Our Team

Message from our Board President, Stacy Rupprecht Butler, and Executive Director, Michele Mirto

As longtime supporters of pro bono civil legal services in Pima County, we’ve seen many lives changed for the better through the simple gift of free legal assistance. But we’ve also seen the tremendous unmet need. Too many people seeking free legal help are turned away due to lack of resources, conflicts of interest and funding restrictions.

We can do better. We can tap into innovations in technology to bring more volunteers and clients together. We can engage in careful financial stewardship to expand the reach of donor dollars and help more people. We can foster partnerships to include more of our community in the fight for access to justice. 

96% of those in need of legal services aren’t getting help. Hundreds of lawyers are ready to donate their services. Let’s bring them together. Step Up to Justice is about making that connection – we hope you will help us!

Our Board of Directors

We could not bring this exciting program to our local community without the support of our Board of Directors. We are pleased to introduce the board for SU2J.

Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson
Tucson Electric Power

Ryan Anderson attended McGill University in Canada and received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2011.  After graduation from law school, Ryan worked as an associate with the law office of Cheryl Copperstone where his practice focused on consumer bankruptcy matters.  Ryan also lent his considerable skills to Mayor Rothschild serving the City of Tucson as a Planning, Transportation, and Sustainability Policy Advisor.  Currently, Ryan works with Tucson Electric Power as a Senior Customer Relationship Manager.  Ryan brings a history of volunteerism and a commitment to access to justice issues to the board.

Stacy Rupprecht Butler

Stacy Butler, Board President
University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

Stacy Butler is Director of Innovation for Justice at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.  She received her bachelor's degree from Trinity University in 1999 and her Juris Doctorate from the University Arizona College of Law in 2002.  Following graduation from law school, Ms. Butler served as a law clerk to the Hon. William C. Canby at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  She served for 12 years as the permanent law clerk to the Hon. Jennifer G. Zipps at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, and for 3 years as an associate at the law firm of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy. She has been active in developing and supporting volunteerism in the Pima County legal community since 1998.  Ms. Butler brings a wealth of experience and a tremendous skill set to the board.     

Anna Ceder
Lisa A. Duran & Associates
Employees of the Law Department
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Born and raised in Milton, Washington, Anna Ceder came to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona.  She has been committed to volunteering her time to improve access to justice since law school and has helped numerous families file for child support and minor guardianships.  Ms. Ceder is excited to continue helping her community as part of the Step Up to Justice Board of Directors and as a volunteer attorney for the organization. She is the former president of the Morris K. Udall Inn of Court and was selected as Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Attorney of the Month in May 2016.  Ms. Ceder practices in the area of insurance defense.   

Hon. Dean Christoffel, Secretary
Arizona Superior Court in Pima County

Dean Christoffel graduated with distinction from the University of Arizona College of Law in 1974.  Judge Christoffel is a Pima County Superior Court Commissioner/Judge Pro Tem.  He is also the Past-Chair of the Executive Council of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Arizona.  Judge Christoffel volunteered with Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) for twenty-two years before ascending to the bench in 2011.    In 2008 Judge Christoffel received the Arizona Supreme Court Award for Pro Bono Service and in 2009 he was the recipient of the William E. Morris Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award.

Hon. Fred Dardis

Fred Dardis, a retired judicial officer, has been a pillar of Tucson's legal community for 45 years.  He served as the Pima County Public Defender before starting his own successful law firm which focused on domestic relations cases.   Respected by his peers for his work ethic and legal expertise, Judge Dardis was selected to become a Pima County Superior Court Commissioner in 1998.  Judge Dardis has served as chair of many non-profit boards including The Ronald McDonald House, Catholic Charities and the Volunteer Lawyers Program.   Now retired from the bench, Judge Dardis serves as Board president of Tucson Habitat for Humanity and donates his time, talent and energy to several other Tucson area non-profits.   

Julianne DeGrendele

Julianne DeGrendele began her accounting career in 1983 with the tax department of KPMG Peat Marwick in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from Portland State University as an accounting major with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1985 she transferred to the KPMG Tucson office and shortly after received her CPA certificate in Arizona. After close to ten years with KPMG she left in 1993 to form her own practice in Tucson.

Julianne is a member of the Arizona Society of Certified Public Accountants, and a board member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council. She also participates on a community service level as a non-profit board member.

Peter Economidis
Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, P.C. 

