Antoinette Balta is President and Co-Founder of the Veterans Legal Institute® where she oversees and has responsibility for business development, outreach, public relations, marketing, and strategic planning.  She comes to VLI with a long-held passion to serve homeless and at-risk veterans and service members and has dedicated her career to that end. 


Noticing an influx of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking shelter at a local National Guard armory, Ms. Balta discovered that many issues that contributed to these veterans’ chronic homelessness were legal in nature and required the assistance of an attorney. So moved by the fact that the men and women who had served the country abroad were now struggling, she committed herself to the cause of removing “chronic” from “homelessness” and empowering veterans into self-sufficiency.  This led her to be instrumental in the co-development of a veteran based project at a local legal aid, with over 700 veterans receiving legal assistance during her three year tenure.   

Ms. Balta is a reserve JAG Officer with the California State Military Reserve, assigned to the Installation Support Group at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos where she holds the rank of Captain.  She is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs and regularly lectures on legal topics affecting veterans, where she is known for providing innovative solutions aimed at veteran empowerment and self-sufficiency.  Notably, Ms. Balta is a law lecturer at UCI School of Law for its Veterans Law Clinic.

Ms. Balta is a Director at Large with the Orange County Bar Association and the Vice Chair of the Steering Committee of the Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative and Chairwoman of its Legal/Re-Entry Working Group.    Ms. Balta is also a member of the Board of Advisors for the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations and is the Vice Chair of the Military and Veterans Health Law Advisory Board of the American Bar Association Health Section. In recognition of her commitment to veteran-related projects, among other accolades, she was recently selected as one the 2016 top 100 Most Influential People by the Orange County Register, the 2017 Chapman University School of Law Public Interest Law Foundation Award for Excellence in Public Services, one of Congressman Lou Correa's 2014 “Women of the Year”, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva’s 2014 “Women of Distinction,” the President’s plaque from her fellow attorney colleagues of the Warren J. Ferguson Inn of Court and was the recipient of the 2014 Community Leadership Award from the Orange County Black Chamber of Commerce.  She has received numerous Certificates of Congressional Recognition for her work with veterans. 

Ms. Balta previously served as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow dealing with veterans legal issues and Community Economic Development, where her work extended to veterans benefits, discharge upgrades, housing, preservation, nonprofits, and small businesses.  Prior to dedicating her career to public interest law, she was a civil litigator for nearly five years.  

Ms. Balta graduated cum laude from Chapman University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.  She holds a juris doctorate from Chapman University School of Law, with a special certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution.  She also holds a Masters of Law (LLM) from Chapman University School of Law with an emphasis in business and economics.

To receive our email newsletter: 
Dwight Stirling is CEO and Co-Founder of the Veterans Legal Institute® (VLI), having general executive oversight over the Legal Services Division and Think Tank.  


A military veteran, Mr. Stirling was an active duty JAG Officer with the California National Guard from 2007 to 2014, stationed at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California, where he served as the installation’s general counsel and the legal advisor to the commanding general.  He is the former head of the California National Guard’s Criminal Law Division and the former director of the California National Guard’s nationally recognized JAG Internship, a program he created.  

Mr. Stirling’s commitment to the country and its service members began in December of 2001, when he joined the Army National Guard shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11.  He was commissioned from California’s reserve Officer Candidate School as an Armor officer in 2004, becoming a JAG Officer the following year to utilize his law degree.  For several years he balanced reserve service and a civilian legal practice, running a small general litigation and learning the true meaning of the term “citizen-soldier.”  He closed his firm in 2007 to accept a prestigious position with the California National Guard.  

In 2009, Mr. Stirling deployed to the Balkans with the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international peacekeeping force responsible for preventing recurrences of ethnic cleansing in the volatile southern region of Serbia.  He served as Chief of Military Justice on the mission, working under Major General (Retired) Keith D. Jones.  In his off-duty time, Mr. Stirling administrated a joint civil/military leadership program at a rural middle school, imparting the values of initiative and innovation to teenagers whose country had been ravaged by sectarian warfare. 


At present, Mr. Stirling serves as Co-Chair of the Legal and Re-Entry Working Group at USC’s Center for Innovation and Research for Veterans and Military Families and co-chairs the Orange County Bar Association’s Veterans and Military Committee.  He also teaches criminal justice at Columbia College of Missouri’s Los Alamitos campus, and is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Armed Forces Committee. In the past, Mr. Stirling served as clinical professor at Chapman University’s Military Law Institute, teaching military law and providing oversight of the clinical fellows, whose practice focused on discharge upgrades and service-connected disability appeals.

Mr. Stirling has been recognized for his commitment to service members and veterans by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California.  He has received numerous military awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.  

Mr. Stirling holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Pomona College, a master’s degree in education from Whittier College, and a juris doctorate from the University of Southern California,  currently working on his doctorate at Pepperdine University.  He continues to serve the nation as a JAG officer, holding the rank of Major.  He got his start in law at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, LLP’s Century City offices and his first career was teaching literature and language arts at the middle school level.   


