ACLU STAFF BIOGRAPHIES
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Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director
Chávez-Peterson has long been an integral part of San Diego’s organizing community with nearly two decades of experience in community leadership and nonprofit management, advocating for affordable housing, neighborhood revitalization, and immigrant rights. Since starting with the San Diego ACLU in 2012 as organizing director, Chávez-Peterson was promoted to associate director to oversee legal, communications, policy, and organizing programs later that year. In Chávez-Peterson’s short time in leadership, she has been instrumental in creating integrated advocacy campaigns advancing priority issue areas, such as criminal justice, immigrant rights, and voting rights. Before coming to the San Diego ACLU, Chávez-Peterson was the co-founder and executive director of Justice Overcoming Boundaries, a network of faith, community, education, business and labor partners working together to advance social justice in San Diego. She has a Bachelor’s degree from SDSU in political science and Chicano/a studies.
Jeffrey Wergeles, Deputy Director
Wergeles joined the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties in February 2011 as the development director, and in November 2013 was appointed deputy director. In this position he leads our development work, and oversees the organization’s finances and operations. Prior to joining the ACLU, Wergeles was the director of development at the San Diego LGBT Community Center and before at KPBS, public radio and television for San Diego. He has an extensive resume of community involvement, serving as president on the boards of Mama’s Kitchen and the Greater San Diego Business Association. Prior to working at KPBS he was a member of their community advisory board, and also served as vice president of the Diversionary Theater and on the boards of the June Burnett Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He holds a degree in economics from UCLA.
Laurie Levine, Business Manager
Levine has worked in the accounting field for 30 years. Her experience as the office manager for a training and consulting professional prepared her for the multi-faceted responsibilities of managing the business functions of the San Diego ACLU. For five years she was the sole proprietor of a bookkeeping consulting service. Levine’s belief in the dignity and equality of every human being fuels her passion and dedication to helping the ACLU fight for individual rights and fundamental freedoms.
Alison Ross, Administrative Associate
Ross joined the ACLU in September 2015. As the Development Associate, she provides support in donor stewardship and cultivation and plans all development related events. Ross’s past development experience draws from both nonprofits and political campaigns. She is a graduate of University of California, San Diego with a degree in communication. At UCSD, she graduated Magna cum Laude, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the Stewart Society, and the Caledonian Society, and earned Highest Distinction for her thesis examining the intersectionalities of race, religion, and politics in the United States.
Kathleen Sanchez, Executive Assistant
Sanchez comes to the ACLU after more than nineteen years specializing in human resources with one of the biggest public relations and advertising agencies in San Diego. She attended the University of Arizona where she studied early childhood education and special education. She says she loves being surrounded by everyone’s drive and passion, and is inspired and grounded by family, and close friends.
The Advocacy Team created a mission statement to guide their work.
“The Advocacy Department executes the mission and values of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties in the community through the building of strategic relationships, and by engaging and developing community leaders in order to create sustainable social change.”
Gaia Croston, Advocacy Associate
Croston grew up in San Diego and received her bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Edinburgh. While in college she was involved in the national Youth Stop AIDS Campaign for three years, advocating for better prevention, awareness, and care for individuals living with HIV in Scotland and beyond. Gaia also spent time working on student newspapers and with community organizations including the Centre for LGBT Health and Wellbeing. She is delighted to join the ACLU team and as Advocacy Associate, she hopes to connect many community members to opportunities that allow them to grow and effect positive change.
Esmeralda Flores, Binational Relations Associate
Flores conducts extensive outreach in Mexico for the San Diego ACLU’s Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson settlement that challenged government policy on voluntary returns. For the past four years before joining the ACLU, Flores worked as a staff attorney with the Binational Defense and Advocacy Program, housed at the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico. Her focus was on the documentation of human and civil rights violations and family separation issues due to deportations. In 2013, Flores presented a friend-of-the-court brief before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She is a graduate of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California School of Law. She also completed a post-graduate International Migration program at the prestigious Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Tijuana.
Gerrlyn Gacao, Organizer
Gacao joined the ACLU San Diego to continue and deepen advocacy work throughout communities in the southern portion of San Diego County. As a previous council representative for Councilmember David Alvarez’s office, she dedicated her role to organizing and outreaching to constituents across San Diego’s South Bay communities and increased community access and equity of city services. Passionate about cultural awareness and socioeconomic justice, Gacao has also held leadership roles in various electoral campaigns, community organizing opportunities, and political or AAPI community organizations. Gacao was born and raised in Stockton, CA and earned a Bachelor of Arts in urban planning with an economics minor from the University of California, San Diego.
