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Phi Delta Phi Council & Court 2018 - 2020
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Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Announces New President and Board of Directors

The International Legal Honor Society of Phi Delta Phi, a 150 year old law-student-based organization dedicated to the promotion of professionalism and civility in the practice of law, is pleased to announce the election of its International Officers for the 2018-2020 Biennium:  President Patricia Hodny, Vice President Alma Esperanza Santa Ana Vara, Director Michael Phillips, Director Javier Christian Súarez Torres, and Director Constance Mutong, who collectively will serve as members of Phi Delta Phi’s Board of Directors, known as its Council. Executive Director Tim Wheat will continue his service to Phi Delta Phi as an
ex officio member of the Council.  Also elected were three Justices of Phi Delta Phi’s Court of Appeals (its Board of Trustees):  Chief Justice Joseph F. Vitu, Jr., Justice Jeffrey Flint Buebendorf and Justice Julie Sumner. All officers were elected by the law student delegates during Phi Delta Phi’s 62nd General Convention held in San Antonio, Texas in August 2018.

President Patricia (Trish) Hodny, Esq., is the Interim Director of Externships and Seminar Instructor at the University of North Dakota School of Law, Grand Forks, ND.  She is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law and has been an active part of Phi Delta Phi in numerous leadership roles for twenty years to include Province President, Council Member, Magister, and Faculty Advisor.  

President Hodny is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of North Dakota and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and was certified to practice law in the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa’s Tribal Court.  Her previous legal experience includes prior positions as a Special Assistant Attorney General and a Special Assistant State’s Attorney with the Department of Human Services Child Support Enforcement Unit and Municipal Court Judge for the City of Lakota.  Public service and leadership have been themes in President Hodny’s life going back to her six years of active duty service as a United States Marine.

Besides her new role with Phi Delta Phi, President Hodny continues her work as a public servant through her work at the University of North Dakota School of Law, holding leadership roles in veterans organizations to include her years of service on the North Dakota Administrative Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and her recent appointed to serve as the Alternate Municipal Court Judge for the City of Grand Forks.

Vice President Alma E. Santa Ana Vara obtained her first law degree at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey School of Law. She also holds a Master of Laws with orientation in Amparo Law from Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León School of Law, a Master of Public Administration and Policy from New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and a Master of Laws with orientation in International Legal Studies from New York University School of Law. She has studied International Relations and Human Rights at Georgetown University, as well as U.S. Law with an orientation in Criminal Procedure and Immigration Law at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

Ms. Santa Ana is currently employed by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations as a Legal and Public Policy Adviser. Ms. Santa Ana is passionate about justice, good governance, and protection of human rights, and has focused her professional career on those areas.

She was recruited to join Phi Delta Phi’s García Rendón Inn at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, and eventually served as Magister (president). In 2011, she was honored to receive the Phi Delta Phi Graduate of the Year Award as the first Mexican law student to ever earn this distinction. Shortly after her graduation, the Council invited her to serve as Assistant Province President of Province 28 and then as Province President for that same Province. In 2015 she was elected to Council for the 2015-2018 triennium.

Council Member Mike Phillips is the Senior Director of Patient Advocacy and Housing Services at Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS). He received his law degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, where he later became the Staff Attorney for the School’s Patient Advocacy Program. He is a member of the VIP Mentors (Volunteers in Parole) program, which awarded him their 2009 Attorney of the Year Award for his work with mentoring recently incarcerated individuals. He is a member of the board and president of the San Diego Psych-Law Society.  

In his role as Senior Director at JFS, he provides instruction and training for the mental health community. He also manages permanent supportive housing programs throughout the Coachella Valley. He received the Patients’ Rights Advocate of the Year award from the California Association of Mental Health Patient’s Rights Advocates in 2009 and again in 2015. He received the Henrietta Rubenstein Staff Development Award (Employee of the Year) from Jewish Family Service in 2014. He was awarded the 2016 Šimanek Distinguished Service Award by the California Hospital Association, and he presents regularly at their statewide annual Behavioral Health Care Symposium.

Council Member Javier C. Suárez Torres is a Senior Manager at the Global Trade area of the international firm EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) in Monterrey, Mexico. He is a former federal law clerk for the Mexican Administrative Court and part of the first generation of Mexican judicial officers who devoted their endeavors exclusively to dispute resolution in foreign trade matters. Javier began his career at the Foreign Trade & Customs practice of Mexican tax giant Chevez Ruiz Zamarripa.

