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2018 MWL Conference for Women in the Law: Speaker Biographies



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2018 MWL Conference Speakers

MWL is pleased to welcome an esteemed group of speakers, presenters and moderators to the 2018 MWL Conference for Women in the Law.  We are so grateful they are willing to share their expertise with us this year.

Ramona Advani is the General Counsel and Deputy State Auditor for the state of Minnesota. Previously Ramona was Deputy General Counsel with UnitedHealth Group, and has also served as the Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. Currently, Ms. Advani also serves as the Vice-Chair for the Conflict Resolution Center. Ms. Advani received her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.


Gulzar Babaeva is Director Counsel at Target Corporation specializing in complex commercial transactions with a focus on technology law. Gulzar works on enterprise and operation-critical information technology matters, including software licensing, cloud computing, business process outsourcing, hosting, and technology related telecommunication agreements. Prior to joining Target, Gulzar was a Senior Associate at Fredrikson & Byron where she practiced in the Corporate / M&A and Intellectual Property groups. She currently serves on the Board of the Twin Cities Diversity in Practice where she also chairs the Professional Development Committee. Gulzar was born and raised in Baku, Azerbaijan before immigrating to the United States as a teenager. She earned both her Bachelors and J.D. from University of Minnesota.


Laura Bednarski is the Deputy General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at U.S. Bancorp. Ms. Bdnarski is responsible for the public companies work at this large financial holding company, including the corporate secretarial function, disclosure issues, M&A transactional, and SEC and NYSE compliance advice. Previously Laura was an associate with Faegre & Benson LLP. Ms. Bednarski earned her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law.


Joan Bibelhausen is the Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Joan has spent more than two decades working with lawyers who are at a crossroads because of mental illness and addiction concerns as well as work/life balance, stress and related issues. She has served on the ABA Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and is currently on its Advisory Commission. She has chaired the MSBA Life and the Law Committee and the HCBA Solo and Small Firm Practice Section and has co-chaired the HCBA Diversity Committee. Joan also served on the MSBA Board of Governors, and currently serves on the board of the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance.  Joan received her J.D. from the University of MN Law School and is admitted to practice in Minnesota.


Ann M. Bildsten is an Assistant U.S. Attorney and the Deputy Civil Chief at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota. Ann handles a wide variety of litigation (both affirmative and defensive) on behalf of the United States, including health care fraud and other procurement fraud under the False Claims Act.  She was previously an Assistant Attorney General at the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General and also worked in private practice, including at the law firm of Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly.  She earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Marla Butler is a Partner at Robins Kaplan LLP. Marla has spent the last 18 years litigating and leading high-stakes intellectual property and patent litigation trials, Markman hearings, mediations and arbitrations. Marla is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Lambda Legal and has previously served as a member of Lambda’s National Leadership Council. In 2007 she received the “One Child, One Lawyer Volunteer of the Year” award from the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. She is also a volunteer and previous member of the Board of Directors of Georgia’s YouthPride, an organization serving at-risk LGBT youth. Marla’s leadership roles include serving on the firm’s Executive Board and serving as chair of the firm’s Diversity Committee (2008 - 2014). Marla earned her J.D. from Florida State University College of Law.


Sarah Duniway is a Managing Partner at Gray Plant Mooty and serves on the firm’s Board of Directors. Sarah regularly advises clients on tax-exemption, governance, campaign finance, and business operations issues. She draws on this extensive experience to speak frequently on key business issues for nonprofits such as joint ventures, mergers and affiliations, structuring collaborative relationships, UBTI, and benefit corporations, as well as on governance, election law, and campaign finance issues for nonprofits. In addition to her law practice, Sarah also serves on the Minnesota Council on Foundations Board of Directors, the Twin Cities Diversity in Practice Board of Directors, and on the Minneapolis Parks Foundation Board of Directors. Sarah earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Kate Golden is Vice President, Associate General Counsel for M. A. Mortenson Company, a commercial builder headquartered in Golden Valley, Minnesota, that engages in a variety of complex construction projects throughout North America, including commercial buildings, hospitals, hotels, sports facilities, wind farms and solar facilities, and other public and private projects.  Her primary practice area is construction law, although she practices in a variety of other legal areas as well, including environmental, insurance, surety, employment, compliance, and intellectual property.  Golden received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Iowa and her master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota and is a Professional Engineer (P.E.).  She obtained her law degree, summa cum laude, from William Mitchell College of Law. 