Bill is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, JAG Corps of 27 years.  Personal highlights include serving as the Deputy SJA at Ft. Irwin, CA during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and as a Military Judge for four years presiding over Courts-Martial at Ft. Carson, Ft. Bliss, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Benning.  As the Chief of Legal Assistance at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (formerly known as Ft. Lewis),  he learned the value of helping service members and their families on a wide variety of legal issues.  During the years he served in the Army Reserves, most of his time was devoted to assisting Reservists and Veterans on legal assistance issues for which they might have, otherwise, fallen through the cracks of our military assistance support network. He states that there is no greater honor than assisting those who came forward, raised their hand, and took the oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, to obey the orders of the President of the Untied States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God!"

Bill serves at VLI as a legal administrator and is licensed to practice law in multiple states. 

NANCY JONES

Volunteer Staff Attorney

​*Licensed in Virginia and Michigan. California Bar License Pending.


BEN GALES

 Veteran Justice Outreach Director

Ben Gales is an attorney with over eight years of experience working on issues affecting veterans in the criminal justice system. Prior to joining VLI, Mr. Gales spent six years as an attorney at Public Counsel Law Center in Los Angeles. Through his work at Public Counsel, Mr. Gales was a leader in the formation of the Los Angeles Veterans Court, served on the Court’s steering committee, was directly involved in writing veteran specific alternative sentencing legislation, and served on various state wide committees related to veterans and criminal justice with leading Veterans Court judges from across California. Mr. Gales has also personally helped hundreds of veterans resolve criminal justice problems and other legal issues, was a leader in developing a veteran misdemeanor diversion program with the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ Office, has published various articles focused on Veterans Courts and more. 

Prior to beginning his work helping veterans, Mr. Gales practiced real estate and municipal law and also served as a judicial extern for former Federal District Court Judge Margaret Morrow. Mr. Gales graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2006, where he was a member of the law school’s Public Interest Law and Policy (PILP) program.

2017 SUMMER Legal Interns

Michael Su

Blake is a junior at Pomona College majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with an emphasis in Politics. Blake is a two-year starter on the Pomona-Pitzer football team and a member of the defensive line unit. Last year he earned the title of "Defensive Lineman of the Year", and hopes to continue to improve on both an individual level and for the team overall. Prior to Pomona, he attended Casady School in Oklahoma City where he participated on the Track and Field and Football teams- a captain on each. Blake is a aspiring attorney and hopes his time at Veterans Legal Institute will acclimate him to attorney culture. 


ANTOINETTE BALTA, ESQ., LLM
President and Co-Founder

Allison Higley
Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Dwight D. Stirling, Esq., M.Ed

CEO and Co-Founder


KellyAnn Romanych, M.S.

Development Officer



​Johannes Marler enlisted in the United State Marine Corps after watching the twin towers fall his senior year of high school. While in the Marine Corps he served as an Avenger Missile Technician in Okinawa Japan.

After serving in the Marines, Mr. Marler worked as a Veterans Ambassador at the Fullerton College Veterans Resource Center obtaining both an AA and AS in Criminal Justice.

Johannes transferred to University of California Irvine where he was an active member of Alpha Psi Omega Veteran’s Fraternity and a member of the Student Lobby Core, which led marches on the State Capital to lobby for access to higher education. Johannes Worked for the UCI Veterans Serves Center while earning his BA in Criminology Law and Society with a minor in Political science.  

Johannes obtained his Law Degree in 2016 from Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law. While working on his law degree, Johannes held externships with the California National Guard JAG Corps and the Bette and Wylie Atken Family Violence Clinic. Johannes also worked as a student Associate with the constitutional Jurisprudence Clinic and was a student member of the Orange County Bar Veterans Task Force. 

Brook Mulligan

​​Mrunal Gandhi, a rising 2L at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Prior to law school, he worked on an assortment of corporate transactions at a prominent Orange County based law firm and he aspires to use those skills and his education to help small businesses. Mrunal’s passion for veteran affairs stems from his appreciation for the freedoms afforded to him because of their sacrifice. In his spare time, Mrunal loves to travel, explore nature, and watch TV. 


Adam Kidd

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


Ryan Abele

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


Nancy Jones is a licensed attorney in Virginia and Michigan, and a registered legal services attorney California.  A Marine spouse of 20 years, Mrs. Jones is familiar with the unique issues that face current and former military personnel.  She has worked closely with active duty military members through a number of military support organizations and has assisted Marines with their taxes under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program on Camp Pendleton and in 29 Palms.  She maintained her own individual and small business tax practice through countless military moves and deployments.


Military orders brought Nancy to California in 2012 where she noticed a number of homeless young veterans on the streets.  Inspired, she started volunteering at VLI becoming quickly involved with the legal operations.


Mrs. Jones obtained an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctorate from the University of San Diego.

Cynthia Suarez
​A combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Rimmer began his service in May of 2001 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. ​Mr. Rimmer left the active duty Marine Corps, and continues his service in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve as an anti-armor platoon commander in the rank of Captain.  Mr. Rimmer is currently a J.D. candidate at Chapman University.

Mr. Rimmer attended college and Pellissippi State Community College where he earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts.  Mr. Rimmer transferred to the University of Southern California, and completed his bachelor’s degree in 2009.


