(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
VA Acknowledges Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Council Had “Unusually Pervasive Access." Lawsuit resolved.
Acknowledgment comes via letter following litigation, journalistic reports, Congressional investigation.Learn more
The Trump Administration tapped three members of Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s golf and social club, to provide advice and recommendations to the Department of Veterans Affairs on issues of critical importance to America’s veterans. Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach concierge doctor Bruce Moskowitz, and financial consultant Marc Sherman have no relevant experience or expertise, no U.S. military service, no government experience. And yet they have been empowered, under shroud of secrecy, to influence policies that affect millions of veterans, including with regard to the makeup of senior VA leadership, the future of VA health services, and an enormous contract for modernizing the VA’s electronic health records. In a breathtaking display of the Council’s influence, both of President Trump’s appointed VA Secretaries–first, David Shulkin, and then Robert Wilkie–felt compelled to fly down to Florida to meet the Council at the Mar-a-Lago Club. We filed suit with VoteVets to put an end to the Mar-a-Lago Council.
The Trump Administration’s decision to establish the Mar-a-Lago Council is yet another sign of its willingness to run roughshod over legal requirements at the expense of veterans. The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires transparency and accountability when outsiders provide advice and recommendations to the government. Yet the Administration has refused to inform the public about the actions of the Mar-a-Lago Council, allowing them to make policy behind closed doors. The Council’s existence is linked to numerous other scandals that have rocked the VA during the Trump Administration, including the firing of Secretary David Shulkin by tweet and his replacement with an unlawful Acting Secretary and the Administration’s broader push for privatization of critical VA health care services.
On behalf of VoteVets, we filed suit to shut the Mar-a-Lago Council down. Our lawsuit asserts that the VA has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by permitting the Mar-a-Lago council to exercise sweeping, and yet hidden, influence. We’re asking the Court to require the Council to disband, or alternatively, provide the records required by federal law.
Following a federal court’s ruling in September 2019, we filed our notice of appeal on November 26, 2019. The lower court ruled that the trio held too much sway over the VA to be considered an advisory committee, which we believe to be an incorrect view of the law.
So, on May 11, 2020, we appealed that decision on behalf of VoteVets and filed our opening appeal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Our appeal pushes back on the lower court’s conclusion that, because the “[Council] exercised influence … over the agency” as opposed to the other way around, FACA cannot apply, and argues that the Council’s activities are precisely the kind of outside influence on federal policymaking that FACA aims to prohibit.
August 16, 2018
We filed suit on behalf of VoteVets, alleging that the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Mar-a-Lago Council are violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
November 16, 2018
The Department moved to dismiss our lawsuit.
Among other things, the government argued that the Federal Advisory Committee Act’s requirements do not apply because we allege that the Mar-a-Lago Council exerted too much influence.
December 6, 2018
We filed an amended complaint setting forth additional facts that further show the extent of the VA's illegality.
April 23, 2019
We demanded that Sec. Wilkie recover and preserve former Sec. Shulkin’s private emails with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd
Following reporting that Secretary Shulkin told members of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd that he had “set up a new email address just for our secure communications on issues in the future,” and that the three men communicated with Secretary Shulkin through this private email account, we demanded that the VA comply with the Federal Records Act by recovering and preserving these communications.Learn More
December 20, 2018
The government moved to dismiss our lawsuit.
The administration argued that the Mar-a-Lago Council is not subject to federal transparency laws because, among other things, VoteVets alleges that the Council exerts too much influence over federal veterans policy.
January 17, 2019
We opposed the government’s motion to dismiss.
While a trove of publicly released documents have brought the Council’s sweeping influence into view, the administration continues to unlawfully hide the full extent of the group’s role in steering the VA toward privatizing critical health services for millions of America’s veterans.
February 22, 2019
The government filed its reply.
The government's motion to dismiss our amended complaint is fully briefed and pending decision.
August 21, 2019
We and American Oversight sued Secretary Wilkie for failing to to save Secretary Shulkin’s private emails with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.
The Federal Records Act requires the preservation of all agency records, and failure to do so violates the law.Learn More
September 30, 2019
A federal court issued its ruling.
The court ruled that, because the trio held too much sway over the VA , it couldn't be considered an advisory committee. It ruled in favor of the government based on what we believe is an incorrect view of the law.
May 11, 2020
We filed our appeal against the federal court ruling.
We filed a notice of appeal in November 2019 and submitted our opening appeal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 11, 2020Learn More
March 30, 2021
We won our appeal. The case continues.