Emerald Gratz s an Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Prior to joining the Commissioner’s Office in 2018, Emerald was a staff attorney at the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, Assistant Attorney General at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and law clerk in federal district court in Minnesota.  In 2011, she received the public service award from the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association. Emerald spent five years teaching appellate advocacy as an adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota Law School and providing pro bono representation to children in foster care through the Children’s Law Center.  She currently serves on the MWL Board of Directors and is co-chair of the MWL CLE Committee. Emerald earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Toni Halleen has practiced in a number of settings including a large law firm, various corporate law departments, small law firms, and as a self-employed contractor. She is currently the co-owner and COO of Schaefer Halleen, a plaintiff-side, employment litigation firm in Minneapolis, with seven attorneys and four staff. Toni volunteers with the World Press Institute, Theatre Unbound, and the Hennepin County Minority Clerkship Program. She is a frequent CLE speaker and was on the adjunct faculty at Hamline William Mitchell College of Law for many years. Toni received her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Cassie Hanson is the Senior Assistant Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.  Cassie has been with the Director’s Office for seventeen years.  As a Senior Assistant Director she is involved in the investigation and prosecution of disciplinary cases.  Cassie manages the OLPR probation department and focuses on issues related to lawyer wellness.  In addition, Cassie writes and speaks frequently on ethical issues in the practice of law. She graduated from the University of Iowa, College of Law in 2000.


Shannon Harmon is an attorney with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel’s Small Business/Self-Employed Division. Prior to joining Chief Counsel, Shannon served for more than nine years as an Assistant Attorney General with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, including five years in the Charities Division and four years in the Tax Litigation Division. Shannon most recently served in the role of Treasurer of the MWL Board of Directors and is currently the President-Elect of MWL. Shannon graduated from New York University with a degree in Sociology and French and earned her law degree from the University of Minnesota.


Kristin Haugen is a Solo Attorney at KC Haugen Law and an Attorney Business Development Coach for Rock Solid Consultants.  In her solo practice, Ms. Haugen advises entrepreneurs and companies at every stage of the business life cycle.  She especially enjoys using trademark law to protect clients’ brand identity and goodwill. As a coach and trainer, Ms. Haugen uses her personal experiences to coach other attorneys on managing their practices, building critical relationships and achieving their goals. Ms. Haugen serves on MWL’s Board of Directors. She is also a Co-Chair of MWL’s Networking Committee and actively participates in MWL’s Development Committee.  She earned her law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. University of Minnesota Law School and her B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


June Hoidal is a partner at Zimmerman Reed and Co-Chair of the Public Client & AG practice. June’s practice focuses on representing governmental entities, businesses, and individuals who have experienced losses due to antitrust violations, and consumer and financial fraud. Prior to joining the firm, she gained substantial experience following law school working at Fulbright & Jaworski in Washington, D.C. and Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis, practicing in diverse subject areas including contract disputes, franchise, products liability, insurance, and employment law. June currently serves on: the Board of Directors for The Fund for Legal Aid; the Advisory Board for the Minnesota Urban Debate League; the Antitrust Council for the Minnesota State Bar Association; and the Publications Committee for the Bench & Bar of Minnesota. June earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Sarah Jaycox Hartong is a communication expert with a passion for collecting, telling, encouraging, and articulating stories, particularly those of women and those that exist to drive change in today’s workplace. As an advisor, coach, and communication expert for nearly two decades, she trains and counsels leaders - from Fortune 50 C-Suite executives to early stage start-up visionaries - with the aim of putting the ‘human’ in today’s leadership. She serves as a trusted advisor on leadership brand, executive presence, career strategy, and driving a supportive, successful business culture. Most recently, her focus has been on next-gen and female executives, facilitating top-talent female retreats, and working with leadership teams to take real action on balancing gender in the workplace.


