Staff & Volunteers

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

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 Legal Support Command 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. In the past, Ms. Balta was 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 also a Board Advisor for the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, Ms. Balta is a member of the OC Veterans and Military Families Collaborative and for a long period of time served as its Vice Chair of its Steering Committee and Chairwoman of its Legal/Re-Entry Working Group.

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.

DWIGHT D. STIRLING, ESQ., M.ED - Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder

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.  

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. He is the former chief prosecutor for the California National Guard and director of the nationally recognized JAG Internship. He is currently a reservist in the JAG Corps, holding the rank of Major. He has received numerous military awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

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 addition to running the VLI, Mr. Stirling is an adjunct law professor at USC Law School, where he teaches military and veterans law.  He also chairs the Orange County Bar Association's Veterans Committee.  

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. He is currently working on a doctorate in leadership at Pepperdine University. 

Mr. Stirling's CV can be accessed here: Stirling - CV 5-14-18.

WILLIAM (BILL) TANNER, ESQ​ - Director of Pro Bono and Legal Clinics

William T. Tanner is VLI's Director of Clinics and Pro Bono Programs.

He received a J.D. from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1994 and a B.A. in Philosophy/Law and Society from University of California, Riverside in 1991.

He started his legal career as a staff attorney at CRLA and then went to the Legal Aid Society of Orange County where he worked for 21 years and oversaw many units including Legal Aid's Hotline, Incubator Program, The Notice, the Small Claims Court Advisory Program of Orange County and aspects of I-CAN!. His litigation experience is extensive and his desire to work with populations in need is evidenced by his great work in the homeless quarter in Santa Ana, with the Orange County Bar Association, and multiple legal aids. His mantra in life is to be of service.

Since 1996 he has taught a variety of courses at UCI, Santa Ana College, Coastline Community College and other colleges.

ALLISON HIGLEY, ESQ - Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

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.

JOHANNES MARLER, ESQ. - Staff Attorney

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, ESQ - Staff Attorney

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. ​

IAN DEADY, ESQ. - UC Irvine School of Law Legal Fellow

Ian Deady is a newly-admitted attorney and UC Irvine School of Law Legal Fellow with Veterans Legal Institute. He aims to pursue a career in public interest advocacy, focusing on issues affecting civil rights, public health, environmental quality, and consumer protection.

While in law school, Mr. Deady served as an intern for Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. There, he counseled debtors through bankruptcy and worked with the federal bankruptcy court to ease the burdens on unrepresented petitioners. He also provided litigation support for student loan debtors seeking relief from federal student loans against for-profit colleges which violated state consumer protection laws and targeted veterans on the G.I. Bill. During his 2L summer, Mr. Deady worked as a law clerk for the Orange County Office of County Counsel where advised the County Board of Supervisors on a diverse array of county policy issues including inmate mental health treatment in county jails, use of drones to survey public lands, and interest group challenges to utility rate increases.

Mr. Deady holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Ecology from UC Irvine where he studied law, criminology, psychology, and environmental health science. He holds a Juris Doctorate from UC Irvine School of Law where he focused on civil rights and environmental law. Prior to attending law school, Mr. Deady worked for several years as a paralegal in a plaintiffs’ side litigation firm managing personal injury, contract, fraud, and workplace harassment cases while helping fledgling businesses incorporate and conduct corporate governance. Prior to becoming a paralegal, Mr. Deady interned in the U.S. State Department where he conducted research, attended congressional hearings, and took part in interagency programs designed to support global environmental sustainability. He is also an experienced political organizer, having worked on behalf of several non-profit organizations to promote environmental protection and civil rights. In his free time, Mr. Deady is an avid musician and political observer.”

NANCY JONES, ESQ - Volunteer Staff Attorney

​*Licensed in Virginia and Michigan and California

Nancy Jones is a licensed attorney in California, Virginia and Michigan. 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.

KELLYANN ROMANYCH, M.S. - Director of Development

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.

DALLIS WARSHAW, ESQ. - Policy Analyst

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.

MICHELLE HIGHBERG - Associate Director of Development

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.