The appeals court ruled that “the government need not take any formal steps to ‘establish” a FACA advisory committee” and held that the VoteVets’ allegations “suffice to identify the trio as forming an advisory group for purposes of FACA.” It remanded the matter back to the district court to proceed “through discovery and summary judgment or trial.”Learn More
November 5, 2021
VA Acknolwedges Trump Mar-a-Lago pals had "unusually pervasive access." Case resolved.
In a letter the VA acknowledged that Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman, a group often referred to as the Mar-a-Lago Council, had “unusually pervasive access to certain senior political officials in the Department” during the Trump administration. The acknowledgment came in a letter sent by the Department to resolve VoteVets Action Fund v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In the news
ProPublica / June 3, 2020
CNN / November 26, 2018
ProPublica / November 21, 2018
ProPublica / August 16, 2018
ProPublica / September 27, 2021
Military Times / November 5, 2021
- Complaint as Filed (8/16/18) (PDF / 1023 KB)
- DOJ Response (11/16/18) (PDF / 766 KB)
- Amended Complaint (12/6/18) (PDF / 340 KB)
- Opposition to Motion to Dismiss (1/17/19) (PDF / 778 KB)
- Mar-a-Lago FOIA Records (External Link)
- Defendants' Reply (2/22/19) (PDF / 817 KB)
- Order (9/30/19) (PDF / 118 KB)
- Opinion (9/30/19) (PDF / 259 KB)
- Appellant Brief (5/11/20) (External Link)
- Court of Appeals Ruling (3/30/21) (PDF / 240 KB)
- VA Letter to VoteVets Acknolwedging Unusually Pervasive Access (PDF / 140 KB)
Skye Perryman is a lawyer, advocate, and leader with a track record of taking on and winning critical fights that advance democratic values, stop abuses of power, and improve the wellbeing of people and communities. She was named President and CEO of Democracy Forward Foundation in June 2021, returning to the organization where she was on the founding litigation team.
She most recently served as the Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, where she oversaw its broad portfolio of legal, policy, and public affairs work and led a number of groundbreaking initiatives that enhanced access and equity in health care. Prior to ACOG, Skye was a Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward Foundation where, as one of the organization’s founding litigators, she developed and filed some of the first cases challenging unprecedented and unlawful executive action in the post-2016 era.
Skye began her legal career at Covington & Burling LLP and later practiced at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr (WilmerHale). In private practice, she handled complex and high-stakes matters at the intersection of law and policy for clients across industries, while maintaining a robust pro bono practice dedicated to vindicating the civil and constitutional rights of people. Earlier in her career, Skye coordinated programs for underserved youth in Central Texas public schools. She was also part of early efforts to build coalitions between labor and environmental stakeholders supporting investment in renewable energy infrastructure and good jobs.
Skye volunteers her time as a mentor and serves on the boards of several organizations, including the First Shift Justice Project, the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and the Interfaith Alliance. She teaches courses at American University and is an active alumna of Baylor University, where she helped to initiate a thousands-strong alumni movement calling on the University to change its restrictive policies regarding LGBTQ+ student organizations.
Skye grew up in Texas and is a proud product of its public schools. She holds a Juris Doctor with honors from the Georgetown University Law Center and a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Baylor University where she is a member of the Board of Advocates for the College of Arts and Sciences. She has received numerous accolades, including being named a four-time Washington Rising Star by SuperLawyers, a Top 40 Under 40 Trailblazer by the Leadership Center for Excellence, the Baylor Line Foundation’s Outstanding Young Alumna, a Harry S. Truman Scholar, and a Chuck F. C. Ruff Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year. Her work has been covered in outlets such as The New York Times, National Public Radio, NBC News, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, and Teen Vogue.
Will Bardwell is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
After graduating with honors from the University of Mississippi in 2003, he spent two years as a newspaper reporter at a small, daily newspaper in east Mississippi. In 2008, he returned to the University of Mississippi for law school and graduated with honors.
Will joined Democracy Forward in 2022 after working for six years at the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he developed and litigated cases concerning public education, voting rights, prison conditions, disproportionate sentencing, and other civil rights issues. Before SPLC, Will was in private practice for five years. Will also served as a law clerk at the Mississippi Supreme Court and for Judge Carlton W. Reeves at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. His experience spans every stage of litigation, and he has litigated in venues ranging from Mississippi justice courts to the United States Supreme Court.