Lori Johnson is Special Counsel with Nilan Johnson Lewis PA. Lori practices in the area of business litigation. Lori is often sought out for her written advocacy, research, and analysis skills. Her English writing background provides Lori with a strong ability to craft compelling arguments that help drive a case towards favorable resolutions for her clients. Lori earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Denice Kelley is an experienced researcher and consultant specializing in leadership development and diversity and inclusion strategy. Professionally, Denice has worked with a myriad of organizations in the areas of coaching, training, and strategy. She has led workshops and conferences on diversity and inclusion efforts in higher education, healthcare, and not for profit organizations. As the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Projects at Nextions, Denice relies on her multi-disciplinary background to provide consulting services, such as strategic planning, organizational assessments, presentations, and trainings to clients. She is enthusiastic about helping clients align leadership, diversity, and business needs to create truly effective and inclusive organizational practices She earned her Master’s of Divinity from Yale University where she studied the intersection of race, gender, and culture. Most recently, she completed her Master’s of Education in Leadership and Organizational Performance from Vanderbilt University where she studied human development psychology, organizational development, performance management, and workplace culture. 


Christine Lindblad is a Partner with Fox Rothschild LLP in the firm’s business litigation group.  Christine is a skilled trial lawyer who has successfully litigated complex commercial and contractual disputes to juries, courts and arbitrators throughout the United States for more than 20 years. Christine was selected for inclusion in the 2018 issue of “Best Lawyers in America” for commercial litigation.  She serves on the Board of Directors for womenwinning, a non-profit whose mission is to encourage, promote, support and elect pro-choice women of all political parties to all levels of public office.  She also volunteers, and serves on the Board of Directors, for the Conflict Resolution Center, whose mission is to bring people together to find lasting and effective solutions to conflict.  Christine earned her J.D. at William Mitchell College of Law.


Beverly Luther Quast serves as Tax Counsel for Ameriprise Financial, Inc. where she provides legal support to the company in areas of international tax planning and restructure, foreign withholding and reporting, and employee global mobility.  Prior to joining Ameriprise, Beverly was a senior tax consultant with Deloitte Tax, LLP.   She earned her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, her law degree magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School, and her LL.M. in Taxation from New York University.  Beverly is also a past Co-Chair of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association Board of Directors.


Chief Judge Kathryn Messerich was first appointed to the Dakota County Court in 2004. She was again elected to her position in 2006 and 2012, and was appointed to serve as Chief Judge for Dakota County in 2017. Previously Judge Messerich was a Shareholder with Halleland, Lewis, Nilan, Sipkins & Johnson as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School in Health Law. From 1979-1987 Judge Messerich was a registered nurse in pediatric intensive care, adult intensive care and pediatric transport team. She earned her J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.


Kelly Moller is currently an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney and handles felony-level criminal appeals on behalf of the State of Minnesota. Kelly worked for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for more than a decade before serving as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Alliance on Crime, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the criminal justice system’s response to crime victims. She has been recognized by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault for her work to secure victim privacy, and by MADD for strengthening the hit-and-run law. Kelly is a member of the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association appellate committee, and is an active volunteer in her community. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a business degree and Hamline University School of Law.


Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig was appointed as an Administrative Law Judge with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings in 2016. Previously, Judge Palmer-Denig was a trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an Assistant Attorney General at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and an associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP.   Judge Palmer-Denig also served as a judicial clerk for the North Dakota Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.  Judge Palmer-Denig is an active member of Minnesota Women Lawyers, the Alternative Dispute Resolution and Administrative Law Sections of the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Ramsey County Bar Association’s Youth and the Law Committee.  She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin School of Law.


Elizabeth Patton is an associate with Fox Rothschild, and she represents clients in all stages of litigation. She devotes a large portion of her practice to intellectual property and brand protection litigation, as well as employment defense matters. Elizabeth is currently a co-chair of MWL’s Equity Committee. She also serves as a housing court volunteer for the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Elizabeth earned her J.D. at University of Iowa College of Law.


