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California Eviction Defense 2.0: Beyond the Basics of Protecting Low-Income Tenants 2015


Speaker(s): Brendan Darrow, Celida B. Miramontes, Christian Abasto, Deepika Sharma, Denise McGranahan, Laura Lane, Leah F. Simon-Weisberg, Madeline S. Howard, Maria E. Palomares, Navneet Grewal, Shirley Gibson, Stephanie Haffner
Recorded on: Mar. 11, 2015
PLI Program #: 58016

Christian Abasto has been the Managing Attorney of the Civil Rights Practice Group of Disability Rights California since March 2017.  Christian has been zealously advocating for the poor and persons with disabilities for over 20 years.  Christian ran his own private practice litigating complex cases.  He was the Director of Litigation at the Public Law Center from 2011 to 2015 where he supervised 18 high-performing attorneys in complex litigation and policy advocacy matters and partnered with the Executive Director to manage the organization.  Under his leadership the organization tripled its impact advocacy matters.

Christian worked at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles from 1997 until 2011 where he rose through the ranks from Staff Attorney to Managing Attorney of the Housing and Eviction Defense Units.  He handled appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the California Court of Appeal, and the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court. Christian was lead counsel in the 9th Circuit published decision, Barrientos v. 1801-1825 Morton LLC, 583 F.3d 1197 (2009).  The decision established positive precedent regarding federal preemption, Section 8 vouchers, and local rent control laws.  As the Managing Attorney of the Housing and Eviction Defense Units he supervised nine high-performing attorneys, one project coordinator, five social workers, and four paralegals. Under his leadership the Housing and Eviction Defense Units obtained a $10 million grant to provide coordinated legal services, social services, and rental assistance to low income Angelinos. He also played a lead role in the development of an eviction defense representation project in the Los Angeles Superior Court, which was awarded an $8 million grant by the State Bar of California.

Christian received a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego and his J.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1997. He is a fluent Spanish speaker.


Deepika Sharma is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Homelessness Prevention Law Project at Public Counsel. She developed Public Counsel’s dedicated affirmative housing litigation unit. Most recently, she is serving as the lead attorney in a multi-building Fair Housing Act case, Martinez v Optimus, challenging the discriminatory harassment and predation against tenants that flourishes in gentrifying neighborhoods. Ms. Sharma also works on impact litigation cases aimed at racial equity and access for people with disabilities. To date, she has represented several hundred tenants and conducted several bench and jury trials. Prior to joining Public Counsel, Ms. Sharma was the Supervising Attorney at the Eviction Defense Network in Los Angeles. She began her career as an associate in the Litigation Department of Morrison & Foerster's Los Angeles office. Ms. Sharma also spent a year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia working for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunals. She earned her J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law in 2007. While in law school, she was a clerk for the East Bay Community Law Center in the housing unit and for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in the Torture Survivors Unit. Ms. Sharma earned her B.A. degree in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley in 2000, where she graduated with Highest Honors.


Leah Simon-Weisberg is the Managing Attorney of the Tenant Rights Program at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland.  Leah came from Tenants Together (TT) where she was the Legal Director. At TT, she managed the litigation practice which included class action and multi-plaintiff fair housing, habitability, tenant contract and consumer rights matters. She regularly provided technical assistance on rent control and drafted the ordinance that passed in Richmond, California in November 2017. Before joining Tenants Together, Leah was the Managing Attorney of the Anti-Predatory Lending and Home Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention Practice at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. Leah began her housing work in Los Angeles as the co-Executive Director of the Eviction Defense Network (EDN). At EDN, Leah litigated over 1,000 unlawful detainer cases on behalf of tenants facing eviction in Los Angeles County. Leah has extensive experience providing education to legal service providers on eviction defense and rent control.  Before attending law school at Northeastern University, School of Law, Leah worked for Senator Barbara Boxer in her San Francisco Office and served as a Peace Corp Volunteer in Morocco. Leah is presently an elected Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner.


Stephanie Haffner, a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, began her legal career at California Rural Legal Assistance where she chaired its statewide public benefits task force and served as lead counsel in Price v. City of Stockton, which secured replacement housing and relocation benefits for hundreds of Stockton downtown hotel residents.  Stephanie taught Administrative Law and other subjects at Whittier Law School.  From 2006 to 2011, Stephanie supervised the Housing/Consumer Advocacy Group of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.  She joined Western Center in 2011 as a Senior Litigator, and became a Director of Litigation for Western Center in 2017.  Her practice includes administrative law, anti-discrimination law, food and cash benefits, and homelessness issues, among others. As of April 30, 2018, she will be joining Legal Aid of Marin as their Executive Director.


Celida B. Miramontes, a graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California, began working at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. (GBLA) in October 2009 for the Access to Justice Rural Project.  As a staff attorney for in the project, Celida provided direct legal services to low-income persons and families residing in traditionally under-served and isolated rural communities.  More recently, Celida was promoted to the position of senior staff attorney, and presently focuses on complex affirmative litigation in the areas of education, health, housing, and consumer law.   