Will is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association, the Magnolia Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association. He is a Green Bay Packers fan and an avid golfer who has contributed to a handful of golf publications, including The Fried Egg and The Golfer’s Journal.
*Not admitted in the District of Columbia; practicing under the supervision of Democracy Forward lawyers who are members of the D.C. Bar.
Dr. Ananda Burra is a Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward, litigating in support of at-risk communities, including to thwart abuses of power and to protect individual and collective rights.
Ananda’s practice at Democracy Forward builds on his experience in complex litigation in local, regional, national, and international fora. Before coming to Democracy Forward, Ananda was an associate at the civil rights boutique of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, where he was part of major wins against corporate and government bad actors in the fields of climate misinformation, the rights of incarcerated individuals, and the rights of poor and marginalized communities. He was recognized as a “Super Lawyer: Rising Star” by Thomson Reuters. Ananda developed his litigation skills as an associate in the international arbitration and litigation practice at Jones Day, where his pro bono practice focused on migrant rights, racial justice, and access to courts.
Most recently, Ananda served as Associate Professor of Law and Associate Dean at BML Munjal University in New Delhi, India. He holds a PhD in legal history from the University of Michigan and obtained his JD magna cum laude from the same institution. His research focused on civil procedure, racial justice, and international law. Ananda clerked for Judge Joan Donoghue and Judge Giorgio Gaja at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and was a fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University and at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He received his BA from Williams College. After growing up in India and living in a half-dozen countries, Ananda is now based in North Carolina. He is admitted to the New York, DC, and North Carolina bars, as well as to numerous federal courts.
Tatiana Calderon is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Democracy Forward.
Tatiana joined Democracy Forward with over a decade of legislative and political experience. Most recently, Tatiana spent 2.5 years at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocating to advance women’s health care and the ob-gyn specialty. Prior to ACOG, Tatiana spent 8 years in the U.S. House of Representatives working for Congresswoman Gwen Moore, where she managed a broad portfolio of issues, including health care and immigration.
Tatiana received her B.A. in Political Science at the University of Connecticut and currently resides in Alexandria, VA with her beloved shih poo named Ted.
Sunu P. Chandy (she/her) is a Senior Advisor with Democracy Forward. Sunu has served as a civil rights lawyer for over 20 years including in the context of workers’ rights, gender justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. She is also a published poet, and the author of the award-winning collection, My Dear Comrades.
Before joining Democracy Forward, Sunu served as Legal Director of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) for six years until August 2023. There, she oversaw the Center’s direct litigation efforts and amicus practice, including as counsel on several Supreme Court amicus briefs. Sunu also led the Center’s policy work on LGBTQI+ Rights including by providing Congressional testimony, and also gave strategic input for other policy work including around workplace justice.
Before NWLC, Sunu served as the Deputy Director for the Civil Rights Division with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she led civil rights enforcement including under Section 1557 of the ACA. Before that, Sunu and her family moved to DC in the Fall of 2014 when she was recruited into the General Counsel role at the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR), and there she oversaw the agency’s civil rights legal determinations, including matters of first impression under the Fair Criminal Record Screening Act.
Previously, Sunu was a federal attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the New York District Office for 15 years and litigated cases based on race, sex, national origin, disability, age and religion-based discrimination. At EEOC, Sunu also led outreach initiatives including as a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAPPI) Regional Working Group. Before that, Sunu began her legal career as a law firm associate representing unions and individual workers in New York City at Gladstein, Reif and Megginniss, LLP.
Sunu earned her B.A. in Peace and Global Studies/Women’s Studies from Earlham College, her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law and her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Queens College, CUNY. Sunu has served on the boards of directors of several organizations including the Audre Lorde Project, South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC), LeGal (the LGBTQ attorneys’ organization in New York City), and Split This Rock, a national social justice poetry organization. Sunu currently serves on the board of the Transgender Law Center. Sunu is cited as a legal expert on a range of topics including workplace civil rights, gender justice, and LGBTQ+ rights including by The New York Times, The Washington Post, LA Times, and NPR.
Jeff Dubner is Deputy Legal Director at Democracy Forward.
At Democracy Forward, Jeff has represented local governments, unions, non-profits, and individuals challenging a wide array of executive branch misconduct at the federal and state level. Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Jeff worked at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, where he represented individuals, small businesses, and unions in a variety of state and federal antitrust actions, helping to obtain more than a billion dollars in relief for individuals and companies injured by corporate wrongdoing. He has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by both National Law Journal and Super Lawyers, received the “Judicial Advocacy Initiative Award” from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and was honored for “Outstanding Antitrust Litigation Achievement by a Young Lawyer” by the American Antitrust Institute.
