is a good time for a mediator to help each client identify the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Exploring these concerns in the privacy of the caucus can encourage a party to modify expectations and demands, a vital step if there is to be a voluntary agreement.

Damary V. Stokes has been a member of the Florida bar for over 15 years and was previously appointed as a General Magistrate for the 15th Judicial Circuit.  She is currently a fulltime mediator with Matrix Mediation and an adjunct professor at her alma matter law school, Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad Law Center.  Damary can be reached at 561-247-0489 or via email at damary@matrixmediation.com or www.matrixmediation.com.

[1] De-escalate: How to Calman Angry Person in 90 seconds or less, written by Douglas E. Noll

I’m Still Sticking with Zoom for Mediation

Published: November 2023
Written by: William J. Cea

I previously wrote about why I was sticking with Zoom for mediation despite the easing of Covid 19 restrictions. Having now mediated via Zoom for over three years, I am sticking with it. As everyone knows, mediation is intended to be an informal process, founded upon the principle of self-determination. While a mediator lacks authority to make any decisions or impose a resolution on the parties, my number one ask of the parties is for patience. Mediation is a process that requires patience, which is fostered by Zoom.    

During the initial orientation session, I routinely give my thoughts on the importance of patience. Oftentimes, people are participating in mediation for the first time. They are anxious, stressed and concerned with decisions that may need to be made. Participants typically expect to “hit the ground running” and ask how long the mediation will last. These pressures and feelings are only compounded if participants have spent significant time and expense planning, traveling, and everything else that goes into an in-person session.  

I understand that some believe that in person mediation is favorable. In my experience, however, not only is there no drop off by using Zoom, but the tension and frustration level that may be encountered is only heightened by in person mediation. This is particularly true when one or more parties are not fully prepared for mediation and/or there are impediments to reaching a final resolution. In such situations, it is far easier and less costly to switch gears and discuss an adjournment or process as part of a Zoom session than after everyone has traveled and gathered.  

For example, if it turns out that there is more discovery or investigation that is needed before the parties can meaningfully resolve certain issues or quantify damages, wouldn’t it be better to find that out in a Zoom session than travel to find that out? This is not an infrequent occurrence in construction defects litigation. For example, parties may have identified issues with constructed improvements, but are still investigating the extent and expense of any necessary repairs. 

Consider the time, expense, and aggravation impact on the process if parties believe traveling to an in-person mediation was a waste of time. Contrast to an initial Zoom session where issues are discussed and impediments to reaching a final resolution are hashed out. The frustration is far less when the overall time and expense of mediation is limited.  

Additionally, in multi-party construction litigation there are routinely parties that may not need to be present or participate all day. For example, a subcontractor or design professional that is only tangentially involved in the case. In these cases, it is far easier to provide the party with the opportunity to tend to other business and have them patch back into Zoom when needed.  

Similarly, participants may have scheduling restrictions that could prematurely end the mediation. What if instead, a participant could leave the Zoom to pick up a child and patch back in via Zoom. Other participants could continue to work without feeling that someone has left the in-person session creating unnecessary frustration or an impasse. 

There is also the time and expense of experts to consider. Experts can attend remotely, make a presentation, for example, and then participate on an as needed basis. If an expert is required to travel and attend mediation in person, there will be significant expense and added pressure. Hence, another reason that Zoom assists the parties. 

Finally, I have not seen a drop off on the ability to memorialize settlement agreements. To the contrary, when attorneys participate from their own workspace, they more easily generate and circulate settlement agreements. It is also easy to have counsel join the mediator in a virtual breakout room to discuss the settlement agreement and revisions or modifications that may be needed. Whether simply scanning signatures or use of virtual signing technology, drafting and execution of a settlement agreement is no more difficult using Zoom. In fact, there may not be anything more frustrating to parties that have had a long day at an in-person mediation to learn that the attorneys still need to put pen to paper at or after dinner time. Instead, if mediating via Zoom, the attorneys can and should be thinking in terms of circulating a draft settlement agreement via a privileged email as part of the mediation process.  

