Staff

Donald Specter – Executive Director

Don joined the Prison Law Office in 1979, and became its 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, including successfully arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493 (2011) (holding the court-mandated population limit for California prisons was necessary to remedy violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights to adequate medical and mental health care) and Pa. Dep’t of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998) (unanimously holding the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state prisoners).  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, brings correctional leaders 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.  He was admitted to the California State Bar in November 1978.

 

Sara Norman – Managing Attorney

Sara joined the Prison Law Office in 1997 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 Center’s Defender of the Year Award in 2006 and a Pioneer Award from the Center for Health Justice in 2009.  She clerked for Judge Robert Carter in the Southern District of New York. Sara graduated from Harvard College in 1990, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1995.  She was admitted to the California State Bar in July 1997.

 

Staff Attorneys

 

Rana Anabtawi – Staff Attorney

Rana began her time at the Prison Law Office in 2009 as a Fellow and became 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 U.C. Berkeley in 2005 and received her J.D. from U.C. Berkeley Law in 2009.  Rana was admitted to the California State Bar in 2009.

 

Steven Fama – Senior Staff Attorney

Steve joined the Prison Law Office in 1985.   Prior to joining PLO he served as a “Prisoner Writ Clerk” for the federal district court judges in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento from 1982 to 1984.  Steve 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.  Steve received his undergraduate degree from U.C. Berkeley and his J.D. from U.C. Davis (King Hall).  He was admitted to the California State Bar in December 1981.

 

Alison Hardy – Senior Staff Attorney

Alison joined the Prison Law Office in 1988 with a one-year grant to advocate for 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 undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her J.D. at UCLA in 1988.  She was admitted to the California State Bar in December 1988.

 

Corene Kendrick – Staff Attorney

Corene joined the Prison Law Office in 2011.  She is the office’s lead day-to-day attorney in Parsons v. Ryan, a case challenging the medical, mental health, dental care and conditions in isolation units at Arizona state prisons.  She is part of the team investigating and litigating conditions of confinement in immigration detention centers. She previously worked on Armstrong v. Brown, a case brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of people with disabilities in California state prisons. Before joining PLO, 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. From 2003-2005 Corene was a Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights in New York, where she worked on class action lawsuits to reform foster care systems in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Nebraska. Corene also is on the Board of Directors of the Pacific Juvenile Detention Center, which advocates on behalf of at-risk children. Prior to law school, she was a Congressional lobbyist for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Washington, D.C.  Corene received her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2003, a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Texas in 1996, and a B.A. in Journalism and Spanish from George Washington University in 1994.  Corene was admitted to the California State Bar in November 2003. 

 

Rita Lomio – Staff Attorney

Rita joined the Prison Law Office in 2016.  She works on two statewide prisoner rights class actions—Parsons v. Ryan in Arizona, and Armstrong v. Brown in California.  Before joining the PLO, 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 in 2007, LL.M. with distinction from the Georgetown University Law Center, and her M.A. and B.A. with distinction from Stanford University in 2004.  She was admitted to the California State Bar in December 2007.

 

Margot Mendelson – Staff Attorney

Margot joined the Prison Law Office in 2016. Her work 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  Armstrong v. Brown, a statewide class action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  She is part of the team investigating and litigating conditions of confinement in immigration detention centers. 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, and she worked on Coleman v. Brown, a statewide class action on behalf of California prisoners with psychiatric disabilities.  Margot was 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 in 2009 and her B.A. from Harvard College.  Margot was admitted to the California State Bar in January 2010.

 

Thomas Nosewicz – Staff Attorney

Tommy joined the Prison Law Office in 2018, where he works primarily on Armstrong v. Brown, a statewide class action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of people with disabilities in California prisons, and Chavez v. County of Santa Clara, a case regarding the conditions in the Santa Clara County jail in San Jose.  Before joining the PLO, he worked as a public defender in New York City and his hometown of New Orleans.  He also clerked for Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York.  He received his B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in 2003 and his J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2008.  He was awarded Stanford Law’s first post-graduate public-interest fellowship, which funded his work at the Orleans Public Defenders.  Tommy is admitted to the State Bars of Louisiana (2008), New York (2010), and California (2017).