Ann Rainhart is the Chief Operating Officer at Briggs and Morgan and is a member of the firm’s Management Committee. She works closely with firm leadership on strategy and operations and oversees the firm’s administrative departments. Prior to joining Briggs, Ann was a key member of the Faegre Baker Daniels operations team. Ann’s experience also includes previous positions as Director of Legal Personnel at Faegre & Benson, LLP and as part of the human resources team at Stinson Leonard Street. Ann began her career in law firm administration at Chapman and Cutler in Chicago. She is a frequent presenter at local law schools, law firm roundtables, NALP programming, the Hennepin County Bar Association, and other organizations.  Ann earned her J.D. from the Chicago-Kent College of Law.


Claudia Revermann has been practicing law for 16 years in the areas of estate planning, probate and trust, taxation, and family law.   She is also a Certified Public Accountant and, prior to practicing law, was a tax accountant in a large regional accounting firm.  She opened her own firm in June 2015, where her primary focus is to educate and serve her clients with confidence and humbleness. She is on the finance committee for the St. Cloud area YMCA, the policy committee for the St. Cloud Catholic Community Schools, and a volunteer with the MSBA’s Wills for Heroes program. Claudia was recognized for her achievements by being named as one of St. Cloud Times Media’s 5 under 40. She has spoken frequently for continuing education events and has a passion for educating people. Claudia earned her B.A. degree in accounting from the College of St. Catherine and her J.D. degree from William Mitchell College of Law.


Jennifer Robbins (“Jenny”) is the Managing Partner at MADEL PA, where she represents Fortune 500 companies and individuals in plaintiff- and defense-side business litigation (e.g., antitrust, trade secret, complex class actions, regulatory matters) and white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, and matters alleging misconduct against professionals. Jenny serves on the MWL Governance Committee in addition to the MWL Board of Directors. Ms. Robbins earned her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.


Suzette Schommer is the Assistant Legal Counsel- Litigation at Prime Therapeutics. In this role, Suzette is responsible for managing the litigation and subpoena teams, as well as overseeing the legal support provided to the Pharmacy Networks and Audit teams. Suzette has over 20 years of experience representing both non-profit health care and financial services organizations. Prior to joining Prime Therapeutics, Suzette served as General Counsel for The Emily Program, a mental health care provider located in four states. Suzette earned her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.


Amy Taber is Prime Therapeutics’ Employment and Litigation Senior Legal Counsel where she provides legal advice and support to Prime’s human resources team and assists with oversight of Prime’s employment and general business litigation activities. Amy began practicing law in 2004 and was a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP before joining Prime. Prior to becoming a lawyer, she was a human resources professional for 10 years. Amy currently serves on MWL’s Board of Directors as Secretary and is President-Elect for the upcoming year. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, her M.B.A. from St. Thomas University and her J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law. 


Molly Thornton is a senior lawyer at Cargill, Incorporated, where she supports Cargill’s North American grain business and commodity markets compliance group, and manages U.S. litigation. Previously, Molly was a Shareholder in the business litigation section at Briggs and Morgan, P.A., and a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson. Molly currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and as the SOLACE liaison for the organization. She was appointed by Governor Dayton in 2011 and continues to serve as Second Judicial District Attorney Representative to the Minnesota Judicial Selection Commission. Molly is a past Secretary and Board of Directors member of MWL. She earned her J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.


Robin Wolpert has extensive experience in the field of political law and government ethics. As former in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company, Robin has advised and guided participation in the political process and navigated complex regulatory environments in virtually every state in the country, including at the federal level. Robin has managed compliance with federal, state, and local campaign finance laws and reporting requirements; pay-to-play rules; lobbying disclosure requirements for in-house and external lobbyists; and gifts, entertainment, and travel rules. Robin is a member of the executive committee of the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and was an ethics investigator for many years before she joined the Board. She currently serves on the Commission of Judicial Election for the State of Minnesota, as well as the Board of Directors of Minnesota CLE. Robin earned her JD from Cornell Law School.



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