Effective corporate counsel has never been more important than it is today as technology and a global pandemic change the way we do business on a daily basis. Az Business magazine is recognizing the important and vital role that in-house counsel plays in the success of a business with the 2021 Arizona Corporate Counsel (ACC) Awards — sponsored by Cresa and Ogletree Deakins.

“The diverse personalities and skill sets of the finalists for the ACC Awards show how much the role of the corporate counsel has evolved over the last few years,” says AZ Big Media Editor in Chief Michael Gossie. “While maintaining a firm handle on the traditional functions of the legal department, the roles of these in-house attorneys are expanding to handle complex issues such as regulation and compliance, artificial intelligence, data privacy and cybersecurity issues. It’s a difficult, yet vital role that has a direct impact on every organization’s bottom line.”

READ ALSOClick here to get a free ticket to the 2021 ACC Awards

Candidates in several categories will be recognized for their extraordinary legal skills and achievements across a full range of in-house responsibility, exemplary leadership and for contributions to Arizona’s communities. The finalists and winners will be honored during a virtual ceremony and dinner on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Click here for more information on the event.

Here are the finalists, in alphabetical order.

Sara Begley

Executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer

CopperPoint Insurance Companies

Begley joined CopperPoint in 2008 and became general counsel in 2014. In 2018, she received the Ronald McDonald “Heart of the House” Award, and in 2019 was named one of Arizona’s Most Influential Women in Business by Az Business magazine.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “CopperPoint’s successful transition to remote work demonstrated that we can deliver effective, efficient, and high-quality legal services virtually while still building and maintaining strong personal relationships with our business partners, clients, and customers. We will leverage the flexibility afforded by this virtual environment when we return to the office.”

Lacey J. Bundy

Senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary


Bundy joined PetSmart in August 2018. Prior to PetSmart, she served for six years as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Express, Inc., a specialty retail apparel company based in Columbus, Ohio. Bundy currently serves on the board of directors of PetSmart Charities and as co-chair of PetSmart’s Diversity Action Council.

TREND TO WATCH: “Competition in retail is fiercer than ever. Technology has made it easier to bring products and services to market than ever before and to communicate with customers; it has also been relatively easy for start-up direct-to-consumer brands to raise capital.”

José A. Cárdenas

Senior vice president and general counsel

Arizona State University

A 1977 Stanford University Law School graduate, Cárdenas was a partner in the law firm of Lewis & Roca before joining ASU in 2009.  He also served as the firm’s managing partner and later as its chairman. He has been recognized for his accomplishments as a lawyer including an “AV/Preeminent Attorney” rating with Martindale-Hubbell and listings in Southwest Super Lawyers and The Best Lawyers in America, and his induction in 2010 to the Maricopa County Bar Association Hall of Fame.  He is a member of the American Law Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Carvana legal department

Carvana’s legal department began in mid 2015 with one person and has since expanded into a team of over 35 that supports the company as it went through its initial public offering, increased employees by over 5,000 percent, rapidly expanded to operate a real estate portfolio of more than 100 locations, became the fastest-growing retailer in the history of the United States, and grew revenue by more than 30 percent year-over-year during a difficult and unprecedented 2020.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “When a crisis introduces asymmetrical risk, make the hard decisions earlier and more severely than you believe necessary. Communicate clearly and empathetically with all constituents — customers, employees, business partners, and regulators.”

Steve Cook

Senior corporate counsel, contracts

Nikola Corporation

Nikola Corporation is an American company that has presented a number of zero-emission vehicle concepts since 2016. The company has stated on several occasions that it intends to take some of its concept vehicles into production in the near future. Nikola Corporation is based in Phoenix.

Samuel C. Cowley

Senior vice president, general counsel and secretary

Insight Enterprises

Prior to joining Insight in 2016, Cowley served as general counsel and vice president, business development of Prestige Brands Holdings, Inc. He also served as executive vice president, business development and general counsel of Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., and executive vice president and general counsel of Swift Transportation Co., Inc.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “The pandemic has reinforced the importance of people. After last year, who is not more appreciative of the time we get to spend with co-workers, relatives and friends? I’m more cognizant of prioritizing the overall well-being of fellow employees, which is vital to their being productive members of the team.”