Thus, if mediation is supposed to be informal, flexible and conditioned on self-determination, doesn’t it make sense to provide the flexibility that Zoom provides? The mediator and the parties are also mutually benefitted if the mediator focuses on the mediation and not sitting in traffic and taking the time and energy away from preparation and focus on the day. Accordingly, this is why I am “still” sticking with Zoom for mediation. 

William J. Cea, Esq. is the current Co-Chair of the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s ADR Committee. He is also a Florida Board Certified Construction Attorney and Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator. Having practiced law for over 30 years and mediating matters 2011, Mr. Cea now works as a mediator on a full-time basis and can be reached at (954) 494-3239 or wjc@inkedmediation.com.  

For additional ADR tips and resources, please go to the ADR Committee page of the updated Palm Beach County Bar Association website at: www.palmbeachbar.org.  

Q&A About the Diversity Internship Program

Published: December 2023
Written by: Karla M. Armstrong & Shania Grant

KARLA: I received an email from the St. Thomas Career Development Center about the Palm Beach County Diversity Internship Program (“DIP”). I was thrilled at having an opportunity to intern within my community, and I received the email right after finals while I was on a trip with friends trying to mentally escape the pressures of law school. I read the mission statement of the DIP, and I thought it offered a perfect opportunity for me as an Afro- Latina Lesbian. I admire how it strives to bring everyone to the table.

 As part of the DIP, I interviewed with the Palm Beach County School Board General Counsel’s Office, (“OGC”), and I was told what my summer would look like if I interned with them. I knew from the moment that I spoke to them that I wanted to be a part of their team for the summer. Shortly after interviewing, the OGC called me to offer a summer internship position. I was a mixture of nervous, excited, and grateful. Even though I had a career before law school, I had never worked directly under attorneys. As the summer neared, the worry cloud started to take over. What would it be like? Am I capable? What if a real-life experience would show me that I cannot do this? One word summarized my thoughts – terrified.

SHANIA: As a high school student, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I came across a post about interning for the Palm Beach County School District. Ignorant to all of the different fields that go into running a school district, I thought to myself, “What could the School District have to do with my career goal of becoming an attorney?” Even with these doubts in mind, I went to the district’s website, and to my surprise, I saw the opportunity to intern with the Office of General Counsel. Once I interviewed with the OGC, I quickly fell in love with the team there, and I was inspired by its diversity. As a first-generation American and a black girl, I felt proud to see the wealth of identities and diversity in the office, as it showed that I could, in fact, get there one day. When I received a call offering from me the position, I immediately accepted, knowing the OGC would provide me with a fantastic summer internship experience.

What kind of work did you do at the OGC?

KARLA & SHANIA: We worked in four departments: personal injury, governance, labor and employment, and business operations. Each department immersed us in their work for the two weeks we were with them. For business operations, we attended the weekly meeting and researched new case law and statutory changes, for example, those dealing with garnishment and student loans. The personal injury department asked us to summarize an entire medical file in one of their cases. Governance had us reading new legislation and assessing possible impacts on the school board. Labor and employment entrusted us with summarizing deposition transcripts and researching the possibility of a four-day workweek.

Our internships overlapped with a hectic time for the OGC as they underwent many changes and adapted to new legislation. We had the opportunity of seeing OGC attorneys discussing the impacts of the changes and preparing for the worst-case scenarios, all while having a goal of providing an enjoyable and safe environment that embodies the community’s values. 

What did you take away from your experience?

KARLA: The experience at OGC taught me that passion, dedication, and heart can lead you down many roads, and that every law student should intern in different areas of the law. Every lesson is valuable – whether someone learns they like or dislike working in a specific field. Also, working with a high school intern like Shania, who knows she wants to be an attorney, was inspiring. Thank you to the OGC!