Peter Economidis is a founding shareholder of the Tucson law firm of Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, P.C.  He received a B.S. degree from the University of Rochester, an M.S. degree from the University of Arizona and his J.D. degree from the University of Arizona.  He is a past member of the Board of Directors Family Law Sections of the State Bar of Arizona and Pima County Bar Association, he has served on several committees of both bar associations and was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Marriage and Family in 1976-1978, to study the causes of divorce.  He was admitted to Fellowship in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 1974 and continues such Fellowship to the present serving as President of the Local Chapter in 1987-1988, and again in 2000-2001.  He was certificated as a Mediator by the Academy in 1999.  He is currently listed in the 2015 edition of Best Lawyers in the categories of Mediation, Arbitration, Family Law, Family Law Mediation and Mediation.  He was named Best Lawyers, 2009 Tucson Family Law Lawyer of the Year and has again been honored by being named Best Lawyers, 2015 Tucson Mediation Lawyer of the Year.  He has been a frequent lecturer for the State Bar of Arizona in family law and mediation topics. 

Leslie Glaze

Leslie Glaze

Leslie Glaze moved to Tucson in 2011, following an academic career as speech-language pathologist at the University of Minnesota, with special expertise in voice disorders, cleft palate, and head & neck cancer.  She received her Master’s degree from the University of Kansas and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, she is a Board member of the Pay It Forward Fund (Minnesota) and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.  She is delighted to serve Step Up to Justice as a new Board member and a volunteer grant writer.  

Mike Hannley

Mike Hannley

Mike Hannley launched Bank of Tucson in 1996 and served as President and Chief Executive Officer until the bank merged with Grandpoint in June 2013. Bank of Tucson operates two offices in Tucson. Before leading Bank of Tucson, Mike served as Senior Vice President and Director of the Professional Division of National Bank of Arizona from 1986 until December 1995. He was previously Head of Retail Banking for Home Federal/Great American Savings, and Regional Vice President of Southern Arizona Bank/First Interstate Bank, where he started his banking career in 1972.

Mike is very active in the Tucson community where he is a life member of Tucson Conquistadores and St. Mary’s Hospital Centurions. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of Carondelet Neurological Institute; the Business Advisory Board of Angel Charity for Children; the Community Advisory Board of the Assistance League of Tucson, Inc. as well as several advisory boards at the University of Arizona. Mike also serves as a director of the YMCA Youth Foundation and the Western Independent Bankers.

Zelma Letarte

Zelma Letarte
DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, P.C.

Zelma Letarte is an associate attorney at DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, P.C.  She has been in practice since 2005 and her focus is primarily on family law litigation.  Zelma earned her undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University and her juris doctorate from the University of Dayton.  Zelma has a long history of pro bono service and has been active with Step Up to Justice since the programs launch in 2017.

Pamela Liberty
Liberty & Associates, P.C.

Pamela Liberty is a 1984 graduate of the University of California Hastings College of Law with 30 years' experience in the area of family law. Ms. Liberty practices as both a litigator and a mediator and is listed in the respected peer review publication Best Lawyers in America. She has been recognized by the Arizona State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in family law since 1995 and has served as adjunct faculty at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.  Ms. Liberty is a former legal aid staff attorney and a veteran pro bono attorney.  She has been volunteering her time to assist low-income clients for more than twenty years.  For her efforts, Ms. Liberty has received numerous local and statewide accolades, including the Arizona Bar Foundation’s William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award.  This award is presented to one Arizona attorney each year for his or her contributions to making legal services available to the less fortunate.

Hon. Karen Nygaard

A retired Pima County Superior Court Commissioner, Karen Nygaard is an experienced trial lawyer and a former shareholder in the law firm of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy. Her practice area was civil litigation, representing individuals, corporations, and governmental agencies in the areas of employment, civil rights, personnel issues, contract disputes, and appeals. Before joining DeConcini, Judge Nygaard served as a trial deputy with the Pima County Attorney’s Office and was a Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable James D. Hathaway, Arizona Court of Appeals.  Judge Nygaard attended the University of Arizona for a B.S. in Mathematics, a Masters of Education in Counseling and Guidance, and a J.D. with Distinction.  She has been a fierce advocate for access to justice issues for over twenty years and has received numerous awards honoring her commitment to the delivery of pro bono legal services.