A graduate of the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL), he returned to Law School several years ago as a Professor of Law and has taught hundreds of Law students since that time. His areas of expertise and lecturing include matters of Customs Law, Tax Law, and Legal English. Professor Suárez has designed syllabi for various components of LL.B.’s latest curriculum at the UANL’s Law School including courses in Tax Law, Foreign Trade Law and Customs law. As part of his teaching related activities, professor Suárez participated as a speaker at the 2016 CEEAD Congress on Legal Education.

Professor Suárez has been active in Phi Delta Phi for more than seven years. He previously held the positions of Province President for Northern Mexico, Magister of the Monterrey Barrister Inn, and Magister of the Ayala Villarreal Inn, among others. He also serves as Coordinator of the Ethics Committee for ANADE in Nuevo León. ANADE is the largest bar association for corporate lawyers in Mexico.

Council Member Constance Mutong recently graduated from the Appalachian School of Law and was the first student member elected to Council in many years. She brings a wealth of experience to Phi Delta Phi, having recently served as a legal intern at Munro Leys, Fiji’s largest law firm.  Prior to her work in Fiji, Council Member Mutong was a legal intern for the Smyth County Circuit Court in Marion, Virginia, and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for dependent and neglected children in Buchanan County, Virginia. Before entering law school, Ms. Mutong, a graduate of the University of North Texas, was an Assistant Court Liaison and Mental Health Technician at Green Oaks Hospital in the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area.  

Council Member Mutong is the Deputy Chief Justice of the Honor Court of the Student Bar Association at Appalachian School of Law and a member of the National Black Law Students Association. She previously served as Secretary for the school's Federalist Society chapter and was a Small Group Leader for the “Life Hurts, God Heals” Teen Mentoring Program at her church.

Chief Justice Joseph F. Vitu, Jr. is the President of the Vitu Law Offices in Chicago, Illinois.  Justice Vitu has been in practice for over twenty years and concentrates on personal injury and real estate matters.  Prior to his current position, he was a trial lawyer with Ambrose and Cushing, P.C. in Chicago. In addition to representing clients, Justice Vitu serves as an arbitrator for the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Justice Vitu is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Creighton Law School.  While serving as Phi Delta Phi Magister (President) of Creighton Inn at the Law School, the Inn won Phi Delta Phi’s prestigious “Inn of the Year” Award.


Justice Julie Sumner is a speaker, trainer, attorney, and successful entrepreneur in the Cleveland/Akron, Ohio area.  A former partner at the prestigious Frantz Ward Firm in Cleveland, Ohio, Justice Sumner is currently of Counsel at Battle & Polly L.L.C. in Rocky River, Ohio. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of Capture Solutions, L.L.C. in Cleveland and is the principal and founder of Monarch Endeavors, L.L.C.  A graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Justice Sumner is a Phi Delta Phi former International Graduate of the Year.


Justice Jeffrey Flint Buebendorf is a partner at Brown Jacobson in Norwich, Connecticut.   As head of the firm’s Employment Practices Group, Justice Buebendorf’s experience in the area of employment law is significant.  He represents clients in Connecticut’s Superior, Appellate and Supreme Courts and appears regularly before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  He also provides representation on matters pending with the Connecticut and U.S. Departments of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Justice Buebendorf is a Martindale-Hubbell AV (superior) rated attorney and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.  He is a graduate of Hamilton College and the University of Connecticut School of Law (with honors).

Phi Delta Phi is the oldest legal organization in continuous existence in the United States and among the oldest of legal organizations in the world.  Founded in 1869 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Phi Delta Phi limits its membership to those who have demonstrated extraordinary intellect and who have achieved superior scholastic achievement in the study of law.  Dedicated to the principles of professionalism and civility in the practice of law, Phi Delta Phi has long shaped the ethical tone of the bar and counts numerous prominent legal figures among its members. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts of Canada, the United States of America, and the United Mexican States were all members of Phi Delta Phi.  With over 200,000 members worldwide, it is the largest legal organization in North America whose membership is limited to those law students with superior class rankings.