Rising for Justice is staffed by a passionate and diverse group of lawyers, advocates and activists. Click on any name to see more details.
Grace began her career in private practice as a trial lawyer, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. She taught in clinical law programs, including as a supervising attorney and Director of the Criminal Division of the D.C. Law Students in Court Program.
Grace left teaching to serve as the founding Executive Director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, Inc., and later as the Managing Director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Grace has been appointed by multiple federal courts and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia as a Special Master, Arbiter, and Monitor, and also has served as counsel for both plaintiffs and defendants, in a series of class action lawsuits related to the reform of public institutions, including child welfare, public education, mental health, juvenile justice and adult correctional systems. She currently serves as a court-appointed expert for the federal court in class action litigation related to COVID-19 mitigation practices and safeguards in several detention facilities.
Grace served as the General Counsel and Special Counsel for Receiverships and Institutional Reform Litigation to former District of Columbia Mayor, Anthony Williams. She has authored journal and law review articles and been active in community and pro bono projects. In addition to awards for outstanding government service, Grace was the recipient of the John A. Wilson Community Service Award by the Trial Lawyers Association of Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of Antioch School of Law.
Kelechi Agbakwuru is a Staff Attorney with Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services where he represents tenants facing eviction. Before pursuing law school, Kelechi began his career as a tenant organizer in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. His experiences as an organizer led him to law school, where he sought to gain the legal knowledge to better serve working families.
Celina Aldape is a Supervising Attorney at Rising for Justice. She represents tenants in rent-controlled buildings who are at risk of eviction and focuses on rent control as a means of preserving affordable housing in DC through education, legal assistance, and legislative reform. She joined Rising for Justice after graduating from Yale Law School in 2017. During her time in law school, Celina participated in the Landlord & Tenant Legal Services Clinic and the Criminal Justice Clinic and was a summer clerk with the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Public Defender Service of DC.
Celina grew up in Houston, Texas. She attended Columbia University, where she received a B.A. in Sociology and Neuroscience and was involved in advocacy for indigent criminal and juvenile defendants in New York.
Julia Cade is a highly experienced paralegal who has worked for both large corporate law firms and public interest organizations over the last several decades, including Georgia Legal Services, the ACLU National Prison Project and Jury Services, a trial consulting firm. She has substantial experience working on legal teams in multiple practice areas, including in class action litigation related to the reform of public institutions in a number of jurisdictions around the country.
Dan Clark is the Director Tenant Justice Program at Rising for Justice. As Director of TJP, Dan manages a staff of three supervising attorneys, two staff attorneys, and two post-graduate fellows. Together, they supervise 25 clinic students from area law schools representing low-income clients in housing and consumer-related matters in the courts of the District of Columbia.
Before becoming Director, Dan was a supervising attorney with the program. Dan earned his LL.M. in clinical teaching and systems change while serving as an instructor in the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic at the David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia. Before joining the Housing Clinic, Dan was the Managing Attorney for Housing and Consumer Law at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program. As Managing Attorney with the Pro Bono Program, Dan oversaw operations of the Landlord Tenant Resource Center and Bankruptcy Clinic while supporting the Advice & Referral Clinic, Advocacy & Justice Clinic, and other programs. He attended law school at American University Washington College of Law and was awarded a J.D. in 1995. In 1990, he graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida.
Katrina Cohen is a Staff Attorney at Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program (TJP). She represents low-income tenants who are at risk of eviction. Katrina joined Rising for Justice after a Skadden fellowship at Philadelphia Legal Assistance. During her fellowship, she focused on economic justice, and represented clients in consumer defense and affirmative consumer rights cases.
Katrina graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2015. While at Penn Law, she served as the Co-Executive Articles Editor of the Journal of Law and Social Change. She also completed a semester as a student attorney in the Civil Practice Clinic, where she represented clients in a range of legal matters, including housing conditions, unemployment compensation, and real estate tax foreclosure. Katrina interned at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and The Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Jessica DeStefano is a Supervising Attorney with the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic. Prior to joining Rising for Justice, she worked as a Staff Attorney in the Housing Rights Project at Legal Services NYC, where she defended low-income tenants in eviction proceedings. She was also a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Rockland County. Jessica is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where she focused on public interest law. During law school, Jessica clerked for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Trevor Project, and Whitman-Walker Health. She also holds degrees from American University (B.A.) and Shepherd University (M.A.). In her spare time, Jessica volunteers for several LGBTQ rights organizations, including Boston Pride for which she manages social media and co-edits the annual magazine.
