Zafar Shah is an attorney in the Human Right to Housing Project. Prior to joining Public Justice Center in 2011, he investigated employment, housing, and language access discrimination cases at the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights. His prior work involved transnational workers’ rights at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante and immigrant workers’ rights at Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance.
In 2008 Zafar graduated with exceptional service honors from the American University Washington College of Law, where he was a Public Interest/Public Service Scholar and worked two semesters in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. He also interned for Legal Aid Society of New York, Farmworker Justice, CASA of Maryland, and Center for Justice and International Law. He was a recipient of the South Asian Bar Association of New York Public Interest Fellowship and the National Lawyers Guild’s Haywood Burns Memorial Fellow for Social and Economic Justice.
Zafar currently serves on the Section Council for the Delivery of Legal Services Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and is co-chair of the Legal Impact Network Housing Working Group. From 2007 to 2009 Zafar co-chaired the National Lawyers Guild’s United People of Color Caucus. He also served as a volunteer attorney with Kids In Need of Defense from 2010 to 2017.
A Baltimore City resident since 2006, Zafar found the perfect job at PJC, where he brings direct client services, high impact litigation strategies, community partnerships, and legislative advocacy into a single focus on the empowerment of politically and socially marginalized communities. He holds a range of interests outside his work on housing and tenants’ rights: energy equity, community organizing, digital divide and technology literacy, and diversity in the legal profession. He was raised in north Texas and received his B.A. with special honors in 2003 from the University of Texas at Austin.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x237
David Rodwin is an attorney and team leader of the Workplace Justice Project. Among other work, David represents home care workers in employment-related claims against the agencies that employ them and works to establish a culture of compliance in a violation-ridden industry. He also does know-your-rights outreach to worker groups and serves as Vice Chair of the Board for the Maryland Regional Direct Services Collaborative.
Before joining the PJC in 2015, David clerked for Chief Judge Catherine C. Blake of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, spent a year in Guatemala studying Spanish and working with landless farmers, and clerked for Judge Andre M. Davis of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. David was a member of the inaugural class at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and graduated summa cum laude in 2012. During law school, he interned at the ACLU of Southern California, participated in the Immigrant Rights and International Human Rights Clinics, co-founded the Orange County Human Rights Association, co-wrote a law review note on the movement for human rights in the United States, and served as a research assistant to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Before law school, David worked for an anti-caste discrimination human rights organization in India, taught English in Japan, and biked across Cambodia. He is a 2005 graduate of Johns Hopkins University. He is also a proud Big Brother to a great eighteen-year-old.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x249
On October 25, 2017, we lost our beloved colleague Camilla Roberson. Camilla led our Access to Health and Benefits Project, scoring many victories to improve access to care for thousands of low-income Marylanders. She compelled the State to eliminate a backlog of applications for Medicaid on the basis of disability and to start processing applications on time. She ensured that dental and health care providers arrange for interpreters for Deaf clients. As chair of the Governmental Access Workgroup, she organized state agencies, advocates, and providers to make sure that language is not a barrier to receiving public benefits and health care. As a member of the Workplace Justice Project, she worked to make sure that the Unpaid Wage Lien Law would be a tool for workers to recover their unpaid wages. She was also a champion of incorporating race equity into the work of the PJC and the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, a statewide coalition of anti-poverty advocates. Her life and work are celebrated in this tribute in the Baltimore Sun.
Camilla Roberson was a staff attorney working primarily in the areas of health rights and juvenile justice. Prior to joining the PJC, Camilla worked in a variety of settings, including three and a half years as a class action litigation associate at Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky LLP, a civil rights firm in San Francisco, California. She also completed a Skadden Fellowship as part of the Safe Families Project at the Legal Aid Society – Juvenile Rights Division in New York, where she represented child witnesses of domestic violence in child protective proceedings.
During law school, Camilla interned with the Legal Aid Society, the National Center for Youth Law, the Welfare Law Center (now the National Center for Law and Economic Justice) and Human Rights Watch – Children’s Rights Project. She also volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Brooklyn and trained as a community mediator. Between law school and college she worked at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, a home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras; taught reading and Spanish in the Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools respectively; and taught English as a Second Language with EBLO (Education Based Latino Outreach).
