Attorney Spotlight: New York

Stacy D. Phillips ●

This edition highlights a very special Matrimonial & Family Law colleague in our New York Office: Sheila G. Riesel.

I have known Sheila for many, many years as she was a partner at my grandfather’s and my father’s law firm in New York, Phillips Nizer. She followed my career as I graduated from Columbia Law School, worked as a summer intern in the U.S. District Court in New York, moved to Southern California, and eventually launched my own family law firm. Sheila landed at Blank Rome following a merger in 2000. She called me in 2009 when she learned the firm was opening a Los Angeles office. Because of my respect for her, I seriously considered the prospect of joining Blank Rome, but the timing was not yet right. However, Sheila planted a seed with me that lay dormant for a few years but eventually sprouted when I joined Blank Rome in 2016. For that, and for her abundant calmness, wisdom, and caring, I will always be grateful to her!

Sheila practices in all areas of matrimonial law including pre-and-post nuptial agreements; separation agreements; actions for divorce, custody, and equitable distribution; and complex valuation and custody disputes. “The essence of what I do is to help my clients through one of the hardest experiences of their lives,” says Sheila. “For me, helping people is the most gratifying part of my job.”

She has represented clients in the entertainment industry, including Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Howard Stern, Geraldo Rivera, and Alec Baldwin, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, and hedge fund and financial institution c-suite executives.

Sheila is a proponent of an early consultation and being informed, which she believes will alleviate fear. “Information is power.” Significant decisions in a marriage with problems, like changing jobs or purchasing or renovating a home, can have a major impact if the couple then divorces. New York is an equitable distribution jurisdiction, which means that, without a pre-nuptial agreement, any asset acquired during a marriage is subject to “equitable division” upon divorce. In New York, “equitable distribution” is determined by more than a dozen criteria, including length of the marriage, children, and who enhanced assets during the marriage. The only asset typically not divided relatively evenly is business interests, which normally benefit the person holding the business interest more than their spouse.

One way to protect an asset when a marriage is on the rocks, says Sheila, is to “have a frank discussion with your spouse about the asset and consider a post-nuptial agreement.”

Significantly, prior to practicing matrimonial and family law, Sheila was a criminal defense lawyer who argued three times before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Outside of work, Sheila enjoys spending time with her husband and two grown daughters (one a New York prosecutor and the other a cranial-facial pediatric surgeon) and has raised three American Brittany Spaniels. She enjoys hiking, travel, and reading non-fiction, having recently read The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson, about the first woman Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Jennifer Doudna.

Attorney Spotlight: Los Angeles

Stacy D. Phillips ●

This edition of Attorney Spotlight highlights one of my Los Angeles colleagues—Pauline Martin. Pauline has more than two decades of litigation experience, handling all areas of family law, as well as a range of clients’ other legal needs. Her commercial litigation experience, especially in partnership dissolution and employment-related matters, adds a unique perspective to her family law practice. Please enjoy learning more about her.

Pauline M. Martin is a relentless litigator who focuses on passionate advocacy for the families she represents so they can move their lives forward with dignity, security, and grace. Pauline took a circuitous route to the practice of family law, beginning her legal career as a commercial litigator with time at national law firms as well as aggressive boutique litigation firms before taking some time away from law firm life as a new mom. She also helped develop a groundbreaking insurance program, which covers the risk of paying an adversary’s attorneys’ fees in a contract dispute. The product was hailed by the legal community as a “game changer” in contract litigation and was eventually sold to a publicly traded insurance carrier.

After her then-three-year-old son suggested she go back to work so he could stay for afternoon pre-school with his friends, Pauline found a new professional home practicing family law with Stacy Phillips. Pauline has developed a passion for resolving the intimate issues of custody cases, where her background as a general litigator has been an asset as she crafts specialized and sophisticated solutions to each client’s unique issues and family needs. Pauline acts practically to find common ground with the opposing party without resorting to the kind of knee-jerk scorched earth litigation tactics that she believes many times do more harm than good. She also uses her skill and tenacity to fight in court when necessary to advance the goals of her clients when it is clear amicable resolution is no longer an option.

Partner Spotlight: New York

Stacy D. Phillips

This edition of Partner Spotlight highlights one of my New York colleagues and co-chair of Blank Rome’s Matrimonial & Family Law group—Brett Ward. Brett concentrates his practice in all areas of matrimonial and family law, including divorce, paternity, custody, and child protective matters. He has extensive experience in negotiating prenuptial, separation, and settlement agreements. Brett has significant litigation and trial experience in New York’s Family and Supreme Courts and has also successfully appeared before the appellate courts. He also has experience with international custody and child support matters. Please enjoy learning more about him.

