Monika Kalra Varma, Esq.
Monika has dedicated her career to human rights and social justice work. Before relocating to California, Monika spent five years serving as the Executive Director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, the largest provider of pro bono legal services in the District of Columbia serving 20,000 individuals, nonprofit organizations and small businesses. Under her leadership, revenue increased by over twenty percent and the organization developed its first strategic plan in over twenty years. During Monika’s tenure, the Pro Bono Center received several awards including, the American Bar Association’s Harrison Tweed Award for long term excellence in increasing access to justice. Monika was also one of four members of the D.C. Bar’s executive team, setting the strategic direction and policies for the $37 million organization with 100,000 members.
Monika previously served as the Director of the Center for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights which partnered with social movement leaders domestically and internationally, providing long-term advocacy, legal and direct programming support. Her work at the RFK Center included ensuring a right to health in Haiti, ending untouchability in India, rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina, increasing access to justice in Chad, and stopping modern-day slave labor conditions faced by migrant farm workers in Florida. Prior to the RFK Center, Monika worked as an associate legal officer with the Office of the Prosecutor at the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where her trial team secured the Tribunal’s first conviction of the crime of terror against General Stanislav Galić, the Serb military commander in Sarajevo from 1992-1994.
When she moved to California, Monika founded The Ambika Project, an executive leadership and organizational consulting group. Providing holistic support, she helped organizations and their leaders move from reacting to daily crises to centering and tapping into their insight, creativity and strategies.
Monika is the recipient of the 2016 South Asian Bar Association’s Public Interest Achievement Award. Monika is married to attorney Anurag Varma. They have an eight year old daughter and five year old twin boys. Monika enjoys writing children’s books that inspire the next generation of social movement leaders and change agents.
Elisa Della-Piana, esq.
Elisa Della-Piana joins the Lawyers’ Committee as Legal Director from her seven year tenure at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). Elisa was the Director of Programs at EBCLC since 2013, and supervised all of their five major program areas: Immigration, Education, Defense and Justice for Youth, Housing, Economic Security and Opportunity, and Health & Welfare. She also led litigation to vindicate the rights of low-income clients and much of EBCLC’s policy work, including co-authoring, with the Lawyers’ Committee and others, the report Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, and assisted with the passage of five bills co-sponsored in 2015 in the California Legislature. Prior to directing all programs, she directed the Neighborhood Justice Clinic, EBCLC’s satellite office in Berkeley, and supervised the General Legal Clinic, the Consumer Law Clinic, and homeless rights work.
Elisa is a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, where her best experiences were interning at the Coalition on Homelessness, the East Bay Community Law Center, and the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office. After graduation, she clerked for Judge David F. Levi, Eastern District of California, and Judge Betty B. Fletcher, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Elisa then spent four years with the Lawyers’ Committee, with funding from a Bingham McCutcheon Equal Justice Works Fellowship and a Soros Justice Fellowship. As a fellow, she supported impact litigation, including the successful class action suit Kincaid v. City of Fresno, provided individual representation to low-income clients, and worked on policy issues and other legal matters through the Homeless Rights Project.
DAVID SALNIKER, ESQ.
David Salniker brings an extensive background in nonprofit management and civil rights law to the Lawyers’ Committee. Prior to joining LCCR in 2013, David served as the Director of Administration and Finance for the Equal Justice Society (EJS). He assisted in the formation of EJS as an independent 501 (c)(3) and served on its senior management team for over ten years.
From 1996 to 2003, David served as the Executive Director of the Tides Center, a unique organization promoting social change by providing fiscal sponsorship to over 350 projects located in 40 different states and six countries. As Executive Director of the Tides Center, he also served as a member of the executive council responsible for the planning and oversight of the entire Tides family of organizations, including the Tides Foundation, Groundspring, the Thoreau Center and the Community Clinics Initiative.
David was initially a practicing attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law. He is one of the original members of the National Lawyers Guild Affirmative Action Committee formed in 1978. For many years, David served as the Guild’s representative to the Northern California Coalition for Civil Rights. He was a member of the steering committee of ‘No on 209′ – a campaign committee seeking to oppose a ballot initiative to end affirmative action in California.
David is a former treasurer of the ACLU of Northern California and currently serves as Treasurer of Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial. He served for 14 years as the General Manager of KPFA and Executive Director of Pacifica Radio.
David has a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt) and a Masters of Law (in Labor Law) from New York University School of Law.