Catharine Ellingsen

Executive vice president, chief legal officer, chief ethics and compliance officer, and corporate secretary

Republic Services

Ellingsen is responsible for overseeing the company’s legal affairs and ensuring Republic upholds the highest ethical standards for our customers, employees, and shareholders. She oversees legal services, board and corporate governance, ethics and compliance, enterprise risk management, labor relations, corporate security, business continuity, and facilities management.  Additionally, Ellingsen is chair of the company’s MOSAIC Council for inclusion and diversity and executive sponsor of the Women of Republic Business Resource Group. Ellingsen has more than 20 years of experience in the recycling and waste services industry.

Joshua Ernst

In-house litigation counsel

Salt River Project

Ernst joined SRP’s Agricultural Improvement and Power District in 2017. He manages and collaborates with outside counsel in significant litigation and provides advice to mitigate risk for SRP’s business units.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “It is humbling to work for a critical infrastructure entity such as SRP and to see the effort our employees undertake every day to provide reliable and affordable water and power to central Arizona. Consistent with that effort, the pandemic has taught me to focus on what is most important.  Not everything can be a top priority, and I am reminded to do what is necessary to support our mission-critical goals and objectives.”

Martin Felli

Chief legal and administrative officer

Blue Yonder 

Felli is a busy man, especially since he wears many hats at Blue Yonder. He provides leadership on all legal and compliance matters to ensure the company is always moving forward ethically and with integrity. This includes corporate governance, compliance, litigation and risk management, acquisition activity, commercial transactions, and government affairs. In addition, he oversees the company’s IT group and security organization, which works to ensure customers can engage with Blue Yonder confidently and efficiently.

SOURCE OF PRIDE: “When I get to engage, encourage and motivate associates to help further their aspirations, that’s what motivates me and gets me excited.”

Isaiah Fields

General counsel


Fields worked for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (2005-2011) before joining Axon Enterprise (formerly TASER International) as litigation counsel at a time when the company was facing an onslaught of product liability lawsuits. He was named general counsel in July of 2018 and is proud to be a part of Axon’s mission to protect life, capture truth and accelerate justice.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “I work with many extraordinarily gifted professionals and the pandemic cemented for me the importance of never compromising on talent. I am extremely proud of how our Legal team has stepped up to successfully advise and support Axon through the risk, ambiguity and uncertainty ushered in by COVID.”

Shannon Fox Fraser

Senior vice president and general counsel


Fraser has served as an in-house attorney at HonorHealth since 2015. She also serves as secretary of the HonorHealth board of directors. In her role, Fraser oversees the full range of legal and business issues facing an integrated healthcare system, including corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, strategic initiatives, risk management, and labor and employment. She also oversees issues related to the medical staff, managed care, privacy and compliance, corporate transactions, contracting, intellectual property, litigation, and regulatory and accreditation matters. Before joining HonorHealth, Fraser worked for more than 15 years in the Chicago area as in-house counsel at Edward Health Services Corp.

Dawn Grove

Corporate counsel

Karsten Manufacturing Corporation

Grove is Corporate Counsel for Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, parent company of PING (one of the world’s top golf equipment brands) and related subsidiaries. She advised on former President Barack Obama’s U.S. Manufacturing Council and currently chairs Gov. Doug Ducey’s Workforce Arizona Council.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “COVID-19 taught us some hard-fought lessons. I’m grateful we are keeping our employees safe and thus far have lost no lives. I learned the necessity of having Plans B and C ready, so we can adjust Plan A at the speed of life, all with enhanced communication with our teams.”

Tim Hartin

Senior vice president and chief legal officer

TMC HealthCare

Hartin has served as senior vice president and chief legal officer for TMC HealthCare since 2013. He is an experienced general counsel for integrated health care systems, serving as outside counsel and in-house counsel in the health care sector since 1993. Hartin’s responsibilities include all legal aspects of compliance, contracting, risk management and business operations as well as serving as legal and strategic adviser to the hospital and clinical leadership teams responsible for TMC’s strategic, financial and operational success.

SURPRISING FACT: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, each member of the legal team took shifts helping out in the hospital.”

