NORTH CAROLINA INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION

Help Line: (800) 688-8349, (919) 716-1700, or infospec@ic.nc.gov
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Deputy Commissioners' Biographies

The Deputy Commissioners serve as judges in hearings for contested cases.

The page was last updated on February 1, 2024.


DEPUTY COMMISSIONER INDEX

Chief Deputy Commissioner: Kevin V. Howell Senior Deputy Commissioner: Robert J. Harris
Deputy Commissioners: Elias W. Admassu | Mary Claire Brown | ToNola Brown-Bland | Michelle D. Denning |
Lori A. Gaines | Anne R. Harris | Celeste Harris | David Mark Hullender | Ashley M. Moore |
Thomas H. Perlungher | Layla T. Santa Rosa | Alexander Westwood "Wes" Saunders | Tiffany Mack Smith |
Erin F. Taylor | Carolyn J. Thompson | William B. Wallace | Patrick Wooten


Chief Deputy Commissioner's Biography

Kevin V. Howell

Kevin V. Howell joined the Industrial Commission as a Deputy Commissioner on December 30, 2016. He was designated Chief Deputy Commissioner effective February 1, 2024. Howell came to the Commission from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, where he served as General Counsel from 2015-16. Prior to entering State government in 2013 with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Howell practiced criminal defense and general civil litigation at the law firm he started in 2009.

Howell graduated summa cum laude from North Carolina State University with undergraduate degrees in Biological Sciences and Political Science. He earned his J.D. from Campbell University School of Law, where he completed the Advocacy Track and was a member of several trial advocacy teams.

Howell, his wife, and son earned first degree black belts in taekwondo in 2019, and they continue to train in the martial art. Howell is also an assistant Scoutmaster in his son’s Scout troop.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Howell at Kevin.Howell@ic.nc.gov or contact his paralegal, Diane Ball, at (919) 807-2515 or Diane.Ball@ic.nc.gov.

Senior Deputy Commissioner's Biography

Robert J. Harris

Chairman Philip Baddour, III named Robert J. Harris as Senior Deputy Commissioner, effective March 1, 2019.

Harris was born in Cincinnati in 1967 and moved to North Carolina at 20 months of age. He grew up in Raleigh and went to high school there, also attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

He received his B.A. degree in English and philosophy from Yale University in 1989. Returning to North Carolina, he lived and worked as a newspaper reporter in Johnston County for nearly two years. He then went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law, from which he graduated with his J.D. degree in 1994.

From 1994 through his joining the N.C. Industrial Commission in 2003, he practiced law in Raleigh, concentrating in employment law. With the Industrial Commission, he served as a Special Deputy Commissioner until his appointment as a Deputy Commissioner in 2005.

He is married and has two children.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Harris at Robert.Harris@ic.nc.gov or contact chief legal assistant, Sandra Cortes, at (919) 807-2529 or Sandra.Cortes@ic.nc.gov.

Deputy Commissioners' Biographies

Elias W. Admassu

Elias W. Admassu was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission beginning February 27, 2023.

Admassu brings considerable workers’ compensation experience to the Commission, having litigated claims before the Industrial Commission from 2009 through 2020 while representing employers and insurers. He also has significant employment law and governmental experience, having served in important advisory roles in the Chief Counsel’s Office of the North Carolina Division of Employment Security and as counsel to the Human Resources and General Counsel’s Office of the North Carolina Department of Justice over the past few years. Immediately prior to joining the Industrial Commission, Admassu was a Special Deputy Attorney General responsible for representing the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in complex employment, labor, disability, and constitutional law litigation in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies.

Admassu earned his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Admassu at Elias.Admassu@ic.nc.gov or contact his legal assistant, Stacey Rush, at (919) 807-2669 or Stacey.Rush@ic.nc.gov.

Mary Claire Brown

Mary Claire Brown was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner on February 16, 2018. Brown was previously in private practice with Hedrick Gardner, practicing in the fields of liability and workers' compensation. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Texas, and her Juris Doctor from Campbell University School of Law. During law school, she held internships or externships at the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, and with the North Carolina Hospital Association. Brown serves her community as a Safe Alliance Pro Bono Attorney, providing legal counsel to victims of domestic violence, and as a member of the Junior League of Charlotte's Training and Development Committee.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Brown at Mary.Claire.Brown@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Amanda Yzquierdo, at (980) 523-9987 or Amanda.Yzquierdo@ic.nc.gov.