SHANIA: As a high school intern, I not only gained great experience with the attorneys at OGC, but also I gained Karla as an amazing mentor and friend. Karla is someone who I aspire to be like given all she’s accomplished, and because she is so proud of who she is. The environment in the OGC was so supportive as well. As a high school intern, I knew little about the law and all the legal jargon. However, the OGC made me feel comfortable to learn and ask for help while I was experiencing things that I never had before like my first trial, and a school board meeting. In addition, I was able to see the operational side of everything, which allowed me to better understand how the law governs and affects people’s lives. The whole experience made me believe that I can succeed while being unapologetically me.

Karla M. Armstrong is a second-year law student at St. Thomas University School of Law and is set to complete her J.D. in 2025.

Shania Grant is a senior at Florida Atlantic University High School. Shania is dual-enrolled and is currently set to graduate with a B.A. in Political Science with minors in Spanish and Criminal Justice in December 2024.

Diversity in Legal Education

Published: November 2023
Written by: Marc Hernandez

Have you applied for a legal job and been asked where you went to law school? By itself, the question is relevant and harmless, but the question also may reflect or lead to biases that prevent consideration of the applicant as an individual.

Presumably, most lawyers are proud of our alma maters—whether they be Florida public or private universities, out-of-state universities, HBCUs, universities with a religious affiliation, and of course, Ivy League universities. We worked hard to get into our institutions, to earn our degrees, and to form long-lasting ties with our alumni networks.

For better or worse, all law schools have a reputation, including for academic rigor, utilization of a particular teaching method, emphasis of either practical skills or theory, association with a jurisprudential school of thought, and success of their graduates in passing the bar and practicing as lawyers. However, reputation does not always match reality.

Many law schools invest significant resources to obtain a high ranking from publications like U.S. News & World Report. But recently at least 16 law schools—public and private institutions ranked between #1 and #49—voluntarily withdrew themselves from the ranking system. Deans of these institutions—with their names deliberately omitted—have expressed the following concerns:

  • “Overall, the [S. News ranking] methodology creates incentives that work against schools’ interest in attracting and retaining classes of students with a broadly diverse set of qualities and experiences, and in supporting the widest possible array of career choices for their graduates…”
  • “They create the wrong incentives by rewarding schools for the amount they spend, regardless of whether this money is spent directly on the student experience, rather than prioritizing outcomes that really matter to students, such as the long-term employment of graduates.”
  • “[L]aw schools to a greater or lesser degree sometimes are forced to consider the effect of any changes in their programs on their rank. . . . While [our law school] has consistently resisted the pressure to take actions that are contrary to our mission, the demands of the S. News algorithm always lurk in the background.”
  • “Rankings can provide helpful guidance, and S. News has long aggregated data about law schools. . . . That said, overreliance on a single source can distort decision-making, and any given ranking is only as useful as the relevance and accuracy of the comparative information on which it is based.”

These concerns complement my own observations, which have been that a graduate from a “lower-tier” law school can be smarter, more successful, and a better overall advocate than one who graduated from a “top” school.

None of this means it is inherently wrong to ask lawyers where they went to law school. If you have been on a hiring committee, the question is often well-intentioned when asked in a manner designed to connect with the applicant, or to get a brief sense of his or her background. However, overreliance on the question—just like overreliance on law school rankings—can be problematic if we form preconceived notions about the applicant that cause us to ignore other data points showing an applicant from a “less prestigious” school is more qualified than an applicant from our “preferred” school.

Fortunately, a recent trend of employers considering more than an applicant’s law school pedigree is emerging. Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have traditionally selected their law clerks from the most elite law schools, but Justice Clarence Thomas—himself a graduate of Yale Law School—has disagreed with this approach. Believing that other justices are biased against lower-tier law schools and have created a “new or faux nobility” among lawyers, Justice Thomas has been critical:

“Isn’t that the antithesis of what this country is supposed to be about? Isn’t that the bias that we fought about on racial terms, or on terms of sex, or on terms of religion, et cetera? My new bias, which I now embrace, is that I don’t eliminate the Ivies in hiring, but I intentionally prefer kids from regular backgrounds and regular students. . . . I never look at those rankings. . . . There are smart kids every place.”