Brett S. Ward
New York

Brett Ward is a visionary leader who is motivated to help people navigate their way through the stormiest emotional and financial situations of their lives. He has spent his entire legal career in family law, where early on he was fascinated by how it takes not only legal analysis, but also support, sympathy, and empathy, to help clients solve difficult issues. Brett is adept at assessing a client’s situation and tailoring his approach to what they need—whether it be strength, compassion, or a calming force. He delivers results for clients by combating unreasonable positions from the opposing party through his willingness to take the case to trial where the evidence, and not rhetoric, controls the day. As co-chair of the firm’s Matrimonial & Family Law Practice group, the bedrock of Brett’s leadership philosophy is a willingness to listen and build consensus for the good of the entire group. He focuses on expanding the practice of the current partners as well as building a path for the next generation of attorney talent to ensure they have the support, opportunities, and skills to build their own successful practices for the department’s long-term success.

Partner Spotlights: Giving Back to Our Communities

This edition of Partner Spotlights highlights the importance of making a difference in our communities. Personally, I have enjoyed serving as the Founder and Chair of the Blank Rome Adopt-A-Center Program (which was formerly the Phillips Lerner Adopt-A-Center Program) for more than two decades. I also have the pleasure of serving on the Board of Directors, as Board Secretary, and Executive Committee of Public Counsel, the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. If you would like to make a donation to Public Counsel, that would be greatly appreciated: justgiving.com/fundraising/stacy-d-phillips.

I also encourage each of you to find ways in 2022 to help those in need in your communities, whether it be through donating to a worthy cause, volunteering your time, raising awareness of a local need, or even making a simple gesture of kindness for a neighbor. Please enjoy learning about how my colleagues Ashley Silberfeld and Morgan Fraser Mouchette have worked this past year to make an impact in their communities.

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Partner Spotlight: Los Angeles

Stacy D. Phillips

This edition of Partner Spotlight highlights one of my Los Angeles colleagues and co-chair of Blank Rome’s Matrimonial & Family Law Group—Kristina Royce. Kristina has dedicated her practice to advising distinguished individuals involved in high-stakes, complex financial and custody matters. Her work has involved valuations, tracings and cash flow analyses, move-aways, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and mediation. She is well-known for winning difficult cases, finding solutions to complex matters, and for her steadfast discretion. Please enjoy learning more about her.

Kristina Royce, Los Angeles

Kristina Royce is a natural leader who enjoys the challenge of putting together the pieces of tremendously complex financial puzzles as she negotiates sophisticated solutions to meet her clients’ goals. She followed in her father’s footsteps to become an attorney and fell into family law by accident, but it has been the perfect fit for her skillset. Early in her career, Kristina was mentored by attorney Glenn Buzard as she developed an acumen for complex financial settlements, learned how to question and cross examine accountants and tax experts, and honed her leadership skills. Kristina, Glenn, and three other attorneys joined Blank Rome together in 2019 from one of Los Angeles’ most prominent family law firms, Buter, Buzard, Fishbein & Royce LLP.

Now serving as co-chair of Blank Rome’s Matrimonial & Family Law Practice Group, Kristina imparts to her team the important lessons and advantages of understanding the financial consequences of divorce. Her clients include high-net-worth celebrities, actors, musicians, doctors, lawyers, private equity managers, and other business owners with unique financial circumstances that require a deep understanding of royalties, residual income, and valuations. While Kristina is a fierce advocate for her clients in both settlement negotiations and in the courtroom, she has also recently become involved in serving as a mediator, bringing her strong financial background to designing unique financial solutions that meet the goals of both parties.

Partner Spotlight: New York

Stacy D. Phillips

This edition of Partner Spotlight highlights one of my New York Matrimonial & Family Law colleagues and friends and a rising star at Blank Rome—Morgan Fraser Mouchette. Morgan has quickly built a reputation for her dedication to civic work, serving as co-chair of our BR United affinity group and as a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Women’s Bar Association. She has experience representing high-net-worth clients in all aspects of family law, including divorce, child custody, property distribution, spousal support, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements, paternity agreements, and international child abduction. Please enjoy learning more about her.

Morgan Fraser Mouchette, New York
“A Rising Star”

Morgan Fraser Mouchette is a fiercely protective yet exceedingly practical attorney who is adept at listening to the needs and circumstances of each family and providing tailored support for each unique situation. Morgan joined Blank Rome after twice serving as a Summer Associate at the firm during law school. While she had no expectation of practicing matrimonial & family law, Morgan was drawn to the group because she enjoys making a positive difference in the lives of real people and helping them navigate and move on from the worst moments of their lives. After directly seeing the difficult circumstances that led to messy and drawn-out divorces, Morgan has focused her efforts on demystifying the stigmas surrounding prenuptial agreements, which are often perceived as horribly diabolical and unromantic. Her goal is to educate young professionals as to the benefits of prenuptial agreements and the importance of having one as part of a comprehensive financial plan if both partners are not on equal financial footing. She helps couples consider them as a protective measure and understand their practical purpose of helping avoid potential issues down the line in what is ultimately a legal union and merger.