Paul Di Blasi is the Director of Clinical Education and a Supervising Attorney with the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic. He also volunteers as a member of the Legal Committee of the DC Language Access Coalition and as a volunteer attorney at the Employment Justice Center’s clinics. Before coming to the organization, he represented low-income tenants as a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. He moved to the District from the Rio Grande Valley in Southmost Texas, where he represented low-income tenants, consumers, and workers as a Staff Attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Paul graduated with honors from the University of Texas in Austin School of Law. At the University of Texas, he was an Articles Editor for the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, and also participated in numerous clinics. Paul also organized the University’s first “Pro Bono in January” trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In his summers during law school, Paul clerked at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore and at the Texas Civil Rights Project in the Rio Grande Valley.
Paul graduated from Williams College, where he played trombone in the jazz band and the student symphony. Between college and law school, Paul worked probably too many jobs, including voter registration projects and teaching monolingual Spanish speakers GED math. After a nomadic early childhood, Paul grew up in San Antonio, Texas, which he thinks you should really visit sometime when you have the chance.
Ruth El is a staff attorney who works in Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program. She previously worked as a law clerk in the program. Ruth is a graduate of the Washington College of Law at American University, where she was a student attorney in the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, served as President of the Juvenile Justice Society, and worked as a Research Assistant in the Disability Rights Law Clinic. While in law school, Ruth also participated in a long-term internship at the National Homelessness Law Center.
Before law school, Ruth worked as a Paralegal, Legal Assistant, and Law Clerk in both Atlanta, Georgia and Stuart, Florida, where she worked on a range of legal matters. She holds a B.A. from the University of Miami, where she was a double major in Legal Studies and Business Management & Administration.
Jenifer Foster rejoined the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic as a Supervising Attorney in January 2018. Jen had worked at Rising for Justice from 2007 – 2012, as “Attorney of the Day,” helping low-income tenants in danger of eviction. She left the organization to clerk for the Honorable Stephanie Duncan-Peters. Jen has worked at several area legal services agencies, including Our Place DC, University Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society. She is passionate about working with D.C. residents who are struggling and helping give individuals who are frequently overlooked, a voice.
Jen is also the Director of Rising for Justice’s social work program. She loves the interplay of law and social work and thinks that when the two converge, dynamic things can be accomplished. Prior to rejoining the organization, she worked as Senior Director of the Addiction Continuum at So Others Might Eat. She has a private practice on the side and provides counseling services primarily to veterans and others struggling with trauma and abuse. Previously, Jen has worked at the Veterans Administration Medical Center as a social worker in the emergency room, at a crisis stabilization program for individuals in psychiatric crisis, and as an addiction counselor at a treatment program. She was an Adjunct Professor at Bowie State University for five years where she taught Social Work and the Law.
Jen graduated from the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and the National Catholic School of Social Services with her J.D. and MSW in 2005. She has her undergraduate degree from Roanoke College, where she majored in sociology, minored in American history and had a concentration in social work. Right after undergrad, she spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corp, where she taught sexual abuse prevention classes.
In her spare time, Jen loves to travel and find adventures. She has bathed tigers, ridden elephants, swam with whale sharks, done a triathlon, hiked to Machu Picchu, swung on a trapeze, and ran a half marathon. Her dream is to travel the world and then become a diving instructor in the Caribbean.
Richard Luong is the Director of Institutional Advancement at Rising for Justice. He began his career in environmental litigation representing citizen groups adversely affected by natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and New York, and later transitioned to non-profit development. Richard joins Rising for Justice from International Medical Corps, where he served as Resource Development Officer, stewarding foundations, corporations, and major donors to support teams providing humanitarian aid and operations in 30 countries. He is passionate about helping to tell the stories of impactful programs and connecting people and institutions with the causes they care about most.
Richard graduated from New York Law School in 2011 and holds a B.A. in Government and Economics from the College of William and Mary. A son of Vietnamese refugees, Richard volunteers his time to collecting and mapping stories of the Vietnamese diaspora. He is an avid collector of soul music, a basketball enthusiast, and enjoys spending his spare time making memories with his wife, family, and rescue dog.