Christie Hill, Senior Policy Strategist
Hill is a San Diego native and has worked in California, Washington, DC and New York advocating for the rights of women, children, and low-income communities. She has focused her work on issues that impact the lives of people of color including education equity, homelessness and economic justice. Hill earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Social Welfare at Berkeley, and a juris doctorate from Columbia Law School, where she served for two years as an adjunct faculty member. Prior to joining the San Diego ACLU, she served as the program and policy director at the Center on Policy Initiatives and helped to launch a campaign focused on promoting equity and transparency in the City of San Diego’s budget as well as fighting for a higher minimum wage.
Amanda Le, Policy Associate
Le graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in international studies-political science/sociology and a minor in business. At UCSD, Le was an active member of the student council, International Center, and the Education Abroad Program, through which she studied political science in Spain. Le previously worked for a Buddhist foundation managing media outreach and had an earlier stint with the San Diego ACLU as a communications intern.
Cassie Purdy, Organizer
Cassie Purdy joins the ACLU after three years at the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, where she worked with labor and community allies to build power for working families. She played various roles at the Labor Council, managing campaigns for pro-worker candidate and ballot measures, organizing coalitions to deepen community partnerships, and supporting various worker organizing and contract campaigns to advance social and economic justice throughout the region. Purdy has developed and honed her organizing and advocacy skills through work with the Gamaliel Foundations, local candidate campaigns,and coalition organizing. Born and raised in Northern California, she moved to San Diego in 2008 to earn her degree from Point Loma Nazarene University in Social Work. She currently serves on the board of the San Diego Leadership Alliance.
David Trujillo, Advocacy Director
Trujillo has spent his career working on issues of social justice and has years of experience in community organizing, political campaigns and the legislative process. Prior to joining the San Diego ACLU, Trujillo served as Planned Parenthood Northern California’s public affairs director. There he was part of the campaign teams that defeated a Parental Notification Initiative in California and so-called Fetal Personhood Amendments in Montana and Mississippi. Trujillo also helped pass legislation that made California the only state in the country in the last five years to expand access to birth control and abortion services. Trujillo grew up in San Diego and has a degree in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.
Cheryl Alethia Phelps, Communications Director
A native San Diegan, Phelps is deeply committed to dismantling systems that perpetuate injustice, isolation and powerlessness. This passion and 25 years of experience in nonprofit, legislative and philanthropic environments inform her work as communications director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. Prior to joining the ACLU, Phelps was a consultant specializing in strategic communications, social impact project design and philanthropy, and civic engagement. She was previously employed as the San Diego Foundation’s Director of Civil Society, where her efforts achieved notable innovation in the use of digital media to enhance news literacy and inspire San Diegans to share their own stories. Before that, she was employed by the U.S. House of Representatives’ committee with 360º oversight jurisdiction of executive branch agencies and programs. Phelps was a founding director and chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership. Currently, she serves on the board of directors for California Humanities, the state’s independent nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Edward Sifuentes, Senior Communications Strategist
Sifuentes, a former longtime local journalist, is a Sr. Communications Strategist. Before joining the ACLU in January 2017, he had been a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the North County Times. During his 16 years as a journalist, he covered the region’s most disenfranchised communities, including undocumented immigrants, migrant workers and homeless people. He also covered state government and local politics, and reported on issues concerning race and ethnicity, tribal casinos, and the military. The son of immigrants from Mexico and the first in his family to graduate from college, Ed attended San Diego State University earning a BA in Journalism with a minor in Latin American Studies.
Ferchil Ramos, New Media Strategist
Ramos, born in the Phillippines, has long lived in San Diego, and seeks to make an impact on the city and the communities where he serves and lives in. With a diverse professional and volunteer background, a broad range of skills led him to his role as new media strategist for the San Diego ACLU. Ramos helps highlight civil liberties in new and exciting ways. In 2015, he was recruited to be a RISE Fellow for RISE San Diego. In his spare time, he volunteers as director for the Filipino American Arts & Culture Festival, where he adopted a sense of civic duty and culture.