Prior to joining GBLA, Celida was a high school history teacher in the Compton Unified School District, which motivated her to pursue a career in public interest law.  


Denise McGranahan is a senior attorney at the Santa Monica office of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA).  She has been working at LAFLA in its Santa Monica office since 1996.  After graduating from UCLA School of Law in 1987, Ms. McGranahan worked in private practice as a civil litigator.  For the past seventeen years, she has worked in public interest law, specializing in housing matters. Her expertise is in the areas of eviction defense, rent control, the Ellis Act, habitability, affordable housing, fair housing (concentrating on disability issues), affirmatively furthering fair housing requirements, tenant harassment and the federal Section 8 program.  She regularly co-counsels with private attorneys in affirmative fair housing and other litigation.  Ms. McGranahan has been a trainer and panelist at programs sponsored by various fair housing and legal aid organizations.  She has also been involved in the drafting and revising of local and state legislation that has resulted in significant changes to landlord-tenant laws and greater protections for tenants.


Laura Lane earned her J.D. in 1996 from Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall), University of California.  She joined the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley as a supervising attorney in 1997 and has directed its housing practice since 2003.  She has taught housing law and policy at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and at Golden Gate University School of Law.  Prior to joining East Bay Community Law Center, she was awarded an Echoing Green public interest fellowship and founded and directed a project to provide free legal services to persons living with HIV/AIDS in Richmond.  Recently, Laura authored a chapter on Residential Landlord-Tenant Law in the California Basic Practice Handbook published by CEB.


Maria Palomares is a Staff Attorney, whose work has focused on ensuring that low income housing is preserved through impact litigation, policy advocacy and trainings.  Prior to joining Western Center, Maria served as a staff attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA), specializing in cases involving housing, language access, and civil rights issues. Maria, who has worked in legal services since 2009, is a graduate of Southwestern Law School and received her B.A. from the University of California Los Angeles.


Madeline is a senior staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty focusing on fair housing litigation, unlawful detainer appeals, and issues impacting tenants in foreclosed homes. Before joining Western Center in 2013, Madeline was a senior staff attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid in San Jose and San Francisco where she represented the interests of low-income tenants against landlords and major lending institutions. At Western Center Madeline partners with legal services attorneys on impact litigation to challenge discriminatory housing practices and preserve affordable housing. She also supports direct services attorneys through technical assistance and training on issues ranging from unlawful detainer appeals to fair housing rights. Madeline received her law degree from Berkeley after working as an advocate at Medical-Legal Partnership Boston, the nation’s first medical-legal collaborative. She went on to become a research attorney at San Francisco Superior Court before returning to direct services work.


Navneet Grewal is a Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty, a statewide legal services support center that fights, through litigation and legislative and policy advocacy, to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. She has successfully litigated cases in state and federal court that have, for example, expanded due process rights for voucher applicants, reimbursed thousands of public housing residents for rent overcharges, enforced state land use and zoning laws (resulting in the development of affordable housing), and that have preserved mobilehome parks. She also works with the housing team to develop and analyze statewide housing legislation that has led to significant protections for low-income Californians. Critically, she also works to support local legal services attorneys in identifying and assessing critical legal claims that their clients might avail themselves of, both through technical assistance and workshops. Navneet has also written several housing law-related publications; most recently, she was a contributing author to the Section 8 chapter of the 2017 California Rutter Group Practice Guide - Landlord-Tenant. She also previously served on the Steering Committee of the State Bar’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Section and on the Board of Directors of Housing California. In all facets of this work, Navneet strives to ensure that housing policies and practices work toward racial justice. Navneet is a graduate of the New York University School of Law, where she received the Vanderbilt Medal (the highest graduation honor), and the Black, Latino, and Asian Pacific American Alumni Association’s Public Service Award.


Shirley Gibson is Directing Attorney at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, where she has supervised the housing and eviction defense practice since 2007. Ms. Gibson was previously a staff attorney at Eviction Defense Collaborative in San Francisco for five years, and a litigation associate with Law Offices of Tim A. Pori for two years. She is a graduate of Reed College (B.A, 1994) and New College of California School of Public Interest Law (J.D., 1999).


Since 2008, Brendan has been directly involved in litigation of landlord/tenant disputes in Oakland and Berkeley, and has placed a special emphasis upon developing expertise in local eviction protection and rent control ordinances. Since the Fall of 2010 Brendan has supervised EBCLC's weekly Tenants' Rights Workshop over 100 times, and has advised over 1,700 clients about landlord-tenant disputes, mostly in Oakland. He provides full-scope representation to twenty-five to forty clients per year, primarily in unlawful detainer cases. Brendan is experienced in civil litigation, having drafted and successfully argued motions to strike, demurrers, motions to compel responses to discovery, motions for judgment on the pleadings, motions for summary judgment, motions to set aside, motions for relief from waiver of jury trial, petitions for relief from forfeiture, motions in limine, evidence code 402 motions, and various ex parte applications. Brendan recently won a two week jury trial in which he was the lead attorney.