Although this way of thinking used to be isolated, other justices have come around to Justice Thomas’s approach. Members of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 clerkship class graduated from 13 different law schools, a historically high number. The Court’s newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, has hired three non-Ivy League law clerks in a little over one year, and going forward, Justice Jackson has committed to a transparent hiring process that is open to all.

This is not to say that every lawyer deserves to be hired for an elite position like a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship. Rather, this article merely calls for a recognition that lawyers of all educational backgrounds excel at prestigious jobs. As a result, lawyers of all educational backgrounds should be considered when hiring for them.

Marc Hernandez is a board-certified appellate attorney at Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath.


The Fifteenth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (“JNC”) announces that the following persons will be interviewed on Monday, December 4, 2023, to fill the vacancy created by the elevations of Judge James Sherman, at the times indicated below:

9:00 a.m.               Schnelle Tonge

9:12 a.m.               Jean Marie Middleton

9:24 a.m.               Gabriel Ermine

9:36 a.m.               Lourdes Casanova

10:48 a.m.             Santo DiGangi

11:00 a.m.             Break

11:12a.m.             Kristen Grimes

11:24 a.m.             Alex Braunstein

11:36 a.m.             Sorraya Solages-Jones

11:48 a.m.             Lawonda Warren

12:00 p.m.             Lunch

1:00 p.m.               Diva Casas

1:12 p.m.               April Hosford

1:24 p.m.               Jeremy Franken

1:36 p.m.               Gina Leiser

1:48 p.m.               Katherine Mullinax

2:00 p.m.               JNC Deliberations

The above interviews will be conducted in person at the Library Conference Room, Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley Courthouse, 205 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, Florida, 33401.

Each interview will be ten minutes long, including a two-minute opening statement.

All JNC proceedings are open to the public, except for deliberations.

If you have any questions, please contact Gordon Dieterle at (561) 734-5552, or by email at gdieterle@feamanlaw.com


The Fifteenth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (“JNC”) announces one vacancy for a County Court Judge position created by the elevation of Judge James Sherman.  The JNC has been asked to provide Governor Ron DeSantis with nominees for the vacancy by Thursday, December 14, 2023.

Qualifications of Applicants:

Applicants must be able to fulfill the Constitutional qualifications for county court judges described in Article V, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution.

Instructions for Submission:

1) The current Judicial Application form must be used and can be found at https://www.flgov.com/judicial-and-judicial-nominating-commission-information/. Applicants should ensure they are using the correct and current form.

2) Applications must be in .pdf form and submitted as follows: (i) one original copy of the application, including all attachments, (ii) one redacted copy of the application, including all attachments, excluding all exempt information under Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes or other applicable public records law. The two .pdf files should be named in a “last name.first name” format. For example: Jane Smith should submit two files named: (1) Smith.Jane.pdf and (2) Smith.Jane-REDACTED.pdf. Each electronic application, including exhibits, must be a single pdf file. The Commission strongly prefers the submission of applications in a text-searchable (i.e., non-scanned) pdf format.

3) The deadline for submission of the completed application is 5:00 p.m., Monday, November 20, 2023. Both the original and redacted electronic applications must be submitted by email to all Commission members at their email addresses below:

Chair Gordon Dieterle gdieterle@feamanlaw.com

Vice Chair Eric Levine elevine@atlas-solomon.com

William Shepherd william.shepherd@hklaw.com

Robert Harvey robert@flbiznow.com

Sarah Cohen sarahacohen@gmail.com

Kelly Hagar kellyvhagar@gmail.com

James Sallah jds@sallahlaw.com

Robert Rosenberg grebnesor1942@gmail.com

Steven DeLorenz sdelorenz@icloud.com

It is anticipated that any interviews will be held the week of December 4, 2023.

All JNC proceedings are open to the public, except for deliberations.  Applications are not confidential.  If an applicant is nominated, all materials attached to the original application will be submitted to the Governor.

If you have any questions, please call Mr. Dieterle at (561) 734-5552, or by email at gdieterle@feamanlaw.com