Allison Higley
Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow



Michelle Highberg has been fundraising and planning events since 2005.  She enjoys cultivating new relationships, and loves being an instrument to help philanthropists benefit society with their gifts. Experienced in sales, community outreach,  project management, and business development, Michelle plans to use her talents to increase awareness and funding for the Veterans Legal Institute.  She feels it is our duty to honor and serve those who so selflessly chose to put their lives at risk to protect their nation.
Raised in New York, Michelle now lives Laguna Beach with her three children, Zachary, Morgan, Melanie, and, her husband Erin. For fun, she enjoys skiing, hiking, yoga, tennis, swimming, cooking, and Scrabble.


​KellyAnn Romanych maintains a deep devotion and respect for service. She is a proud wife, daughter, and niece of veterans from every service branch.  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.

JONAH FRIEDMAN

 Jonah Friedman is 17 years old and dually enrolled at Villa Park High School, where he is a junior and holds a 4.38GPA, and at Santiago Canyon College within the Career Advancement Program with a 3.8 GPA. Outside of academics and the VLI, Jonah is a varsity cheerleader for his high school where he was the only junior male to be named to the 2017 California All-State Team for cheerleading. His team, Villa Park Coed, was ranked 6th in the nation at the 2017 UCA Nationals. He holds the ASB position as the representative from the cheerleading team and the role of co-captain. He hopes to cheer at a university while pursuing a path to law school. Because of his love of geography and the world, he plans to major in Global Studies. 

BEN GALES

 Veteran Justice Outreach Director

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. ​


RIA JOSHI

​​Just completing her 11th grade year at Troy Tech and International Baccalaureate High School, Rea Joshi joins us for her summer internship at VLI. Rea is part of the magnet "Troy Tech" program, as well as being actively involved on her speech and debate team and the National Organization of Women's club at her school. In addition, she enjoys training and teaching younger kids in one of the four martial arts she holds a black belt in.  In her free time, Rea can be found perfecting her piano pieces for her Level 10 Certificate of Merit test, or prepping for her next piano competition.  She is an avid reader, loves to travel, hike, and is a budding calligrapher. She is honored to have the opportunity to assist the veteran community. 



​Dallis Warshaw is a Policy Analyst in the think tank division of VLI. In addition to both her parents having served in the Marine Corps, she has numerous family members and friends who are current and former service members of the various military branches. In 2014, she graduated top of her class from the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, where she was a member of the Moot Court Competition Board and served as Managing Editor of the Chapman Law Review. In 2011, she graduated with honors from California State University Fullerton with a degree in psychology and criminal justice. She has a passion for policy advocacy, especially in the areas of veteran homelessness, military sexual trauma, mental health, and access to justice and services. 

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 adviser 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.   

Michael Su

Michael Su currently is a rising 2L at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.  He graduated with High Honors from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music with a degree in Violin Performance.  While at IU, Michael’s friend circle grew to include the school’s Army ROTC battalion and he came to become the Operations Officer of its chapter of Pershing Rifles.  The strong bonds forged among the other cadets and Michael inspired him to work towards putting his skills towards helping the veteran community.  In his spare time, Michael enjoys playing golf, lifting weights, playing video games, and maintaining his violin skills.   Michael is proud to be clerking at VLI and is excited to help assist veterans this summer.


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

Grace Nguyen

Grace has been involved in a number of organizations and programs that provide support and relief to the community. Some of the programs include Prison Education Project, giving incarcerated individuals the ability to better themselves and earn a degree while serving their sentences, and Domestic Abuse Self Help Clinic, proving low income individuals access to restraining order assistance. At Chapman, Grace has continued her volunteering with the Chapman Juvenile Hall Mediation Clinic, giving the incarcerated juveniles a fresh perspective on approaching their conflicts. Grace is interested in pursuing a career in criminal prosecution or joining the JAG Corps. On her free time, Grace enjoys rock climbing, cooking, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, and hiking. 


Dwight D. Stirling, Esq., M.Ed

CEO and Co-Founder


KellyAnn Romanych, M.S.

Director of Development


William L. Sims, Esq.

Legal Administrator


Xixi Zheng

​​Xixi (Cece) Zheng comes to Veteran’s Legal Institute with a strong desire to assist current and former service members in obtaining access to legal services. As a dedicated individual, she strives to do her best and focuses on her school and extracurricular activities. Ms. Zheng is an incoming senior at Troy High School in Fullerton, California. Her interests include history and philosophy and is currently enrolled in the school’s Troy Tech and IB diploma program. She is a cadet in NJRTOC and holds the position of Master Chief Petty Officer in the program. She also had the honor of being an Unarmed Regulation Drill commander of the program and placing first in competitions, such as Westview, and competing at the state level.


