Each year, the Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to alumni who have obtained distinction in their professional careers. Those honored share the same characteristics of leadership, progressive thinking, high standards, uncompromising integrity, commitment, courage, and confidence. Their careers serve as models for Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School students and alumni.
2014 – Tracee Benzo
Tracee R. Benzo opened the doors to Benzo Law with the overarching mission to both educate and advocate for injured workers across the state of Georgia. As the daughter of a retired, textile worker in rural Aiken, SC, Ms. Benzo knows the devastating effects traumatic injuries, or loss of life can unleash on families. As an advocate for the injured and their loved ones, she extends her services beyond courtroom litigation and dedicates her resources to ensuring Benzo Law clients and family transition from their darkest days to brighter days ahead. Described by her colleagues in the legal field as tenacious, rock solid, and engaging, Ms. Benzo works just as relentlessly in her community as in the courtroom by serving on numerous executive boards. In 2014 she proudly served as President of The Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA). Today Ms. Benzo remains an active board member of GABWA and the GABWA Foundation. Ms. Benzo is a rising star in the Georgia legal system and received several prestigious honors such as the Distinguished Alumni Award from John Marshall Law School. She was named Who’s Who Top Legal & Accounting Professionals; The National Bar Association’s Trailblazers Under 40; and the Top 100 Women of Influence. She is an active member of the John Marshall Law School Alumni Board, the Workers’ Compensation Claimants Law Section, the Workers’ Compensation Claimants Research Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA). She previously worked on the Executive Board of The Gate City Bar Association and The New Lawyers Division of GTLA. Prior to law school, Ms. Benzo worked as a litigation paralegal and completed a leadership development program with Travelers & Citigroup in Alpharetta, Georgia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies and Speech and Communications from Clemson University, and her paralegal certification from DeKalb Technical College.
2014 – Honorable Duncan D. Wheale
Since Duncan D. Wheale hung up his judge’s robes and moved on to a new life in Charleston, S.C., his legacy lives on in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. During his ten years on the bench, Judge Wheale helped put an end to court practices that wasted time and money and confused and exhausted those who sought justice in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. He also has a vast list of accomplishments. He is a 969 graduate of The Citadel and of John Marshall Law School (magna cum laude) in 1976. He was elected a Superior Court Judge in 1998. In 2006 he was awarded the Justice Benham Award for Community Service and the Martin Luther King Lifetime Legacy Award. He also received in 2005 the Distinguished Service Award from the Georgia CME Church Convention and in 2002 the Georgia Child Advocate Award.
2013 – Rep. Doug Collins
Doug Collins is a lifelong resident of Northeast Georgia and Hall County. For 11 years, Doug served as Senior Pastor for Chicopee Baptist Church. Since 2002, he has served as a Chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserves, completing one combat tour in Iraq during the fall of 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he was stationed at Balad Air Base. Most recently, Doug served as the managing partner at the law firm of Collins & Csider, LLC. From 2006 to 2012 Doug served Georgia’s 27th House District, representing portions of Hall, Lumpkin, and White counties. In January 2011, he was named as one of Governor Nathan Deal’s Floor Leaders. As the Congressman representing Georgia’s Ninth District, Doug serves on the House Committees on Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Oversight, and Government Reform. Doug has been married to his wife Lisa for 25 years. They have three children; a daughter, Jordan, 21 and two boys, Copelan, 17, and Cameron, 14. They are active members of Lakewood Baptist Church.
2013 – Tavis Knighten
Tavis L. Knighten has been an exceptional trial lawyer in Atlanta for more than six years, with his own firm, Law Offices of Tavis L. Knighten, P.C., and as the managing attorney for an insurance defense firm, Worhsam, Corsi, Scott & Knighten. After graduating from The College of Holy Cross, he worked as a claims adjuster and sales manager for Examen, Inc., providing technology-based business solutions to property and casualty insurance carriers. After graduating from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in December 2005, Tavis was admitted to practice in Georgia in 2006. He is a certified general/civil mediator and a certified neutral, and is a member of the bar of the United States Supreme Court. Tavis is an active member of several professional organizations, including the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association, the Defense Research Institute, and the Cobb County Bar Association. Tavis is also an active member of the John Marshall Alumni Board. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Tavis is the son of Mai and James Knighten. He credits his parents with sacrificing much for his education. He is fluent in Spanish and enjoys travel to Spanish speaking countries, especially Argentina. He volunteers frequently with community service organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Hosea Feed the Homeless, and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.
