Jennifer R. Clarke, Executive Director
Ms. Clarke joined the Law Center in February 2006. While at the Law Center she has guided the organization through a successful strategic planning process, leading to a renewed focus on legal strategies to reduce poverty and discrimination. Under her leadership, the Law Center has expanded and strengthened its pro bono partnerships, which in turn greatly expands the organization’s capacity to address major social issues in the Philadelphia region.
Prior to joining the Law Center, Ms. Clarke was a partner at Dechert LLP for fifteen years and an associate for a total of eight years, first at White & Case and then at Dechert. Ms. Clarke defended and prosecuted complex civil cases, with a concentration in antitrust class actions. She also represented the City of Philadelphia in a successful suit challenging the constitutionality of a state statute that altered the balance of power between the city and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and she represented then-City Council President John Street in a suit against SEPTA and the Transit Workers Union, seeking to compel the two to settle a long-running and harmful transit strike. She was pro bono counsel for a plaintiff class of 600,000 Michigan children to redress the failure by state officials to provide medical and dental care as required by the Social Security Act.
Ms. Clarke is a board member and secretary of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project Board, and she chairs the steering committee of the Spring Gardens, a neighborhood community garden in Center City. She is the chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Statewide Strategies Working Group of the Civil Gideon Task Force. Ms. Clarke was a founder and officer of the Caring Center, a not-for-profit child care center serving 200 children in West Philadelphia.
Ms. Clarke is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law, where she was an editor of the Columbia Law Review and a Stone Scholar. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College.
Kirtrina M. Baxter, Community Organizer, Garden Justice Legal Initiative
Kirtrina M. Baxter, M.A., is a dedicated food justice activist and community organizer. She has a passion for nutrition, growing food and awareness around the disparities in our food system that negatively affect communities of color. Over the years Kirtrina has assisted with many community programs.
Before moving back to Philly in 2012, Kirtrina co-founded Ithaca Youth Farm Program, a youth-run farm that engages students from culturally different backgrounds. She also helped establish the Congo Square Market, an outdoor summer cultural market designed to offer opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs of color to build economic means through community distribution and recognition. And she successfully coordinated and instituted the first annual Food Justice Summit in Ithaca, NY.
As well as being an urban farmer, Kirtrina has volunteered to help create and maintain various community gardens in upstate NY and Philadelphia. Besides working at PILCOP, Kirtrina is an entrepreneur – helping families of African descent go through the process of changing their eating habits in a culturally relevant way; she teaches parenting classes; and, she is invested in a locally-owned bakery. In 2008 she received her M.A from Union Institute and University in Cultural Studies.
Claudette Benton, Paralegal
Claudette joined the Law Center in July 2014. Prior to joining the Law Center, she worked for nine years with the City of Philadelphia Law Department, helping the Code Enforcement Unit as well as the Department of Human Services. Claudette is a graduate of Peirce College Accelerated Degree Program where she received a Degree in Business/Law. Ms. Benton is also a 1966 graduate of West Philadelphia Catholic Girls’ High School where she received an award as Police Athletic League Girl of the Year from 1963-1966.
In her role as Paralegal, Ms. Benton will provide support for Law Center staff attorneys and the Executive Director. She will submit court filings, submit filings with the Office for Dispute Resolutions and schedule consultations, among a wide range of other paralegal and administrative tasks.
Michael Berton, Communications and Development Associate
Michael Berton joined the Law Center in March of 2014. In his role, he provides support to the Law Center’s communications and development departments. Michael is a graduate of Penn State University with a B.A. in Communications. He was previously the Public Relations Assistant with The Philadelphia Orchestra, and he spent several years with multiple media outlets, including the Penn State Ag Science Magazine and the Penn Law Journal.
Latrice Brooks, Director of Administration
A senior member of the Law Center staff, Ms. Brooks joined the Law Center part-time as a File Clerk while attending St. Maria Goretti High School. After a few years of experience, she was promoted to Secretary. In 2008, Ms. Brooks completed her courses at Penn Foster Career School and now holds a Legal Secretary Certification. She is also a member of the National Association for Legal Professionals. Ms. Brooks’ responsibilities include serving as notary public, submitting Electronic Court Filings (ECF), filing with the Office for Dispute Resolutions (ODR), scheduling consultations, and a wide range of other secretarial and administrative tasks.
Amy Laura Cahn, Director of Garden Justice Legal Initiative
A Staff Attorney Fellow with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Amy Laura Cahn directs the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, providing legal and advocacy support to community gardens and farms in historically disinvested communities, and works on environmental justice issues. Amy Laura was a Toll Public Interest Scholar at University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating magna cum laude. While at Penn Law, Amy Laura worked with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Penn Law Transnational Legal Clinic, and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Environmental Justice Project, and co-founded Penn Law’s environmental pro bono project. Before joining the Law Center, Amy Laura served as a law clerk to the Honorable Michael M. Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and as a law clerk to the Honorable Stephen Skillman of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. She graduated summa cum laude from Hunter College with a B.A. in urban studies.