Dallis Warshaw, Esq.

Policy Analyst


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.

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.


Pilar Fabregas

​​A rising 1L at Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, Pilar Fabregas graduated magna cum laude from Chapman University in 2016 with a degree in Political Science. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Pilar decided to attend law school so she could pursue a career in Veterans Law. As the child of a veteran, she is passionate about advocating for service members. Pilar is honored to have this opportunity to serve the veteran community.

 

BrookE Mulligan

​​Brooke obtained her BA in Business Administration with a minor in Ethics and Moral Philosophy from USC.  After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Brooke worked for a year and a half as a clerk at a small, boutique law firm in Los Angeles before deciding to pursue a legal career herself.  Brooke is currently a rising 2L at the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law.  She is the Co-President of CARES, a student organization at the school concerned with helping Angelenos navigate the public service system.  Because Brooke has seen how PTSD can deeply affect people first hand, she is particularly eager to advocate for service members coping with PTSD.  Brooke is honored to have the opportunity to assist the veteran community.

 


2017 SUMMER Legal Interns


Bill is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, JAG Corps of 27 years.  He served as the Deputy SJA at Ft. Irwin, CA during the Global War on Terrorism and as a Military Judge for four years presiding over Courts-Martial.  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. 


Michelle Highberg

Associate Director of Development


Staff & Volunteers

Ulises Campa

​​Ulises Campa was born and raised in Southern California. After graduating High School, he joined the Unites States Marine Corps where he served his country for four years on active duty. After he was honorably discharged he attained an Associates in Business Administration from Santa Ana College and a Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from Cal State Fullerton. He is currently a rising 2L attending Trinity Law School in Santa Ana. Mr. Campa comes to the Veteran’s Legal Institute with a desire to serve current and former service members in obtaining access to legal services. He enjoys cooking, weightlifting, and snorkeling.


Adam Kidd

​​Adam Kidd is an up-and-coming 2L at the Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, who graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with his Bachelors Degree in English Language Literature, in 2014. He has always been interested in the law and it's ability to help people in a lasting and definite way. During his time at Santa Cruz, he studied the effects of post trauma on veterans and the participants and witnesses to the wars they served in. These studies, as well as having friends and family who have served, has manifest in an interest  in working with and for veterans, and he will work hard to do so. 


Ryan Abele

​​Ryan is a senior at Pomona College where he dual majors in economics and mathematics. He is also a member of the football and track team. He plans to attend law school within 6 years of graduating Pomona. Immediately after graduation he will try out for the Olympic bobsledding team and hopes to explore a few different career possibilities between then and the start of law school. Military service is also a strong possibility.  After law school, Ryan intends to practice agricultural law with an emphasis on water rights--his family has operated a farm in northern California for the past 5 generations. In his free time Ryan can be found hiking, hunting, or snowboarding.


NANCY JONES

Volunteer Staff Attorney

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


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.

Sung Soo Yoon

​​A rising 2L at University of Southern California, Gould School of Law, Steven Sung Soo Yoon comes to the Veteran’s Legal Institute with a strong desire to assist current and former service members obtain legal aid. During his undergraduate studies at University of California, San Diego, Steven volunteered over 300 pro bono hours at the San Diego Superior Court, South County Division, assisting domestic violence victims as an AmeriCorps JusticeCorps member. In addition to his love for sports, weightlifting, and movies, he is eager to bring his passion for helping people to the Veteran’s Legal Institute and is honored to serve the veteran community. 


Cynthia Suarez
​A rising 2L at Cornell Law School, Cynthia graduated magna cum laude from St. John's University in 2013 with a degree in Psychology and Legal Studies. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Cynthia worked for three years as a medical social worker throughout Los Angeles and Ventura County. Cynthia’s passion for helping people led her to a career in law. She is honored to have the opportunity to assist the veteran community.

 



​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. 

​scot Douglas

Staff Attorney


Sydney West

A rising 2L at Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, Sydney graduated magna cum laude from The University of Alabama in 2012 with degrees in Political Science and Telecommunication and Film.  After moving from California to Alabama for undergraduate, she saw many diverse opinions on politics which led to her interest in politics and the law. After being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in her senior year of college, Sydney found a passion for helping people dealing with the disparities in the health care system. Along with her interest in health law, she brings an attention to detail, a dedication to her work, and extensive travel experience. She is honored to have the opportunity to assist the veteran community.