Rising for Justice is staffed by a passionate and diverse group of lawyers, advocates and activists. Click to see our Current Clinic Students or Current Interns.
Grace M. Lopes 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. 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.
David Simmons is the Chief Operating Officer at Rising for Justice. He joined the organization in July of 2018. In his capacity, he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization and the planning and measurement of the organization’s objectives.
Prior to Rising for Justice, he worked at Equal Justice Works for 13 years in various capacities as the Director of Fellowships and Advancement, COO and Vice President of Development. He has held positions at various non-profits in DC for 25 years and brings a wealth of experiences to Rising for Justice.
David is originally from Iowa, where he attended Briar Cliff University to earn a BA in History, and now serves on the Board of Trustees there.
Celina Aldape is a Senior Staff 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.
Dan Clark is the Co-Director of the Eviction Defense Services (EDS) of Rising for Justice. As Co-Director of EDS, 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 Co-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 Eviction Defense Services (EDS). 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.
As a Rising for Justice Law Clerk, Ruth El works to assist low-income tenants who are at risk of eviction. She is a recent graduate of the American University Washington College of Law, where she served as a student attorney for the Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, President of the Juvenile Justice Society. She has also held a long-term internship at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty during her law school career.
She holds a B.A. from the University of Miami, where she double-majored in Business Management & Administration, and Legal Studies. In her spare time, Ruth enjoys spending time with family and friends.
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.
Sterling Howard is the Communication & Development Director at Rising for Justice, where she leads fundraising strategy.
Previously, Sterling spent more than six years at Equal Justice Works in the Fellowship Program, where her portfolio of work was a unique mix of program management, sponsor relations, and fundraising. Her day to day included everything from leading the program’s fundraising strategies, finding, building and maintaining relationships with sponsors that fund the projects, helping current Fellows actively engage their sponsor through pro bono opportunities, and building out programmatic initiatives such as increasing Fellowship salaries.
While enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, Sterling served for three years as a student organizer of Home Court, an annual charity basketball game between Members of Congress and members of the law school faculty benefiting the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. She now serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
Prior to Georgetown, Sterling was a personal assistant to a family running its own charitable foundation. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Art History from Southern Methodist University in her native Dallas, TX, where she received a full-merit scholarship entitled the President’s Scholar Award.
Hope Kwiatkowski is a Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). She represents low-income tenants who are at risk of eviction. She joined the organization after a fellowship with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in the Economic Justice Project. During her fellowship, she worked on policy reform and impact litigation focused on combating systemic discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment and reentry, and she co-published a report criticizing the use of race/ethnicity and gender in the calculation of civil damage awards.
Hope graduated from UC Davis School of Law in May 2017. At UC Davis, she was involved with the Civil Rights Clinic, where she worked to enforce a Consent Decree at a local jail and advocated in the Ninth Circuit for the rights of detained immigrants. She has also interned with the ACLU Center for Advocacy and Policy, the Center for Justice and Accountability, and Accountability Counsel.
In her spare time, Hope enjoys climbing rocks, practicing yoga, and spending time with friends and family.
Kathryn Lash is a Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). She has spent her career advocating for individuals in marginalized communities using impact litigation, community lawyering, policy advocacy, and direct legal services.
Prior to joining the organization, Kathryn worked at an all women owned civil rights law firm in Denver, Colorado and as a legal fellow at AARP Foundation Litigation in Washington, D.C. She has also previously worked as a fellow and intern at a number of civil rights and racial justice organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Advancement Project, the New York Legal Aid Society, and the ACLU of Colorado.
Kathryn received her JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law. In law school, she served as a student attorney in the Southwest Indian Law Clinic, as a Programming Assistant for the National Black Law Students Association, and as the Vice President of Community Outreach for the New Mexico Women’s Law Caucus. Prior to law school, Kathryn received her B.S. in Journalism and a certificate in Multicultural Leadership Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Originally from New Mexico and Colorado, Kathryn enjoys outdoor activities, travel, live music, and spending time with her amazing family and inspirational friends. She is thrilled to join an organization with a history as rich as Rising for Justice’s and looks forward to furthering her commitment to making the world a safer and more just place.
Adrian Madsen is Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic. He joined the organization after graduating summa cum laude from the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. In 2015, he served as a student attorney in our Criminal Division, where he received the Earl H. Davis Award from the Olender Foundation for his zealous representation of our clients. While in law school, Adrian worked as a law clerk in three divisions of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and also served as Associate Editor of the UDC-DCSL Law Review. Adrian has a long history of working for social justice in the District, including his role as Secretary to Empower DC’s Board of Governors since 2007. He is thrilled to further his commitment to indigent defense at Rising for Justice.
Lucy Newton is the Co-Director of the Eviction Defense Services (EDS) of 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.
Justin A. Okezie is a Supervising Attorney in the Criminal Defense Clinic. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Rutgers University with High Honors and his Juris Doctorate from Duke University Law School cum laude.
Justin has been a member of the D.C. Superior Court’s Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”) Panel since 2008, where he has focused his practice on defending indigent clients charged with crimes in the District of Columbia at both the trial and appellate levels. Justin has served as lead counsel in over 100 criminal trials and has represented well over 1,000 clients facing criminal charges.
