Sacramento Administrative Unit
1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Catherine 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 - 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 - 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 - 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
350 South Bixel Street, Suite 290
Los Angeles CA 90017
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 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
Dara Schur - Litigation Counsel
Dara 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 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 Counsel
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 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 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 - 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 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 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
1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
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 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
Legislation & Public Info
1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Margaret 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 Advocate
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
1831 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811-4114
Michele Mudgett - Director
Griselda Alvarez - Office Manager II
Sacramento - X 5995
Manuel Campos - Patients' Rights Advocate
Atascadero State Hospital (805) 468-2165
Ann Coller - Patients' Rights Specialist
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 -
Agnes Lintz - Patients' Rights Specialist
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