Focus on an AAAA Fellow

Kristy Blackwell
Arizona
Mary Ann Petrillo
Pennsylvania
Sherriann Hicks
Georgia
Kristy Blackwell Mary Ann Petrillo Sherriann Hicks
General Information: General Information: General Information:
1. Practice Affiliation: Stuart & Blackwell, PLLC (small firm, two lawyers/partners)

2. Year Admitted to the Bar: 2004

3. Prior Occupation: Retail Buyer

4. Law School: Arizona State University
1. Practice Affiliation: AAAA

2. Year Admitted to the Bar: 1983

3. Prior Occupation: student, tutor, salesperson

4. Law School: University of Pittsburgh School of Law
1. Practice Affiliation: The Hicks Law Group

2. Year Admitted to the Bar: 1995

3. Prior Occupation: none

4. Law School: University of Memphis
Your Law Practice: Your Law Practice: Your Law Practice:
1. What led you to a legal career? I wanted to help people in a more meaningful way than buying cosmetics to be sold in a major department store. I miss the free cosmetics dearly.

2. Did you set out to practice adoption law and/or ART law or was it a natural progression? I did not set out to practice adoption law. I excelled in and enjoyed my business and tax law course in school, however, I quickly realized I did not like the big firm environment or hours and I wanted to work with people rather than represent faceless corporations. Like many of the ///A attorneys, I practiced family law for a few years, but quickly realized that was not for me. I worked hard to grow the small adoption part of my practice into a full time adoption practice.

3. Is there a particular aspect of the law you enjoy most? Least? I enjoy the relationships I have made with other attorneys in my field and even the judges and commissioners that I appear in front of regularly. I love having clients send me holiday cards and thank you cards. It helps make up for the part that I like the least which is not being able to help a client who has a case or set of facts that are not favorable to our current set of laws. If I don’t think I can win a case for a client, I usually won’t take the case. Not just because I like to win (I really do like to win) but also because I do not like to take money from a client I am not able to help. I lose sleep over it.

4. What is your greatest accomplishment as a lawyer? Twice I have been able to help a client obtain a birth record and a birth certificate for a child who has none (both were teens by the time they came to me). This isn’t an easy task in my state and it requires evidence that can be difficult to obtain, followed by an evidentiary hearing. In Arizona we have many kids who do not exist on paper. It’s sad and can present them with a lifetime of problems. Neither of my clients had a birth certificate, or even a record of their birth (home births – followed by abandonment with a neighbor or relative) and thus no social security number. Both were of Hispanic decent, thus giving the Judge extra reason to be skeptical of their claim to having been born in the State of Arizona (rather than in Mexico). When the child cannot get a driver’s license, that’s the catalyst that usually gets them to at least start calling attorneys. However, at 16 the child cannot foresee the ongoing problems they would incur without any proof of identity throughout their lives. So – if it’s the driver’s license that gets them to my office, that’s great. These are the most grateful clients I’ve ever had & I proudly hang the homemade Certificate of Appreciation from one of them in my office. This girls said, “I never felt like I really existed until you helped me.” I’ll never forget her words.

5. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from practicing law? There is usually a solution to any problem and it is worth the effort to find it.

6. If you were starting over and choosing a career today, what would it be? Snorkel guide in Hawaii, which is clearly the best job on Earth.
1. What led you to a legal career? My aunt was a legal secretary in a small town in the 50s and 60's when many women did not have careers and I always thought it was cool to see the courthouse and her law firm. Then in high school I had a major crush on my legal education teacher who was a frustrated never went to law school kind of guy. Additionally, some jock told me that I couldn't be a lawyer because I was a girl. Well that nailed it!

2. Did you set out to practice adoption law and/or ART law or was it a natural progression? My husband and I became adoptive parents and I assisted Fellow Deborah Lesko in her practice and it became a natural progression.

3. Is there a particular aspect of the law you enjoy most? I have been told that I am a connector. Meaning that I have connected many families with children, elderly clients with needed services, advocated on behalf of foster kids and those in need, to strengthen their lives and overcome obstacles. I am a total social worker and bleeding heart liberal.

Least? I cannot stand lawyers who are churners who will refuse to settle a case so that they can drag out their bill. It is also frustrating when lawyers take ridiculous cases that they know are not supported by the law, just to make money.

4. What is your greatest accomplishment as a lawyer? There are three highlights that stand out in my mind: I was honored to receive the Angel In Adoption award in 2009; I was honored to serve as the president of the Board of Directors of our local county CASA Program; I was the first one to petition the court and convince our local judge to allow gay and lesbian adoptions in our county.

5. If you were starting over and choosing a career today, what would it be? A HGTV decorator with an unlimited budget who got to travel the world and rehab homes in the coolest locations, like Tahiti, Bali, etc.
1. What led you to a legal career? My Dad always encouraged me to be a lawyer. Fun fact, in college I went to eat lunch with my Dad and my fortune in the fortune cookie I received said you would make a great lawyer.