Jeff’s recent work at Democracy Forward has included:
- Amicus briefs on behalf of the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical societies explaining the importance of various public health measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19, including a brief by 15 medical societies that was cited by the Supreme Court in allowing Biden administration’s requirement that all healthcare workers be vaccinated to go forward.
- An ongoing class action challenging the healthcare system at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, the largest maximum-security prison in the country, in which the court held that the prison violated the Eighth Amendment and Americans with Disabilities Act.
- A series of suits on behalf of the City of Baltimore, King County, WA, Multnomah County, OR, and Healthy Teen Network reversing the termination of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants by the Department of Health and Human Services and stopping an effort to remake the program in an unlawful fashion.
- A challenge by the National Women’s Law Center and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement to the unlawful stay of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay equity data collection, together with post-judgment litigation to ensure that the agency implemented the reinstated collection.
Jeff clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Judge John G. Koeltl of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.
Andrianna Dunbar is Chief of Staff at Democracy Forward.
Andrianna has almost a decade and a half of experience in the legal industry, spending fourteen years at WilmerHale LLP. Most recently, Andrianna served in a leadership role in legal talent development where she focused on attorney development, integration, and attorney employee relations. She is the Chair of the National Association of Legal Placement Lawyer and Law Student Well Being Interest Group and is a Steering Committee member for the Atlas Performing Arts Fundraiser and Gala.
Andrianna grew up in Arizona and graduated from Baylor University before settling in the D.C. area with her family.
Orlando Economos is a Legal Fellow at Democracy Forward.
His work includes challenges designed to preserve civil rights remedies against attempted diminution, as well as affirmative actions to increase the access of citizens to democracy.
Orlando received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, where he focused on election law and voting rights. He served as legal assistant to Civil Rights Commissioner David Kladney, and later presented oral argument to the D.C. Circuit as a student attorney with the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown.
Orlando is native to northern New Jersey. He holds a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University and a diploma from St. John the Theologian Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s Greek Afternoon School.
Hannah Finnie is Senior Writer and Executive Communications Advisor at Democracy Forward, where she transforms legal ideas into accessible language.
Previously Hannah worked to protect and expand access to reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center, where she also co-founded the staff union. Before that she worked in policy and communications at the Center for American Progress, and also served as the CAP Union President. Hannah has written for a wide variety of leaders, from White House principals to non-profit executives.
Hannah received her B.A. in mathematics and political science from Emory University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. In law school she was a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, representing low-paid workers facing employment issues. She resides in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Willa, and in her spare time likes to write about the intersection of workers’ rights and pop culture.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Rachel was a Clinical Fellow and Staff Attorney with the Civil Litigation Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, where she was lead counsel on APA, FOIA, and other public interest cases. Rachel has argued motions and appeals in state and federal courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Before joining the Clinic, she was an associate at Covington & Burling, LLP, where she practiced insurance litigation and maintained an active pro bono practice.
Rachel clerked for Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont and Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Rachel graduated from Yale Law School, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities.
Rachel is a member of the New York and District of Columbia bars.
Shelley Friedland is a Senior Legal Assistant at Democracy Forward.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Shelley was a paralegal at Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, & Eisenberg, LLP, where she assisted attorneys in incorporating nonprofit organizations and guided nonprofit clients through the federal and state tax exemption application processes.
Shelley received her B.A in Political Science from The George Washington University. She is passionate about the intersection of the law, justice, and nonprofit landscape and hopes to pursue a J.D.
Emily Froude is a senior legal assistant at Democracy Forward. Prior to joining DF, Emily was a senior paralegal at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In that role, she screened unaccompanied immigrant children for visas and assisted attorneys in representing the kids in court and with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies and political science from Miami University, and is working towards a master of international affairs concentrating in democracy studies at George Washington University. She is fluent in Spanish.
Joe Gaeta is Director of Oversight and Engagement at Democracy Forward.
Joe comes to Democracy Forward with over twenty years of experience as a lawyer in state and federal government. Most recently, he was Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice Office of Legislative Affairs, serving as DOJ’s liaison to Congress on oversight, nominations, and legislation. Joe previously served as a Trial Attorney in the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, litigating fair housing cases across the country.
