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 announce the inaugural board for SU2J.
Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, P.C.
Randi has been a family law practitioner since graduating from law school in 2007. She handles, divorce, custody, child support, paternity and grandparent visitation matters and has significant experience in resolving high conflict custody cases, high asset cases, and cases involving business valuations.
Prior to joining her current firm, Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, PC, Randi spent five years as the staff attorney and law student coordinator for Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) where she handled family law and minor guardianship cases, trained new attorney volunteers in the domestic relations area, and developed new pro bono programs to assist low-income individuals with their civil legal issues.
In 2013, the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education named Randi one of the top pro bono attorneys in Arizona. The Volunteer Lawyers Program honored her pro bono work by naming her its Attorney of the Month. Randi also was awarded Child & Family Resources Champion for Children and Families Award in 2015.
Stacy Butler, Board President
United States District Court, District of Arizona
Stacy Butler 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. Ms. Butler is formerly an associate at the law firm of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, where her practice focused on civil and probate litigation. Currently, Ms. Butler serves as the permanent law clerk to the Hon. Jennifer C. Zipps at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. She also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. 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.
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, Treasurer
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.
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.
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.
Juan Perez-Medrano, P.C.
Juan Perez-Medrano is a graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law, and was admitted to the State Bar of Arizona in 1983. He is a sole practitioner, a member of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Arizona, and a former member of the Executive Council of the Family Law Section for the State Bar of Arizona. He is a former Disciplinary Hearing Officer for the State Bar of Arizona, a former member of the Peer Review Committee for the State Bar of Arizona, and former member and Chair of the Committee on Character and Fitness for the State Bar of Arizona. Mr. Perez-Medrano has served on the Board of Directors for Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc., the Pima County Bar Association, and the Volunteer Lawyers Program Advisory Board. He is also a Judge Pro Tempore for the Arizona Superior Court Family Law Bench and Civil Bench in Pima County.
Denice R. Shepherd
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.
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 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.
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
M. Socorro Diaz
Socorro is a native Tucsonan with 26 years of experience assisting the low-income community in Pima County. She grew up in Barrio Hollywood and continues to enjoy living in Tucson. Socorro has established meaningful relationships within the legal community and enjoys working with volunteers and partners in the delivery of pro bono legal services. As the Program Coordinator, Socorro refers cases to volunteer attorneys, provides support services to volunteers, schedules and administers self-help clinics, and coordinates Continuing Legal Education seminars as well as special projects.