International Attorney / Transitional Justice Program Director
Carolyn Patty Blum
Senior Legal Advisor
Operations and Finance Assistant
Development and Outreach Assistant
Operations and Finance Director
Yonina Alexander, Legal Fellow, joins CJA after graduating from Harvard Law School, where she worked on a number of Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act cases through Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic. Ms. Alexander spent a summer as an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, working on a number of pro bono cases relating to civil and human rights. She also interned for the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where she focused on women’s access to justice. Before beginning law school, Ms. Alexander spent four years in Israel, where she served in the Foreign Relations Division of the Israel Defense Force and pursued a Masters in International Law and Politics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2005, Ms. Alexander graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in Philosophy and International Relations.
Almudena Bernabeu, International Attorney & Transitional Justice Program Director , is licensed to practice law in Spain and joined CJA full time in 2003. Ms. Bernabeu works on US-based civil Alien Tort Statute litigation against human rights abusers and universal jurisdiction criminal human rights prosecutions before the Spanish National Court. Ms. Bernabeu is also Director of CJA's Transitional Justice Program. She has worked on asylum and human rights cases for Amnesty International-Spain and researched and investigated cases before the European Court of Human Rights. She also serves as a board member at Equatorial Guinea Justice, a US based Human Rights organization. She is Vice-President of the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE), and a member of the advisory board of the Peruvian Institute of Forensic Anthropology (EPAF), a forensic group providing evidence on human rights violations investigations and prosecutions. Ms. Bernabeu holds a Law degree from the University of Valencia School of Law, where she specialized in Public International Law. In 2012, Ms. Bernabeu won the prestigious Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize.
Carolyn Patty Blum, Senior Legal Advisor, was a key member of the legal team in CJA's El Salvador and Chile cases and is now working as a consultant for CJA. She is a Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. She founded the law school's International Human Rights Law Clinic which she directed from 1998-2002. She has been involved in a range of human rights policy and legal issues, including trafficking in women, the rights of migrant workers, and the protection of women and gay refugees. She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford, Masters of International Law Program and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Law School. Ms. Blum also consults with a range of other NGOs, including the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Center for Constitutional Rights on their Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative.
Laila Essmidi, Administrative Assistant, received her B.S. in International Relations and Spanish from the Jesuit University of Scranton. She speaks both Arabic and Spanish and has worked and studied in Mexico, Europe, Africa, and Central America. She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, where she led projects advocating for health issues and equal rights and served as a teacher in the rural schools of Madagascar and Zambia. Before joining CJA, she was a program director of international youth travel focused on peace and sustainable development. Her passions lie in linguistics, travel, and human relations and understanding.
Scott Gilmore, Staff Attorney, rejoins CJA after graduating from the George Washington University Law School (J.D., Order of the Coif). Before law school, he worked on communications and policy analysis for CJA. Mr. Gilmore summered with the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, as a law clerk in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP). At HRSP, he worked on the extraterritorial prosecution of human rights abuses and complex transnational crimes. He interned for the Hon. Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law; and the ABA Center for Human Rights. He was also a musician in the Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra and Black Ox Orkestar, and a writer and performer in Le Petit Théâtre de l'Absolu, a Franco-American theater company performing original work on armed conflict and historical memory. He holds a B.A. in English and Jewish studies from McGill University and speaks fluent French. Mr. Gilmore is admitted to practice in California.
Cassandra Kildow, Operations and Finance Assistant, joined CJA after receiving a B.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University, where she focused on Arabic and Islamic studies. As a computer technician manager at Yale, Ms. Kildow resolved students' hardware and software computer issues. Ms. Kildow also interned at the Swiss Consulate General in Chicago, implementing cultural outreach projects and editing the periodical MOSAIC. Additionally, as an undergraduate she was an active member of the Yale Multifaith Council and Yale Children's Theater.
Danielle Knutson, Development & Outreach Associate, comes to CJA after graduating from the University of South Dakota in 2011, where she double majored in Political Science and International Studies and minored in French Studies. While in college, Ms. Knutson served as Amnesty International’s Student Activist Coordinator for South Dakota and North Dakota, where she worked with local groups to increase fundraising, membership, and outreach. Ms. Knutson also interned with United States Senator Tim Johnson, assisting staff with constituent communications and casework. After moving to the Bay Area, Ms. Knutson worked as a Volunteer Infrastructure Program Fellow for the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, where she increased the capacity and efficiency of the agency’s volunteer program.