Justin is devoted to strengthening education and training in the legal profession, especially for law students and attorneys who are interested in public interest law. For a number of years, Justin was a guest lecturer at the Criminal Defense Clinic and he taught the clinic during 2018. He is regularly invited by the D.C. Public Defender Service to train new members of the CJA Panel, and has conducted intensive trainings for the America Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative as well for American University’s Diploma in Oral Litigation, where he has trained Latin American defense attorneys,
prosecutors, and judges in trial skills.
Justin is a long-serving member of both the Superior Court’s Advisory Committee to the Judicial Committee on CJA Panel Admissions and the Criminal Rules Advisory Committee. Justin helped develop and implement the Superior Court’s attorney practice standards for criminal defense representation and since 2012 he has provided training to the Superior Court’s Criminal Division Judges.
Justin is fluent in Spanish and often represents Spanish-speaking clients in criminal matters.
Peter Posada is a Senior Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). 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.
Gwen is the Director of Rising for Justice’s Pro Bono Program, and supervisor of the program’s expungement clinic. She began working at Rising for Justice in 2018, and during law school she was a student in the Criminal Division of D.C. Law Students in Court.
Prior to her employment at Rising for Justice, Gwen worked at The District of Columbia Public Defender Service in the trial, parole, civil legal services, and mental health divisions. She also worked as a managing attorney at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s Landlord and Tenant Resource Center.
Gwen serves on the Board of Directors of the Washington Council of Lawyers as the Mock Trial Chair and as a Poverty Simulation Facilitator. In recognition of her service as Mock Trial Chair, Gwen was a co-recipient of the D.C. Bar’s Frederick B. Abramson Award for participation in the 16 th Annual Youth Law Fair. Gwen was appointed by the D.C. Bar Board of Governors to serve as a member of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee for two terms, extending from 2011 to 2018. Gwen is a graduate of the George Washington University School of Law.
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 EDS (Eviction Defense Services) 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.
Lauren Whelan serves as the Administrative Assistant and Intern Supervisor at Rising for Justice. She is responsible for business operations support, student outreach, and internship coordination.
Lauren was born and raised in Chicago. After completing an internship with Rising for Justice in the fall of 2018, Lauren knew she wanted to come back and work for Rising for Justice. She is so excited to be back in the DMV area. Lauren studied Political Science, Marketing, and Leadership at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. Prior to joining our team, Lauren was a law clerk at a Real Estate law firm, a college shuttle bus driver, and a nanny. In her spare time, she enjoys brunch, exploring all that DC has to offer, going to concerts, and traveling. Lauren is excited to join Rising for Justice as an employee, is passionate about the mission of the organization, and looks forward to the personal and professional growth this position can help her with.
Jaynell White is a Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). 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.
Ariel (pronounced R-E-L) Woodard-Stephens is a Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). She is the daughter of retired Air Force veterans but considers the D.C. area home as she earned her Bachelor’s Degree from George Mason University.
Ariel advocates for marginalized communities using direct legal services, community lawyering, and policy advocacy. She is an alumna of Northeastern University School of Law (Class of 2015) where she worked as a student attorney in their Poverty Law & Practice Clinic. Following graduation, she completed a two-year Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Bart Gordon Fellowship at Greater Boston Legal Services in Boston, Massachusetts. Additionally, Ariel served as a Judicial Law Clerk in New Jersey Superior Court’s Criminal Division, following a 3L year internship with the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ariel is thrilled to be back home in the DMV area. When she isn’t at work, she’s spending time with her favorite person, Thurgood G., her very charismatic English Bulldog.
Pamela Yee is the Director of the Immigrant Defense Program, which provides representation for immigrants apprehended and detained by ICE who face deportation and permanent separation from their families. Pamela specializes in immigration, detention issues, and the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. She has spent her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations before state family and criminal courts, federal immigration courts, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Prior to joining Rising for Justice, Pamela was in private practice representing clients before immigration courts nationwide. She previously worked at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, first as a staff attorney for the Virginia Adult Detainee Program, and later as the supervising attorney for the Maryland Adult Detainee Program. At CAIR, Pamela supervised the Credible and Reasonable Fear Pro Bono program, spearheaded and managed their Social Work program, as well as conducted Know Your Rights presentations for persons detained by ICE. Pamela has given numerous trainings and presentations at area law schools, law firms, and the DC Bar’s Pro Bono program regarding immigration detention and removal. Prior to her work with immigration, Pamela worked as a criminal defense attorney and has experience representing indigent criminal defendants and juvenile respondents.
A Washington D.C. native, Pamela obtained her J.D. from the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America, and her B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. She is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a member of the DC/MD/VA Regional Criminal-Immigration Collaborative, an Executive Producer for Capital Pride, and a founding member of the DC Chapter of Gay for Good. Pamela is admitted to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia and speaks both Chinese and Spanish.
David Yellin is a Senior Staff Attorney of Rising for Justice’s Eviction Defense Services (EDS). 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 son.