Camilla was a Baltimore native and a graduate of Columbia Law School, University of Virginia, and the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. She was also a supporter of ATD-Fourth World Movement, a human rights-based antipoverty movement.
Ronnie Reno joined the Public Justice Center as a staff attorney in the summer of 2010 after retiring as a partner in the Baltimore office of Venable LLP, where he spent almost his entire legal career. At Venable, Ronnie specialized in commercial real estate law, and his clients included real estate developers, homebuilders and commercial mortgage lenders. Since arriving at the PJC, the majority of his work has been in connection with the PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project.
Ronnie has served on the Board of Managers for Haverford College and has been a Goucher College trustee since 1978. He served for many years as the legal advisor to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. He is also one of the founders of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
Ronnie was raised in Baltimore. He received his BA from Haverford College and his JD from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from law school, Ronnie clerked for the Hon. William Henderson of the Maryland Court of Appeals. He also served for two years as an Assistant Maryland Attorney General.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x247
John Pollock is a Staff Attorney for the Public Justice Center who has served since 2009 as the Coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC). His work focuses on working to establish the right to counsel for low-income individuals in civil cases involving basic human needs such as child custody, housing, and benefits. This work takes the form of supporting and coordinating the efforts of 300 participants and 200 partners around the country involved in litigation, legislation, research support, and other advocacy. Among other articles, he is the author or co-author of The Case Against Case-By-Case: Courts Identifying Categorical Rights to Counsel in Basic Human Needs Civil Cases, 61 Drake L.J. 763 (Spring 2013) and It’s Not Triage if the Patient Bleeds Out, 161 U. Penn. L.R. 40 (2012). He is also the author of ABA Resolution 114 (2018), supporting right to counsel whenever physical liberty is at stake. He is the recipient of the 2018 Innovations Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) and serves on an advisory committee for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Prior to the PJC, John served as the Enforcement Director for the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center (CAFHC) in Montgomery, Alabama, addressing systemic housing discrimination in rental, sales, lending, and insurance. Before CAFHC, John served as a Law Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. While at SPLC, he founded the Heirs’ Property Retention Coalition, a network of dozens of organizations across the southeastern United States working on stopping the forced sales of ancestral property within low-income African-American communities. John drafted the first version of what eventually became the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, a uniform law to reduce forced sales that was has been adopted by over a dozen states. John graduated from Wesleyan University in 1994 and from Northeastern University School of Law in 2005.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x275
Charisse Lue joined the Public Justice Center in 2018. She serves an attorney in the PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project. She is also a member of the board of the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County. Prior experience includes working as an advocate for the homeless and survivors of domestic violence, as well as for the Office of the Attorney General for the Red Line and Purple Line projects.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x245
Matt Hill is an attorney and team leader of the Human Right to Housing Project at the Public Justice Center (PJC). The Human Right to Housing Project seeks to protect and expand tenants’ rights to safe, habitable, affordable, and non-discriminatory housing and to fair and equal treatment by Maryland’s landlord-tenant laws, courts, and agencies. Matt has represented hundreds of tenants facing eviction and substandard housing conditions, advocated to create Baltimore City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund with a dedicated funding source, acted as lead or co-counsel in a number of appeals involving landlord-tenant law, represented multiple classes of tenants in class actions challenging predatory landlord practices, advocated successfully to change Maryland and Baltimore City laws to strengthen tenant protections, and served as co-counsel in a HUD complaint and settlement that requires Baltimore County to dismantle policies that had perpetuated racial segregation and discriminated against persons with disabilities.
Prior to his working on the housing team, Matt was the Francis D. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow at the PJC. In that capacity, he represented parties and amici in state and federal courts on various poverty law and civil rights issues in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court of Appeals of Maryland and the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. Matt clerked for the Honorable Deborah S. Eyler on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. He earned a J.D., summa cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law and a B.A., summa cum laude, from Loyola College. Before attending law school, Matt taught eighth grade at Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore City.