Pamela Merchant, Executive Director, and President of the Board of Directors of the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA). Ms. Merchant joined CJA in October 2005 and has overseen a period of significant growth - both programmatically and financially for the organization. Under Ms. Merchant's leadership, CJA has grown from an organization devoted solely to human rights litigation using Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act litigation in the United States to one that also engages in human rights litigation in foreign jurisdictions, such as Spain and Cambodia. CJA now also files amicus briefs in human rights cases before multi-lateral jurisdictions like the Inter-American and European Courts of Human Rights. Among other initiatives, CJA has launched a Transitional Justice Program that has worked in 6 countries and a human rights training program for prosecutors. CJA crossed the one million dollar mark for recovery for its clients and, in its first case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, won a unanimous victory. (Samantar v. Yousuf). CJA is now litigating a novel licensing case against one of the architects of the harsh interrogation program at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay. CJA has grown from an organization representing 56 clients from 8 countries to one that currently represents 192 clients from 21 countries. In 2007, CJA won the prestigious Thomas J. Dodd prize in International Human Rights.
Ms. Merchant has testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law on accountability for human rights abusers who have sought safe haven in the U.S. and submitted additional testimony to Congress on crimes against humanity and other human rights issues.
Ms. Merchant is an attorney with twenty five years of experience in the conduct and management of complex state and federal litigation including eight years as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, where she specialized in white collar prosecutions. She has served in leadership positions on 10 non profit boards and currently serves on the the International Gay and Lesbian Human Right Commission board. Ms. Merchant graduated with honors from Georgetown University and Boston College School of Law and is admitted to practice in California and Massachusetts.
Kathy Roberts, Legal Director, brings to CJA a background in civil litigation, civil rights, and social theory. Her work focuses on investigating and litigating impact cases on behalf of survivors of torture and other severe human rights abuses. Prior to joining CJA, Ms. Roberts led multiple class action and Unfair Competition Act cases on behalf of workers deprived of their basic labor rights, including the right to minimum wages and overtime. She has also worked as a deputy public defender. In addition, Ms. Roberts teaches international human rights law part-time at the University of San Francisco and serves on the Boards of Trustees for the Playwrights Foundation and Just Theater. She received her BA with honors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1992, her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2001, and her JD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. Ms. Roberts is admitted to practice in California, and she speaks Spanish.
Nushin Sarkarati, Staff Attorney, is a U.S. lawyer who works on CJA's ATS/TVPA litigation in federal court, and is the civil party lawyer on CJA's case before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, where she represents Cambodian survivors of Khmer Rouge atrocities in their claims for reparations against the senior leaders on trial in Phnom Penh. Nushin also runs CJA’s outreach program to the Cambodian diaspora in the U.S. Before joining CJA, Ms. Sarkarati graduated from U.C. Davis School of Law and interned with the U.N. Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Chambers of Judge Illston at the Northern District Court of California. In addition, Nushin spent a year externing at the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Sacramento, where she successfully argued and won a motion to suppress evidence under the fourth amendment, and worked at the U.C. Davis Prison Law Clinic, where she won a motion for writ of habeas corpus attesting the means of her client’s confinement. Ms. Sarkarati was also a legal intern at CJA. Prior to law school, Ms. Sarkarati worked with several non-profit organizations, including Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa. She received her B.A. in Philosophy from U.C. Berkeley with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. Ms. Sarkarati is fluent in Farsi and is admitted to practice law in California and Cambodia.
Dana Serleth, Operations and Finance Director, brings thirty years of experience in leadership and management roles in both the private and nonprofit sectors. Ms. Serleth served eight years as President and CEO of the Every Child Can Learn Foundation (now the San Francisco Schools Alliance) which provided support to the San Francisco public school system. Prior to joining the Foundation, she worked in a progression of jobs at IBM in sales, marketing, finance, administration and ultimately public affairs. She has been an active governing board member of more than a dozen community benefit and civic organizations, including TechSoup Global, Alumnae Resources, Piedmont Educational Foundation, The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Workforce Investment Board, and the Youth Council. Ms. Serleth holds a B.A. in British and American Literature from Scripps College.