Pilar Fabregas

​​Darius Dehghan is a rising second year at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. He completed his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in Criminology, Law and Society/Philosophy at UC Irvine, with interests in legal and political theory. Darius is currently an Article Editor for the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, and the Symposium Editor for the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice. Outside of school, he is interested in the intersection of the arts with social justice. 


​KellyAnn Romanych maintains a deep devotion and respect for service. She is a proud wife, daughter, and niece of veterans from every service branch. Despite calendaring family events around reserve duties, navigating stacks of field gear, and gracefully remaining “ever ready”, Ms. Romanych cherishes every phone call, door knock, or request for support from fellow reservists needing advice, equipment, or time to meet the demands of selfless service.
Ms. Romanych has a background in law enforcement and education. As a Senior Park Ranger for the City of Los Angeles, Ms. Romanych was the equivalent of an area commander and received numerous recognitions and commendations. As such, she was charge of the training division where she wrote and administered curriculum, presented academic and field topics, evaluated students and staff, and managed logistics to support diverse constituents using over 15,000 acres of parkland. In her K-12 experience as a lead and department head teacher, Ms. Romanych has used technology and created websites for remote learning, differentiating instruction, and crafting curriculum. This has included classroom, grade level, and school-wide scales, with particular devotion to special needs students in both public and private schools. Her grant writing experience includes classroom support, small and large foundations, municipal and state agencies. She has also served as a grant and scholarship scorer.


Ms. Romanych graduated cum laude from California State University, Northridge with a bachelor’s degree in biology.  She holds a master’s degree from the University of North Dakota, graduating summa cum laude. Ms. Romanych draws on her biology and space studies degrees to analyze data and manage diverse projects to document Veterans Legal Institute’s impact and ensure its sustainability. Recently, Ms. Romanych received special recognition for her volunteer development efforts to Veterans Legal Institute by Congresswoman Mimi Walters, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and State Senator Janet Nguyen.

Ulises Campa

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


JOhannes Marler, Esq.

Law Clerk


Mr. Douglas is a 2014 graduate of Western State College of law. He earned an MBA from California State University, Fullerton, and a BA in Linguistics from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

While attending CSU, Dominguez Hills, he also participated in the ROTC program at UCLA, receiving a commission in the US Army.

Prior to earning his BA, Mr. Douglas enlisted in the U.S. Army, were he had served as a translator of the Vietnamese language. After his service in the Army, Mr. Douglas worked for the phone company for a couple of years, and then spent 25 years in the US Postal Service as a Letter Carrier, retiring in 2007.

His time in the Army, as well as having seen how Vietnam Veterans were treated when they returned from deployment, along with attendance at several events hosted by the VLI, led him to volunteer to become part of the VLI team. ​


Allison Higley is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow whose fellowship focuses on removing barriers to employment and preventing veteran homelessness. Her practice, among other things, includes assisting veterans to re-enter the work force by removing barriers to employment through expungements of criminal convictions, petitions to seal and destroy arrest records, and restoring licenses. Ms. Higley also works to prevent evictions for veterans that are in-between jobs and are at-risk of facing homelessness while trying to find a job or just beginning employment.

Ms. Higley is a graduate of Whittier Law School.  Prior to that, Ms. Higley attended University of California at San Diego where she majored in Political Science and International Relations, and minored in Middle Eastern Studies and Law. While working on her undergraduate degree she decided to go to law school and to pursue a career as a Judge Advocate Officer in the Air Force. She regularly volunteered with the USO and Wounded Warriors Project in an effort to give back to our service members and to learn more about serving in the military. After witnessing the issues faced by many of her family members, friends, and the veterans served by the organizations she volunteered with, Ms. Higley was drawn to learning more about the social and legal issues that affect our active and retired service members, and wanted to become someone that could affect positive change in the veteran community.


Staff

Grace Nguyen

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


William L. Sims, Esq.

Legal Administrator


Xixi Zheng

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


Sung Soo Yoon

Thomas Brunson is an undergraduate student at UC, Irvine working on his BA in History. After completing this degree, Mr. Brunson hopes to attend law school.


Mr. Brunson’s main interests include American history and analyzing the socio-economic impact of politics and political systems. These interests of Brunson’s are clearly reflected in his feature articles, all of which he wrote for one of the most thorough websites for investment education: ifa.com. These book reviews/analyses succinctly illustrate the overarching impact that historical financial crises have had on both markets and everyday society as a whole.


​scot Douglas

Staff Attorney


Sydney West
Sarah Lee is a rising 2L and a Gittis Werther Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Sarah has been a passionate veterans advocate having spent five years in public service under U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez specializing in veterans and military affairs and the Korean American community.  At Penn Law, Sarah is Associate Editor of the Asia Law Review, a 1L Board Member of the Penn Intellectual Property Group, and an active member in several law students associations.  Continuing her passion to help veterans, she brought a new veterans benefits initiative as part of her pro bono service with Penn Law's Service Members and Veterans Legal Assistance Project. Sarah graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Irvine with bachelors degrees in Criminology, Law & Society, and Political Science.