About

Empowering people & communities

We’ve been fighting for a more just community since 1999. We’ve made tremendous progress, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

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Our Story

The legal system tends to favor the privileged, while the powerless are unable to afford representation, or get tripped up by technicalities. Although law is intended to facilitate justice, too often the law works in opposition to justice. True justice is about fairness, protecting the wider community from abuse by those with privilege.

When Spokane attorney Jim Sheehan received an unexpected inheritance, he saw his opportunity to even the odds and founded the Center for Justice. Growing from its beginnings in legal services for those who cannot afford an attorney, the Center gradually expanded and now serves clients across a broad spectrum of practice areas. Since its beginning, the Center has played an instrumental role in several high profile civil cases such as the 2006 fatal beating of Otto Zehm by Spokane Police officers. The resolution to that case changed police policy in Spokane, and is a hallmark of the Center’s impact litigation work.

Staff

 
 

Denisa Buljubasic

Staff Attorney

Denisa leads the Center for Justice’s housing justice work, including oversight of the CFJ Rental Rights Clinic and the CFJ’s policy reform efforts. She was previously an attorney in private practice focusing on family law, personal injury, criminal defense, and general civil litigation. Denisa is a graduate of Eastern Washington University and Florida Coastal School of Law.

 

Matthew Larsen

Staff Attorney

Matthew staffs CFJ’s Rental Rights Clinic, providing brief advice and consultation to tenants and landlords. His work increases is legal career includes experience across a broad range of substantive areas, including criminal defense and immigration law. received his undergraduate and law degrees from Gonzaga University.

 

Lydia Newell

Paralegal / program staff

Lydia came to the Center for Justice after working for Spokane area law firms. She received her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Washington University, and holds two Master’s degrees - both in English Literature - from Duke University and Oxford. She is a board member of Spokane Area Youth Choirs.

 
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Dainen Penta

Executive Director

Dainen graduated from Whitworth University in 1997, and Lewis and Clark Law School in 2001. Before joining the Center for Justice as Executive Director in 2019, he was a community associations lawyer, using a variety of legal tools to resolve complex and contentious condominium and homeowner association issues. Dainen has handled a variety of matters across a range of substantive law areas, including bankruptcy, consumer, debtor-creditor, foreclosure, real estate, and tax. He has held a variety of bar association and community leadership positions, including President of the Washington State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and President of the Asian Bar Association of Washington.

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Lisa Robertson

Accountant

Lisa joined the Center as an Accountant in 2011.  She is a graduate of the University of Glasgow, and a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland.  She trained with the international accounting firm Price Waterhouse (Coopers).  A year after qualifying she moved to a government enterprise company assisting small start-ups, applying for grants and managing European Funding.  Looking to expand her experience she joined Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. There, she had various roles: internal auditor; Finance Manager of the International Export company; and Marketing Accountant. Originally from Scotland, Lisa moved to Spokane in 2004 with her family on an overseas assignment for two years, and has remained here ever since.  In her spare time she loves to ski, run, walk, bike and generally be active outside with her family.  She also likes to read and cook family meals.

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Jule Schultz

Technical Specialist

Jule works on water quality and nonpoint source pollution issues in the Spokane River watershed. Born in Oklahoma, Jule moved to Anacortes, Washington when he was 12, where he began his lifelong love of the water and all things in it. He graduated with a B.A. in Biology from Lewis and Clark College and then went on to earn his Master’s degree in Marine Biology from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Coos Bay, Oregon. Jule comes to the Center for Justice by way of Olympia, where he helped regulate the shellfish industry for the State Department of Health. Jule is married to the always wonderful Katy Sheehan and has two very active sons.

 
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Virla Spencer

Relicensing Program Director

Virla joined the Center for Justice in 2011. Born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Virla came to Spokane as a teen in the midst of a family crisis. By her own admission, she has lived a difficult life, one that includes a felony conviction, in 2001, for malicious mischief. But few people have harvested their hardships better than Virla Spencer. Though Virla first came to the Center as a client in 2005–to restore her driver’s license–she returned in 2009 as a volunteer, and then filled a key Americorps Vista position as Outreach Director. Since then she has distinguished herself not only with her outreach skills but as a forcefully articulate advocate for the needs and rights of the underprivileged in our community. Virla is the single mother of four girls, two boys, and also cares for a live-in nephew. She is active in the Church of Berachah and regularly volunteers at Truth Ministries in Spokane to help feed homeless and disadvantaged men. Spokane’s weekly newspaper, The Inlanderrecognized Virla’s heart and her talents for making a positive difference in other people’s lives with a 2013 Peirone Prize.

 

Kamdra Wilder

receptionist

Kamdra is the friendly face you see when you arrive at the Center. Her customer service background helps her take excellent care of CFJ clients. Kamdra has an interest in becoming a broadcast journalist, and is completing her degree at Washington State University.

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Jerry White

Spokane Riverkeeper

Jerry was born in Corvallis, Oregon near the Willamette River.  His family moved to Cheney where he grew up exploring the lakes, rivers and forests of the area.  From a young age he traveled each spring to fish for native Chinook salmon with his grandfather on the Willamette. Jerry has a long history of working to protect rivers in the Inland Northwest.  As a former staff member of Save our Wild Salmon, Jerry advocated for the restoration and protection of native Snake River salmon and steelhead.  He has worked for native trout as conservation chair and continues to volunteer for the Spokane Falls Chapter of Trout Unlimited.  Currently, he is a board member of Inland Northwest Nature Connection. He loves to spend time on the Spokane River fly fishing for trout, rowing his drift boat, shooting one of his longbows or backcountry skiing on the very snow that feeds our River.  Jerry lives with his wife, two sons and two barky heeler dogs within earshot of the Spokane River.