Between stints at DOJ, Joe worked in several roles in the United States Senate. He was Chief Counsel of the Budget Committee under Chairman Kent Conrad, where he played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act. A proud native of the biggest little state in the Union, Joe served as Legislative Director, Oversight Director, and Chief Counsel for Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, where he focused on issues related to the influence of special interests on the judiciary and Congress. Earlier in his career, Joe worked for then-Attorney General Whitehouse in the Civil Division of the Rhode Island Department of Attorney General.
Joe began his legal career clerking for Judge Myron Thompson in the Middle District of Alabama. He received his law degree from Stanford Law School, where he was Order of the Coif, has a M.Sc. in Political Theory from the London School of Economics, and has a B.A. magna cum laude in History and Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.
Aman George is Senior Counsel & Legal Policy Director at Democracy Forward. His work has included challenges to environmental protection rollbacks, weakening of the Affordable Care Act, and inadequate transparency into the White House’s national security authorities.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Aman was a white collar investigations associate at Covington & Burling. His time at Covington also included pro bono work on capital defense and redistricting matters, as well as civil litigation related to insurance, trade, and patent disputes. Prior to law school, Aman was a business analyst at McKinsey & Company for three years.
Aman is a native of northern Virginia, who holds a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School and a B.A. in Government and Foreign Affairs and Economics from the University of Virginia.
Aleshadye (El-shuh-dye) Getachew is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
Before joining Democracy Forward, Aleshadye practiced at Children’s Rights in New York, where she investigated and litigated federal class actions on behalf of youth seeking structural reform of state systems. Prior to joining Children’s Rights, Aleshadye litigated complex civil cases and jury trials across the country at Wilkinson Stekloff, a boutique trial firm.
Aleshadye graduated from Georgetown University Law Center cum laude, where she received the Outstanding Student Advocate award for her clinic work on behalf of unhoused communities. She earned her B.S. from Cornell University, and served as a middle school English teacher in Louisiana before going to law school.
Aleshadye is a member of the New York and District of Columbia bars.
Maddy Gitomer is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
Before joining Democracy Forward, Maddy was a member of the Privacy and Cybersecurity practice at Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., where she focused on health privacy law, including regulatory counseling. Maddy also maintained a robust pro bono practice focused on protecting reproductive rights, defending against LGBTQ+ discrimination, and expanding access to health care. Earlier in her career, Maddy served as one of Senator Dodd’s professional staff members on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families. There she helped pass the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and served as Chairman Dodd’s lead education policy staff member in the negotiation of The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act.
Maddy holds a J.D. from The University of Pennsylvania Law School, a master’s degree in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and a B.A. from American University. While in law school, Maddy received the Edward C. Baker Award for the student with the most pro bono hours in her graduating class and the Penn Law Pro Bono Award for her leadership of the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic. Maddy was also named one of the Best LGBTQ+ Lawyers Under 40 by the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association.
Maddy is a member of the New Jersey, Maryland, and District of Columbia Bars.
Sarah Goetz is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Sarah was a Madison Legal Fellow at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where she litigated constitutional and other religion-based cases. At Americans United, Sarah authored numerous trial and appellate briefs in federal and state courts across the country. Before that, she was a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, where she litigated settlement enforcement actions concerning conditions of confinement.
Sarah clerked for Magistrate Judge Stephan M. Vidmar of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. She graduated summa cum laude from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a Public Interest/Public Service Scholar. During law school, Sarah was a member of law review and a student-attorney in the criminal defense clinic. She graduated with honors from Vassar College, where she earned a B.A. in English.
Sarah is a member of the New York and District of Columbia bars.
Kaitlyn Golden is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
Before joining Democracy Forward, Kaitlyn was a litigator at Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., where she handled complex civil matters at all stages of a litigation. For two years, Kaitlyn also served as the full-time senior associate in charge of U.S. Pro Bono, managing the firm’s pro bono practice and litigating gender justice and civil rights matters.
Prior to her legal career, Kaitlyn served as a Press Assistant to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and as a Communications Coordinator at the Brooking Institution. Kaitlyn holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Ithaca College.
Kaitlyn is a member of the Washington and District of Columbia Bars.
Ryan joins Democracy Forward with five years of experience working in digital & policy throughout the progressive ecosystem — from the California State Senate to the Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. They have managed robust social media operations for elected officials and non-profit organizations, led digital organizing on competitive political campaigns, and conducted critical research on policy areas ranging from housing security to climate action.
