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.
As LCCR Legal Director, Elisa Della-Piana litigates impact cases, spearheads statewide policy coalitions, and supervises a program staff of fifteen advocates working on immigrant, economic, and racial justice.
Elisa’s current and recent impact cases include: Sanchez v. Caltrans, a class action against state agency Caltrans for the destruction of homeless people’s belongings; Smith v. Reiskin and Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco, challenging the constitutionality of a city towing low-income residents’ vehicles because they cannot afford to pay tickets; Jackson v. City of Oakland, which ended enforcement of a decades-old loitering ordinance used to target Black housing authority residents; and Rubicon v. Solano County Superior Court, the first known lawsuit against a court in California for suspending licenses for failure to pay a traffic citation, and failing to implement ability-to-pay procedures for low-income court users.
Elisa has also helped lead coalition efforts to end abusive fines and fees in California. She has helped conceive, research, and draft reports including Not Just a Ferguson Problem, Stopped, Fined, Arrested, Paying More for Being Poor, and Towed Into Debt. In addition to numerous other policy victories, she is grateful to have worked with incredible coalition and legislative partners to make California the first state to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay a traffic ticket, allowing more than 600,000 low-income Californians to get Back on the Road.
Elisa spent seven-plus years with the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), where she served as Director of Programs and led EBCLC’s policy work, including helping to draft California bills related to consumer rights, homelessness, fines and fees, and civil rights. She also directed the Neighborhood Justice Clinic in Berkeley, where she supervised the General Legal Clinic, co-founded the Consumer Law Clinic, and led EBCLC’s homeless rights work.
Elisa began her career at LCCR as a Bingham McCutcheon Equal Justice Works Fellow and then as a Soros Justice Fellow. During her fellowships, she supported impact litigation, including the successful class action suit Kincaid v. City of Fresno, represented low-income clients, and worked on policy issues and other legal matters through the Homeless Rights Project.
Elisa is a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School. After graduation, she clerked for Judge David F. Levi, Eastern District of California, and Judge Betty B. Fletcher, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chief Operating Officer
Nancy Shaw brings a wealth of behind-the-scenes nonprofit management experience and commitment to social change work to LCCR. Most recently, she served as Managing Director of Wilderness Torah, overseeing finance, operations, and development for a fast-growing organization, which doubled in size during her tenure and won regional and national awards. She spent 5+ years managing operations at foundations, including the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a national leader in immigrant and LGBTQ+ rights. She is proud that during her time there, the Haas, Jr. Fund was funding early marriage equality cases nationwide, helping build the groundswell of change we see today.
She also served as Executive Director of the Craigslist Foundation, directing innovative capacity-building (everything from helping find Board members to providing acting coaches for EDs to hone their presentation skills) for under-resourced Bay Area nonprofits. Nancy also launched and ran the environmental responsibility program at Blue Shield of California, helping a large organization embrace environmental practices.
Nancy has served on several nonprofit Boards and holds a BA from UC Berkeley and an MBA, with a focus on socially-responsible business, from Presidio Graduate School. Nancy lives with her family in her college town, Berkeley.
ELICA VAFAIE, ESQ.
Director of Pro Bono and Strategic Partnerships
Elica Vafaie joins LCCR from Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus where she was the Staff Attorney and Program Manager of the National Security & Civil Rights Program. Her work focused on legal services, litigation, policy advocacy, and Know Your Rights education protecting the civil rights of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities, with a particular emphasis on the Muslim Ban. She worked with a variety of law firms, attorneys, and law students on pro bono cases to advance the program’s work. She is also the Chapter President, and former Pro Bono Chair, of the Iranian American Bar Association Northern California Chapter.
Elica formerly worked as the Supervising Attorney to establish the University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center providing free immigration legal services clinics and Know Your Rights training to UC students and their families across California. She was the Project Director of the One Nation Initiative at the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles where she managed the first philanthropic program in Southern California for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian nonprofit organizations advancing civic engagement, policy advocacy, litigation, and capacity building.
