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3 Akron legal professionals inducted into OSBF fellows class

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 15, 2021

Two Akron Municipal Court magistrates and a seasoned Akron associate are among the 21 attorneys recently inducted into the Ohio State Bar Foundation’s (OSBF) honorary fellows programs.
The ceremony was held virtually on June 23, with OSBF President Velda K. Hofacker officially welcoming members of this year’s fellows class, which includes magistrates Jennifer Towell and Kani Hightower and Brouse McDowell attorney Kyle Shelton.
In a press release, Hofacker stated, “We are very proud of our 2021 Fellows. They are outstanding lawyers and people who are committed to community service. They will come together this year to create a Fellows Week of Service that will enable the more than one thousand Fellows around the state to make a difference in their communities.”
For Akron Municipal Court magistrates Towell and Hightower, who serve part-time and split the court’s eviction and small claims dockets, being part of the same fellows class provides them with yet another chance to collaborate.
“We work very well together,” said Hightower. “We both hear eviction cases and bring to the group our unique perspectives on the eviction crisis. We are also both committed to community service and we will be able to accomplish many positive things.”
“I am super excited to be part of this class, whose mission and past projects speak to me personally,” said Towell. “I believe I will be able to utilize my unique background experiences to help give back to the legal community in a meaningful manner.”
Brouse McDowell associate Kyle Shelton said he’s looking forward to working on this year’s mission, which focuses on the rights and issues that are important to the LGBTQ+ community.
“We will be putting together a meaningful program for our upcoming summit during the week of service that seeks to educate legal professionals and the community at large about the many challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals,” said Shelton, a commercial litigator who works out of the firm’s Akron office.
“As attorneys I believe we are uniquely situated to effect positive change in our community,” he said. “My goal is to leave things better for future generations.”
Born in Anna, Ohio, Shelton received his bachelor’s degree in history and political science and his juris doctorate from The Ohio State University.
He’s worked at Brouse McDowell almost exclusively since starting in 2014.
“I left briefly in the summer of 2020 to explore insurance defense, but I quickly realized that commercial litigation is what I enjoy doing,” said Shelton. “Luckily I was able to return to Brouse McDowell.”
A member of the Akron and Ohio State bar associations, Shelton serves on the Akron Zoo Paw committee, where he works with other young professionals to support the zoo’s conservation efforts through community outreach, education and fundraisers.
He’s also a former member of the elevation planning committee at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“When I first found out I had been chosen as a fellow, I was a little nervous because the OSBF sets a high bar for community engagement and outreach,” said Shelton. “Every new incoming class has to measure itself against past successes.
“But I think this year’s class is looking forward to taking on the challenge and I believe that our programs this year are going to have a lasting effect on the communities we’re seeking to serve.”
Hightower, who took the bench as a magistrate in January 2020, brings a combination of academic and practical experience to the OSBF fellows class.
Raised in Stow, Hightower received her bachelor’s degree in English, with a concentration in paralegal studies from Kent State University.
During the final portion of her undergraduate studies, she became clerk of council for the city of Aurora. During her time with the city, she earned the designation of certified municipal clerk.
She started as a senior paralegal and law clerk at Lynda Harvey Williams & Associates while attending Akron Law. After obtaining her law degree in 2008, she was hired as a full-time associate at the firm.
It was around the same time that she became a senior lecturer at Akron Law.
From January 2009 through 2019, she was an adjunct professor at the law school. She was also the bar exam coordinator for a number of years and started and ran the summer writing center.
A member of the Akron and Ohio State bar associations, Hightower has served on the Akron Bar Association’s Board of Trustees. She’s also chaired the Akron Bar Association’s Juvenile Court Committee and is a former member of the Grievance Investigative Subcommittee.
Hightower is currently a member of the Akron Bar Association’s Bar Applicants and Students Committee and is the District 9 trustee for the Ohio Women’s Bar Association.
She is also a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. and serves as the parliamentarian for Jack and Jill of America Inc.’s Akron Chapter.
“Jack and Jill of America Inc. is a group of mothers who work on community projects that are designed to teach Black youth how to become good stewards and productive members of society,” said Hightower who has one adult and two school-aged children.
Hightower also volunteers at local soup kitchens and food pantries.
As a newly inducted fellow, she said she’s looking forward to “joining other like-minded individuals in promulgating and supporting issues that will result in positive change.
“I believe that the more successful you are in life, especially for those who look like me, the more responsibility you have to give back in ways that can help others to achieve success,” said Hightower.
In the case of Towell, she spent the bulk of her early legal career in the U.S. Navy JAGS Corps.
Born in Alliance, Nebraska, Towell’s family moved to Dayton, Ohio when she was in sixth grade. She received her bachelor’s degree in English Secondary Education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, working as a substitute teacher in the area before starting at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
While a rising 3L, she was sworn in as a Navy JAG Corps officer. After receiving her juris doctorate in 2000 and completing her training, she was sent to the Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C., where she served as a Naval legal service officer from 2001-2004.
After being promoted to the rank of lieutenant, Towell spent the majority of her time as a criminal defense attorney representing sailors and marines in contested cases involving charges of rape, assault, indecent acts with a child, fraud against the government, attempted murder and a variety of military offenses.
During her time in the JAG Corps, she also met her husband Thomas, owner of Dave Towell Cadillac in Akron. The two were married in October 2004, after she completed her placement in Washington D.C. and moved to Akron.
Upon passing the Ohio bar, Towell became an associate at Brouse McDowell.
She also worked for LexisNexis, first as an e-discovery consultant and later as director of e-discovery affairs.
Towell was initially hired as a visiting magistrate at the Akron Municipal Court in August 2019. She began hearing cases the following month and was promoted to small claims magistrate on Dec. 23, 2019.
Towell, whose son Joey has Down syndrome has become an advocate for organizations that work with children who have physical and intellectual disabilities.
For the last seven years, she’s been the Akron coordinator for Buddy Up Tennis, a national program that offers adaptive tennis and fitness programs to children and young adults with Down syndrome.
She also recently finished serving two terms on the board of Victory Gallop, a nonprofit organization that provides personalized therapeutic and recreational horseback riding programs to children with behavioral and/or emotional challenges and life-threatening illnesses.
Towell is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association’s Litigation Section and the Akron Bar Association’s Bench-Bar Committee (formerly the Common Pleas, Municipal & Appellate Courts Committee).
Most recently she became a member of ATHENA Akron Inc., a nonprofit that provides leadership development programming to women leaders in the Akron regional area.
“As a fellow, I am very excited to connect with other legal professionals around the state and work together to give back to the community,” said Towell. “I am on the committee that is putting together this year’s summit during the week of service in April 2022.
“We will have speakers and resources that help raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues around Ohio. We hope to get the message out to LGBTQ+ residents of Ohio, especially in rural communities about where they can turn for legal services,” said Towell.
“We also are working on planning educational programming for legal professionals and courts revolving around current LGBTQ+ topics.”