2012 – E. Michael Moran
Mike Moran, a partner in the firm of Law & Moran, is a graduate of Georgia Southern College and a 1997 graduate of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. After practicing in the areas of appellate law and commercial litigation, he began to focus exclusively on personal injury cases. He began practicing with Pete Law in 2004 and now has a national reputation as an effective and resourceful plaintiff’s attorney. He has been admitted to practice before several federal district and appellate courts, as well as the United States Supreme Court. As a student at AJMLS, Mike was elected by the student body as Chief Justice of the Honor Court. He served an externship with the Fulton County District Attorney. During his second year, he received the Eugene D. and Betty Howe Vezzani Award for Excellence in Constitutional Law. He graduated magna cum laude and received the Academic Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. Mike is a member of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice. Mike is the President of the John Marshall Alumni Association. He and his wife, Jenny, have two children, Sophie and Michael.
2012 – Judith Alembik
Judith Alembik, a member of the Georgia Bar for almost forty years, practiced with her husband, Aaron, in the firm of Alembik & Alembik, until their retirement in 1996 (Aaron has been a member of the Georgia Bar for fifty-four years). Following her graduation from American University in Washington, D.C., with a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, she taught in public schools for four years in Arlington, VA and Atlanta, GA. Judith graduated from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, ranking third in her class, in 1971, a time when there were relatively few female attorneys. Her law practice emphasized family law, and she has mentored numerous young women lawyers over the years. She and Aaron were recently admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. Judith and Aaron are the parents of Marc, a physician in Springfield, VA, and Gary, an Atlanta attorney and Magistrate in the Fulton County Superior Court, Family Division. Since retiring from the practice of law, Judith and Aaron have travelled extensively, including the North Pole and Antarctica. Judith is a valued and active member of the John Marshall Alumni Board.
2011 – Thomas C. Chambers, III
Tom Chambers, born in Columbus, Georgia, has practiced law in Homerville and Waycross, Georgia, for 34 years. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Management, he entered the United States Air Force and rose to the rank of Captain before resigning his commission. He then worked as a construction and real estate development manager while attending John Marshall Law School. Tom graduated in 1977 and moved to Homerville, the hometown of his wife, Carol, who has been the Mayor of Homerville since 1990. Tom has been a leader in national, state, and local bar associations and is one of the most prominent John Marshall alumni in the Georgia Bar Association where he has been a member of the Board of Governors since February, 1989. He served two terms on the Executive Committee of the State Bar, two years on the State Bar Disciplinary Board, and has held numerous other positions on State Bar committees. He is a past president and secretary of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit.A member of many other professional organizations, Tom served as the vice-president of the Georgia Trial lawyers Association. He is a longtime member of the Board of Trustees for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education of Georgia and a member of the Board of Directors of Georgia Legal Services Corporation. Tom is also active in community and civic organizations, including the Clinch County Lions Club where he is a past president. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Clinch County Chamber of Commerce. He has held numerous service positions with the Homerville United Methodist Church and serves as a Lay Leader with the Waycross District of the South Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Tom and Carol have one daughter, Martha Carolyn Chambers, who is a solo practitioner in Savannah, GA.
2011 – Senator Ronald B. Ramsey
Senator Ramsey was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2006, representing 177,000 citizens in DeKalb and Rockdale Counties. In 2010, he was named “Legislator of the Year” by several organizations, including the Georgia Federation of Teachers. From 2000-2007, he served as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Stone Mountain, the first African-American to hold that office. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University, he worked as a Labor-Management Relations Examiner for the National Relations Board. In this role, he investigated unfair labor practice charges, including collective bargaining issues and arranged and presided over representation hearings and elections. While working full-time for the NLRB, he attended John Marshall Law School, graduating in 1992. He was then hired as an attorney for the NLRB for two years before moving to be Regional Counsel for the Laborers’ International Union of North America. As he moved into the private practice of law in 1997, he served as the Director of Labor Relations and Legal Affairs for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office for two years. He practiced in Lithonia as a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator until 2005 when he became the Director of Internal Affairs for the DeKalb County School District, his current position. He is responsible for all labor relations functions and advising the Superintendent on issues affecting the District’s 14,000 educators and support staff. In the Georgia Senate, Senator Ramsey is a member of the Insurance and Labor Committee, the Judiciary and the Special Judiciary Committees, the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, and is Chariman of the Urban Affairs Committee. He has passed legislation in every session since he took office in 2006. Senator Ramsey has been married to Doris for 25 years and they are the parents of Ronald, Jr., a student at the University of Georgia, and Christyn, a student at the University of West Georgia
