Antoinette Balta is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Veterans Legal Institute® where she oversees and has responsibility for the overall management of the firm including business development, outreach, public relations, marketing, strategic planning and a light legal caseload. 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. Since co-founding the Veterans Legal Institute in 2014, over 6,000 local low income veterans have benefitted from free legal services.
Ms. Balta was an officer with the California State Guard for over 6 years. She served in the rank of Major both as a Marketing Officer assigned to Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) as well as reserve JAG Officer assigned to Legal Support Command. 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 graduate of the 2018 Presidential Leadership Scholars Class, a prestigious program that serves as a catalyst for a diverse network of leaders brought together to collaborate and make a difference in the world as they learn about leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson. During her tenure in this program, she focused on the improvement and further development of mobile legal clinics for low income veterans, a project that is shared freely throughout the nation to promote additional services for veterans in need.
Ms. Balta is a two term Director at Large with the Orange County Bar Association, a member of the Outreach and Pro Bono Committees and a member of the Orange County Women’s Lawyers Association. She is also a Board Advisor for the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations and Integrated Recovery Foundation, a group dedicated to providing housing and mental health service to women survivors of military sexual assault. Ms. Balta is a member of the OC Veterans and Military Families Collaborative, Chair of its Legal/ Re-Entry Working Group, and for a long period of time served as Vice Chair of its Steering Committee.
Ms. Balta holds a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Management from Chapman University School of Business as well as a Juris Doctor with a special certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution and an LLM emphasized in Business and Economics from Chapman University Fowler School of Law.
Michelle began her legal career as criminal defense attorney in the Orange County Public Defender’s Office over 26 years ago. She has practiced criminal defense her entire career, with a brief cross over as a prosecutor early on in her career. She has passionately worked with clients from all backgrounds, representing them throughout the criminal court process under highly emotional, stressful and intense circumstances. She has negotiated and resolved a multitude of mental health, juvenile, misdemeanor and felony cases.
Michelle’s passion has always revolved around participating in and representing clients in collaborative courts, working with multiple county agencies to aid in the rehabilitation of clients, including adult & juvenile drug courts, domestic violence court, and Military Diversion court for active duty military and veterans. Working towards aiding clients in rehabilitating themselves to become productive citizens has been the most rewarding part of her legal career.
Michelle is the mother of 5 children, one of which is currently an active duty Marine stationed in Washington D.C. Her father was a Navy Veteran, and her brother served in the US Airforce. Her grandfather served during WWII in the British Army. She is deeply connected to the mission of Veterans Legal Institute and is excited to become a part of the VLI tribe to continue pursuing higher purpose related legal work, by working with Veterans.
Michelle obtained her B.S. degree from the University of Southern California in 1988 and her J.D. from Western State college of Law in 1995.
*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.
Doug joins VLI with more than 35 years of experience as a civil litigation, real estate and bankruptcy attorney.
Doug obtained his B.A. degree from Yale University in 1978 and his J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in 1982. Doug has practiced in major private law firms (Kelley Drye & Warren - New York, New York and Los Angeles, California, and Kelly, Hart & Hallman, P.C. - Fort Worth, Texas), and financial institutions (American Savings Bank, F.A., American Real Estate Group, Inc., and New West Federal Savings and Loan Association). For the past 25 years, Doug has been a shareholder in Frankel & Tennant Professional Corporation in Costa Mesa, a small firm emphasizing representation of lenders in state and federal court, including foreclosures, receiverships, and bankruptcies. Doug is admitted to practice in New York (1983), California (1985), the District of Columbia (1989), and Texas (1993), and to federal courts in California and New York.
Doug is committed to the mission of serving our active duty service members and veterans. Beginning in 2013, Doug has volunteered time, providing advice and counsel to service members challenging unjust efforts by the military to recoup re-enlistment incentives, including successful applications to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. He also has helped with applications for retirement benefits and CRSC. Doug is a VA accredited claims agent.
Faith, family and community are important to Doug. He is active as a Boy Scout leader, AYSO soccer referee, and Little League umpire.
Doug is excited to join the incredible team at VLI as a staff attorney serving our veterans full time!
*Admitted to practice in Arizona and California. VA Accredited.
Katie is a graduate from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. During her time in law school, she was awarded the Judge Mary M. Schroeder Award for most pro-bono hours as a 2L student, and graduated with the highest pro bono distinction. Katie is experienced in the public sector, with stints at both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Arizona State Legislature. Additionally, she has worked for multiple non-profits, advocating for renewable energy regional solutions to climate change as well as humane animal welfare practices in the agriculture industry.
Serving veterans is important to Katie. Her late grandfather was an Officer in the U.S. Army during the Korean War so she seeks to honor him by utilizing her law degree to assist military veterans.
Caitlin Emmons is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Her spouse is an active duty Marine. Following her law school graduation, Caitlin was a UCI Law Public Interest Fellow at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice in Honolulu. Her family received orders to North Carolina in 2017 where she took a job as the Judicial Assistant for Onslow County’s Senior Resident Superior Court Judge and was promoted to Trial Court Coordinator for the 4th Judicial District in 2019.
In early 2020, Caitlin's family relocated on military orders to Camp Pendleton. She and her spouse have two young children.
Caitlin has dedicated her career to public interest law and serving the public in any capacity she can. As a military spouse, Caitlin has seen firsthand the impact military service can have on individuals. Her personal and work experiences have inspired her work with Veterans.
*Admitted to practice in California. VA Accredited
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.
Mark Berry is a graduate of Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, licensed to practice law in California, and accredited by the VA. He was born in Long Beach, CA, and raised in Orange County. He received his BA in history, cum laude, from California State University, Fullerton. At Chapman, Mark was the marketing chair for his school's Public Interest Law Foundation.
