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 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.
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.
Donnice is the Chief Administrative Officer of Rising for Justice. She began her career as a paralegal in 2004 in a civil defense law firm and later transitioned into business development and higher education. Donnice joins Rising for Justice from Howard University School of Law where she served as the Director of Faculty Services for over four years.
As a proud native Washingtonian, Donnice enjoys walking around the city to keep up with its ever-evolving landscape. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Trinity University and is currently working on her Master of International Business from Florida International University.
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 Interim Director Eviction Defense Program at 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.
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.
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.
Peter Posada is a Supervising 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.
Pat joined Rising for Justice in January 2020 as Interim Director of Development. She is responsible for grant writing and management, major gift fundraising, and campaign planning. Before coming to Rising for Justice, Pat worked at Equal Justice Works, first managing the nation’s largest legal fellowship program and then as Director of Philanthropy. Her experience in fundraising and non-profit management also includes years of service at Norwood School in Bethesda, Maryland as Board Chair, Director of Development, and Associate Head for Institutional Advancement and Strategic Initiatives. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive in 2018.
Prior to shifting to a career in development, Pat practiced communications law for many years at Kirkland & Ellis and Wiley Rein in Washington, DC. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Law School, she served as an officer of the Federal Communications Bar Association, chaired the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law, and served in the ABA House of Delegates.
Pat lives in Georgetown and is the proud mother of three grown daughters. It is her great pleasure to support the critical work of front-line attorneys addressing the pressing legal needs of low-income members of the DC community.
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.
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.
David Yellin is Interim Deputy Director Eviction Defense 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.