Mark joins the Lawyers’ Committee as its new Development Director. Formerly a teacher and a community health outreach worker, Mark comes to LCCR with nearly two decades of experience in the non-profit sector in health and education. With the desire to participate meaningfully in global social justice movements, Mark has focused his career on work to eliminate structural inequalities, both domestically and internationally.
In his most recent role, he served as Director of Development for Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), a Bay Area-based organization that works to improve rural health access in under-resourced HIV hotspots in southern Africa. In that position, he led a four-person development staff and worked in conjunction with executive leadership and a national board to raise $3M annually through diverse institutional and individual funders. Previous to that role, Mark was responsible for GAIA’s grant research, development, submission and reporting in the position of Program Officer and Grants Manager.
Prior to his work at GAIA, Mark was a visiting fellow in English Literature and Composition at a university in Eastern Turkey and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania (2007-09), where he trained English Teachers and consulted with the Ministry of Education to develop English teaching curricula. He has worked as an HIV outreach worker and HIV testing counselor in the LGBTQ community in California, Ohio and Louisiana. Mark began his professional career with Teach For America, teaching fourth grade in rural Louisiana. Mark has a Master’s degree in English from San Francisco State University, specializing in teaching English to speakers of other languages, and a Master’s degree in English, focused in 20th century literature and critical theory, from The Ohio State University.
In fundraising, Mark has found the confluence of many of his passions – research, writing, public speaking, networking and community building, and social service missions. He’s passionate about “taking the fear out of fundraising,” making development inclusive and accessible (fun even!) with the aim that everyone has equal opportunity to experience the fulfillment of philanthropy and participate in social change.
Mark lives in Vallejo with his husband. When not at work, you’ll find him taking jogs, reading, baking and taking on new (beginner) sewing projects.
DEBORAH ESCOBEDO, ESQ.
Senior Attorney, Racial Justice
Deborah Escobedo has joined LCCR’s Racial Justice team as a Senior Attorney with primary responsibility for leading the organization’s educational equity initiatives and overseeing our direct services education clinic. Deborah comes to the Lawyers’ Committee with an extensive and accomplished background in Education Law.
During the past year, Deborah was a partner at Garcia Hernández Sawhney, LLP where she worked with the firm’s school disrightt and nonprofit organization clients. Formerly, she served for 10 years as an attorney for the Youth Law Center (YLC) where she worked to protect the rights of foster care and juvenile justice youth. She also served as a consultant for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and trained detention staff around the country on improving educational services for detained youth.
Prior to YLC, Deborah was involved in broad range of litigation, administrative and legislative advocacy on educational equity issues, with a focus on the rights of English Learner (EL) and immigrant students. She participated in litigation challenging statewide anti-immigrant initiatives, including Proposition 187 (Pedro A. v. Dawson) and Proposition 227 (Angel V. v. Davis), and she served as lead counsel in Pazmiño v. Cal. Board of Ed., one of the first successful cases brought under “No Child Left Behind,” which challenged the exclusion of EL students from participation in a federally funded reading program.
Deborah is the recipient of the National Hispanic Bar Association Award of Excellence in Public Service; the San Francisco Minority Bar Coalition Unity Award; and the California La Raza Lawyers Association Cruz Reynoso Community Service Award.
Sushil jacob, ESQ.
Senior Attorney, Economic Justice
As Senior Staff Attorney for Economic Justice, Sushil Jacob is responsible for developing the organization’s strategy to promote laws and policies that will advance democracy and civil rights in the economy. He also oversees the Legal Services for Entrepreneurs program and its staff.
Prior to joining the Lawyers’ Committee, Sushil co-founded the Tuttle Law Group, where he represented cooperative and democratic enterprises of all types, including worker cooperatives, employee-owned trusts and cooperative conversions. After obtaining his J.D. from Berkeley Law in 2011, Sushil worked at the East Bay Community Law Center, where he founded the community economic development clinic, which assisted clients in launching green, worker-owned cooperatives. Prior to attending law school, Sushil worked in India on community economic development projects, including Just Change, a cooperative of small farmers and indigenous peoples groups in South India. Sushil serves on the board of the Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union and the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
Bree Bernwanger ESQ.
Senior Attorney, Immigrant Justice
Bree Bernwanger oversees LCCR’s pro bono asylum representation project and leads its immigration-related impact litigation and policy advocacy. She joined LCCR from the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School, where she directed the New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children & Immigrant Families Project. In 2016, she served as Managing Attorney of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which provides pro bono representation to asylum-seeking women and children detained in Dilley, Texas. Before joining Fordham, Bree taught and supervised students handling immigration and family law cases in Albany Law School’s clinical program. She began her career as a litigation associate at Sidley Austin LLP and as a legal fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union. Bree is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Georgetown Law.