During the summer of 2019, Mark volunteered for VLI as a legal intern. He was also a law clerk with the Orange County Public Defender's office for more than two years. As an undergraduate student, Mark volunteered as an English literacy tutor at Read Orange County. He is also a fluent Farsi (Persian) language speaker.
Mark is devoted to pursuing public interest law. He is proud to be a part of VLI, and committed to making a difference in the lives of military veterans and their families, who have sacrificed so much for their country.
Zane Wagner hails from Anaheim, CA, but currently lives in San Juan Capistrano, CA. In 2017, Zane enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves, and now serves at a Motor T stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA. He also comes from a large military family with relatives serving in every US conflict since the Revolutionary War.
Zane graduated from the University of California, Irvine, in 2021, and is an aspiring future law school student. After serving an internship at Veterans Legal Institute (VLI) for his field study in the Fall of 2020, he became passionate about the many aspects of the legal field and serving his community through public interest law.
After completing his internship with VLI, he earned a Notary Public Commission along with a Process Server license in order to gain more first hand experience in law. Zane now serves as a full time legal assistant at VLI where he assists attorneys with their caseloads and his fellow Veterans with applying for legal assistance.
Lydiah previously attended California State University San Bernadino and Miracosta College in Oceanside, California. She graduated Cum Laude with an Associates of Arts in Paralegal Studies and an Associates of Arts & Sciences in Law and Jurisprudence from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Lydiah pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University and graduated Cum Laude in 2021.
Lydiah met her spouse who was an Active duty Marine and a helicopter mechanic with HMM 268, while she worked as a civilian with Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) at Camp Pendleton in 2005. Lydiah had the opportunity to work as a legislative aide at the Maryland General Assembly in 2018 where she assisted in organizing the first ever Maryland Veterans Summit where representatives from 50 Veterans Organizations came together to discuss bills involving Veterans’ education, employment, health, taxation, and other personal matters. This Summit enabled the Veterans Organizations to have open discussions with the Senate and House of Representatives of Maryland. Lydiah worked with a Maryland law firm specializing in Personal Injury law, Family law and Criminal law. Recently, Lydiah worked with a Department of Veterans Affairs contractor in the Washington DC area where she assisted with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals cases. She is passionate about Veterans’ issues.
Tim spent nine years, two months on active duty, mostly in the Air Force. After starting his military career in the Army Reserves, he was granted a conditional release to attend Officers Training School at Medina Annex to Lackland AFB in San Antonio. Following ATS at Keesler AFB MS, he was assigned to the 68th Bomb Wing (now 68th Air Refueling Group) at Seymour Johnson AFB NC where he served in various capacities as an administrative officer. At the end of his first tour of five years, he cross-trained into information systems ad completed a second tour at Gunter AFS AL as a computer programmer/database administrator.
Shortly after his ETS in 1989, Tim started developing symptoms of an autoimmune disease that could only be traced back to exposure to toxic substances during his military assignments. Tim filed his own claim in 2010 which was initially denied. He then filed a Notice of Disagreement which resulted in service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but denial, again, for his neuropathy. That denial is currently under appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
Tim saw an article in the Orange County Register about VLI and was inspired to contact them to offer the expertise gained from his personal dealings with the VA. It is his hope that he can help other veterans with their claims, discharge upgrades and dependent benefits.
Besides his volunteer time at VLI, Tim is also a musician, playing for many organizations in Orange and LA Counties and on the boards of two local orchestras.
Stephen first came to work at VLI as a Volunteer in 2017. Before then, he lived in Japan for 6 years working as a English Instructor and later as part of an IT Support Desk in Tokyo, Japan. Stephen has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Telecommunications Management which he put to use when he was a Wide Area Network engineer.
Stephen has worked various roles in IT, but Customer Service is a field he has worked in his entire career. He enjoys music, cooking and travel in his spare time.
Robin Williams, Jr. hails from Laguna Beach, CA. He is a US Army Veteran and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Arts in Public Administration.
Prior to serving at VLI in December 2019, Robin served 8 years with the US Army as an Intelligence Analyst, having served one tour to Iraq in 2011 as part of Operation New Dawn. His duty assignments included Fort Hood, TX, with the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Benning, GA, with the 3rd Infantry Division, and Fort Dix, NJ, with the Military Intelligence Readiness Command.
Andrea began specializing in non-profit legal services grant work in 2011 after joining Lane County Legal Aid in Eugene, Oregon as Development Director. She transitioned to the position of Grants and Reports Specialist in Oregon’s statewide legal aid network upon a merger in 2017. At that time, she began writing and administering grants for eleven legal aid offices in Oregon, managing a portfolio including federal, state, county, and private foundation grants providing free legal services to low-income residents for housing retention, immigration, expungements, domestic violence and sexual assault,
disability, taxpayer issues, farmworkers, and employment rights among other areas like senior law.
Andrea is also an artist that holds her Doctorate in Art from New York University. Working with legal aid attorneys began to impact her artwork around 2017 when it took the form of social practice, or events that bring a group together over a creative work or project. She has taught studio art and art history in colleges and universities across the US for over twenty years and published two texts on art. Andrea received both the Faculty Recognition Award and the John and Suanne Roueche/League of Excellence and Innovation awards at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.
Andrea is the mother of two young adult children who live in Oregon. Her daughter Elena is a college student with dreams of working for social justice as an attorney. Evan, her son, is a wildlands firefighter. William Ciaston, Andrea’s father, was an Army veteran. Andrea joins VLI committed to strive for its success in honor of her father’s service, and that all other veterans.
2022 SUMMER LAW CLERKS
WASHINGTON AND LEE
UNIVERSITY OF LA VERNE
WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
TIANYI CHRISTOPHER LI
ENRIQUE LOPEZ SALAZAR