2023 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Lourdes Casanova - President
Lourdes Casanova is the President of the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association. She has been involved with the PBCHBA since 2015, having previously served as President-Elect, Corresponding Secretary, and board member at large. Casanova is the Founding Attorney of Casanova Law, a Wellington law firm excelling in the areas of Criminal Defense, DUI, Fish & Wildlife, Sealing & Expunging, Juvenile Court, Traffic Tickets, and Immigration. Prior to opening her firm in 2015, Casanova was a prosecutor for the State Attorney's Office of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.
As a Cuban-American raised in Royal Palm Beach and the daughter of immigrants, Attorney Casanova is an active participant in various organizations that advocate for the local Hispanic Community, including the Florida Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce, Latinos in Action, and The Hispanic Vote of Palm Beach County. Casanova has also served as co-chair of the Immigration session of the Palm Beach County Bar Association Bench Bar Conference and is a recurring guest speaker at community immigration forums.
Juan Diaz - President-elect
Juan has devoted his legal career to the litigation of personal injury, premises liability, wrongful death, negligent security and products liability claims, representing his clients in both state and federal courts from inception of the case through trial. As a native Spanish speaker, he is especially well equipped to understand and serve the needs of the Latino community.
Before joining Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart, & Shipley, P.A. Mr. Diaz Avila worked with the largest insurance defense law firm in Florida, where he defended personal injury lawsuits on behalf of some of the most established insurance companies. He now applies this knowledge of the inner workings of the insurance industry to obtaining compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of others.
Mr. Diaz Avila was born in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to Florida at age 20. He earned his undergraduate degree cum laude from Florida International University, majoring in international relations. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor from Florida International University College of Law, where he excelled in legal writing and advocacy classes. When he was a third-year law student, his legal memoranda were selected by the school faculty as models for first- and second-year law students.
Mr. Diaz Avila is admitted to practice in the State of Florida and the United States District Courts for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is a member of the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association, the Florida Justice Association, the Palm Beach County Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
Gina Fraga, Vice President
Mrs. Fraga has devoted her entire legal career to defending the rights of our immigrants by focusing her practice in the complex and ever-changing field of Immigration and Nationality Law. She is a Partner at Acosta & Fraga Law, P.L.L.C., where she handles a heavy case load in areas such as deportation defense, family immigration, business immigration, equestrian-related immigration visas, self-petitions on behalf of victims and children, among others. She is a proud “double Gator” who received both her bachelor’s degree with honors and law degree from the University of Florida.
In addition to serving as a Board member of the Palm Beach Hispanic Bar Association since 2019, she has also been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association where she chairs the AILA South Florida Chapter DMV Committee, serves as a member-at-large of the USCIS West Palm Beach Committee and previously served in the Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee. She is passionate about providing pro bono legal representation to children and women who are the victims of abuse or neglect and serves her community by providing outreach, education and assistance to charitable organizations such as Americans for Immigrant Justice, the Legal Aid Society of PBC and the Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth, Florida. Due to her outstanding work in the community she was awarded the 2019 Public Citizen Award from the National Association of Social Workers Palm Beach Chapter. She enjoys going back “home” to recharge at the beach in her little island of Puerto Rico where she was born and raised.
Olga Patterson, ACP, FCP, FRP, Treasurer
Olga Patterson has been a paralegal since 1989 and earned her ACP in Discovery, Estate Planning and Trial Practice as well as the FCP and FRP designations. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal with more than 30 years of legal experience in the fields of Mass Torts, Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Litigation. She currently works at Smith, Ball, Báez & Prather Florida Injury Attorneys in Palm Beach Gardens. She is active on several committees for the PBC Chapter of the Paralegal Association of Florida and is a past president. She currently serves on the board of the FL Bar Registered Paralegal Committee, Certifying Chair of the FCP Examining for the Paralegal Association of Florida, Chair of the Paralegal Committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and Past Chair of the FJA Paralegal/Legal Assistance Section. Olga is also a member of the paralegal section of the American Bar Association. She devotes her free time in helping fellow paralegals grow and become part of the legal community. She is a frequent speaker at the paralegal sections of local colleges.
Ethel Velasquez, Communications and Social Media Coordinator
Ethel Velasquez is a civil litigator with Gordon and Partners. Attorney Velasquez focuses on Personal Injury Protection, Personal Injury, and Workers’ Compensation. Outside of the courtroom, you could find Ethel spending time with her husband and their two children.
Destiny Barbosa, Recording Secretary
Destiny Barbosa is an attorney with the Keller, Melchiorre, and Walsh in Palm Beach County, Florida. Her passion for helping others has focused her practice areas to personal injury and property damage. As a trial attorney, she fights for those who have been catastrophically injured by the negligence and wrongdoing of others.