ToNola Brown-Bland

ToNola Brown-Bland was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission beginning January 2, 2024.

Brown-Bland brings considerable State government service and courtroom experience to the Industrial Commission. Prior to serving as a Commissioner on the North Carolina Utilities Commission from July 2009 until December 2023, she worked as an attorney for the Utilities Commission and served as Associate General Counsel for the Greensboro City Attorney’s Office. Brown-Bland also has private sector legal experience, having served as Senior Corporate Counsel for Lucent Technologies, Inc. and having worked in a law firm, where she engaged in civil litigation and handled appeals to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court.

Brown-Bland earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her J.D. from Duke University School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Brown-Bland at ToNola Brown-Bland@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Jonathan Benimana, at (919) 807-2543 or jonathan.benimana@ic.nc.gov.

Michelle D. Denning

Michelle D. Denning was appointed as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission in March 2022.

Prior to her appointment as a Deputy Commissioner, Denning served in various capacities at the Industrial Commission and other State agencies that interact with the Commission for 16 years. Denning joined the Industrial Commission in 2006, serving for nine years in multiple roles including Full Commission Law Clerk, Legal Counsel to the Chairman, and Special Deputy Commissioner. In 2015, Denning joined the N.C. Department of Justice as an Assistant Attorney General, where she represented the Industrial Commission in noninsured cases and penalty enforcement matters and later represented the N.C. Department of Public Safety (DPS) in workers’ compensation litigation. In 2018, Denning moved to DPS as Assistant General Counsel where she managed workers’ compensation cases on behalf of the agency. In 2019, Denning returned to the Industrial Commission as General Counsel.

Denning earned her undergraduate degree from Meredith College and her J.D. from Regent University School of Law. She also holds a North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission mediation certification (inactive status).

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Denning at Michelle.Denning@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Kristen Hughes, at (919) 807-2518 or Kristen.Hughes@ic.nc.gov.

Lori A. Gaines

Lori A. Gaines joined the Industrial Commission in August 2015 after working in private practice with the Lea Schultz Law Firm in Wilmington. Gaines has more than 15 years of legal experience in workers' compensation, criminal defense, and family law matters. Gaines' previous experience includes handling workers' compensation issues for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and serving as the Family Court Administrator in Wilmington.

She is a past president of the New Hanover County Bar Association and was appointed to the Commission on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake. Gaines is a graduate of both the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Campbell University School of Law. Gaines is married with four adult children.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Gaines at Lori.Gaines@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Kyle Jones, at (910) 862-6011 or Kyle.Jones@ic.nc.gov.

Anne R. Harris

Anne R. Harris was appointed as a Deputy Commissioner of the North Carolina Industrial Commission in March 2022. Before joining the Commission, Harris was in private practice concentrating in the area of workers’ compensation law. She also served as an elder law and estate planning attorney. While practicing law, Harris was a North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission certified mediator. She also was certified as a specialist in the area of workers' compensation law by the North Carolina State Bar.

Harris grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a graduate of Emory & Henry College in Emory, VA, and earned her J.D. at Wake Forest University School of Law. She also earned an L.L.M. (Master of Laws Degree) in Elder Law with honors from Stetson University in Deland, Florida.

Harris lives in Greensboro and enjoys spending time with family, traveling, dogs, gardening, and is a self-described music buff.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Harris at Anne.Harris@ic.nc.gov or contact her Legal Assistant, Stacey Rush, at (919) 807-2669 or Stacey.Rush@ic.nc.gov.

Celeste Harris

Celeste Harris was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner on April 5, 2021. Prior to joining the Commission, Harris was a partner at the law firm of Maynard & Harris, where she represented individuals in workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability claims. While practicing law, Harris was a Dispute Resolution Commission certified mediator. Harris has been a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in workers’ compensation law since 2000.