2. Did you set out to practice adoption law and/or ART law or was it a natural progression? No, I went to work for my uncle when I returned to Georgia after completing law school. After I passed the bar exam the first official hearing I participated in was an uncontested adoption. I literally wrote out all of the questions. Looking back I bet the adoptive parents were nervous wrecks! I started as a public defender and criminal defense attorney and transitioned into the area of adoption law. It was the best decision I ever made to take on representation of a local adoption agency. A friend of mine worked for the Agency and thought that I would be a good fit.

3. Is there a particular aspect of the law you enjoy most? I like to litigate and I love adoptions and enjoy working with birth mothers and with Adoptive Parents. I am entering into the ARTS field slowly and I am focusing right now on being an effective GC attorney. I considered being a GC for my sister so I really think I will enjoy this aspect of ARTS. 

4. What is your greatest accomplishment as a lawyer? I recently fought for 2 years to get my clients custody of their six grandchildren. The children had been placed in foster care and were in three different homes. The battle was long and difficult but the outcome was the highlight of my career.

5. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from practicing law? To always be nice and professional and to always prepare.

6. If you were starting over and choosing a career today, what would it be? I would choose to be an attorney.
What Makes You "Tick": What Makes You "Tick": What Makes You "Tick":
1. What would anyone be surprised to learn about you? I faint – easily. Please don’t call 911. I always wake up.

2. What was the very first job you ever had? Subway Sandwich Artist

3. What is your greatest personal accomplishment (if different from your professional one)? My kids (16) and (11). Somehow I haven’t screwed them up – yet.

4. Describe one of your most cherished memories. Finding my son (age 22) in June of 2016, who I placed for adoption when I was 16. He’s perfect and amazing and grateful for his loving adoptive family. He was so thrilled that I found him (he’d been looking for me too) & he tells me how much he loves me on a regular basis. His parents are also perfect and sweet and they have all welcomed me, my husband and my girls into their lives. We were all an instant bigger family. Only a few months after our reunion, my son and his new bride joined my family on our Fall Break vacation to California. Finding him was truly one of the best moments of my life. I feel like all is finally right in the world.

5. What contributions do you make to help others? Much to my law partners dismay, my many pro bono cases. So many good people are raising kids left to them by neighbors, friends, children. Many of them cannot afford to pay for the adoption, but they and their children deserve permanency. I’m a bit of bleeding heart for someone who is already doing something so great. I also contribute to Lifting Hands International, which is a Non-Profit Organization supporting refugees and is run by the sister of a really good friend. She has dedicated her life to helping Refugees and she lives off of the $20,000/yr salary paid to her through her Non-Profit. That was not a typo. $20k a year. She’s my hero.
 
6. What inspires you to go beyond your legal career to help others? I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. My grandfather taught me that. I have been so blessed with good family, a good career and good health. It seems entirely unfair that others have not been so blessed and I feel it is my obligation to pay it forward.

7. What would you like your gravestone to say about you? She loved a lot of people.
1. What would anyone be surprised to learn about you? That I took a class in college that allowed me to live in a tree house on Maho Bay in the US Virgin Island of St John for six months. Also that I took a 28 day bucket list cruise to Hawaii, the Samoan Islands and the islands of French Polynesia all by myself!

2. What was the very first job you ever had? At age 12 I babysat for a stockbrokers family of six kids for long weekends when they left for ski trips. The youngest was three months old and the oldest was 8.

3. What is your greatest personal accomplishment (if different from your professional one)? A thirty five year marriage with three kids where I still like my husband! I'm also proud that I've built a burgeoning practice which I can pass on to my younger partner. And of course, my two awesome grandchildren.

4. Describe one of your most cherished memories. The day I met all of my children whether it was through birth or adoption.

5. What contributions do you make to help others? I have contributed to various Board of Directors in an effort to give back to my community and to those who are the most vulnerable and in need.

6. What inspires you to go beyond your legal career to help others? A sense that I am here on earth to accomplish my destiny.

7. What would you like your gravestone to say about you? Mary Ann was a world traveler who loved her family and lived a blessed life.
1. What would anyone be surprised to learn about you? I do not like conflict. I would love to work for the innocence project and if I ever have enough money to use my law degree to help others for free I will do so.

2. What was the very first job you ever had? I worked in my cousin’s Montessori school.

3. What is your greatest personal accomplishment (if different from your professional one)? Raising 3 great kids. I am not done yet but they are really cool, good, and kind sweet souls.

4. Describe one of your most cherished memories. Travelling to Cape Cod with my family. One of my adoption clients gave me a free week in her home on Cape Cod in appreciation of my work helping her adopt her little girl. I had never seen that part of the country and it was beautiful. My kids and my husband and I spent a week in awe of the beauty of that part of the world. We went whale watching, climbed on the sand dunes at the National Seashore and had a wonderful time.

5. What contributions do you make to help others? I go on a yearly mission trip and participate in a number of community service outreach projects with my church. I also look for ways to help others when my voice can provide assistance.

6. What inspires you to go beyond your legal career to help others? My faith and my desire to give back to the community.

7. What would you like your gravestone to say about you? She always tried to be like Jesus. Love everyone, love always, never hate and only be a light in this dark world.