Ryan graduated Summa Cum Laude from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Political Science and B.A. in Public Administration, where they received the Honors Council Award for Academic Excellence & Vice Presidential Student Service Award. Now, Ryan is a Luskin Fellow & Master of Public Policy Candidate at UCLA, with a desire to leverage the intersection of digital & policy to promote good governance, equitable policymaking, and collective social welfare.
Rachel Hayden is a Senior Advisor to the President at Democracy Forward.
Rachel has more than two decades of experience supporting executives and organizations in their growth, evolution, and pursuit of excellence. She has successfully led marketing and public relations teams across a range of industries, launching luxury brands, creating national and international events, partnerships and collaborations, and other strategic projects. Her experience includes nearly two decades as Director of Public Relations and Marketing at the world-class, Michelin Three Star Inn at Little Washington. As Director of Marketing at Linder Global Events, Rachel oversaw a broad portfolio of engagements and public relations for the company and its large nonprofit and Fortune 100 clients, while also supporting the organization’s CEO in business expansion, relationship management and public appearances.
She has crafted and supported fundraising efforts to benefit numerous nonprofits including YouthAIDS, Share Our Strength, HRC, Chefs for Equality, the Washington Ballet, and World Central Kitchen.
Lydia Hubert-Peterson is the Executive Assistant to the President and CEO of Democracy Forward.
Before joining Democracy Forward in 2023, Lydia served as the Executive Assistant to the CEO of the National Audubon Society. In this role she supported crucial conservation efforts across the hemisphere.
Originally from the state of Minnesota, Lydia worked for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar in multiple capacities. Originally interning in her Minneapolis office and on her 2018 reelection campaign. In February 2021, Lydia joined the Senator’s Presidential Campaign where she traveled the country as a National Advance Organizer. After the Senator’s campaign ended, Lydia joined the Senator’s official office in D.C. where she served as a Staff Assistant and as the Senator’s Special Assistant.
Lydia received her B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Priyanka John is a Legal Assistant at Democracy Forward. Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Priyanka completed an internship with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration under the Department of Transportation, where she helped to enforce federal regulations in consumer and business disputes and facilitated the revision of federal documents about consumer rights and protections. Priyanka received her B.A. in Community and Global Public Health from the University of Michigan, and hopes to pursue a J.D. sometime in the future.
Sean Lev is Legal Director at Democracy Forward.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Sean was a partner at Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel and Fredrick, PLLC where his work focused on regulatory, administrative, and appellate litigation. In between more than 18 years at Kellogg Hansen, Sean served as the General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission from June 2012 through December 2013 where he was responsible for all legal advice provided to the Commission, for all Commission litigation, and was the Director of the Commission’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force. Prior to being named General Counsel, Sean served as Deputy General Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Chairman. Before coming to the FCC, Sean served as the Acting General Counsel of the United States Department of Energy (DOE) from March through December 2011. Sean also served as the Deputy General Counsel for Environment and Nuclear Programs at DOE beginning in June 2009.
Sean started his career as a clerk to the Honorable Patricia M. Wald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and then worked as an attorney on the Civil Division, Appellate Staff at the United States Department of Justice. Sean received his JD magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and his BA magna cum laude from Williams College.
Max Levy is Digital Strategy Director at Democracy Forward. He returned to the organization in early 2023, having previously served as Digital Communications Manager from 2018-2020.
Most recently, Max helped set records as Digital Fundraising Director for Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign. He has also executed digital strategy and campaigns with Biden for President, Warren for President, and campaigns and organizations at the state, local, and national levels. Additionally, Max was a political appointee for the first year of the Biden Administration at the Environmental Protection Agency, in the Office of Public Engagement and Environmental Education.
Max was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communications and Public Service. He and his dog Alice (@alicetheeyebrows on Instagram!) live in Washington, D.C.
Maher Mahmood is Counsel at Democracy Forward. Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Maher was an Assistant County Attorney for Hennepin County in Minnesota. During her time at the County Attorney’s Office, she argued several motions and gained trial experience. She also worked in private practice focusing on areas of employment, white collar, and corporate law.
Maher holds a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School and is currently licensed to practice in Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Brooke Menschel is a Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
Brooke joined Democracy Forward from Brooklyn Defender Services, where she served as the Director of Civil Rights and Law Reform. In that role, she worked to address systemic deficiencies in New York City’s Department of Correction and family, immigration, and criminal courts. Prior to joining BDS, Brooke litigated state and federal trial and appellate cases concerning children’s rights, juvenile justice, the criminal legal system, and mass incarceration in the Deep South at the Southern Poverty Law Center and in New York at the local affiliate of the ACLU.