Prior to law school, Amy Laura worked with the community organizing departments of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Pratt Area Community Council (Brooklyn) and was a founding collective member of Bluestockings Women’s Bookstore in New York City. In 2004, Amy Laura co-authored a community-based study on childhood lead paint poisoning that helped overturn New York City’s lead laws. She currently serves as co-chair of the Bread and Roses Community Fund board of directors and chair of the Mayor’s Food Policy Advisory Council vacant land subcommittee, and is a board member of the Neighborhood Gardens Trust and advisory board member of 596 Acres (Brooklyn) and Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (New Orleans).
Michael Churchill, Of Counsel
Since joining the Law Center in 1976, Mr. Churchill has litigated many landmark civil rights cases, including the environmental justice case South Camden Citizens in Action v. New Jersey DEP. Before joining the Law Center, Mr. Churchill clerked for Chief Judge J. Edward Lumbard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was a partner at the law firm Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. Mr. Churchill also served as Acting General Counsel of the Philadelphia School District in 1984.
Mr. Churchill is a recipient of the Edwin D. Wolf Award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In 1995 he was recognized with the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Obermeyer Award for service to education, and in 2008 he received the Andrew Hamilton Lifetime Award from the Philadelphia Bar Association Public Interest Section. He has been a member of the Charlestown Township Planning Commission for nearly 30 years.
Mr. Churchill is a graduate of Harvard College and cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School.
Jason Fortenberry, Staff Attorney
Mr. Fortenberry joined the Law Center in April 2014, where he focuses his practice in the area of special education/disability law. Jason previously served for three years as a staff attorney for the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law. Mr. Fortenberry brings a commitment to public service as demonstrated by his extensive pro bono record, including his efforts to establish a Human Relations Commission in Conshohocken, where he continues to serve as a commissioner to assist in dealing with discrimination in the community.
Mr. Fortenberry graduated from Rutgers School of Law – Camden where he was an aspiring public servant. He served as a Marshall-Brennan Fellow, taught a course in Constitutional Law at Camden High School, and was a weekly financial literacy tutor at Hopeworks ‘N Camden. He was a recipient of the Mary Philbrook Public Interest Award in 2010.
As a law student, Jason served as a summer intern for the Honorable Marlene F. Lachman of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and as a judicial extern for the Honorable Gloria M. Burns, Chief Judge, United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey. Prior to finding his calling as a special education attorney, Jason worked for several years in the information technology field following his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama.
Benjamin D. Geffen, Staff Attorney
Mr. Geffen joined the Law Center in October 2010, following his completion of a clerkship with the Honorable Robert M. Levy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Mr. Geffen’s work at the Law Center focuses on such issues as educational equity, voting rights, and access to public records, and he provides support to the Law Center’s senior attorneys in a wide variety of cases.
Mr. Geffen graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in Philosophy. After working for several years in the not-for-profit sector in Boston, he attended the New York University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law.
Sonja D. Kerr, Director of Disabilities Rights
Sonja D. Kerr is the Director of Disability Rights for the Law Center. Ms. Kerr, a 1987 graduate of Indiana University School of Law, and a former first chair and board member of COPAA, joined PILCOP in 2009. Ms. Kerr has litigated special education cases on behalf of students with a variety of disabilities, in nine different states, gaining a national reputation for groundbreaking litigation on behalf of children with disabilities.
Recent cases include a class action against the State of Pennsylvania to ensure funding for an impoverished school district, and a class action and favorable partial judgment on behalf of students with autism in the School District of Philadelphia requiring parental participation in school placement decisions. In addition to litigation, Ms. Kerr is committed to providing information and training to all persons involved in the IEP process, but especially parents, and the Law Center offers a yearlong training program for that purpose.
She has been a reviewer for Wrightslaw, published or edited chapters of books, and written various law review or other professional articles about special education topics. Ms. Kerr is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, where she completed her B.A. in Psychology, and completed a Masters in Counseling Psychology at Purdue University. Ms. Kerr is admitted to practice in Minnesota (non-active by choice), Indiana, Alaska, Pennsylvania, and specially admitted in various other states and jurisdictions. She is also admitted to the 9th, 8th, and 3rd circuit courts of appeals as well as various federal district courts in those circuits, the U.S. Court of Claims and the United States Supreme Court.
Barbara Macholz, Director of Development & Communications
Barb joined the Law Center in March of 2013. In her current role, Barb engages Law Center supporters and builds the organization’s visibility through strategic development and communications programming.
Barb is a magna cum laude graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA with a B.A. in English and Spanish. Her previous employment includes a year as an Americorps*VISTA volunteer at the New York Legal Assistance Group and two and a half years in capacity building and outreach for a government watchdog organization in Chicago, IL.
Lisa R. Sica, Director of Finance
Lisa Sica joined the Law Center in June 2010 as the Director of Finance. Lisa is responsible for preparing and analyzing financial reporting materials and metrics for the Executive Director and the board of directors. She oversees budgeting, financial forecasting, cash flow, and coordination of audit activities.
Lisa is a graduate of New England College with a Master of Arts in Public Policy. She also earned a B.S. in Accounting from Goldey Beacom College and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Business Administration at Northcentral University with research interests in non-profit leadership and organization.