Elica received her BA from UC Irvine and Sciences Po, Paris. She received her JD from UC Davis School of Law, where she was active in the Immigration Law Clinic and a UC Human Rights Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is a 2015-2016 German Marshall Memorial Fellow.
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.
Tobias Damm-Luhr, ESQ.
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
Flora Pereira, ESQ.
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.
Staff Attorney – Racial Justice
Danica Rodarmel recently completed her two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship at LCCR sponsored by Fenwick & West. Her work 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.
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.
Equal Justice Works Fellow – Racial Justice
Tori Larson is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Tori’s project focuses on decriminalizing homelessness through accessible and culturally competent direct services to individuals experiencing homelessness, local policy advocacy, and building meaningful partnerships with community-based organizations and movements seeking to support unhoused communities and end homelessness.
Tori graduated from Berkeley Law in May 2019. During law school, she interned at the Homeless Action Center, the East Bay Community Law Center, Legal Services for Children, and LCCR. Her internships and advocacy focused on providing low-barrier legal services to people experiencing homelessness in the Bay Area.
Before law school, Tori worked with an NGO doing immigrant rights and girls’ rights policy advocacy at the United Nations in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Geography. In her free time, Tori enjoys podcasts, tending to her houseplants, and hanging out with her best friend, her dog Foxy.
Justice Catalyst Fellow – Immigrant Justice
Hayden joins LCCR as a Justice Catalyst Fellow with the Immigrant Justice program. Hayden will develop a unique accountability model for addressing civil and human rights abuses within the immigration detention system at the southwestern U.S. border. He will work with asylum-seekers who have suffered harm in immigration detention by litigating tort, constitutional, and statutory claims, while also representing them in immigration court and other asylum-related proceedings.
Hayden graduated from Yale Law School in 2019. His research and advocacy in law school centered on queer immigrant and HIV-positive communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Stanford University with his Master’s degree in Latin American Studies, and his Bachelor’s degrees in Classics and International Relations. Hayden is a proud first-generation, queer Chicano California native.
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).
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.
Crystal is a transplant from Southern California’s Little Saigon. As a longtime admirer of the Bay Area’s rich history of resistance and resilience, she’s especially thrilled to be furthering LCCR’s community-driven work. She brings a passion for nonprofit development and its potential to uplift narratives, share power and further strengthen communities.
Prior to joining LCCR, Crystal completed her Master of Social Welfare degree with a concentration in Social and Economic Justice at UCLA Luskin. Her most valuable graduate experiences included her tenure as co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus as well as her internships at Little Tokyo Service Center and Special Service for Groups, where she learned the ins and outs of creating culturally responsive social service programs.
Crystal is also a proud alumnus of Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, CA. After completing her BA in Liberal Arts/Social and Behavioral Sciences, she taught English in Taiwan and joined AmeriCorps, which led her to various community development projects in Oakland, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Crystal enjoys hip hop dancing, learning typography/calligraphy and inhaling bubble tea in her spare time.
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.
Legal Assistant, Immigrant Justice
Bekah Stroik manages the Asylum Program’s client intake process and provides paralegal support on immigration cases. Prior to joining LCCR, Bekah worked with Bay Area Legal Aid, where she interpreted between attorneys and Spanish-speaking clients and translated legal documents. She has also participated in voter registration drives for 360 Campaign Consulting in Oakland.
Bekah also has extensive experience working with NGOs in Central and South America, with stints as a surgery program assistant with Faith in Practice medical teams in Guatemala; as supervisor for Amigos de las Américas community projects in Nicaragua; and as an English teacher at a Quichua elementary school in Ecuador.
Bekah grew up in Berkeley and graduated from McGill University in Montréal with a B.A. in International Development and Political Science. She also studied comparative human rights in Nepal, Jordan, and Chile with the School for International Training, where she was part of the International Honors Program. When Bekah isn’t traveling, she enjoys hiking, bicycling, dancing and playing piano.
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.