Before going to law school, Brooke worked as a policy and legislative advocate on human and civil rights issues in Washington, D.C. for the American Jewish Committee, and as communications strategist at the Anti-Defamation League in Boston.
Brooke received her J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and her B.A. from Tufts University. She is a member of the bar in Washington, D.C. and New York.
Daniel Miller is a Democracy and Social Progress Fellow at Democracy Forward.
Daniel has a range of experience advocating for civics education and democracy. He founded and organized the Society for Constitutional Protection for this purpose in New York. Most recently, he served as the Director of Content and Strategy at the Renew Democracy Initiative. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, CNN, the Daily Beast, and others.
Daniel is a lawyer by training, clerking for a federal judge after law school. He has also dedicated a significant amount of time to pro-bono immigration work. Daniel is a member of the New York Bar.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Daniel has a Bachelor of Arts in Astrophysics from Princeton University, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Kristen Miller is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward.
At Democracy Forward, Kristen has represented non-profits and individuals in litigation under the Administrative Procedure Act, other Federal statutes, and the U.S. Constitution. In particular, Kristen’s cases have involved civil rights, health care, consumer protections, and the environment, among other issues.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Kristen was a member of the Environment and Natural Resources practice at Vinson & Elkins in Washington, D.C. Kristen’s practice at Vinson & Elkins focused on administrative law, including litigation and regulatory counseling. She also maintained an active pro bono practice.
Kristen graduated from New York University Law School, where she was a member of the NYU Moot Court Board competitions team. During law school, she served as a legal clerk in the Department of Justice’s Environment & Natural Resources Division as well as in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy. She also holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Kristen is a member of the New York and District of Columbia Bars.
Sterling Moore is a Senior Legal Fellow at Democracy Forward.
Sterling comes to Democracy Forward with a background in law, having received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. There, he served on the Virginia Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif. Following law school, he worked as a litigator in private practice and clerked for the Honorable Andrew J. Kleinfeld of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Originally from Texas, Sterling holds a B.B.A. in Economics and Business Fellows from Baylor University. Before attending law school, he served as a scholarship program coordinator at a community nonprofit in Waco, TX.
Sterling is a member of the District of Columbia and Texas Bars.
Jessica Morton is Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward, where she has represented non-profits and individuals in both litigation and regulatory advocacy. Her work has included challenges to abuses of executive power at the state level, advocacy for federal criminal legal system reform, environmental justice, and other issues.
Before joining Democracy Forward, she was a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where she practiced complex civil litigation at all three levels of the federal court system. Jessica also maintained a significant pro bono practice focused on voting rights, civil rights, and criminal justice. She has been honored as a co-recipient of the Young Lawyer of the Year Award from the Young Lawyers Section of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Jessica has also served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
Jessica clerked for the Honorable John D. Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the Honorable Albert Diaz of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Jessica graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where she served as Executive Articles Editor of the Michigan Law Review. She also holds an M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame.
Jessica is a member of the District of Columbia and Illinois bars.
Katie O’Connell is Democracy Forward’s Director of Partnerships. Katie is passionate about supporting change-making individuals and organizations and brings to her role at Democracy Forward more than 20 years experience leading partnerships, development, and fundraising teams.
Katie’s depth and breadth of experience includes supporting a number of membership associations, political campaigns, and issue advocacy organizations, including Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (EarthJustice), NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Greater Southeast Healthcare System, and U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns. Katie grew up in Texas and bleeds burnt orange – Hook’em Horns.
Breanne Palmer is Senior Legal Policy Advisor.
Breanne joined Democracy Forward with significant experience in litigation, community, and policy advocacy, with expertise in immigration issues. Most recently, Breanne served as the first Policy Counsel for Immigration at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where she focused on integrating immigration policy issues into the legacy civil rights advocacy space. Prior to The Leadership Conference, Breanne served as Interim Policy and Advocacy Director and as the first Policy and Community Advocacy Counsel at the UndocuBlack Network, where she specialized in immigration advocacy affecting members of the African Diaspora. Breanne is a former Litigation Associate in the D.C. office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and a former Attorney Advisor with the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Breanne received her B.A. in Political Science at the University of Florida with magna cum laude honors, and her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center with cum laude honors. Breanne is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Katie spent several years working in communications for Democratic campaigns and nonprofits. She has previous internship experience in the Office of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, DC-based public affairs agencies, and a civil rights law firm.