2010 – Honorable James G. Bodiford
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Bodiford was elected Superior Court Judge in 1994 and has since been re-elected three times to this position, most recently with an 83% majority. He was Chief Judge of the Cobb County Superior Court during 2005-2006. The Judge graduated from Mercer University with a B.A. Degree and Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School with a J.D. degree. He is also a graduate of the National Judicial College. Judge Bodiford’s public service includes nine years as the Powder Springs Municipal Court Judge and a stint as a trial attorney for the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office. He was also in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. Judge Bodiford was appointed as the Chief Magistrate Judge for Cobb County when he was 35 years old. He is well known for conducting Georgia’s First Drug Court and completing over 500 felony cases which eliminated a backlog. Judge Bodiford has presided successfully over a number of high-profile, media-intensive cases, including the State of Georgia v. Brian G. Nichols in Fulton County. There was no appeal in this case. Many of his cases have been televised live on Court TV. Judge Bodiford is the past president of the Marietta Metro Kiwanis Club and former Chairman of the Board of the Cobb unit of the American Cancer Society. Judge Bodiford serves on the faculty of the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education in Georgia and has been a Faculty Advisor at the National Judicial College. During 2002 and 2003, Judge Bodiford traveled to Estonia and Bosnia four times to teach the American Justice System to European judges in those countries. Judge Bodiford grew up in Cobb County and now lives in the City of Marietta. He is married to the former Nancy May, and he has one son.
2010 – Neera Bahl
Neera Bahl & Associates Neera Bahl founded the law firm of Neera Bahl & Associates in 2009, where she specializes in immigration law and serves the other legal needs of her clients. She received her law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in 2000 after a career of more than twenty years in medical and scientific research at Emory University and the University of Alabama. Neera attended college in her native India, receiving a B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from D.S. College, a B.Ed. in Psychology from D.A.V. College, and a M.S. in English from Punjab University. She moved to the United States in 1979 with her husband, Vijay. Neera began her Legal career in 2005 when she joined Dixit & Youn, LLP as an Associate. Thereafter, in 2007 Neera became a partner of the Firm, which name was changed to Dixit, Youn, & Bahl, LLP to reflect Neera’s achievement. Neera now operates her own law firm, Neera Bahl & Associates LLC, in Atlanta. Neera is active in professional organizations, including the State Bar of Georgia, the Atlanta Bar Association, and the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers. She is Secretary and on the Executive Board of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is a Board Member of the Georgia Indo American Chamber of Commerce. Her many civic and charitable activities include serving as a volunteer for the Truancy Intervention Project where she was the “Volunteer of the Year” in 2007. Neera also volunteers with Raksha, an organization helping victims of domestic violence, and has taught language and culture classes at the Sindhi Sabha Children School. She is a long-time member and the former Chair of the India Cultural and Religious Center, Atlanta. Neera is also on the Board of Indus Bar of Georgia where she is serving as the Treasurer Additionally, she is a Board member of the Women`s Committee of TiE-Atlanta (The Indus Entrepreneur) organization.
2009 – Honorable Alvin T. Wong
Judge, State Court of DeKalb County – Division 1 Decatur, Georgia Alvin T. Wong was elected Judge of the State Court of DeKalb County, Georgia’s third largest county, in 1998. He was the first Asian American to run for public office in metropolitan Atlanta and is the only Asian Pacific American to be elected judge in the Southeast. In his years of judicial service, he has gained the respect of the entire legal community. Judge Wong graduated from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in 1976. A former partner at Gambrell and Stolz law firm, Judge Wong had 21 years of experience as a corporate and trial attorney before running for office. He chaired the State Bar of Georgia’s Investigative Panel for disciplinary action against unethical practices by Georgia attorneys. His most recent project has been to create a DUI court to treat chronic alcohol addiction. Judge Wong serves on the Fernbank Museum of Natural History Board of Trustees, the Georgia Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation Board. Judge Wong received the State Bar of Georgia’s 2002 Excellence in Bar Leadership Award for his work as co-founder of the Georgia Asian Bar and the architect of its free legal clinic for recent immigrants. He was named “Citizen of the Year” 2000 by the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA). And, he was honored as a National NAPABA Trailblazer in 1997. He has been married for 21 years to wife Jeannie Lin, a creative communications consultant.