Criminal Justice & Drug Policy Project
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Director, ACLU of California
Based in San Diego, Dooley-Sammuli leads the ACLU’s statewide many criminal justice and drug policy campaigns in California – including protecting the significant reforms embedded in Proposition 47 and leveraging the Affordable Care Act to advance a public health approach to drug policy. She has a decade of experience working on criminal justice and drug policy reform in California, including spearheading historic campaigns to revise the state’s drug possession penalties (SB 1506 & SB 649). Before joining the ACLU, Dooley-Sammuli was deputy state director with the Drug Policy Alliance, where she led the organization’s criminal justice advocacy in California. In her previous career, she was an editor based in Shanghai, China with The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Kellen Russoniello, Staff Attorney — Health & Drug Policy
Russoniello earned his JD and MPH from The George Washington University in Washington, DC. While in graduate school, he drafted Good Samaritan overdose prevention legislation for the District of Columbia, which became law in March of 2013. He also volunteered by drafting motions to seal criminal records, providing outreach to sex workers and homeless people, and teaching middle-school children about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He has interned with the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Drug Policy Alliance, and the ACLU of Washington State. Kellen currently serves on the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Destiny Lopez, Advocacy Fellow
Destiny grew up in San Ysidro, California and recently moved back to San Diego after receiving her undergraduate degrees in History and Political Science from Stanford University. Prior to joining ACLU, she was involved in the movement for housing justice in the rapidly-gentrifying Bay Area, where she worked for the City of East Palo Alto on housing affordability. At Stanford, she lead a student organization called the First-Generation and/or Low-income Partnership (FLIP), which organizes and advocates for first-generation and low-income Stanford students (the first student group of its kind). She has also interned for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Reality Changers (in San Diego), and at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, and watching makeup tutorials.
Monica Montgomery, Criminal Justice Advocate
Monica Montgomery is a native San Diegan. She received an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Spelman College and a Juris Doctor from California Western School of Law. She has been a member of the California State Bar for eight years and practiced civil rights and consumer law until 2013. Before joining the ACLU, Monica worked at the City of San Diego for three elected officials, including Councilmember Cole, Mayor Faulconer and Councilmember Todd Gloria during his term as interim mayor.
While at the City of San Diego, Monica worked as a Senior Policy Advisor with specific focus in the following policy areas: criminal justice reform and public safety, neighborhood revitalization, workforce development, small business development, equal opportunity contracting, and youth services. In her capacity at Councilmember Cole’s office, Monica strongly advocated for equitable practices in government, including reform on the Citizens Review Board for Police Practices and better employment opportunities for people of color. She is honored to serve and continue her work as a Criminal Justice Advocate at the ACLU.
Jeremy Bloom, Donor Relations Manager
Bloom has worked in the nonprofit fundraising and political organizing fields for more than seven years. Prior to coming to the ACLU, Bloom lived in Santa Barbara and served on the boards of a community-based foundation and faith group. He is an active member of Young Professionals Council, a project of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, currently sitting on the executive committee as the secretary/treasurer. Bloom is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA, with a degree in international affairs and Middle Eastern Studies.
Amy Corton, Director of Donor Relations
Corton has an extensive background in fundraising and non-profit governance. Before joining the ACLU Corton worked for Project Concern International as the director of planned giving and as the development officer for the Women Empowered Initiative. She also has consulted with nonprofits including Planned Parenthood, Words Alive, San Diego Hospice, and Educational Enrichment Systems, and served as the Treasurer and President of the Board of Directors of both Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties and Congregation Beth Israel. Corton is a graduate of Cornell University and Emory University Law School.
Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Project Staff Attorney
Ebadolahi is the Border Litigation Project staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. From 2011–13, she was the inaugural Nadine Strossen Fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project in New York. Her areas of expertise include: constitutional and administrative law and litigation, particularly in the areas of immigrants’ rights and racial justice; international human rights law, especially economic and social rights; national security law and policy; and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation. Ebadolahi attended UCLA as an undergraduate and the London School of Economics as a U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Scholar before completing her legal studies (JD ’08, LL.M. ’12) at New York University School of Law, where she was a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow and a Root-Tilden-Kern Filomen D’Agostino Scholar. Following graduation, Ebadolahi clerked for Judge Betty B. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington, and for Judge Margaret M. Morrow of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in downtown Los Angeles, California.
