California’s protection & advocacy system

For legal assistance call 800-776-5746. For all other purposes call 916-504-5800 in Northern CA

or 213-213-8000 in Southern CA. TTY 800-719-5798.

Staff Directory

Sacramento Administrative Unit

1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
TTY: 800-719-5798
Fax 916-504-5801

Catherine BlakemoreCatherine Blakemore - Executive Director

Catherine Blakemore is the Executive Director of Disability Rights California. She previously worked for the Director of Litigation and the Managing Attorney of the Los Angeles regional office. Before joining us, Catherine was an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the Disability Rights Legal Center. Catherine received her J.D. in 1977 from Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles. Her work as an attorney specialized in the area of special education and she continues to work as one of the counsel in the Chanda Smith vs. Los Angeles Unified School District.

Since becoming the Executive Director, Catherine has worked to change the face of our organization from a mostly white non-disabled organization. Over 10 years staff with disabilities have been hired at all levels of the organization and the staff now reflects the ethnic and language diversity of California. As a result, our advocacy is richer and more responsive to the needs of all Californians.



Steve Haas imageSteve Haas - Human Resources Director

Steve joined DRC as HR Director in January, 2015, bringing over 20 years of experience from a variety of human resources, training and management roles. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Master’s Degree in Human Resources, both from Golden Gate University. He is certified by the HR Certification Institute as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, with an additional certification in California employment law (SPHR-CA). He has also served on the faculty of UC Davis Extension teaching a variety of HR courses, and was on the board of directors for the Sacramento Area HR Association for eight years.



Karen Keene image

Karen Keene - Finance Director







Jesse Magano - IT Director

Karen Mercado - Administrative Assistant II

Clarisa Anderson - Senior Human Resources Generalist

Koleen Biegacki - Senior Executive Assistant
Stephanie Burkett - Staff Accountant II

Jame Chang - Administrative Assistant II

Navinder Murti - Payroll Specialist II

Taiko Ishikawa - Senior Accountant

Amber Witt
Amber Witt - HR Generalist

Latamera Leali - Accounting Clerk
Gina Lee - A/P Supervisor

Guadalupe Moreno - Payroll Specialist II
Vonzell Pierson - Senior Help Desk Technician

Dennis Whitcomb - Senior Systems Administrator
Brian Zuniga - Administrative Assistant II
Michelle Johnson – Administrative Analyst
Charles Gunn – HR Assistant
Lola Brice – A/P Specialist I
Erik Wendelboe – Database Developer/Systems Administrator

Los Angeles Office

350 South Bixel Street, Suite 290
Los Angeles CA 90017
Phone: (213)213-8000
Fax: (213) 213-8001

Melinda Bird - Litigation Counsel

Melinda Bird specializes in civil rights, benefits, health and mental health care, especially for children and youth.

Candis Watson Bowles - Managing Attorney

Candis Watson Bowles

Candis Bowles is the Managing Attorney of the Youth Practice Group for Disability Rights California. Candis oversees the work of attorneys and advocates throughout the state who represent children with disabilities so they can have equal educational opportunities through special education, related services, school based behavior services and integrated mental health services. The Youth Practice Group files systemic litigation in federal and state court and administrative complaints to address segregated schools, district-wide denial of a free appropriate public education for special education students, school to prison pipeline and the overuse of restraint and seclusion for students with behavior related disabilities. Since Candis joined DRC in 2008, she has enjoyed participating in a variety of advocacy efforts to improve the lives of children. Candis and her practice group train parents to become special education advocates, train probation officers to advocate for and stop expulsion of juveniles once back in the community and directly represent students at IEP meetings, expulsion hearings, truancy hearings, administrative hearings and in class action litigation.

Autumn Elliott - Associate Managing Attorney

Rosa Alas - Senior Office Manager

Brigitte Ammons - Senior Advocate

Mayra Arreguin - Legal Secretary I
Andrew Berk - Staff Attorney I

Suzi Bernais - Information Referral Advocate

Suzi joined the Los Angeles regional office in 1989. She proudly served as a member of L.A.'s Support Staff team as a Legal Secretary and acted as the local help desk/MIS Liaison for the Los Angeles office. With the desire to work more directly with our clients, Suzi moved into the role as one of L.A.'s Information & Referral Advocates at the start of 2008, now providing assistance to clients at the intake level.

Prior to joining Disability Rights California, Suzi enjoyed a varied and very interesting period of 15 years living and working in London. A rich experience was gained from such diverse jobs as working with the American Chamber of Commerce, Christie's Auction House, a surgical supplies company that equipped hospitals around the country, and an international antiques shipping company.

