Staff

 

 

Donald Specter – Executive Director,

Don started with the office as a volunteer and became the Executive Director in 1984.  Don is responsible for the administration of the office and for directing litigation aimed at improving conditions in adult and juvenile correctional facilities.  He has been lead counsel in numerous impact cases and has successfully argued cases at all levels in the California and federal courts.  Don created and directs the US-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program which, in partnership with the Criminal Justice & Health Consortium at U.C. San Francisco, bring leaders in criminal justice on facilitated tours of European prisons where they learn about innovative and humane approaches to sentencing, treatment and prison reform.  He was a member of the, Civil Justice Reform Act Advisory Committee to Northern District of California and chair of the California State Bar’s Commission on Corrections.   Don earned his B.A. in Economics from New College in Sarasota, Florida in 1974 and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1978.  Don was admitted to the CA state bar November 1978.

 

Sara Norman – Managing Attorney,

Sara has been with the office for 20 years and specializes in representing prisoners with disabilities and incarcerated juveniles.  Along with co-counsel in Farrell v. Cate, she was awarded a California Lawyer of the Year Award by the State Bar Foundation in 2005.  She was awarded the Pacific Juvenile Defender of the Year Award in 2006 and a Pioneer Award from the Center for Health Justice in 2009.  Sara graduated from Harvard College in 1990, then Yale Law School in 1995 and she clerked for Judge Robert Carter in the Southern District of New York.  Sara was admitted to the CA state bar July of 1997.

 

Steven Fama – Senior Staff Attorney,

Steven joined  Prison Law Office in 1985.   Prior to joining PLO he served as a “Prisoner Writ Clerk” for the federal district court judges in Sacramento from 1982 to 1984.  Steven first began working on behalf of prisoners in 1976 as an undergraduate involved in a program helping American Indians in San Quentin State Prison  then as a law student participating in the Prisoners Legal Assistance Clinic.  Steven received his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and his J.D. from UC Davis Law School.  Steven was admitted to the CA state bar December of 1981.

 

Alison Hardy – Senior Staff Attorney,

Alison joined the Prison Law Office in 1988 with a one-year grant to serve incarcerated people with HIV/AIDS.  After a brief stint in Oregon where she set up a prisoner’s rights project, Alison returned to PLO, focusing primarily on healthcare issues in prisons and jails in California and Arizona.  She has tried cases challenging conditions for people with serious medical and mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and people living on death row.  She earned her law degree at UCLA in 1988, after graduating from Stanford University.  Alison was admitted to the CA state bar December of 1988.

 

Rana Anabtawi – Staff Attorney,

Rana began her time at the Prison Law Office in 2009 as a Fellow and joined PLO as a Staff Attorney in 2010.  She primarily works on improving disability accommodations in California state prisons under the Clark and Armstrong II litigation.  Rana also focuses on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s provision of medical care under the Plata class action.  She graduated from UC Berkeley College in 2005 and UC Berkeley Law School in 2009.  Rana was admitted to the CA state bar December of 2009.

 

Lynn Wu – Staff Attorney &  Juvenile Justice Policy & Projects Manager,

Lynn provides technical assistance to multidisciplinary stakeholders to improve outcomes for justice-involved girls and young women, sexually exploited youth, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming youth, and young people of color.  She also advocates on behalf of lifer prisoners seeking parole, including those who committed their crimes before turning 23, she also works with a statewide coalition to eliminate the treatment of young people as adults.  Lynn manages the Prison Law Office’s legislative priorities and positions. Lynn has worked with and on behalf of system involved youth for nearly 15 years. She worked for the Oakland Unified School District as a middle school teacher, youth advisor, community liaison, new teacher coach, and consultant.  She has also represented young people in dependency, guardianship, and expulsion matters and worked on child welfare impact litigation at the National Center for Youth Law and Legal Services for Children.  Lynn has also worked to reduce childhood obesity and reform school finance systems at ChangeLab Solutions and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity.  Lynn earned her J.D. and M.P.P. from the University of California, Berkeley, her M.A.T. from the University of San Francisco Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice, and her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.  Lynn was admitted to the CA state bar December of 2009.