Staff Attorney – Legal Services for Entrepreneurs*
As Staff Attorney – Legal Services for Entrepreneurs*, Tobias is responsible for providing transactional legal services to low-income and other small businesses, particularly serving communities of color, under the supervision of the Senior Staff Attorney. Tobias also oversees coordination of small business legal clinics and workshops, and cultivates partnerships with pro bono attorneys and community partners serving minority-owned and low-income small businesses.
Before joining the Lawyers’ Committee, Tobias worked as a business immigration attorney in New York City and provided pro bono advice at community immigration clinics. He is passionate about economic justice and has a longstanding interest in working with and for immigrant communities. Tobias’ experience includes volunteer work on asylum applications, community organizing as a summer intern in Boston Chinatown around luxury condo development, and research on European Union and UK law for an immigrants’ rights guide in Northern Ireland. Before law school, Tobias worked as a translator in Berlin, Germany and volunteered with the local Amnesty International chapter’s Asylum Group.
*Registered Legal Services Attorney
Staff Attorney – Immigrant Justice
Flora joined LCCR in March 2018. Flora’s practice at LCCR focuses on representing clients seeking asylum, and representing immigrant children in guardianship, family law and immigration proceedings. Prior to joining LCCR, Flora was in-house counsel at a non-profit that supports documentaries that explore pressing social issues. During her time at UC Berkeley School of Law, she represented asylum-seekers through clinical programs and worked on juvenile justice and detention issues.
Flora is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) and the National Lawyers’ Guild (NLG), and is Vice Chair on the Board of the Pride Law Fund.
Flora is a world-traveler whose journey began in Brazil. She is proud to be a Latinx immigrant. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French and English.
Matthew Kovac is a writer and digital strategist from Chicago. He previously worked with the government watchdog group Progress Michigan to hold state officials accountable for the Flint Water Crisis. He also worked on the campaign to cancel the State of Michigan’s $145 million Aramark contract over the corporation’s health and safety violations in state prisons.
As a journalist, Matt has investigated wrongful convictions with the Chicago Innocence Center and covered race and poverty issues for The Chicago Reporter magazine. His work has been featured by AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Common Dreams, RESIST, and Truthout. The Society of Professional Journalists named him a National Finalist for its 2013 Mark of Excellence Award in Online Opinion and Commentary.
Matt recently completed his master’s degree in modern European history at the University of Oxford, where he researched veterans’ political activism after the First World War. He previously studied journalism and history at Northwestern University, where he was editor-in-chief of The Protest magazine.
Special Assistant to the Executive Director
Karen Shain serves as special assistant to the executive director at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. She started at Lawyers’ Committee in April 2018.
Before that, Karen served as Reentry Policy Planner in the Reentry Division of San Francisco’s Adult Probation Department for three and a half years. She was responsible for convening San Francisco’s Reentry Council and the Community Corrections Partnership.
Prior to going to San Francisco County, she worked at the Women’s Foundation of California from February 2013 to October 2014 where she was responsible for developing and leading the Foundation’s criminal justice state and county policy work. She applied her policy knowledge and relationship building skills to helping develop statewide policies that would change California’s over-reliance on incarceration, while providing more support for services to our state’s most vulnerable women and families.
From 1995 to February 2013, Karen worked at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), starting as office manager, then as co-director and finally as policy director leading LSPC’s legislative agenda. While there, she supervised the initiation of the Habeas Project of California, a statewide collaborative effort to provide counsel to incarcerated survivors of intimate partner battery. She also participated in developing legislative policies to allow a process for retrial for those survivors who were unable to provide evidence of the impact of intimate partner battery in their original trials and successfully advocated to end the shackling of pregnant prisoners.
Karen started visiting women prisoners in 1976 as a participant in a women’s prisoner project at University of California at Santa Cruz. A published author, she has written chapters included in The 21st Century Motherhood Movement: Mothers Speak Out on Why We Need to Change the World and How to Do It (Demeter Press) and Incarcerated Mothers (Demeter Press). She has worked extensively in the women’s and lesbian movements in the San Francisco Bay Area, and currently serves as chair of the board of Essie Justice Group, a national organization serving women with incarcerated loved ones. She is also on the steering committee of San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SFCIPP).
Jaime Pensabene joined the Lawyers’ Committee in April 2016. He supports the Executive Assistant. Prior to joining Lawyers’ Committee, Jaime worked for PENSCO Trust Company in several administrative, operational, and client interfacing capacities. A native San Franciscan, Jaime earned his Bachelor of Arts in both Latin American Studies and Spanish at the University of San Diego.
Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Fellow
Jude Pond began a two-year tenure as LCCR’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Fellow in September 2016. Awarded to an attorney who has practiced for a minimum of two years and has demonstrated a commitment to civil rights, the fellowship is designed to enhance the fellow’s understanding of civil rights law and prepare the fellow for a career promoting social justice.
With a focus on LCCR’s core commitment to advancing racial justice, Jude engages in litigation and advocates for policies that address the systemic inequalities that affect communities of color. Jude also represents clients through LCCR’s Second Chance Legal Clinic. These clients are eligible to reduce or dismiss previous criminal convictions, which can present obstacles to employment, education, housing, public benefits, and other opportunities that enable clients to contribute to the economic and civil lives of their communities.
A 2014 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Jude brings to the fellowship a solid background in and passion for promoting justice. As an attorney advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, Jude updated the judges at the San Francisco Immigration Court on current case law and prepared in-depth written materials for monthly training sessions on complex areas of immigration law. Jude also helped to draft decisions on a number of issues, including eligibility for relief from removal and the effects of state criminal convictions in immigration proceedings—a highly technical, yet unsettled, area of law.
During law school, Jude worked at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section assessing complaints about conditions of confinement and researching the Department’s ability to use Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address the unconstitutionality of racially disparate arrest and probation practices in Meridian, Mississippi. Additionally, while interning at the Southern Center for Human Rights, Jude interviewed detainees about jail conditions, advocated for an inmate before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, researched the existence and effects of debtors’ prisons, and drafted model legislation regarding treatment of prisoners with intellectual disabilities.
Jude is currently applying these advanced analytical skills to documenting California municipal traffic courts’ ability to pay policies and adverse outcomes for people who cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees. Separately, Jude is collaborating with partner organizations to investigate racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing practices in the Bay Area.
Prior to law school, Jude worked with several nonprofit organizations that defend incarcerated people’s rights to libraries and educational materials, nutritious meals, and safe living conditions. In addition, as an undergraduate student at Stanford University, Jude tutored individuals in jail through the Stanford Beyond Bars program.
Racial Justice Program Fellow
Aaron Forbath is a Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation Civitas Fellow. The Civitas Fellowship supports recent graduates working to address the negative effects of the criminal justice system. He began his one-year fellowship with the Racial Justice Program in September 2018. Aaron focuses on bail and traffic court reform, with a special emphasis on municipal vehicle tows. He also helps coordinate the Second Chance Legal Clinic and in representing individual clients through the clinic.
Aaron graduated from Stanford Law School in June 2018. During law school, he helped clients with housing and eviction issues through Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and volunteered with Stanford Advocates for Immigrants’ Rights. Aaron also worked with the Record Clearance Project at San Jose State University and appeared in court on behalf of clients filing for discretionary dismissals. Aaron was a Research Assistant for Professor Gregory Ablavsky and helped with a law review article about race, citizenship, and tribal sovereignty. In the summer of 2017, Aaron interned with the ACLU of Northern California, focusing on the intersection of local government law and civil rights/civil liberties.
Before law school, Aaron was a case assistant at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center (HCRC) in San Francisco. HCRC is a California agency that provides post-conviction representation for individuals on death row. Aaron coordinated the filing of several state and federal habeas corpus petitions and worked on the (later overturned) Jones v. Davis decision, in which a federal district court ruled that excessive delays in California’s death penalty system violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Berkeley Law Public Interest Fellow
Alex Lawson joins the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) in San Francisco as a Berkeley Law Public Interest Fellow. Alex will be working in the Legal Services for Entrepreneurs division responsible for providing transactional legal services to low-income and other small businesses, particularly serving communities of color, under the supervision of the Senior Staff Attorney.
Alex is a graduate of Berkeley Law and will be taking the California Bar exam in 2019. Alex was motivated to go to law school because they have always been passionate about helping underrepresented individuals find access to legal assistance and economic/business opportunities. In 2016, Alex was nominated as Co-Editor-In-Chief for Berkeley Law’s Black Journal of Law and Policy. Alex graduated from UC Berkeley undergrad, high distinction, with a major in Political Science and African-American Studies. As undergrad president of Berkeley’s Black Pre-Law Society, Alex facilitated information sessions for other minority college students on how to prepare themselves for the rigor of law school.