Robert Borrelle - Staff Attorney I
Katerine Castro - Multicultural Affairs Advocate I
Connie Chu - Managing Attorney

Richard Diaz - Staff Attorney I
Beverly Familar - Legal Secretary II

Beatriz Garcia - Administrative Assistant I

Rosa Gomez - Short Term Assistant Team Advocate I
Marilyn Holle - Emeritus

Rebecca Hoyt - CAP Advocate II

Pamila Lew - Staff Attorney II, Investigations Unit

Sri Panchalam - Staff Attorney I

Nicholas Hyde - Staff Attorney I

Natasha Reyes - Staff Attorney I

Stella Riskin - Investigator I

Anna Sullivan - Legal Secretary I
Gabriel Taylor - Advocate I
Carmen Torres - Receptionist

Carmen Varela - Advocate II

Jerri Ward - Advocate I

Paula Sandoval - Intake Assisant

Ben Conway – Senior Attorney

Gabrielle Hoverter – Legal Secretary I

Karen Valenzuela – Legal Secretary I

Bay Area Office

1330 Broadway, Suite 500
Oakland, CA 94612
Main: 510.267.1200  TTY: 800.649.0154
Fax: 510.267.1201

Dara Schur - Litigation Counsel

Dara SchurDara Schur is the Litigation Counsel , working with legal staff in all of DRC's regional offices. Her practice specialties include civil rights, housing and disability law. Among other things, Dara’s housing work has resulted in the addition of many hundreds of accessible, affordable housing units in California and has kept many people with disabilities from losing their homes.

Dara received her J.D. in 1979 from Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley. Before coming on board, she was a housing law specialist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and worked for a number of legal services agencies and a civil rights firm. Dara currently sits on the Board of Directors of The Impact Fund and regularly trains advocates and attorneys on public interest issues and litigation skills.

Kim Swain - Managing Attorney

Kim Swain, Managing AttorneyKim Swain is the Managing Attorney in the Bay Area regional office, overseeing the legal unit which provides intake, referral, direct representation to clients, engages in policy work and provides outreach and training to consumers and the community at large.

Kim received her J.D. in 1981 from King Hall School of Law, University of California at Davis. Her practice specialties include civil rights, rights to community services and housing for people with disabilities. Kim focuses on deinstitutionalization litigation where she worked on both the Coffelt case (involving the provision of community options for over 2000 individuals at the state developmental centers) and litigation against the State and San Francisco on behalf of class members at Laguna Honda Hospital. She has extensive experience and knowledge regarding Olmstead implementation in California, including advocating for improvements to the Home and Community-Based Waivers under Medi-Cal. Kim is also an adjunct professor at UCD Law School co-teaching the Disability Civil Rights class. She was previously a staff attorney at Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley.

Vicki Bass - Grants Executive Assistant

Joshua Davidson - Supervising Attorney
Aaron Fischer - Senior Counsel
Joey Gallardo - Short Term Assistant Team Advocate II

Elissa Gershon - Litigation CounselElissa Gershon, Equal Access Staff Attorney

Elissa Gershon is Litigation Counsel for DRC’s Healthcare/Home & Community-Based Services and Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities practice groups. She has led class action Olmstead litigation, including Darling v. Douglas, which preserved Medi-Cal funded adult day health care in California and Chambers et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, which involved deinstitutionalization of residents of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. She also works on litigation and policy matters related to increasing and improving opportunities for people with disabilities to live in the community, including In-Home Supportive Services, regional center services, and Medi-Cal Home and Community Based Waivers. Elissa received her J.D. in 1993 from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and has worked at DRC since 1997.




Deborah Gettleman - Supervising Attorney

Anne Hadreas - Supervising Attorney

William Hershon - Staff Attorney I

Sarah Isaacs - Supervising Attorney

Regina KendricksRegina Kendricks - Senior Office Manager

Regina has been employed at Bay Area regional office since July 1, 1991, and has many years of administrative, secretarial, supervisory, and managerial experience. She oversees the daily operations of the office and is responsible for the hiring and direct supervision of office support staff. She has assisted with and/or served as the Logistics Coordinator for various agency-wide trainings and projects, and works closely with managers and directors throughout the agency.