Marian Messing is a Staff Attorney in Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services. Before joining Rising for Justice, Marian co-authored a report for Tzedek DC on the harmful impacts of D.C.’s Clean Hands Law, which prevents tens of thousands of D.C. residents from obtaining or renewing their driver’s licenses. She also served as an Appellate Advocacy Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, clerked for the Honorable Jill A. Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and served as a Yale Public Interest Fellow in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s New Orleans office. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, she authored reports on racial profiling and the need for better data on policing in Louisiana and drafted legislation to require comprehensive data collection by Louisiana law enforcement agencies.
Marian received an A.B. cum laude and a Master in Public Affairs from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and a J.D. from Yale Law School. A recipient of Princeton’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative fellowship, she served for two years in various posts with the U.S. Department of Defense in D.C. and the U.S. Department of State in Nouakchott, Mauritania. During law school, Marian participated in the Mortgage Foreclosure Litigation Clinic and the Legal Reentry Clinic, volunteered with New Haven Reads and the Petey Greene Program, and interned at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia and the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
Marian enjoys spending time with friends, reading, running and playing soccer, playing with dogs, talking up her beloved homeland (the Twin Cities), watching and evangelizing about socially conscious action movies, updating her list of best-ever key changes in popular songs (number one is Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”), and serving as a first lieutenant in the Reserve Component of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Lucy Newton is the Deputy Director at Rising for Justice. Over the course of her career, Lucy has represented low-income clients in a wide range of housing, public benefits, consumer law and family law matters, including at the Legal Aid Society of D.C., the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of D.C., and the Georgia Legal Services Program. She has also been a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center and has advised students in the Office of Career Services at Howard University School of Law. Lucy was a member of the steering committee of the Litigation Section of the D.C. Bar from 2009 to 2015, and she currently serves on the board of directors of a D.C. public charter school.
Lucy graduated from New York University School of Law in 2002, where she was a student in the civil rights clinic, and received her B.A., with a major in music, from Emory University in 1996. Before law school, Lucy worked backstage at an opera company. She lives in the District with her husband and two daughters, and she spends a lot of her spare time singing.
Sophia Nnadi is a Staff Attorney in Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program (TJP). She earned a JD from The American University Washington College of Law, where she was enrolled in a dual degree program, also earning an MA in International Affairs. An alumna of the Rising for Justice clinical education program, Sophia served as a student attorney in the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic, providing representation to clients in eviction and housing condition matters. Sophia also participated in our Immigration Defense Program, where she assisted detained immigrant clients in obtaining bond. While in law school, Sophia served as Policy Director and Treasurer for the International Refugees Assistance Project.
Sophia is a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights and protections. She has worked as a volunteer to provide legal assistance and community legal education to members of the D.C. and Maryland immigrant communities. During the course of her work in TJP representing tenants facing eviction, Sophia hopes to assist clients confronting legal challenges related to housing due to their immigrant status.
Sophia is from Columbus, Ohio. She earned a B.A. in International Relations and French from Bucknell University. As a former student-athlete, she reports enjoying “all things” related to fitness and health. An accomplished cook, Sophia enjoys preparing cuisines from around the world.
Melanie Pineda is a Housing Paralegal at Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program. She provides paralegal support to our staff attorneys and assists with coordination of the undergraduate internship program. Melanie holds a B.A. in Journalism and Latin American & Caribbean Studies from New York University. While in college, she volunteered at the New Sanctuary Clinic, which helps asylum seekers find legal representation and other resources. She received an award from the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund and the Alvin Zagor Memorial Reward to research mental health as well as media coverage of Latin American migrant women in the United States. She previously worked with business and asylum immigration lawyers in the D.C. area.
Melanie hopes to eventually practice immigration and human rights law with an emphasis on legal aid for victims of domestic and state violence. She is passionate about community advocacy, her family, and her adopted pitbull, Ruppy.
Peter Posada is a Supervising Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program (TJP). He joined the organization after graduating from Yale Law School in 2017. During his time in law school, Peter participated in the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic and the Rule of Law Clinic. He also served as a summer clerk with the Detroit Mayor’s Office, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Peter grew up in Orlando, Florida. He attended the University of Florida, where he received a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish and a B.S. in Economics.
Prior to joining Rising for Justice, Paul spent most of his career in the IT field, helping to bring industry-leading software to the US market from his native country, the United Kingdom, where he obtained his degree in Computer Science. Specializing in requirements management, Paul was part of a small group of people who grew a business from the ground up, taking it from 5 employees to 250 in just a few years. During that time Paul managed an international team of Product Managers responsible for over 3 million software users.