Harvest Health & Recreation legal department

To meet the challenges of providing legal advice in a rapidly evolving and emerging industry over the past year, the Harvest in-house legal team has doubled in size, growing from three to six attorneys. Among other normal day-to-day functions of an in-house legal team, the Harvest legal team has helped the company navigate the treacherous waters of going public on a foreign securities exchange, having to quickly respond to regulatory enforcement and compliance matters, oftentimes with little to no precedent to rely on, and completing mergers and acquisitions in an environment fraught with risk. Since going public in November 2018, the Harvest legal team closed twenty transactions in multiple states totaling more than $500 million.

Leslie Hess

General counsel and chief compliance/risk management officer 

Delta Dental of Arizona

Hess oversees DDAZ’s legal affairs, federal and state regulatory compliance and organizational risk management. She also leads DDAZ’s government affairs and advocacy initiatives in coordination with the Delta Dental Plans Association. She serves on the board of directors for Arizona Helping Hands and is a founding member of the Cactus Wren Chapter of the National Charity League.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “Initially, I was struck by the differing attitudes related to government vs. science; the impact on remote work, employee performance and every facet of a business. Over time, I saw attitudes shift and find their center. It reminded me not to prejudge and to be patient with people.”

Nima Kelly

Chief legal officer


Kelly, who announced she will be retiring in 2021, joined GoDaddy in 2002 and became GoDaddy’s general counsel in 2012. Under her leadership, Kelly built a high-performing legal team that took the company public, structured ongoing M&A transactions, including the $1.85 billion acquisition of Host Europe Group, and established corporate governance and public company processes. She has built a diverse legal department, 65 percent of which is comprised of women, and is the executive sponsor of GoDaddy Latinos In Technology. She’s somewhat of a corporate historian in view of her tenure, and often referred to as the “VP of everything.”

Michael LaClare

Associate general counsel

Isagenix International

Laclare has practiced law for 19 years, and has served as in-house counsel for the last 13 years. During his career, Laclare has handled numerous commercial litigation matters and other kinds of complex commercial disputes. For Isagenix, he manages litigation and dispute matters, and supervises the company’s Compliance and Corporate Affairs teams.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “One thing the pandemic seems to have done for many is add new layers of stress on top of existing ones. And, I have learned how to better collaborate with my colleagues to help us all actively manage our stress levels in order to maximize our wellbeing and productivity.”

Limelight Networks legal department

Limelight’s objective is to accelerate growth across the business. The company competes against well-known industry behemoths, so growth within this industry is difficult to achieve. Limelight’s customer acquisition has accelerated across the globe, its network capacity has almost doubling since the beginning of 2019, and has consistently broken network traffic levels. None of this would have been possible without the effective collaboration and focus on execution of the company’s high-quality Legal team. Their customer service skills and attention to detail are exemplary. To a person, they are the friendliest people, while at the same time are fierce advocates for their one client. This team of forward-thinkers have their fingerprints on all of company successes.

Luke Air Force Base JAG (Judge Advocate General)

The 56th Fighter Wing JAG provides a wide variety of legal services to the more than 5,600 Airmen who serve at Luke Air Force Base in the West Valley. The Luke Air Force Base legal team provides legal advice to the Wing’s commander, Brig. Gen. Gregory Kreuder, and his staff, as well as the base population. Attorneys are available to provide advice on issues of marriage, divorce, adoption, insurance, personal injury, claims, rentals and leases, indebtedness, wills, and estate planning. The legal office also provides powers of attorney, vehicle license tax forms, and notaries.

Adam Martinez

Head of legal


Since joining Offerpad, Martinez has completely streamlined the tech startup’s legal operations to match its national status. With fast growth, scale, and complex regulatory matters, the company has heavily relied on Martinez’s expertise and guidance to handle the influx of unique legal issues that come with rapid growth. Many other national companies will have large, in-house legal teams, but Martinez has fleshed out and delivered processes that scale to the growth of the company while keeping time and resources to a minimum. By using people, processes, and technology to streamline the legal operations, Martinez has delivered high-value results to the company as he pursues his goal to disrupt traditional big law practices.