Prior to practicing law, Harris worked as a registered nurse in the surgical ICU for a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Missouri, first as a staff nurse and later as head nurse. She earned her law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law, attending Wake Forest University School of Law during her third-year.

Harris lives in Winston-Salem and enjoys spending time in Sparta, North Carolina on the Little River. She has three adult children, a grandchild, and three grand dogs.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Harris at Celeste.Harris@ic.nc.gov or contact her Legal Assistant, Stacey Rush, at (919) 807-2669 or Stacey.Rush@ic.nc.gov.

David Mark Hullender

David Mark Hullender joined the Industrial Commission on April 20, 2015, after winding down his private practice with the firm of David M. Hullender, P.A. in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Prior to starting his own firm, Hullender was an associate with George B. Thomasson, P.A. from 1990 until 2001. Hullender served on the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services Commission and is the former chairman of the Kings Mountain ABC Board. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, North Carolina Central University Law School, magna cum laude, and earned an LL.M in Taxation from the University of Florida School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Hullender at Mark.Hullender@ic.nc.gov or contact his legal assistant, Amanda Yzquierdo, at (980) 523-9987 or Amanda.Yzquierdo@ic.nc.gov.

Ashley M. Moore

Ashley M. Moore was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner on July 3, 2018. She had previously served as a Full Commission Law Clerk. Prior to joining the Industrial Commission, Moore had practiced law in Wake County. Moore earned her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned her J.D. from the North Carolina Central University School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Moore at Ashley.Moore@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Kristen Hughes, at (919) 807-2518 or Kristen.Hughes@ic.nc.gov.

Thomas H. Perlungher

Thomas H. Perlungher was appointed as a Deputy Commissioner on April 23, 2015. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont and earned his J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law in 2002. He had previously served as a Full Commission Law Clerk.

Before joining the Commission, Perlungher was a Hearing Officer at the Division of Employment Security; and from 2004 to 2008, he served as an Assistant District Attorney in North Carolina's 8th District, where he prosecuted cases in Wayne, Lenoir, and Greene counties. Prior to his work as an Assistant District Attorney in North Carolina, he practiced Real Estate law in Massachusetts from 2002 to 2004.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Perlungher at Thomas.Perlungher@ic.nc.gov or contact his legal assistant, Kyle Jones, at (910) 862-6011 or Kyle.Jones@ic.nc.gov.

Layla T. Santa Rosa

Layla T. Santa Rosa was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner in January 2019. Prior to her appointment as a Deputy Commissioner, Santa Rosa served the Industrial Commission in several capacities, including Law Clerk to the Full Commission and as a Special Deputy Commissioner. Santa Rosa also practiced at the law firm of McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, where she litigated workers’ compensation claims for six years.

Santa Rosa graduated magna cum laude from Peace College and earned her Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she was a staff member of the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Santa Rosa at Layla.Santarosa@ic.nc.gov or contact her contact legal assistant, Jonathan Benimana, at (919) 807-2543 or Jonathan.Benimana@ic.nc.gov.

Alexander Westwood "Wes" Saunders

Wes Saunders was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner on May 17, 2021. Prior to joining the Commission, Saunders was an Assistant Attorney General at the North Carolina Department of Justice where he represented State agencies in workers’ compensation cases and represented the State in criminal and civil cases before the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court.

A Winston-Salem native, Saunders earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his law degree from Campbell University School of Law.

In his spare time, Saunders volunteers with the Campbell Law Connections Mentorship Program, serves on the board of directors of his church, and fosters rescue dogs. Saunders lives in Raleigh with his wife, Laura

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Saunders at Wes.Saunders@ic.nc.gov or contact his Paralegal, Amanda Yzquierdo, at (980) 523-9987 or Amanda.Yzquierdo@ic.nc.gov.

Tiffany Mack Smith

Tiffany Mack Smith began her term as a Deputy Commissioner with the North Carolina Industrial Commission in November of 2020. Before joining the Commission, she practiced with Wallace & Graham, P.A. in Salisbury, North Carolina and Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, P.A. in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a practicing attorney, she primarily focused on workers’ compensation, social security disability and civil litigation.