Suge Lee - Supervising Attorney

Will Leiner - Associate Managing Attorney

Karla Loaiza - Intake Assistant

Jamie Parkin - Legal Secretary II

Lacey Wilson - Legal Secretary I

Leslie Morrison - Director of Investigations and Grant Management

Leslie Morrison, Director, Investigations UnitLeslie Morrison is Director of the Investigations Unit. She is a recognized expert in behavioral restraint and seclusion, most recently publishing a report discussing restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities in CA schools. Leslie consulted on California legislation (SB 130, codified in Health and Safety Code §§ 1180 et seq.) mandating safeguards to protect individuals from injury and death caused by the use of restraint. She has also worked to develop and implement system reform to ensure an adequate response by abuse response and to provide crime victims with disabilities equal access to the criminal justice system.

Before joining us, Leslie worked as in-house counsel at several acute care hospitals running their risk management, corporate compliance and quality improvement programs. She is also recognized as an expert in issues regarding the increased victimization of persons with disabilities and inadequacies in the abuse reporting and response system to such crimes.

Leslie received her JD from Golden Gate University School of Law in 1995 and her Masters in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing from Boston College in 1986.

Fred Nisen, PAIR/Equal Access Staff AttorneyFred Nisen - Supervising Attorney

Fred is a member of the State Bars of California and Nevada. From 1997 to 1999, he was a rights attorney for the Nevada Disability Advocacy & Law Center (NDALC), Nevada’s protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities. At NDALC, he dealt with various aspects of disability rights law. Since 1999, he has worked for us. Since June of 2000, He has been a staff attorney in Bay Area regional office. His focus is mainly on housing and public benefits.




Jung PhamJung Pham - Staff Attorney I, Investigations Unit

Jung Pham is a staff attorney with the Investigations Unit where he focuses on the abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities in facility and community settings. Jung’s special interest is investigating the abuse and exploitation of clients living in community congregate homes. He is currently working on developing a multi-county coalition-based approach to mitigate the risk of physical and financial exploitation in those settings. In addition to his advocacy work Jung is also involved in several legislative and public policy issues, one of particular interest being police training in interacting with persons in mental health crisis. He is also assisting with the roll-out of a new state agency that monitors state facility police mis-conduct. In his spare time Jung is working to raise disability awareness and reduce its stigma within the Asian community.





Crystal Padilla - Advocate II

Rachel Richardson - CAP Advocate I

Bridget Claycomb - Staff Attorney I

Elizabeth Zirker - Managing AttorneyElizabeth Zirker, Managing Attorney

Elizabeth Zirker is the Managing Attorney of Disability Rights California’s Community Integration Health Practice Group.  She focuses on disability rights, working to increase and strengthen home-and community-based services through participation in impact litigation on groundbreaking California Olmstead cases such as Chambers v. CCSF and Darling v. Douglas.  Her years of individual advocacy in administrative hearings and state court, inform her expertise in California’s many programs that maintain seniors and people with disabilities in their own homes, with particular emphasis on the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program and Medi-Cal waivers.  Elizabeth received her law and undergraduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and her MFA in painting from the California College of the Arts. She was a 2005 Borchard Fellow in Law and Aging.




Ali Nicolette - Fellow

Evelyn Bello-Grant - Legal Secretary I

Laila Bustamante - Administrative Assistant I

Hayley Jones - Legal Secretary I

Angelica Galang – Fellow

Felicia Copeland – Legal Secretary I

Elizabeth Ballart – Staff Attorney I

Sacramento Office

1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Phone: 916-504-5800
Fax: 916-504-5801

Virginia Knowlton Marcus – Legal Advocacy Unit Director

Virginia Knowlton Marcus returned to DRC as Director of Legal Advocacy in 2017, after 11 years successfully leading our sister organization, Disability Rights Maryland, as the Executive Director. In addition, Virginia has worked as Executive Director of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation in Washington, DC.

Virginia is a nationally respected disability rights attorney who has been advocating for people with disabilities on an array of issues at the state, federal and international levels for 25 years. Her involvement has included serving as an officer of the National Disability Rights Network Board of Directors and co-chairing its Legislative Committee.

Virginia began working at DRC as a law student and remained for a decade in several capacities, including Director of Public Policy. She earned her J.D. and B.A. in International Relations/World Politics at the University of California, Davis.

Pet Alcairo - Legal Secretary I

Pet has been a secretary with us for the last 7 years. She worked in the Bay Area regional office for two years and five years in the Sacramento regional office. She was a corporate legal secretary for Bechtel Corporation from 1987 to 1996. Previously, she was a secretary to a Vice President of Crocker National Bank. Pet received her AA degree from the City College of San Francisco. She can speak Tagalog fluently.