Hon. Alyce Pennington
Arizona Superior Court in Pima County

A Pima County Superior Court Commissioner, Alyce Pennington is an experienced trial lawyer, and a former shareholder of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy's Tucson office.  Judge Pennington practiced in the areas of domestic relations, probate, and general civil law.   Prior to joining the firm in 1997, she was a partner in the law firm of Richards & Pennington. Judge Pennington was previously an attorney for the Pima County Public Fiduciary and was responsible for the defense of proposed patients in civil commitment proceedings, probating estates, and acted a public guardian and conservator.  Judge Pennington obtained a B.S. from the University of Arizona in Secondary Education in 1978 and a J.D. from the University of Arizona College of Law in 1982. Judge Pennington is a certified Specialist in Family Law, and serves on the Executive Council of the State Bar Family Law Section.  Judge Pennington has received local and statewide recognition for her volunteer efforts, including her selection as a recipient of the Governor's Service Award.  

Denice R. Shepherd, Treasurer
Law Office of Denice R. Shepherd

Denice Shepherd has been practicing and litigating in the areas of personal injury, general civil litigation, probates, guardianships, conservatorships and elder law for more than 30 years.  In 2010-2011, Ms. Shepherd was one of two attorneys who served on the Arizona Supreme Court’s Committee to Improve Probate Court Matters. 

In 2012, Ms. Shepherd received the 2012 State Bar of Arizona Eleanor ter Horst Probate award for contributions to probate law. In 2011, she received the Arizona Supreme Court Pro Bono Attorney Award.  Ms. Shepherd has volunteered for many years through Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Years program.  In 2010, she was named the Volunteer Lawyer’s Program’s Volunteer Lawyer of the Year.  In 2003, 2010, and 2013, Ms. Shepherd was named among Arizona’s Top 50 Pro Bono Lawyers.  In 2006, she received the Volunteer Lawyers Longevity of Service Award. 

Ms. Shepherd has served as a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and has served on both NAELA’s state governing board and on the board of Arizona Fiduciaries Association (AFA).  She has been named AFA’s member of the year for 2011 and 2012. Ms. Shepherd is a licensed fiduciary and has provided fiduciary services since 1999.  She has represented fiduciaries most of her legal career. 

Ms. Shepherd has served on the Reid Park Zoological Society Board of Directors since 2005.  In 2007 and 2008, Ms. Shepherd was President of the Board and currently holds the position of Development Committee Co-Chair. 

Hon. Bernardo Velasco
United States District Court, District of Arizona

Judge Velasco has served as United States Magistrate in the District of Arizona from 1982 to 1985, and from 2000 to the present.  From 1985 to 2000, Judge Velasco served as a Superior Court Judge in Pima County Superior Court.  In the years following his graduation from the University of Arizona College of Law, Judge Velasco worked as a staff attorney for Southern Arizona Legal Aid, was a federal public defender, and spent several years in private practice.  Judge Velasco served on Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Board of Directors as well as the Volunteer Lawyers Program Advisory Board.  

Our Staff

Michele Mirto

Michele Mirto
Executive Director/Attorney

Michele grew up in Tucson and attended the University of Arizona where she received a B.A. in Sociology and Political Science.  She received her J.D. from the University of Dayton.  Michele has twenty-five years of experience coordinating and expanding the reach and delivery of pro bono legal services.  She is invested in providing quality legal services for low-income individuals and families in her community and has dedicated her professional life to the development of innovative delivery models. 

As the Executive Director of Step Up to Justice, Michele is responsible for program development, resource development, and program administration. 


Melissa Spiller-Shiner

Melissa Spiller-Shiner
Director of Community Outreach/Attorney  

Melissa has worked in civil legal services since 2010.  She has a B.A. in Sociology from Binghamton University, an M.A. in Ethics, Peace & Global Affairs from American University, and a J.D. from the University of Arizona.  As a law student, she interned with a Tucson-based civil legal services provider.  After graduation, she was hired as a staff attorney at the same organization to assist low income clients with landlord/tenant and bankruptcy matters.  Melissa soon moved to the organization’s Volunteer Lawyers Program.  As the VLP’s Staff Attorney and Law Student Coordinator, Melissa managed the student-based clinics- an opportunity that allowed her to get to know more than 100 student volunteers each year.   