McKesson Law Department

The Scottsdale-based legal team supporting RxCrossroads by McKesson includes attorneys and paralegals, some of whom are based in Houston, Atlanta, and Columbia, S.C. As part of the McKesson general counsel organization, the legal team provides day-to-day transactional and regulatory counsel to this complex McKesson business unit that includes two specialty pharmacy programs, medication adherence and access, and third-party logistics services to clients in the pharmaceutical and life-sciences industry.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “Our team has always fully embraced McKesson’s ICARE principles of integrity, customer-first, accountability, respect, and excellence, but the pandemic reminds us what it means to be there for each other, even when we can’t see each other.”

Renee Mitchell

General counsel

California Closet Company

Respect has been the driving force behind Mitchell’s legal career — respect for the law, co‑workers, opponents, and for what she has yet to learn. Mitchell’s journey has taken her from the Air Force to law school, and from starting an intellectual property practice as an associate to her current role.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “The novel and ever-changing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic brought business leaders and team members together to brainstorm in a way that we may not have otherwise ever experienced. This taught me to focus more acutely on the business drivers and has made me a better business and legal advisor.”

John Murphy

General counsel and corporate secretary


Murphy was born and raised in Phoenix. Currently he is the general counsel and corporate secretary for Nextiva, where he provides strategic leadership and manages an international team of legal professionals that helps Nextiva better understand, manage and protect against legal risk through simplification, proactive, effective and timely communication, and savvy negotiation.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “When the pandemic started, Nextiva had to nimbly transition to a work-from-home environment. From this environment, I learned how important human connection is to effectively managing a legal department. Although technology helps bridge the gap, connecting in person is something I have an entirely new appreciation for.”

Kristin Paiva

General counsel

Massage Envy Franchising

Paiva is the general counsel for Massage Envy Franchising, with more than 1,100 franchisees across the country. Prior to taking the position, Paiva was a partner with Thorpe Shwer and an associate with Fennemore, practicing commercial and tort litigation. Paiva has navigated the complex world of national franchising through a series of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its unique impact on the massage and franchise industries. With operations in nearly every state in the country being impacted in different ways and subject to different governmental orders, Paiva has worked tirelessly to ensure that the brand is protected and successful.

Catherine Pearson

COO and general counsel

SpringBoard Healthcare

Pearson is an expert in reducing operational inefficiencies and streamlining workflows to support rapid and sustained growth. She brings 17 years of experience with employment law, litigation, and healthcare regulation. Prior to joining Springboard, Pearson was at SimonMed, where she provided legal and healthcare regulatory counsel, reorganized the corporate structure, and assisted with strategy development.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “The pandemic forced healthcare employers to tailor new policies in a rapidly evolving legal landscape. Voraciously learning, anticipating legislation, and acting proactively enabled Springboard to send nurses to the frontlines. Experienced leadership and transparent communication were the benchmarks of adeptly handling the immense uncertainty. Lives were saved because of informed, decisive action.”

Justin Powell

Chief legal officer

Isagenix International

As chief legal officer, Powell advises Isagenix on all matters and strives to ensure the global well-being company leads the industry with its responsible business practices. In addition to managing the legal team, he is responsible for compliance, human resources, and corporate affairs (including the ISA Foundation).

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “Humanity connects us all. Many consider 2020 a year of isolation — but we also became more connected than ever to friends and colleagues around the world. Despite different cultures and circumstances, we have common ground with everyone. Now more than ever I am looking forward to connecting in person again.”

Brian Roberts

Chief administrative officer, general counsel and secretary

Grand Canyon University

Roberts has been serving as Grand Canyon University’s general counsel and secretary since 2012. Roberts is also a director of GCU Community Fund. For nearly 10 years, he was employed by iGo, Inc., a publicly traded developer of electronics accessories, which included serving as general counsel and secretary responsible for all legal functions. Between 1998 and 2003, Roberts was an attorney with the law firm of Snell & Wilmer L.L.P. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.

Michael Silhasek

Corporate counsel, Discount Tire

Discount Tire Company is an independent tire and wheel retailer. Discount Tire operates in 36 states in the United States, and is the largest independent tire and wheel retailer in the world. The company is headquartered in Scottsdale.