Matt serves as a commissioner on Baltimore City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He has received the following awards and honors: 2018 Lorraine Sheehan Memorial Award from the Community Development Network of Maryland; 2017 Dickens Warfield Fair Housing Advocacy Award, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc; 2011 Housing Justice Award, Housing Justice Network, sponsored by National Housing Law Project; 2011 Maryland Access to Justice Commission Outstanding Program of the Year Award to Tenants in Foreclosure Project of Public Justice Center.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x229
Monisha Cherayil came to the Public Justice Center in 2009 as a Francis D. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow, and currently practices as a staff attorney in the PJC’s Education Stability and Workplace Justice Projects. Her accomplishments include helping to launch the Maryland Suspension Representation Project – a statewide effort to provide free legal representation to students facing disciplinary removals from school; securing settlements to recover unpaid wages and damages on behalf of classes of restaurant workers, construction workers, roadside flaggers, and other low-wage employees; and successfully advocating for legislation to allow unaccompanied homeless youth to pursue college tuition-free. Her practice reflects a commitment to the PJC model of enforcing and expanding the rights of oppressed individuals while pursuing systemic change.
Prior to joining the PJC, Monisha clerked for the Honorable Judge Phyllis Thompson on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. She also worked for Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Boston, and the Harrison Institute for Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center. Monisha graduated from Georgetown University Law Center with honors in 2008 and from Brandeis University with honors and a joint degree in economics and political science in 2005.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x234
Ashley is the lead attorney for the Public Justice Center’s Access to Health and Benefits Project, which supports policies and practices that promote the overall health of Marylanders struggling to make ends meet. The Project seeks to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes. Prior to joining the Public Justice Center in 2018, Ashley worked at Disability Rights Maryland (formerly Maryland Disability Law Center) as a mental health attorney. In that role, she provided direct representation and brief legal services to individuals with behavioral health disabilities in civil rights issues and advocated for systemic changes to Maryland’s behavioral health system to improve the lives of behavioral health consumers.
Ashley graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law with her Juris Doctor and the Health Law Certificate in 2015. She received the Public Service Award in recognition of her legal work that significantly advanced the public interest during her law school career.
Phone: (410) 625-9409 x224
When a person’s basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving their home, income, health care, or children, a lawyer can help protect what matters most. But in the United States, there is no federal right to state-funded counsel in civil cases. While all states provide a right to counsel for some types of civil cases by either statute or court decision (or both), the laws are patchwork and incomplete. Consequently, 92 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals go unmet, and half of those requests made to civil legal aid organizations are turned away due to limited resources.
At the same time, low-income individuals routinely face opponents (the government, landlords, banks, and so on) who are represented. Studies have shown that this disparity in representation leads to unbalanced outcomes, and that the presence of counsel dramatically improves a person’s chances for success while saving money for cities and states by avoiding negative outcomes, such as the use of homeless shelters, emergency medical care, unemployment, and foster care.
As the operator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), the Public Justice Center supports efforts across the country to establish the right to a lawyer for low-income individuals in civil cases involving basic needs. The NCCRC provides significant technical, research, and writing support to over 300 coalition participants and 200 partners in 40 states, maintains the national clearinghouse of information on civil right to counsel, and engages in public advocacy and awareness throughout the country.
Visit the NCCRC website, civilrighttocounsel.org, for the latest about right to counsel developments from across the country.
The movement for a right to counsel in eviction cases has reached a seminal moment: New York City, San Francisco, Newark, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boulder, Baltimore, Seattle, Louisville, Denver, Toledo, Minneapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Detroit, Washington State, Maryland, and Connecticut now guarantee tenants a lawyer when their housing is threatened, and NUMEROUS other cities and states have introduced bills to do the same. The NCCRC provided and continues to provide extensive support to these campaigns.
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that low-income parents have a right to an attorney in involuntary adoption cases under the Equal Protection Clauses of the federal and state constitutions.
The NCCRC has a regular presence in the national media. NCCRC Coordinator John Pollock co-authored an op-ed in Newsweek about the necessary federal, state, and local response to the eviction crisis, and the NCCRC was featured in right to counsel stories in The Appeal and Law360 as well as in eviction stories in the Wall Street Journal, Salon, NPR, and Washington Post.
NOTE: The NCCRC cannot assist individuals with representation, legal advice, or attorney referrals. Therefore, we do not respond to individual requests for assistance. Please contact the legal aid organization in your state or your state’s attorney referral program.