Alex has worked as a legal intern in Oakland, NY, and DC where they utilized law and policy to address various constituent concerns and grievances. In New York, Alex took classes at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy while concurrently working as a legislative intern for Council Member Gale Brewer. After New York, Alex studied at the University of Cambridge in England, where they further developed their writing abilities. After their time at Cambridge, Alex served as a DC legislative intern for Congresswoman Maxine Waters through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Post-undergrad, Alex developed an interest in corporate law and litigation, while working 3 years as a general litigation paralegal at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. At Orrick, Alex assisted in complex litigation, as well as corporate maintenance and employment law. Working in corporate maintenance, Alex managed companies through their life cycles from incorporation to financings and acquisitions. Alex spent late 2017 and early 2018 working on consumer law at the East Bay Community Law Center, helping low-income individuals who had been the target of identity theft, predatory lending, and various other fraudulent consumer schemes.
Racial Justice Program Fellow
Danica Rodarmel is a 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Fenwick & West. She began her two-year fellowship at LCCR in September 2017. Her fellowship project centers on bail reform, and providing direct consumer legal services to people harmed by the commercial bail industry.
Danica graduated from Berkeley Law in May 2017. During law school Danica interned at the East Bay Community Law Center in both the Clean Slate Clinic and the Consumer Justice Clinic, with a specific interest in working to end the criminalization of poverty. Danica was a 2016 Ella Baker intern at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City.
Danica is devoted to community and social movement lawyering. She is a member of the National Lawyers’ Guild and previously served as a student board member for the East Bay Community Law Center. She also writes non-fiction, poetry and dabbles in point-and-shoot photography.
Racial Justice Paralegal
Gladys Rosario provides administrative and paralegal case support to LCCR staff attorneys, fellows, and colleagues. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2016 with a degree in Political Economy, focusing on socioeconomic inequality in the United States and its impact within the education system. She is interested in supporting efforts to improve educational, health, and economic outcomes to those in poverty, specifically in regard to disproportionately impacted immigrant and minority communities. She has previously interned at the U.S. Department of Education, Alameda County Office of Education, and Women’s Economic Agenda Project, a non-profit based in Oakland that organized political education trainings throughout the Bay Area. After graduating, she gained paralegal experience at the law firm Fragomen Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy and in-house at Adobe Inc. While there, she worked part-time as a teacher for College Bound, a non-profit providing academic support, mentorship, and financial aid to high school students who hope to attend college.
Jose Luis Gomez Gamez
Program Coordinator – LSE
José Luis joined LCCR as the Program Coordinator for Legal Services for Entrepreneurs (LSE) in September 2018. Prior to joining LCCR, José Luis supported the work of the legal team at Equal Rights Advocates, a civil rights organization fighting for gender justice. He has also grown his skillset as an advocate as part of the accompaniment team for recently-arrived immigrants at the Oakland Catholic Worker and as a Summer Associate in the Economic Equity team at The Greenlining Institute.
José Luis holds a B.A. in Public Policy Analysis & Sociology from Pomona College, and he credits much of his knowledge to the women of the CLEAR (Compañeras, Lideres, Emprendedoras, Aliadas, y Revolucionarias) program at the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center.
José Luis is a proud immigrant from the US-Mexico borderlands and grew up throughout the (sub)urban sprawl of Phoenix, Arizona.
Clinic and Pro Bono Coordinator
Bréyon Austin oversees LCCR’s GLIDE legal clinic and works with clients and attorneys to resolve a broad range of legal issues, from fighting illegal bail contracts to stabilizing a family’s affordable housing. She has worked extensively in public interest law, clerking for the Law Offices of Patrick D. Goggins in San Francisco and Cleghorn Legal in Oakland. At Cleghorn, Bréyon specialized in Native American Tribal Law, conducting research and carrying out special projects on the codification of Tribal Laws and ordinances. She plans to take the California Bar Exam in early 2019.
Bréyon completed her JD at the University of New Mexico School of Law, where she served as president of the Black Law Students Association and won the Dean’s Award for Contributions to the Community. As a law student, Bréyon interned with both the District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices in the 2nd Judicial District of Albuquerque. Under the guidance of Public Defender Sergio Viscoli, she represented defendants during arraignments and bench trials. She also worked on permanent residency applications at the private immigration law practice of Carmen Naranjo.
Bréyon graduated with a B.A. in Political, Legal and Economic Analysis from Mills College, where she delivered the 2009 commencement speech. During her time at Mills, she volunteered with the Native American Student Alliance and worked in the Office of Student Affairs as a liaison to student groups.
Bréyon organizes and teaches free photography classes to unsheltered people in San Francisco. She has also worked with San Francisco State University on the community project “Exposing Homelessness,” which was the subject of a 2006 documentary.