 

Corene Kendrick  – Staff Attorney,

Corene works on class action litigation and the monitoring and enforcement of settlement agreements. She is assigned to Parsons v. Ryan, a case challenging the medical, mental health, dental care and conditions in isolation units at Arizona state prisons; and Armstrong v. Brown, a case brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of California prisoners with disabilities. Before joining the PLO in 2011, she was a Staff Attorney at the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, where she engaged in policy advocacy and impact litigation on behalf of children in foster care and juvenile justice systems in numerous jurisdictions across the country.  She was a Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights in New York, and worked on class action lawsuits to reform foster care systems in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Nebraska. Prior to attending law school, she worked in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional lobbyist for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  Corene received her J.D. from Stanford Law School, a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Texas, and a B.A. from George Washington University.  Corene was admitted to the CA state bar November of 2003.

 

Margot Mendelson – Staff Attorney,

Margot focuses on challenging the conditions of confinement in county jails, including with respect to the provision of mental health and medical care, compliance with federal and state disability law, and solitary confinement and use of force practices.  She also works on Coleman v. Brown, a statewide class action on behalf of California prisoners with psychiatric disabilities, and Armstrong v. Brown, a statewide class action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Margot previously worked at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, where she practiced complex civil litigation in state and federal courts at the trial and appellate level, with a focus on civil rights matters.  Margot also served as an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellow, where she advocated for immigrants detained in Southern Arizona.  She clerked for Judge Diana G. Motz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Judge Catherine Blake of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  Margot received her J.D. from Yale Law School and her B.A. from Harvard College.  Margot was admitted to the CA state bar January of 2010.

 

Rita Lomio, Staff Attorney,

Rita works on two statewide prisoner rights class actions—Parsons v. Ryan in Arizona, and Armstrong v. Brown in California.  She also works on Chavez v. County of Santa Clara, a class action challenging conditions in the Santa Clara jails.  Before joining the Prison Law Office in 2016, Rita served as a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.  There, she investigated and litigated systemic civil rights violations in correctional facilities, with a focus on solitary confinement, sexual abuse, and use of force.  Before working for the government, Rita supervised law students handling civil rights and crim-imm appeals as part of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Appellate Litigation Clinic.  Through the Center for Applied Legal Studies, Rita successfully represented a detained Ethiopian political dissident and torture survivor seeking asylum.  Rita also has served as an associate with the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group at Mayer Brown LLP and as a law clerk to the Honorable Ruggero J. Aldisert of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Rita received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, LL.M. with distinction from the Georgetown University Law Center, and M.A. and B.A. with distinction from Stanford University.  She was admitted to the CA state bar 2007.

 

Sia Henry –  Legal Fellow,

Sia assists with litigation as well as monitoring correctional facilities for compliance with court orders and settlement agreements.  Before joining PLO, Sia was a program associate with Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Project where she assisted jurisdictions in establishing pre-charge, restorative juvenile justice diversion programs to address the criminalization of youth as well as racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal justice system.  Sia received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and B.A. from Duke University where she graduated summa cum laude.   She was admitted to the CA state bar December of 2014.

 

Mae Ackerman-Brimberg – Legal Fellow,

Mae is a legal fellow at the Prison Law Office.  Mae works on class action litigation and monitoring to improve medical and mental health care and to reduce isolation and use of force in California and Arizona state prisons, as well as in county jails across California.  Before coming to PLO, Mae served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Deborah A. Batts in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  She also worked as a legal fellow at the National Center for Youth Law focusing on juvenile justice system reform, including through efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and reduce the disproportionate involvement of youth of color and youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system.  Mae received her B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University in 2006, and Master of Social Work and J.D. from Columbia University in 2013.  Mae joined the California state bar in 2016.

 

Ashley Kirby – Office Manager,

Ashley, has worked for the Prison Law Office for more than 17 years.  Ashley began her journey with PLO as a part time mail room assistant and now manages the day to day functionality of the office and staff.   