Tho Vinh Banh - Supervising Attorney

Pamela CohenPamela Cohen - Staff Attorney II

Pamela Cohen is a staff attorney in the Sacramento regional office. She represents individuals with all types of disabilities on discrimination issues involving housing, employment, public services and public accommodations. She also has experience representing adults with psychiatric disabilities on a range of other issues conservatorships, forensic mental health issues, and institutional conditions. She was previously a criminal appellate defense attorney, a staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health law in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor teaching Mental Health and Disability Law. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 1987.




Desireee Delonia - Office Manager II
Todd Higgins - Advocate II

Leilani Pfeifer - Multicultural Affairs Coordinator

The Multicultural Affairs Coordinator coordinates training activities to identified communities and participants throughout Sacramento catchment area. She markets the our services to community leaders in target communities of color in order to develop strategies to ensure people who have disabilities and their families have equal access to services. She also assists with organizational development and planning, including planning and development of our Advocacy Plan and other statewide projects.

Taymour Ravandi - Senior Attorney

Taymour Ravandi has specialized in disability law since 1995. For the first six years, he worked on a special project to expand access to assistive technology. In this period, he helped making augmentative communication a Medi-Cal benefit, enhanced access to independent mobility for nursing home residents, edited a manual on programs and laws addressing assistive technology, and commented on state legislation. Since 2001, he has concentrated his professional focus on special education and laws affecting public benefits. In 2005, he added advocacy on voting rights to his field of work. He also has substantial knowledge on many other related areas including anti-discrimination laws.

Tifanei Ressl-Moyer - Fellow
Kathleen Rossow - Legal Secretary I
Valeria Dozier - Intake Assistant

Michael Thomas - Senior Advocate

Michael’s area of expertise is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). His Job duties focus on assisting SSDI and SSI beneficiaries enter, return to or advance in the work place. This includes notifying beneficiaries of employment support services available to them such as the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), Employment Networks (EN) and other employment services through the Ticket to Work program. His job duties also encompass educating people with disabilities, their family members, and the community and government agencies on a beneficiary’s rights under the Social Security Act (The Act). He also represents clients in all levels of administrative proceedings before SSA, DOR and in any capacity that may be a barrier to a beneficiary returning to work.

Anna Leach-Proffer - Supervising Attorney

Christopher Ogata - Staff Attorney I

Megan Lazet - Staff Attorney I

Sonja Villarreal – Receptionist

Katie Mathews – Staff Attorney Investigations Unit

Kevin Diosdado – Investigator I

Salma Enan – Staff Attorney II

Imani Mitchell – Administrative Assistant I

Layla Oghabian – Legal Secretary II

Katie Frias – Legal Secretary I

JoAnn Parayno – Grants Administrator

San Diego Office

1111 Sixth Ave., Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92101
Main: 619.239.7861  TTY: 800.576.9269
Fax: 619.239.7906


Maria Iriarte - Associate Managing Attorney

Debra Jorgensen - Managing Attorney

Rebecca Cervenak - Staff Attorney II

Meaghan Connolly - Staff Attorney I

Esmeralda Elenes - Short Term Assistant Team Advocate I

Callie Frye - Multicultural Affairs Advocate
Lauren Giardina - Associate Managing Attorney

Ivan Guillen - CAP Advocate I

Raymond Kwong - Multicultural Affairs Advocate
Alma Linares - Legal Secretary I

Michael Lombardi - Staff Attorney I

Ann Menasche - Senior AttorneyAnn Menasche, PAIMI Attorney

Ann has worked as a staff attorney in the San Diego regional office since 2002. She has 30 years of litigation experience in civil rights and public interest law. Since coming to work for us, Ann has developed expertise in affordable housing litigation, mental health, and disability discrimination in public benefits. She is also working to defend state disability rights access law from attempts to undermine them.





Ranem Shhadeh - Administrative Assistant II

Yolanda Teymoori - Legal Secretary II

Aleyda Toruno - Senior Advocate

Rebecca Yang - Staff Attorney I

Mary Jensen - Administrative Assistant II

Yvonne Lopez - Legal Secretary I
Christian Abasto – Managing Attorney
Bethany Souza – Community Work Incentives Coordinator
Jose Mendoza – Intake Assistant

Legislation & Public Information Unit

Legislation & Public Info
1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Fax 916-504-5807

Margaret Jakobson-Johnson, Advocacy DirectorMargaret Jakobson-Johnson - Advocacy Director

Margaret Jakobson received her J.D. from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, in 1986. She has worked for us over 20 years. Her specialties are mental health legislation, special education issues, developmental disabilities service system eligibility, and Americans with Disabilities Act litigation. She became the managing attorney of the Bay Area regional office in 1999 until she moved to San Diego in 2001 to set up a new regional office, which she managed for five years. In 2006 she became our Advocacy Director and moved to the legislative and public information unit in Sacramento, where she supervises that unit, our peer self-advocacy units, collaborative projects, publications coordinator and our communications director. Over the years she has been on numerous disability-related organizations’ boards, including National Disability Rights Network, Through the Looking Glass, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, The Berkeley Center for Independent Living, the Access Center of San Diego, the Axis Dance Company and the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program. On a personal note, she has used a wheelchair for over 50 years and is a parent and a grandparent with a disability.

