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.
Keith Wurster, ESQ.
Senior Litigation Attorney and Director of Pro Bono and Strategic Partnerships
Keith Wurster is responsible for developing and managing LCCR’s pro bono programs, strategic partnerships, and special projects. Keith oversees, develops and manages the relationships vital to the continued success of LCCR’c programs, including relationships with law firms, corporations, law schools, bar associations, and other social justice organizations. He is responsible for developing and updating training material and protocols for volunteers working with LCCR. In addition, he serves as a mentor and supervisor to junior attorneys and volunteers involved in litigation and policy advocacy for LCCR.
Keith previously worked for Baker & McKenzie, where he practiced complex commercial litigation before state and federal trial and appellate courts. While also with Baker & McKenzie he served as pro bono counsel, overseeing the pro bono program and supervising and representing clients in special education, immigration, juvenile justice, guardianships, and other social and economic justice matters. Keith has worked closely with a number of public interest organizations to advise on selection and pursuit of impact cases. In addition, he served as the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County.
Keith is a California native, who before embarking on his legal career served both in the U.S. Army and the California Army National Guard. He received an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles where he graduated cum laude with College Honors, and a JD from the University of Southern California.
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.
Program Administrative Assistant
Carlos Mojica provides administrative support to our Legal Services for Entrepreneurs (LSE) Program, which promotes financial independence among low-income individuals and financial stability in economically distressed communities. Carlos also supports the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ (LCCR) extensive pro bono attorney volunteer program.
For the LSE program, Carlos interviews the clients, assists them with paperwork, and matches them with volunteer attorneys who can address their legal problems. He also arranges workshops on small business topics and manages logistics for our mobile clinics that offer one-to-one legal advice on-site to small businesses in vulnerable areas.
Carlos is a 2015 graduate of Yale University. While a student at Yale, Carlos tutored children to help them improve their literacy skills and academic performance. He also was actively involved with Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots organization that uses direct action and legal challenges to help workers recover unpaid wages and helps families counter injustices in the immigration and criminal justice system.
After graduation, Carlos worked as a case manager for a large immigration law firm in Los Angeles, where he was the primary point of contact for more than 500 clients on matters related to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services and Immigration Court.
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.
Immigrant Justice Program Senior Attorney
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.
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 also has been a volunteer at San Quentin State Prison since 2010. She currently assists the facilitators of the San Quentin Restorative Justice Roundtable to coordinate outside volunteers in visiting the prison-based program. She also supervises the Berkeley Law Community Restorative Justice Student-Initiated Legal Services Project.
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.