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California Special Education Law 2018

Speaker(s): David M. Grey, Deborah R. Jacobson, Devon Rios, Dr. Christopher Arrillaga, Elizabeth F. Eubanks, Heather Zakson, Jean Murrell Adams, Maggie Roberts, Roberta S. Savage
Recorded on: Oct. 3, 2018
PLI Program #: 221682

Jean Murrell Adams opened the law firm of ADAMS ESQ in October of 2002.  Ms. Adams’ experiences in advocating for a child with exceptional needs compelled her to establish a special education law practice.  The over 25 attorneys, advocates and staff of ADAMS ESQ are committed to improving the lives of children with disabilities by advocating for free and appropriate education.  ADAMS ESQ has expanded to six locations throughout California and Nevada.

Prior to founding ADAMS ESQ, Ms. Adams formed the litigation department at DreamWorks, where she managed all litigation matters relating to the film studios’ theatrical, television, home video and interactive gaming divisions worldwide.  Ms. Adams was recruited to DreamWorks from Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. where as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, she represented Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Columbia Pictures Television, Columbia TriStar Home Video, Game Show Network and other subsidiaries.

Ms. Adams received her B.A. in 1983 from Princeton University and her J.D. in 1986 from the University of Southern California Law Center.  She is admitted to practice law in the State of California and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Adams has a long history of professional and community service.  She has served on the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California Intellectual Property Section, the State Bar Ethnic Minority Relations Committee, the Princeton University Alumni Schools Committee (as an alumni interviewer) and on the USC Law Center Board of Councilors.  She is also a long-time supporter and former Vice President of the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles.

A frequent lecturer and writer, Ms Adams has authored numerous newspaper, blog and magazine articles, media presentations and co-authored book publications including the well-received Internet Guide for California Lawyers, 3rd Ed. (2001) and The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firm, published by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, (2011).  Ms. Adams was recently recognized by KQED public radio in San Francisco and Wells Fargo Bank as a Women's History Month Unsung Hero for her service on behalf of low-income children with special education needs.

For over 10 years, Devon Rios has been a staunch child advocate with the passion and experience necessary to guide families at all stages of special education advocacy.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in Sociology from UCLA, Magna Cum Laude with departmental honors, Devon attended the UCLA School of Law. Shortly thereafter, she began her legal career as a prestigious Munger, Tolles & Olson Equal Justice Works Fellow, providing representation to families seeking access to early education intervention for their children. Through this fellowship, Devon founded the East Los Angeles 3-7 Project, laying the groundwork for intensive parent special education advocacy trainings still operating in East Los Angeles today under the auspice of the TIGER Program at Learning Rights Law Center. Immediately after, Devon continued her service at the Learning Rights Law Center as a community empowerment and advocacy program Director continuing her passion to serve special needs families.

Devon’s special education law expertise is matched by her experience in civil litigation, where she has represented clients in litigation matters focusing on complex insurance benefit recovery for public agencies. With this background, Devon possesses the sensitivity necessary to preserve and protect valued relationships with your special needs students’ circle of support coupled with the experience and ability to strategize and execute a litigation path if necessary.

Outside of her special education law practice, Devon is the Board Chair for Via Care Community Health Clinic in East Los Angeles. Via Care provides critical free outpatient health services to uninsured families. Devon also served as a community-elected advisory board member for the Best Start East Los Angeles Initiative.

She has served as a guest lecturer at California State University of Los Angeles in the area of community resource management and for the UCLA School of Law’s first year public interest students Lawyering Skills seminar. She is a frequent panelist and speaker on the topic of law school admissions for underrepresented students, special education advocacy and issues of juvenile justice and race.

Maggie Roberts has been practicing disability law in California for twenty-five years. She has a private law practice in Oakland, CA specializing in representing children with disabilities in special education cases. Her work email address is

Prior to establishing her own special education law practice, Maggie worked for Disability Rights California for fourteen years, first as a Staff Attorney, then as an Associate Managing Attorney.  She provided legal representation to children and young adults with disabilities on a variety of issues, including special education rights, civil rights, and access to community based services. She performed policy work and gave multiple training presentations across California to protect the rights of children with disabilities. She also represented children and young adults in administrative and court cases, including impact litigation. Before joining Disability Rights California, Maggie had her own law practice in San Francisco specializing in representing individuals with disabilities in benefits claims and appeals.

Maggie graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1990. She completed a summer clerkship with the Honorable Dolores Sloviter of the Federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a year-long clerkship with the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Prior to attending law school, Maggie worked as a counselor supporting youth and families.

This is Maggie’s fourth year co-facilitating a full day Special Education Law training program through PLI.

David M. Grey, Esq. is a partner with the law firm of Grey & Grey in Santa Monica.  David is an experienced special education attorney who has successfully handled a lot of due process hearings and appeals in state and federal court.  He has experience with a broad range of special education matters. A significant number of his cases involve people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or those who are in danger of being seriously hurt if not properly served by the school. David has a growing interest in using civil rights laws to obtain injunctive relief and damages beyond what is provided for under IDEA.