Ms. Barbosa earned her Juris Doctorate in Jacksonville, Florida. Impressively, she graduated law school early, with Cum Laude Honors, and received a certificate in Civil Litigation. During law school she was a member of the Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society, received multiple Deans List honors, and earned book awards for the highest grades in Contracts II and Dependency. In Jacksonville, she worked as a clerk for Judge Waddell Wallace III, in Repeat Felony Offender Court, conducting research on Florida’s Habitual Felony Offender Statute and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel cases. Following her clerkship, Ms. Barbosa became a Certified Legal Intern with the State Attorneys’ Office.
Ms. Barbosa has lectured on the topics of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the importance of taking steps to preserve critical evidence in personal injury cases. She sits on the Board of the Palm Beach County Justice Association (2022), the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association (2023), and the Florida Justice Association’s Women’s Caucus (2022). She was presented with the “Top 40 Under 40” award by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2021.
Ms. Barbosa enjoys spending time with her son and twin daughters when she is not in the courtroom.
Julie Nethersole, Immediate Past President
Julie Nethersole is an Associate General Counsel for Universal Property & Casualty Insurance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ms. Nethersole is an experienced litigator in the areas of complex civil litigation, first party property insurance defense, personal injury, foreclosure, and auto insurance defense.
Along with her husband, she is a proud parent to two beautiful little girls, Luna and Maxine.
Francisco Cuello, Member-at-large
Litigation Paralegal with over 14 years of experience in personal injury claims in the State of Florida. Born in the Dominican Republic where he studied and received a law degree and graduated from the University of Miami with a Master’s degree focused on U.S. and Transnational Law. He has dedicated his life to social work and is a passionate advocate for the Latino community.
Alberto R. Leal, Member-at-Large
From humble beginnings to successful counsel, Alberto R. Leal is the son of two immigrant parents from Latin America and prides himself on the work ethic he was taught from an early age. A native of South Florida, Mr. Leal is well aware of the legal challenges facing our community and strives to correct injustices at every opportunity. Specifically, Mr. Leal is immensely proud of his vital role in the lives of clients needing assistance in civil litigation matters.
While Mr. Leal believes strongly in the difference his work makes, he is most proud of his philanthropic efforts. Namely, the founding of The Leal Scholars Program at his alma mater (A.A. ’11), Palm Beach State College, which strives to assist low-income students afford the cost of higher education. To date, The Leal Scholars Program has assisted multiple students in covering costs of tuition and essential materials during their respective courses of study at PBSC. Mr. Leal is also a proud member of the Paradise Club at Florida Atlantic University which collects donations to assist student athletes during their time at FAU. He has also donated his time to assist elementary school students with the Village of Wellington after-school tutoring program in recent years and, has volunteered time to assist with operations at Feeding South Florida while also making monthly donations to the organization in an effort to help bridge the nutritional gap faced by many in our community during the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from his professional and philanthropic works, Mr. Leal takes pride in being a devout family man and Christian. He, his daughter and his wife are members of the local Christ Fellowship church and to unwind, Mr. Leal enjoys playing a round of golf, pickle ball or traveling with his family to new destinations.
Angela Pagán, Member-at-Large
Angela Pagán, Esq. is a criminal defense attorney in Palm Beach County. She graduated from the University of Florida with Honors and obtained two degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology. As an undergraduate student, Ms. Pagán became a Founding Sister of the Chi Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., the first Latina/Hispanic sorority in the country, in Florida and at UF. Ms. Pagán started her legal career at the Office of the Public Defender in Palm Beach County, where she worked as an Investigator and Assistant Public Defender for over nine years. She left that office in 2012 to go into private practice and in 2014 she founded her firm, the Angie Pagán Law, PLLC, located in downtown West Palm Beach. Ms. Pagán is a Past President of the Palm Beach County Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She sits as Co-Chair of the MacArthur’s Foundation Palm Beach County Racial and Ethnic Disparity Team and is a past member of the 15th Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee. Additionally, Ms. Pagan has also served as a volunteer Guardian Advocate for Baker Act cases in the 15th Judicial Circuit since 2012.
Karen Velez, Member-at-Large
Karen Velez is the founder of The Velez Law Firm, P.A., located in Boca Raton, which focuses on Family Law, Criminal Law and some civil matters. Prior to starting the firm, she began her 16-year legal career in public service as an Assistant Public Defender. She has extensive courtroom experience and has litigated over 30 jury trials and dozens of bench trials.
As a resident of Palm Beach County for over 20 years she is committed to serving in the community and has served on numerous local boards. Attorney Velez has served on the Board of Directors of The Craig S. Barnard Inn of Court, for the past two years, and is currently the Education Chair. She served on the Palm Beach Bar Association Law Related Education Committee, and co-chaired the Florida Supreme Court Mock Trial competition. She serves on the Board of The Women’s Foundation of Florida, where she has co-chaired Women On The Run with former West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muiou. She was recently a finalist for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County, “Esperanza” Award. Esperanza means hope in Spanish. The Esperanza Awards recognize and honor Hispanic business women with exceptional achievement in business and in the public or private sectors in Palm Beach County.
Board Advisor: Mariano Garcia