Having gained experience in software development, marketing, customer support and training, Paul eventually decided to change lanes and find a non-profit firm with a strong track record of helping others. Paul recently completed Dispute Resolution training and a Paralegal course at Georgetown University through which he discovered Rising for Justice.
Paul uses his background in IT, marketing and customer service to help the organization manage technology, raise funds, execute strong communication programs, and manage the organization’s databases to provide detailed reporting and accountability.
When not at work, Paul enjoys playing board games and follows English Premier League football and Formula 1 racing.
Miliard (Mili) Solomon is a Bookkeeper/Administrative Assistant at Rising for Justice. In addition to responsibilities related to our data systems, Mili supports and helps to manage day-to-day accounting and finance activities. Before joining Rising for justice, Mili served as a finance program assistant on a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services in Montgomery County. Mili has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Lesley University. While in college, she worked on developing her bookkeeping skills as an intern and volunteer at several organizations.
Originally from Ethiopia, Mili has a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. Before moving to the United States, Mili served as the head of the Harvesting Department for Dummen Orange, known as one of the world’s top plant breeders. In her spare time, Mili likes to play table pool and watch animated movies.
Amanda Torres* is a Senior Attorney for Rising for Justice’s Civil Protection Order Program, and Project Manager for Rising for Justice’s Expungement/Pro Bono Program. Prior to working at Rising for Justice, Amanda was an Assistant Public Defender/Felony Division Chief in Tampa, Florida. She represented hundreds of indigent clients, both juveniles and adults, and conducted nearly forty trials. She has dedicated her professional life to seeking justice for and advocating on behalf of marginalized persons.
Amanda earned her J.D. from the Florida International University College of Law where she competed on the Moot Court Team, including traveling to Oxford to compete in the Price Media Law Moot Court Competition. She interned at the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Lambda Legal, and Disability Independence Group.
Amanda was raised in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Miami. Amanda is a former High School English teacher and Debate Coach. In her free time, Amanda loves to cook, coach high school and college mock trial teams, and spend time with her partner and their two miniature Dachshunds, Burger and Cooper.
*Amanda Torres is admitted to practice law only in Florida. While awaiting admission to the D.C. Bar, she is being supervised by Grace M. Lopes, a member of the D.C. Bar.
Milford Washington came to Rising for Justice as Paralegal after successful completion of a DC Mayoral fellowship initiative with Georgetown University. As a Paralegal, Milford assists TJP (Tenant Justice Program) attorneys who work effortlessly to defend district tenants facing eviction. Prior to coming to Rising for Justice, Milford interned as an immigration paralegal at the Mughal Law Firm.
Milford earned his Associates in Applied Science in Legal Assistance from the University of the District of Columbia and is ongoing in his legal studies at the University of Maryland University College. Milford is currently a member with the National Capital Area Paralegal Association and actively attends the sessions they offer. For personal time and a piece of mind, Milford enjoys workout sessions at his local gym.
Jaynell White is a Senior Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Tenant Justice Program (TJP). She now represents tenants who are at risk of eviction. She graduated from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2017. While attending law school, she was involved in the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, where she worked to assist individuals in settling their tax debt with the IRS. She was also involved in the Small Business/Community Development Clinic, where she assisted business owners in drafting non-disclosure agreements and filing incorporation documents.
In addition to her clinic experience, Jaynell also volunteered with the Legal Aid Society of North Carolina to assist in writing estate planning documents. She also provided legal advice for pro se landlord/tenants, expungement of criminal records, and qualifications for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filings. Jaynell also served as a summer law clerk with the Southern Legal Counsel in Gainesville, Florida in 2015 where she worked on education policy reform for minority school districts.
Jaynell grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Spelman College. In her free time, she enjoys visiting new restaurants, traveling, and playing video games.
David Yellin is Deputy Director Tenant Justice Program. David is a 2011 alumnus of Rising for Justice, having served as a student attorney in the Housing Advocacy and Litigation Clinic. David joined the organization from Ifrah Law, a litigation boutique where his practice focused on a range of federal civil and criminal litigation and arbitration, as well as pro bono work with the Dulles Justice Coalition and other organizations. As an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, in New York, David was given the firm’s pro bono award for his work with organizations including the New York Office of the Public Defender, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Project Vote, and the Innocence Project. He also has co-taught evidence at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
David received his JD, magna cum laude, from the Georgetown University Law Center, a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Colgate University. From 2013 to 2015, David clerked for the Honorable Paul W. Grimm in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
David is originally from Long Island, New York, but now lives in the District with his wife and sons.