2009 – Sonja N. Brown
Assistant District Attorney Director, Offender Re-entry Services Office of the Fulton County District Attorney Atlanta, Georgia Sonja Natasha Brown is an Assistant District Attorney and also serves as the Director of Offender Re-Entry Services with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Sonja received her JD from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in 2004 and her undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University. While a student at JMLS, Sonja was the Student Bar Association President and won the Aspen Book Award for Remedies, Civil Procedure I, and Civil Procedure II. As an ADA, she is assigned to the Community Prosecution Unit and serves as the South Fulton Community Prosecutor. In this role, Sonja focuses on the individual needs of the community by working closely with law enforcement, community members, and business owners to identify and prosecute repeat offenders who prey on the neighborhood. As the Director of Offender Re-Entry Services, Sonja oversees a program that offers services to youthful offenders who have completed their drug-related sentences and are preparing to re-enter society. Sonja joined the DA’s staff in February 2007 after working as Staff Counsel at Convergent Media Systems Corporation in Alpharetta, Georgia. Sonja serves as the President of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA) and previously served as GABWA’s Vice-President and Community Service Committee Co-Chair. Sonja is a member of the State Bar of Georgia, Corporate Counsel for Women of Color, and serves on the Board of the Restorative Justice Center of the Atlanta Community Court Division (Atlanta Municipal Court), and the Georgia Breast Cancer Coalition Foundation. In 2006, she co-wrote “Fueled by Greatness – 10 Cutting Edge Strategies for Accelerating Your Destiny Now.” Ms. Brown mentors elementary school students as a volunteer with the District Attorney’s Legal Lives and Partnership for Perfect Attendance Program. She also serves as the Youth Minister at Central United Methodist Church. Sonja has been named one of Atlanta’s 100 Most Influential Women by the Atlanta Business League.
2008 – Honorable G. Alan Blackburn
Presiding Judge, Georgia Court of Appeals Atlanta, Georgia Presiding Judge G. Alan Blackburn entered John Marshall Law School after four years of active duty service in the United States Air Force. He attended John Marshall in the night program while working for Southern Bell Telephone Company and raising his family. He graduated in 1968, and received his Master of Laws Degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 2001. In the August 1997 issue of Georgia Trend Magazine, Judge Blackburn was selected as one of the top forty fastest-rising public servants in Georgia. He was also selected as the statesman of the year by American Legion Post 51 in 1998 and again in 2001. Judge Blackburn formerly served as a master of the Charles Longstreet Weltner Family Law Inn of Court. He presently serves on the Chief Justice`s Commission on Professionalism, and was a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia from 1999 – 2002. Judge Blackburn has continued to support John Marshall in significant ways. For the past several years, he has arranged for his panel of the Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments on campus for the benefit of the student body. Since his election to the bench, he has consistently hired John Marshall students to serve as summer interns, giving them significant responsibility in his chambers, and providing an invaluable learning opportunity. And, most importantly, Judge Blackburn served for five years on the Board of Directors of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, the period during which the school achieved provisional ABA approval. Judge Blackburn will retire at the end of 2010, when his term on the Georgia Court of Appeals ends.
2008 – Adam Malone
Malone Law Adam Malone graduated in 1999 as valedictorian of his John Marshall Law School class. He was active in mock trial and took John Marshall’s team to the semifinals in the national ATLA competition two years in a row. As a student, Adam worked in the district attorney’s office, where he first learned to try cases. And, while at John Marshall, he met Barbara Berry, a 1999 graduate and daughter of Jimmy Berry, a 1970 graduate. Adam and Barbara married and have three children. Adam serves in various leadership capacities with the State Bar of Georgia and holds office in several nationwide legal organizations. He is President of the Southern Trial Lawyers Association, and Chair-Elect of the General Practice and Trial Section of the State Bar of Georgia. He serves on the Board of Governors for the Belli Society, a charitable organization that promotes the study of law by funding research, conducting lectures, seminars, and publishing legal articles. He serves on the Board of Governors for the State Bar of Georgia standing committee for general counsel. He also serves as an officer in the Professional Negligence Section of the American Association for Justice. Adam recently won the 2010 Courageous Pursuit of Justice Award, Georgia Trial Lawyers Association from the American Association for Justice. Additionally, Adam has been named a Georgia Super Lawyer. Adam was lead counsel in Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt, et al., 286 Ga. 731 (2010) where the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously held a law placing a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to be an unconstitutional violation of the right to trial by jury. Adam has given generously to John Marshall, both in contributions to the Endowed Scholarship Fund and continued participation at our school. Adam is also Past President of the AJMLS Alumni Association.