Smith grew up in Salisbury, North Carolina. She received a B.A. and a B.S. from Western Carolina University where she graduated magna cum laude with a major in Criminal Justice and Spanish and a minor in Business Law. She received her Juris Doctor from North Carolina Central University School of Law where she served as the Executive Editor of the North Carolina Central Law Review and graduated cum laude.

Smith is a member of the North Carolina State Bar, the John S. Leary Association of Black Attorneys and the Salisbury Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.

In her spare time, Smith loves spending time with her husband, Quincy, and her son, Kailo, as well as with family and friends. She also enjoys coaching youth track and field.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Smith at Tiffany.Smith@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Crystal Snow, at (980) 523-9988 or Crystal.Snow@ic.nc.gov.

Erin F. Taylor

Erin F. Taylor was appointed as a Deputy Commissioner effective October 7, 2019. Taylor joins the Commission after practicing law at the law firm of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP in both their Charlotte and Raleigh offices. Taylor's practice focused on workers' compensation law. She represented clients in hundreds of claims before the Commission over the last two decades.

Taylor grew up in High Point, North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She graduated from Campbell University School of Law in 1999, where she was an academic scholarship recipient. Taylor lives in Charlotte with her husband and two children. She will be hearing cases assigned to the Charlotte Regional Office.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Taylor at Erin.Taylor@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Crystal Snow, at (980) 523-9988 or Crystal.Snow@ic.nc.gov.

Carolyn J. Thompson

Carolyn J. Thompson was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission beginning January 2, 2023.

Prior to her appointment as a Deputy Commissioner, Thompson served as a District Court judge and then as a Resident Superior Court judge in the 9th Judicial District of North Carolina for a total of nine years.

In addition to her prior judicial service, Thompson has over 16 years of litigation experience in both civil and criminal matters. While practicing law, Thompson also served as a certified mediator in Superior Court cases and Family Financial Settlement Disputes.

Thompson earned her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Thompson at Carolyn.Thompson@ic.nc.gov or contact her legal assistant, Sandra Cortes, at (919) 807-2529 or sandra.cortes@ic.nc.gov.

William B. Wallace

William B. Wallace was appointed to serve as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission beginning March 13, 2023.

Wallace has significant workers’ compensation experience in the private sector, having practiced workers’ compensation law since 1998 and having represented both plaintiffs and defendants in workers’ compensation cases. While in the private sector, Wallace also represented clients in a variety of other legal matters including third-party liability claims stemming from workplace injuries, contract disputes, and other civil litigation.

Wallace is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in workers’ compensation law, and while practicing law he served as a North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission certified mediator. He also is a former Chair of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Section, and when North Carolina adopted the Uniform Bar Examination, he served on the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners’ committee that formulated the Workers’ Compensation portion of the North Carolina-specific component of the exam. Wallace is fluent in Spanish, as well.

Wallace earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Wallace at William.Wallace@ic.nc.gov or contact his legal assistant, Crystal Snow at (980) 523-9988 or Crystal.Snow@ic.nc.gov.

Patrick S. Wooten

Patrick S. Wooten was appointed as a Deputy Commissioner for the North Carolina Industrial Commission in May 2022.

Prior to his appointment as a Deputy Commissioner, Wooten served in the Workers' Compensation Section of the North Carolina Department of Justice as a Special Deputy Attorney General since 2003. During his time at the Department of Justice, Wooten litigated complex workers' compensation claims on behalf of numerous State agencies, departments, and institutions and represented State agencies seeking statutory workers' compensation lien recovery from third-party cases in Superior Court. He also performed substantial appellate work, including representing the State in workers' compensation and criminal appeals at the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court.

Prior to joining the Department of Justice in 2003, Wooten worked as a Law Clerk and Research Assistant for North Carolina Supreme Court Justice G.K. Butterfield, Jr.

Wooten earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law.

E-mail Deputy Commissioner Wooten at Patrick.Wooten@ic.nc.gov or contact his legal assistant, Jonathan Benimana at (919) 807-2543 or jonathan.benimana@ic.nc.gov.


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