To learn about Morgan’s tips for young professionals on protecting earnings and assets, watch the new on-demand webinar, “Protecting Your Assets 101: The Benefits of Wealth Management Strategies,” that she co-hosted with Blank Rome Trusts & Estates partner Sean R. Weissbart, along with Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, Financial Advisor at O’Keeffe Financial Partners.

Partner Spotlight: Tampa

Stacy D. Phillips

In honor of her city’s recent string of professional sports championships over the past year, this edition of Partner Spotlight highlights my Tampa Matrimonial & Family Law colleague and friend—Michelle M. Gervais. Michelle is a trusted adviser to high-profile individuals, athletes, and celebrities, as well as businesses and financial institutions, in the areas of sports and entertainment, matrimonial and domestic relations, commercial and business litigation, and consumer finance. Please enjoy learning more about her.

Michelle M. Gervais, Tampa
“She Likes Being Known as ‘the Fixer.’”



 

Michelle M. Gervais is a fiercely loyal and tenacious advocate for her clients with a uniquely wide range of experience across the worlds of sports and entertainment, matrimonial and domestic relations, commercial and business litigation, and consumer finance law. Growing up in rural Michigan, Michelle always knew she was destined to be a lawyer and has found fulfillment in the legal profession’s ability to help people both in business and relationships by bringing them together when they are happy and keeping them apart when it no longer works. She began her career in Miami at a boutique matrimonial law firm before moving to Carlton Fields and then Duane Morris. In 2015, Michelle joined Blank Rome’s Tampa office shortly after several of her former colleagues founded the Blank Rome’s Pittsburgh office. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle has been surprised by the emotional dynamics that have led to less cost-benefit litigation decisions and more relentless fights to the finish. However, Michelle has found that the recent transition to remote video hearings has allowed her to be more effective and efficient for her clients because she no longer must travel to appear in person in court cases around the country. And because she can also more easily take pro bono cases outside her jurisdiction, she appreciates that access to justice has become stronger than ever.

To learn more about Michelle and the role football has played in her personal and professional career, read her feature article, My Winning Playbook: Fading into the Fix, in the 2021 edition of NFL THREAD’s The Playbook (Volume 3).

Partner Spotlights: Los Angeles

Stacy D. Phillips

Blank Rome has one of the top Matrimonial & Family Law practice in the country, with 10 attorneys in Los Angeles, 20 attorneys in New York, one attorney in Tampa, and two attorneys in Philadelphia. In this new feature, I will spotlight some of my partners from across the Firm. In this edition, I wanted to highlight two of my Los Angeles Matrimonial & Family Law colleagues—Ashley Silberfeld and Kevin B. Martin. Many of you reading this know that I was very close to my father. It struck me that Ashley and Kevin are also close to their fathers, who are also ethical, learned attorneys like my father. Their fathers also created children that are similarly ethical people (mensches). Please enjoy learning more about them.

Ashley Silberfeld, Los Angeles
“A go-to person for anyone who has a thorny issue.”

Ashley Silberfeld is an experienced civil litigator and fierce advocate with trial skills that are unique among family lawyers. Ashley followed her father’s footsteps into the legal profession, beginning her career as a toxic tort defense attorney at Steptoe & Johnson. She later decided to transition to matrimonial & family law to help fight for the vulnerable and protect the things most important to them. As the child of a divorce herself, she knows firsthand what families are going through during difficult times. What Ashley finds most rewarding is when she gets to see her clients and their children thrive in their new lives. And as the single mother of a toddler, she also deeply understands the challenges that families with young children are experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis. Ashley even recently conducted a successful argument at a virtual hearing while her daughter sat on her lap.

Kevin B. Martin, Los Angeles 
“Attacks legal problems like a dog with a bone.”

Kevin B. Martin is a dynamic litigator who is also skilled at forensically analyzing balance sheets and other financial and business records. Kevin began his legal career at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan, a boutique civil litigation firm, before following in his father’s footsteps to practice law at the Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in its enforcement division. He later left the SEC to return to Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan and then Bingham McCutchen where his practice focused on SEC defense and corporate internal investigations. Kevin then started his own, first of its kind, litigation insurance program that he eventually sold to a publicly traded insurance carrier. After Stacy Phillips represented him in his own custody battle where, together, side by side, they succeeded in obtaining 50-50 custody of Kevin’s two daughters (who are now in college), he decided to help other families in crisis by “paying it forward” and returning to practice with Stacy as a family law attorney. His unique set of professional and personal experiences allows him to see cases with a different lens that is uncommon in the family law bar. Kevin also brings insights and understanding of the financial side of divorce, while, at the same time never losing sight of the emotional toll this type of litigation has on his clients. Although he always prefers amicable resolution, where the parties retain most control over their own destinies, if the need arises due to unsurmountable legal disputes, Kevin fights tenaciously side by side with his clients, as Stacy did for him.