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Cam Zorrozua

Staff Attorney

Cam Zorrozua joined the Center for Justice in 2018 after leaving her practice at Maxey Law Office. Cam originally joined the Maxey firm in 2005 following a Rule 9 internship. Her focus was criminal defense, restoration of rights, appeals, general litigation, and family law/divorce. Cam practiced throughout the counties and municipalities of Eastern Washington, including Federal District Court and Spokane Tribal Court.

Cam grew up on a small farm outside of Cheney, Washington. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with an Emphasis in Law, and a minor in English Literature from Western Washington University in 2000. Cam volunteered as an investigative intern for the Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office and archived photos for the Spokesman-Reivew before her admission to Gonzaga Law School. She graduated in 2004. Cam and her long time partner, Joe Labish, reside in West Valley with their two dogs and a collection of regional artwork and found objects.

Over her career, Cam has supported and volunteered for various local nonprofits including: Spokane AIDS Network, the Center for Justice, United Way of Spokane County, the Emerging Leaders Society, West Central Community Center, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Outreach Center. Cam enjoys spending time outdoors and along the Spokane River; combing Oregon beaches, and taking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Cam is a fearless advocate who gives her clients personalized representation with dignity and respect.

 

 

Board of Directors

 
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Paul Dillon

Board President

Paul Dillon grew up in Indianola, WA, a small fishing community on the Puget Sound and graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2006. Before working as the Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Paul was the legislative assistant for Senator Andy Billig of the 3rd Legislative District of Spokane. He is especially proud of his work on human rights issues, environmental legislation such as helping get PCB’s out of the Spokane River and advocating for increased oil train transparency as well as campaign finance reform. In addition to his life in the Legislature, Paul co-founded an environmental news site published by the Spokesman-Review called Down To Earth. Through this project, he first encountered the Center For Justice in 2007 and immediately fell in love with the work they do for the betterment of our region. He is committed to giving back to his community. He served as an assistant debate coach at Ferris High School and helped organize the Spokane River Cleanup. He was also the board president for Pedals2People, which uses the bicycle as a tool to empower people and build healthier communities. By combining his non-profit, communication, and legislative skills with his strong commitment to values like equality and integrity, Paul is excited about joining the Center For Justice board.

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Patty Gates

Vice President

Patty’s enthusiasm for social and environmental justice began with her childhood in the Skagit Valley and her college years at WSU. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and taking time to travel, she settled in Spokane and obtained her teaching credential from Whitworth University. Patty recalls her 19 years as a teacher and staff developer for the Spokane Public Schools as some of her most rewarding. In 1997 Patty joined the non-profit community as a foundation director where she developed her passion for bringing people together to strengthen the web of connections that build community. Newly retired, she has joined the boards of the Center for Justice, Community Building Foundation, and is an Advisory Committee member for the Spokane Riverkeeper.

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Nick Pontarolo

Treasurer

Nick Pontarolo has followed the Center for Justice since its inception. As a believer in social justice and with a vested interest in the Spokane community it was a natural fit for Nick to join the Board.

Nick practices law in Spokane and is proud of the fact that he did not attend law school, but apprenticed at a local law firm for four years prior to taking the bar exam.  Nick enjoys being outside as much possible and he can be found wherever there is snow and a pitch steep enough to ski.

 
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Jim Sheehan

Past President

Jim Sheehan graduated from Santa Clara University in 1966 before serving three years as an officer in the army. He then went to Gonzaga Law School and worked for more than twenty years as a public defender in Eastern and Western Washington, until he received a windfall inheritance. He decided that he wanted to put his money to work for the greater good. In 1999, he founded the Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting human rights, alleviating poverty, preserving the Earth, and holding the government accountable to the principles of democracy. He also renovated the old Saranac Hotel, which became the first LEED Platinum certified building in Washington east of the Cascades. Additionally, he restored the Community Building, the Main Market Co-op, and Saranac Commons in order to offer affordable, beautiful homes for area nonprofit offices and small businesses in downtown Spokane. Despite all these accomplishments, Jim feels most lucky to have a beautiful family, including Katy, Jule, Soren and Reed; Joe, Jane and Luisa; and his partner Mary.

Lorna St. John

Secretary

Lorna joined the Center for Justice board in early 2013. She has been a community activist as far back as the 1970’s and it was this experience as well as having CFJ represent her community against the County that has led her to join the CFJ board. In her varied working career, Lorna has been a steelworker, a fashion coordinator, a 4-H leader, manager of a thoroughbred horse ranch, a customer service professional, and a veterinary clinic manager. Lorna spent ten years as a fashion coordinator for a major department store, producing fashion shows, special events, working as a stylist on advertising shoots, and accompanying buyers to fashion markets in Los Angeles and New York. Currently, she is executive producer and business manager at Hamilton Studio.

 
 

 

Emeritus Board Members

Lolly Sheehan O’Neill

Denise Attwood

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