David Loy, Legal Director
After graduating law school, Loy clerked for Judge Dolores K. Sloviter of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. He worked as a staff attorney with Office of the Appellate Defender in New York City and public defender and civil rights attorney in Spokane, Washington before joining the ACLU in 2006. He previously served on the Southern District Lawyer Representative Committee and the board of California Appellate Defense Counsel. Loy was named one of San Diego’s Top Attorneys 2009 and 2010 by San Diego Daily Transcript. He supervises all legal advocacy at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and has particular expertise in freedom of speech and religion, open government and public disclosure, police misconduct, and constitutional criminal procedure. Loy has a law degree from Northwestern and a B.A. from Brown, and is licensed to practice in California and New York (with inactive licenses in Illinois and Washington).
Mayra Lopez, Legal Assistant
Lopez joined the ACLU after receiving her masters in history at San Diego State University with a focus on the U.S. Labor Movement, U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, and Mexican History. While completing her undergraduate career at the University of California, Riverside, Lopez became inspired by the labor and civil rights movement, leading her to work as a student organizer for AFSCME 3299, SEI-ULTCW, OUR Walmart, and UAW 4123. Lopez also coordinated an intensive summer program to give students organizing training through education, skills building, and hands-on-in-the-field experience working on a variety of campaigns for economic and social justice.
Jonathan Markovitz, Skadden Fellow/Staff Attorney
Before starting law school, Markovitz earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and taught courses in sociology, communication, ethnic studies, and writing at UCSD and other area universities. He has written and taught about race, gender, popular culture, social movements, and collective memory. Markovitz is the author of Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and Memory (University of Minnesota Press, 2004) and Racial Spectacles: Explorations in Media, Race and Justice (Routledge, 2011). Following graduation from the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, he clerked for Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.
Zoë McKinney, Border Litigation Fellow/Staff Attorney
McKinney joined the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties in October 2016 as the Border Litigation Project Fellow. McKinney earned a Bachelor’s degree in Human and Organizational Development, and Spanish from Vanderbilt University in 2010. She has a demonstrated commitment to social justice–particularly racial justice, government accountability, and immigrant rights. While an undergraduate, she drafted a Local Rule for Davidson County Juvenile Court to improve the quality of appointed juvenile representation. Before completing her legal education at UC Irvine School of Law (J.D. ’16), she worked in Quito, Ecuador as the Overseas Operations Associate for the refugee legal aid organization Asylum Access. At UCI, she earned Pro Bono High Honors for her work related to immigrant rights projects. Also at UCI, McKinney was involved with international human rights and civil rights clinics, focusing on global freedom of expression issues as well as law enforcement accountability.
Linda Naters, Legal Program Manager / Paralegal
Naters joins the firm as a paralegal with 20 years of experience in civil and criminal litigation in a broad spectrum of cases, such as legal malpractice, securities fraud, healthcare billing fraud, and environmental violations. A native of Panama, Naters received a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from San Diego State University in 1995, and a Paralegal Certificate, with honors, from the University of San Diego in 1996. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, weight lifting, and salsa dancing.
Bardis Vakili, Senior Staff Attorney
Prior to coming to the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Vakili worked in the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, where he litigated primarily in the areas of immigrants’ rights, voting rights, and free speech. Vakili has also written amicus briefs for courts in gang injunction cases and advocated on a variety of additional issues, including community-police relations, the school-to-prison pipeline, rights of homeless individuals, national security, and government transparency. In 2008, Vakili was part of the ACLU of Southern California immigrants’ rights team that was awarded the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Daniel Levy Award for contributions in the field of immigrants’ rights. He was formerly director of the political asylum program at Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego. He graduated from Tufts University in 1997 and the University of San Diego School of Law in 2006, where he received a Wiley Manuel award for pro bono service. Vakili is proficient in Spanish and speaks basic Farsi.
ACLU OF SAN DIEGO & IMPERIAL COUNTIES BOARD OF DIRECTORS – 2016 Term
Mark Adams, Board President*
* Board President, Mark Adams
Mark Adams is a San Diego criminal defense lawyer who has been in private practice since 1981. He focuses solely on the defense of serious felony cases in the District Court, earning the highest peer-review rating available from Martindale-Hubbell. He has represented people charged in various classes of cases, with many of his clients being citizens of Mexico with language and cultural barriers; many impaired by mental illness, drug addiction and substance abuse issues or other personality disorders and medical conditions. Adams attended the University of San Diego School of Law.
You can contact the Board President or any board member by sending a letter to:
ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties
P.O. Box 87131
San Diego, CA 92138-7131
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties fights for individual rights and fundamental freedoms for all through education, litigation, & policy advocacy.