Katie received her Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and English with Highest Honors from Williams College and spent a year of her undergraduate studies at Exeter College, University of Oxford.
Ben Seel is a Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward. He recently returned to Democracy Forward after completing a clerkship with Judge James L. Robart of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Prior to clerking, Ben’s work at Democracy Forward included litigating cases against the Trump administration on immigration, social justice, and veterans issues, as well on matters of governmental transparency and accountability. He has represented a wide array of clients, including governmental and non-profit organizations. Before joining Democracy Forward, Ben was a member of the Litigation & Arbitration practice in Milbank LLP’s Washington, D.C. office where he maintained an active pro bono practice that included work on criminal justice, civil rights, and immigration issues.
Ben was born and raised in Maine and holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a B.A. in History from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.
Anjali Singapur is a Research Analyst at Democracy Forward. Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Anjali was a paralegal at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, where she supported litigation defending abortion access in state and federal courts across the country.
Anjali received her B.A. in political science and anthropology from Swarthmore College and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Emily Singer is the Lead Content Strategist at Democracy Forward. Prior to joining, Emily spent three years overseeing strategic communications campaigns for a series of issue advocacy clients at the public affairs firm BerlinRosen. She also supported the events and marketing team at the nonprofit The Alliance to Save Energy. Emily received her B.A. in Communications at The University of Maryland, College Park and is a native New Jerseyan and current D.C. resident.
Leslie Smith is the Operations Manager at Democracy Forward where she supports the organization’s team of lawyers, communications strategists, policy experts, and leadership in achieving Democracy Forward’s mission. Leslie is committed to ensuring that all members of Democracy Forward’s staff and broader community are provided the tools needed to make an impact and to work in a welcoming and inclusive community.
Leslie has deep experience in supporting mission-based organizations and entities, having worked both in the federal government and non-profit institutions for more than 20 years. She is particularly passionate about finding new ways of building community in the workplace. Leslie enjoys spending time with family, traveling and reading. Leslie currently resides in Maryland with her son and daughter.
Jamie Solomon is a Research Assistant at Democracy Forward.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, Jamie was a Housing Advocate and Paralegal at the Rhode Island Center for Justice, where she helped defend clients facing eviction and supported other impact litigation projects.
Jamie received her B.A. in History with honors from Brown University, where she also did research for the Political Theory Project and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.
Robin Thurston is Acting Legal Co-Director at Democracy Forward.
Robin has been at Democracy Forward since 2017, during which time she has represented local governments, unions, and non-profit organizations in litigating against government misconduct and anti-democratic policies. She has also led Democracy Forward’s regulatory advocacy work, bringing a diverse range of perspectives and expertise into federal policymaking.
Prior to joining Democracy Forward, she served as a trial attorney in the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. In this position, she defended high profile challenges to government policies and programs. Earlier in her career, Robin enforced consumer protection laws at the Federal Trade Commission.
Robin clerked for the Honorable Paul L. Friedman of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She holds a J.D., magna cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in History with High Honors from Stanford University.
Megan Uzzell is the Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs Director at Democracy Forward.
Megan joined Democracy Forward after having served eight years at the U.S. Department of Labor, where she most recently was the Associate Deputy Secretary for Policy. In this role Megan led Departmental efforts on regulatory, policy and agency matters such as wage standards, work and family policy, enforcement, immigration and worker safety. Prior to joining the Labor Department, Megan served in the U.S. House of Representatives, working as Legislative Director for a member from Southern California and handling energy, environment, appropriations and transportation matters. In 2005, Megan was named one of the Hill’s top 35 staffers under 35.
Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, Megan has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Political Science and International Affairs from Drake University, and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from George Washington University.
Jacob Weinberg is the Deputy Press Secretary at Democracy Forward.
Jacob joined Democracy Forward with more than ten years of public affairs experience in myriad contexts, including electoral campaigns, member-based issue advocacy organizations, direct service nonprofits, and state legislatures.
Most recently, Jacob served for three years as Chief of Staff for Virginia Delegate Mark Levine, where he helped to pass a transformative legislative agenda focused on protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, strengthening democracy, racial justice, and building an economy where all people can thrive. Prior to joining Delegate Levine’s office, Jacob helped manage communications efforts at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. He has worked to elect pro-democracy candidates at all levels of government in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Illinois.
Jacob and his family live in Springfield, Virginia.