 

Brandy J. Iglesias – Technology & Grants Manager,

Brandy started working at the Prison Law Office in early 2010, for more than 8 years Brandy has maintained the Legal Services Trust Fund Grants  and the Networking  systems in the office along with other administrative duties.

 

Megan Lynch – Investigator,

Megan investigates conditions of confinement in prisons and jails, including disability discrimination, access to health care, and solitary confinement and use of force practices.  Megan also manages a project in which she collaborates with multiple stakeholders, including corrections officials and attorneys, to develop comprehensive and effective joint auditing systems. Megan first joined the Prison Law Office in 2013 as the supervising litigation assistant.  Previously, Megan assisted parents filing for divorce to establish effective and lasting parenting plans through a court ordered family mediation program in Lane County, Oregon.  Megan also served as an administrator and steering committee member for a genocide prevention initiative at the University of Oregon’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Center and served as a mentor for women leaving the Oregon Department of Corrections and Oregon Youth Authority at Sponsors, Inc. She received her M.S. in Conflict and Dispute Resolution from the University of Oregon College of Law and her B.A. from the University of Maine.

 

 Amber Norris – Investigator,

Amber monitors conditions of confinement in detention facilities. Previously, she worked as an investigator at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, the Correctional Association of New York, and Human Rights Watch. She has a B.A. in Spanish from Portland State University and an M.A. in human rights law from American University.

 

Sarah Hopkins – Investigator,

Sarah monitors the provision of disability accommodations in California state prisons and assists with investigations into conditions in California county jail systems. She maintains a special interest in the intersection of poverty, mental illness, and race in the expansion of America’s penal system. Sarah worked abroad for several years in Spain and the UK before moving back to her home state of California.  She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and completed a Masters at the University of Oxford in 2011 with Distinction. Se habla español.

 

Annelise Finney – Investigator

Annelise investigates conditions of confinement in the California and Arizona state prison systems and in California ICE detention facilities. Previously, Annelise worked as a criminal defense investigator at the Bronx Defenders in New York City. She holds a BA in Urban Studies from Barnard College. Se habla español. 

 

Tania Amarillas- Managing Litigation Assistant

Tania monitors conditions of confinement in Arizona state prisons and Fresno County Jail. She also assists with monitoring conditions across California state prisons. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Tania directed legal aid and college access services at her local community center in northeast Los Angeles. She has also worked extensively with immigrant communities in Los Angeles and Boston providing direct services and as an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Tania has also interned at various non-profit organizations including Centro Presente, Learning Rights Law Center, and the Phillips Brooks House Association. She holds a B.A. in Government from Harvard College. 

 

Stacy Amador – Litigation Assistant,

Stacy monitors conditions of confinement in prisons and county jails across California, including Contra Costa, Sacramento, and Riverside County. She also helps monitor conditions at the private Community Correctional Facilities and the Utah Department of Corrections. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Stacy worked as a legal intern at the Prisoners’ Rights Project in Washington D.C, investigating and responding to civil rights violations towards those incarcerated in the D.C. jails and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She has also tutored students at San Quentin working towards their GED though UC Berkeley’s Teach in Prison program. She holds a BA from UC Berkeley in Legal Studies and is an MSW candidate for the Columbia University Class of 2020.

 

Molly Petchenik – Litigation Assistant

Molly monitors conditions at Salinas Valley State Prison and Central California Women’s Facility, assisting with investigations of violence at both prisons. She also works on issues facing transgender people incarcerated in California prisons. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Molly worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and interned at the ACLU National Prison Project. She holds a BA in history from Swarthmore College.

 

Alexis Hoffman –  Litigation Assistant

Alexis monitors conditions of confinement in prisons and county jails across California, including Los Angeles, Kern County, Stockton, and San Bernardino County. She also helps monitor conditions at an Arizona state prison. She is currently the lead litigation assistant on Plata. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Alexis worked in her hometown for the Santa Cruz County Public Defender’s Office and volunteered for Bay Area Legal Aid’s Medical-Legal Partnership program. She formerly worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator in women’s health at UCSF. She holds a B.A. from Tufts University.