Curt Child - Legislative Director

Patricia McConahay - Communications Director

Evelyn Abouhassan - Senior Legislative AdvocateEvelyn Abouhassan image

Evelyn Abouhassan is the Senior Legislative Advocate. She is responsible for management of the legislative and public policy activities of the organization, and works with management and LPIU staff to develop the organization's legislative platform and lobby the California State Legislature on issues that have a systemic impact on persons with disabilities. Evelyn has worked on disability issues for the last seven years and has been a lobbyist for the last six years. She works on policy issues affecting children with disabilities, issues related to persons with developmental disabilities, anti-discrimination issues, employment law, employment discrimination, and personal autonomy.




Ja'Nel Johnson - Communications Specialist

Alicia Mendoza - Office Manager II

Brent Chamberlin - Administrative Assistant I

Debra Roth – Senior Legislative Advocate

Jose Guerrero – Web Content Specialist

California Office of Patients’ Rights

1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Fax 916-504-5811

Michele Mudgett - Director

Sacramento - X 5994

Griselda Alvarez - Office Manager II

Sacramento - X 5995

Manuel Campos - Patients' Rights Advocate

Atascadero State Hospital (805) 468-2165

Ann Coller - Patients' Rights Specialist

Sacramento - X 5997

Maria Garcia - Assistant Patients' Rights Advocate

Metropolitan State Hospital (562) 651-2225

Suzanna Gee - Supervising Senior Attorney

Candy Guerrero - Assistant Patients' Rights Advocate

Kathy Kalem - Patients' Rights Advocate I

Atascadero State Hospital - (805) 468-2165

Agnes Lintz - Patients' Rights Specialist

Sacramento - X 5993

Jode Keasler - Patients' Rights Advocate Coalinga State Hospital

Laurie Lockhart - Patients' Rights Advocate Atascadero

Paula McCord Watier - Supervising Advocate Specialist

Patton State Hospital (909) 425-6097

Alicia Sanchez - Assistant Patients' Rights Advocate Coalinga State Hospital

Rayann Smith - Appeals Coordinator

Melina Llamas - Assistant Patients' Rights Advocate

Napa State Hospital (707) 255-2680

Warren Rogers - Patients' Rights Advocate

Metropolitan State Hospital (909) 425-6097

Priscilla Torres - Patients' Rights Advocate I

Patton State Hospital (909) 425-6097

Daniel Wagoner - Supervising Advocate Specialist

Coalinga State Hospital - 559-934-3861

Victor Alvarez – Patients’ Rights Advocate I

Napa State Hospital – (916) 504-5862

Erica Edwards – Patients’ Rights Advocate I

Napa State Hospital – (916) 504-5864

Peer/Self-Advocacy Unit

1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
TTY: 800-719-5798
Fax 916-504-5806


Margaret Jakobson-Johnson - Advocacy Director

Legislation and Public Information Unit, Sacramento

Robyn Gantsweg - PSA Unit Manager

Barbara Acosta - PSA Coordinator
Leonard Alfaro - PSA Coordinator

Martha Cook - Supported Work Assistant

Debi Davis - PSA Trainer II


Monica Gallegos - Administrative Assistant I

Los Angeles

Jaclyn Zdanowski - Administrative Assistant I

Alicia Mendoza - Office Manager II


Leslie Napper - Supervising PSA Coordinator

Linda Naranjo - PSA Coordinator

Jenny Olson - Administrative Assistant II


Senobia Pichardo - PSA Trainer

Los Angeles

Tando Goduka – PSA Coordinator

Paul Martin – Administrative Assistant I


Fresno Satellite Office

567 West Shaw, Suite C-3
Fresno, CA 93704
Main: 559.476.2000 TTY: 800.719.5798
Fax: 559.476.2001


Ernestine Moreno - Short Term Assistant Team Advocate I

Elizabeth Bravo - Intake Assistant

Jesse Vella - Multicultural Affairs Advocate I

Lisa Navarro - Advocate I

Roman Hernandez - Administrative Assistant I