Prior to his special education practice, David focused on employment and real estate disputes, where he had many jury trials, arbitrations and administrative hearings.  He is a cum laude graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and received his law degree from Hofstra University in New York. David has lectured and written extensively on a variety of legal topics. Most recently, he was successful in convincing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse summary judgment against two of his clients in K.M. ex rel. Bright v. Tustin Unified School District, 725 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 1493, cert. denied sub nom. Poway Unified Sch. Dist. v. D.H. ex rel. K.H., 134 S. Ct. 1494 (2014). The Ninth Circuit made clear that compliance with IDEA does not foreclose rights available under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Heather Zakson is a founding partner, along with Elizabeth Eubanks and Devon Rios, of REZ Law Group APC, an innovative firm in Southern California representing families and children in special education and related disability civil rights matters. Ms. Zakson also provides consultation in complex family law matters involving children with disabilities, and volunteers with the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law to assist with these cases. In 2015, she was the first attorney to be awarded the Breaking Education Barriers Award from Learning Rights Law Center.  She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law’s Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. Prior to entering law, Ms. Zakson was an organizer and outreach specialist with Community Health Coalition of Central Los Angeles, Operation USA, SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, and INFACT/Corporate Accountability.

Deborah is a special education attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area currently representing families and students against school districts throughout Northern California. She is extremely passionate about her work and the rights of children with disabilities. Deborah is an active member of the educational community and works with parents, service providers and local organizations to support the needs of vulnerable youth.

Deborah has spent her entire legal career working on behalf of children with disabilities. As a law student, she worked as a legal intern and special education advocate for Disability Rights California and Bay Area Legal Aid. As a first year attorney, Deborah became the managing associate at a special education law firm in the District of Columbia where she represented dozens of low-income families and children in special education cases. Prior to relocating back to the Bay Area, Deborah co-founded The School Justice Project, a legal services and advocacy organization serving older students with special education needs who are involved in Washington DC’s justice system. In 2013, Deborah founded Jacobson Education Law in Berkeley, California. JEL’s mission is solely dedicated to helping families with children with disabilities in individual and systemic cases. In addition to her private practice, Deborah has worked as both co-counsel and a contract attorney for Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund on special education cases seeking systemic relief for students and families.

Deborah has effectively and compassionately represented hundreds of clients in special education matters. She is a frequent presenter at state and national conferences, and provides trainings to local advocacy and parent groups.

Dr. Christopher Arrillaga is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Oakland and Lafayette, California. Dr. Arrillaga specializes in conducting comprehensive Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) of children from numerous Bay Area school districts and also provides psychotherapy to both teenage boys and men. Dr. Arrillaga specializes in conducting bilingual psychological assessments (Spanish/English) with children that frequently present with unique needs within the school setting. He has a wealth of experience in identifying complex and unique learning, mood, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Dr. Arrillaga served as an assessment supervisor at WestCoast Children's Clinic in Oakland, for the past 6 years where he trained and supervised staff psychologists and postdoctoral residents in conducting pediatric psychological testing from largely urban communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. Training focuses on teaching the Therapeutic Assessment model of assessment created by Dr. Steven Finn from the University of Texas at Austin, which strives to make the testing process empowering and therapeutic for the child and their family. In 2015, Dr. Arrillaga published a chapter in the book “Assessing Children in the Urban Community” by Rutledge Press titled “The Case of the Bullet-Proof Vest: Complex PTSD, Racial Wounds, and Taking Matters into Your Own Hands.”

He is especially excited by opportunities to collaborate with educational advocates and attorneys in order to leverage the findings and recommendations from psychological evaluations to advocate for children’s special education needs from underserved and under-resourced communities. Dr. Arrillaga has served as an expert witness in Bay Area school district due process hearings with favorable outcomes for his clients. He previously trained at UCSF Benioff and Children’s Hospital Oakland as a predoctoral intern and later at WestCoast Children's Clinic.

Elizabeth received her Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law and a Certificate in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. After graduation, Elizabeth worked in private practice, advocating for parents of children with disabilities in regional center, school district, and health insurance matters. From 2012 to 2018 she was the Inland Empire Regional Director at Disability Rights Legal Center. As Regional Director, Elizabeth was responsible for special education advocacy and civil rights litigation within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, specializing in disability discrimination cases. 

Elizabeth is an adjunct professor at the University of La Verne College of Law. She is the Director of the Law School’s Disability Rights Clinic and she teaches coursework in special education and disability rights law.

Elizabeth has presented seminars at national conferences, including at the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the American Bar Association. She has been the co-chair of Practising Law Institute’s annual Special Education Law Conference since 2012. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Autism Society, Inland Empire. 

While working as a behavior analyst, Ms. Savage frequently witnessed parents having difficulties obtaining appropriate special education services for their child with a disability.  There were severe inconsistencies in the information provided to parents concerning their rights, the rights of their child, and service options available to meet the educational needs of their child.  This injustice is what drove her to law school and continues to be a motivating factor for her every day.

Ms. Savage has dedicated her career to representing children with disabilities against school districts in program disputes.  This is often a stressful and exhausting process for families.  The goal of her work is to help parents and students navigate through the process of obtaining a free appropriate public education as smoothly as possible.

  • California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy (CAPCA), Chair, Northern California
  • Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Member
  • Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) Advisory Committee Member 2008-2010
  • Admitted to 9th Circuit Court, Northern District California, Southern District California, Eastern District California
  • Member of the California State Bar, 1999
  • Juris Doctorate, UC Davis School of Law (King Hall), 1999
  • Master of Arts - Educational Psychology, UC Santa Barbara, 1995
  • Bachelor of Arts – Psychology, UC Santa Barbara, 1992
  • Law Office of Roberta S. Savage, 2004
  • Varma and Clancy – Attorney, 1999-2004
  • Ruderman, Varma, and Clancy - Law Clerk, 1998-1999
  • Protection and Advocacy, Inc. – Law Clerk, 1997
  • Legal Services of Northern California – Law Clerk, 1997
  • Holdsambeck and Associates – Behavior Analyst, 1992-1996
  • UCSB Autism Research and Training Center – Staff Member, 1991-1995