 

Camille Woods – Legal Fellow

Camille joined the Prison Law Office as a Legal Fellow in January 2018, and she works primarily on Armstrong v. Brown, a statewide class action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of people with disabilities in California prisons. Camille also works on Clark v. California and Fresno v. Hall. Before joining the PLO, she was a Judicial Law Clerk for the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Sixteenth Judicial District. She received her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, her M.A. from Yale University, and her J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law in 2017. Camille is admitted to the State Bar of Pennsylvania (2017) and is registered as a legal services attorney in California (2018), practicing law pursuant to California Rules of Court Rule 9.45.

 

Lynn Wu – Staff Attorney &  Youth Justice Policy & Projects Manager

Lynn joined the Prison Law Office in 2009.  She 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 in criminal court.  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. Prior to law school, she worked for the Oakland Unified School District as a middle school teacher, youth adviser, 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 U.C. Berkeley in 2009, 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 California State Bar in 2009.

 

 

Investigators and Litigation Assistants

 

Tania Amarillas- Investigator/Monitor

Tania monitors conditions of confinement in Arizona state prisons and Fresno County Jail, assists with monitoring conditions across California state prisons, and is part of the team investigating and litigating conditions of confinement in immigration detention centers. Tania joined the PLO as a Litigation Assistant in 2017, was promoted to Supervising Litigation Assistant, and promoted again to an Investigator/Monitor position in September 2018.  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, and is fluent in Spanish. 

 

Sarah Hopkins – Investigator/Monitor

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. She is part of the team investigating and litigating conditions of confinement in immigration detention centers. 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. Sarah is fluent in Spanish.

 

Megan Lynch – Investigator/Monitor

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/Monitor

Amber joined the Prison Law Office in 2013.  She investigates and monitors conditions of confinement in California and Arizona prisons, and in county jails. She works primarily on Armstrong v. Brown.  Prior to joining the PLO, 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, and is fluent in Spanish.

 

Alexis Hoffman –  Supervising Litigation Assistant

Alexis monitors conditions of confinement in prisons and county jails across California. She also helps monitor conditions at an Arizona state prison. She is currently the lead litigation assistant on Armstrong v. Brown, and supervises the other litigation assistants. 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.

 

Juliette Mueller – Litigation Assistant

Juliette monitors conditions of confinement in prisons across the state of California, and helps monitor conditions at an Arizona state prison. Prior to joining the Prison Law Office in 2018, she worked at the National Lawyers Guild Prisoner Advocacy Network. She remains on PAN’s leadership board today and acts as their Administrative & Volunteer Coordinator.  As an undergraduate, she held internships at the Equal Justice Society and the New York State Division of Human Rights. She graduated summa cum laude from McGill University in Canada with degrees in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies, and Russian Literature. Juliette has published writings about Tolstoy and the American carceral systems, is a four-time national undergraduate moot court champion, and is fluent in French.

 

Alayna O’Bryan – Litigation Assistant

Alayna monitors conditions of confinement in prisons across the state of California, as well as in Santa Clara County Jails. She is currently the lead litigation assistant on Plata v.  Brown. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Alayna worked as the Intake Coordinator at the Immigration Center for Women and Children in Oakland, CA, helping to provide direct services and humanitarian based legal relief under the U Visa and Violence Against Women Act to immigrant communities. While attending college in New York, Alayna worked a legal intern at the Dutchess County Public Defender, the Mediation Center of Dutchess County, as well as the Office of the New York State Attorney General. She holds a BA in International Studies and Hispanic Studies from Vassar College, and is fluent in Spanish.

 

Gabby Sergi –  Litigation Assistant

Gabby monitors conditions of confinement in prisons and county jails across California. She is currently the lead litigation assistant in Clark v. California. Before joining the Prison Law Office, Gabby worked at Fresh Lifelines for Youth in Oakland, teaching at-risk and system-involved youth about their rights. Gabby has also interned for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Contra Costa County. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of San Francisco.

 

 Administrative Staff

 

Ashley Kirby – Office Manager

Ashley started working with the Prison Law Office in 2000 as a part-time mail room assistant and now manages the day to day functionality of the office and staff, and manages the case dockets for the office litigation.   Ashley also is the human guardian of Scout, the Golden Retriever who greets all visitors to our office.

 

Brandy J. Iglesias – Technology & Grants Manager

Brandy started working at the Prison Law Office in 2010 as an administrative assistant. She maintains the Legal Services Trust Fund Grants and the computer networking  systems in the office, along with other administrative duties.