Robert E. Smith

Senior vice president and general counsel

Pinnacle West Capital Corporation and Arizona Public Service Company

Smith is responsible for overseeing all facets of the company’s legal affairs and the corporate secretary function.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “During 2020, attorneys became indispensable business partners —proactively assessing first impression risks and understanding business impacts of new ways of working. We rethought empowerment, remote work, development, innovation and communication. Putting employees and customer safety first and innovating ways of working allowed us to address employees’ new responsibilities – balancing being full-time teachers, parents and employees. Our perspective and intentionality increased our effectiveness as attorneys, business leaders and caring members of the community.”

Nicole Stanton

Vice President and general counsel

Harvest Health & Recreation

Stanton has 20 years of legal experience, first at a large private law firm and now in-house at an emerging company. She has received numerous recognitions throughout her career, including listing in Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019 and Top 100 Lawyers in Arizona by Az Business magazine.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “The pandemic taught me how productive our team can be even while working remotely.  We have built a high level of trust among our team during the pandemic and that will lead to discussions about alternative work arrangements which will further enhance the quality of life of our team even after the pandemic ends.”

Laura Todd Johnson

Senior vice president for legal affairs and general counsel

University of Arizona

Johnson oversees all litigation involving UArizona. She advises the president, University administrators, and the Arizona Board of Regents on a broad range of legal issues, including institutional governance, intellectual property and licensing, contracts and compliance, regulations, employment matters, charitable giving, athletics, student issues, real estate, and international transactions.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “Facing a monumental institutional financial crisis while advising on the legal intricacies of antigen, PCR, and antibody testing and epidemiological concerns related to COVID-19 – all while keeping our community’s safety paramount – forged in me a renewed understanding of the power of a personal connection with clients in collectively finding viable solutions.”

Andie Vack

Associate general counsel

Banner Health

Vack provides legal guidance on numerous matters, including, physician contractual relationships, physician compensation, physician relations, quality assurance, medical staff privileging and credentialing, risk management, patient care, regulatory and compliance. The Arizona native came to Banner in 2014 from a law firm in Las Vegas, where she specialized in medical malpractice defense and healthcare administrative law.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “With many Banner corporate employees redeployed to help front-line workers and the rapidly and continually changing state of the pandemic, I learned to think and operate more efficiently, focusing my time on system priorities, and providing legal advice with agility and speed so Banner could quickly effectuate necessary change.”

Dawn Valdivia

Assistant general counsel, L&E (AERO) and chief counsel, L&E Latin America


Valdivia has been with Honeywell since 2014 and provides counsel and helps drive compliance in all facets of workplace issues globally with a focus in the U.S., Latin America, and Puerto Rico. She also advises on U.S. immigration law and led the company’s harassment prevention program.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “The importance of being calm in a crisis. Lawyers generally need to be the voice of reason during tense business situations, but the pandemic raised the bar. The pandemic created enormous personal stress in addition to work stress. Calm leadership was crucial to leading through this unprecedented and uncertain time.”

C. Timothy White

Executive vice president and general counsel

Meritage Homes

White has served as general counsel of Meritage Homes since 2005. White served as outside legal counsel for Meritage Homes from 1991 to 2005, during his time as an attorney at the law firms of Tiffany & Bosco and Greenberg Traurig, where he was the chairman of the Real Estate Department. White served as a director of Meritage Homes from 1997-2005 and as a director of Monterey Homes from 1995-1996. White received a bachelor of science in accounting from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the Arizona State University College of Law. He is a member of the State Bar of Arizona.

Peter Witty

Senior vice president, general counsel and secretary

Cable One

Prior to Cable One, Witty served as general counsel for the Gas Technology Institute, division counsel for Abbott Nutrition International and Abbott Molecular, and as an associate for Latham & Watkins. Witty also served as an officer and helicopter pilot in the 101st Airborne Division where he participated in Operation Desert Storm.

LESSON LEARNED IN 2020: “Humility. The need to continually show grace and gratitude to those who made our team and company function so well throughout the pandemic. Our associates rose above and beyond to take care of our customers and one another throughout this crisis – truly living our company motto: ‘Stronger together.’”