As the Director of Community Outreach / Staff Attorney for Step Up to Justice, Melissa is responsible for recruiting and training volunteer law students, coordinating and managing off-site clinics, and reaching out to various community partners to build and maintain relationships


Amanda Rutherford

Amanda Rutherford
FLOAT Fellow/Attorney

Amanda Rutherford is the FLOAT (Family Law Outreach and Technology) Fellow at Step Up to Justice. Amanda joined SU2J as an intern in the spring of 2018, and spent a year as the organization’s HOME Fellow before moving into her current position. She has a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and graduated with a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2018. Amanda worked in leadership and outdoor education for ten years, serving an AmeriCorps term at Tucson Village Farm and the 4H High Ropes Course before becoming an Instructional Specialist for the Pima County Cooperative Extension 4H High Ropes Course. Throughout law school Amanda dedicated her time to pursuing public interest and social justice work. She co-founded the Justice Advocates Coalition, whose mission is to support students interested in pursuing a career in public interest law and to promote full and equal access to justice for underrepresented communities and the natural environment.

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Matthew Caylor
HOME Fellow

Matthew Caylor is the HOME (Housing Outreach Mentoring and Education) Fellow at Step Up to Justice. Matt grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Matt received his J.D. from the University of Arizona in 2019.  During law school, Matt interned with a county public defender’s office and a civil legal aid organization. He was also a student representative for the U. of A. College of Law’s Workers’ Right Clinic.  Matt is excited to serve the Tucson community by continuing and developing the HOME program.

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Graciela Rodarte
Receptionist and Intake Specialist

Graciela Rodarte is the receptionist and intake specialist at Step Up to Justice.  She is currently a student at the University of Arizona.  Gracie will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree in Law with a minor in Spanish in May of 2020. Gracie comes to Step Up to Justice having interned with both the International Rescue Committee and the Colibri Human Rights Center. Gracie is committed to utilizing her Spanish language skills to help low-income families navigate a complicated legal system. Gracie plans to attend law school and one day hopes to practice immigration law. 

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Briana Hoyos
RENT Leader

Briana Hoyos is the RENT Leader at Step Up to Justice.  As part of her work with SU2J Briana coordinates community opportunities for tenant education, identifies stakeholders who interface with tenants and recruits and trains volunteer attonreys to participate in the RENT program.  Briana received her Bachelor of Arts in Law degree from the University of Arizona in May 2019.  Briana interned with the U of A Debate Series and volunteered with the International Rescue Committee where she utilized her Spanish language skills to facilitate meetings between attorneys and clients.  In addition to her superior language abilities, Briana brings exceptional technology skills, event planning and public speaking experience to her position with SU2J.

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Nathaniel Whitthorne
Intake Specialist

Nathaniel Whitthorne is an intake specialist at Step Up to Justice. He is currently an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, and will receive a BA in History with Honors, a BA in Political Science, and a Minor in Spanish in May of 2020. Before coming to Step Up to Justice, Nathaniel co-coordinated a service program through the Honors College and conducted research in collaboration with the political science department on the effects of border barriers on migrant flows. He also was an education intern with the International Rescue Committee, where he helped connect refugees with educational opportunities and medical care. As an intake specialist at Step Up to Justice, Nathaniel conducts client interviews, coordinates client clinics, and assists with internal case management. 

In Memory

Juan Perez-Medrano

Juan Perez Medrano

Long-time friend and Step Up to Justice board member, Juan Perez-Medrano, passed away on January 11, 2018.  Juan’s passing is a loss that is felt by the entire community, and one that touched the SU2J family deeply.

Juan’s passion for access to justice issues was not a fleeting one, but rather a sincere, deeply held commitment.  Juan was quiet about his giving.  He never expected recognition for his efforts, but clearly deserved it.  Juan welcomed every opportunity to volunteer his time to help his community.  He embraced the work of Step Up to Justice and our staff felt his support at every turn.  “Juan was such a steadfast supporter of pro bono and his quiet generosity toward Step Up to Justice in the past year was remarkable,” said Stacy Butler, President of SU2J’s board.  

In 2016, Juan joined the board of Step Up to Justice and helped launch the organization.  Throughout 2017, Juan supported SU2J in numerous ways.  Early on when the organization was trying to furnish SU2J’s office, Juan purchased desks for the staff.  He bought us a paper shredder and he frequently showed up at our office carrying boxes of office supplies that he had purchased or gathered from friends.  Along with the supplies for staff, Juan was always sure to bring along magazines for clients.  Juan challenged his friends at the Y to become involved, too.  But more than donations, Juan was generous with his time.  He would frequently stop in the office to ask how we were doing, provide moral support and help celebrate our successes. 

We hope that in the coming months Step Up to Justice can find a way to honor Juan that is fitting of his legacy.