Soren Gisleson, Chairperson & Treasurer
Soren E. Gisleson is a partner of Herman, Herman & Katz , L.L.C. Mr. Gisleson attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned a bachelor of arts in Philosophy in 1993. After receiving his B.A. from the University of Colorado, Mr. Gisleson attended Loyola University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate in May of 1999. While at Loyola Law School, Mr. Gisleson became a member of Law Review in 1998 and published his casenote, Graham v. Willis-Knighton Medical Center: The Dissipation of Statutorily Admitted Liability in Medical Malpractice, 44 LOY. L. REV. 315 (1999). Mr. Gisleson served as articles editor of the Law Review from 1998-99, soliciting and editing legal writings ranging from death penalty litigation to environmental regulation and from constitutional law to admiralty. In 1999, Mr. Gisleson was also named to the National Law School Dean’s List.
Immediately upon graduation, Mr. Gisleson clerked for the Honorable Carl J. Barbier, District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
In the Fall of 2000, Mr. Gisleson became an associate with Herman, Herman & Katz. Mr. Gisleson handled a variety of cases including criminal pro bono cases. Since 2005, Mr.Gisleson has focused his practice on first party insurance cases on behalf of homeowners and businesses, and has even undertaken a special appointment by the State of Louisiana to prosecute an antitrust case against the insurance industry for their claims handling practices after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mr. Gisleson has also represented the New Orleans City Council in civil litigation involving utility, zoning and other regulatory matters.
Jancy Hoeffel, Secretary
Professor Hoeffel is the Catherine D. Pierson Associate Professor of Law at Tulane Law School. She joined the Tulane law faculty in 1999. After graduating from Stanford Law School, she clerked in Chicago for a federal district court judge. Professor Hoeffel then joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she remained for six years, working as trial attorney, staff attorney supervisor, and appellate attorney. Subsequently, she entered private practice in Denver, Colorado, where she engaged in criminal and civil litigation. Professor Hoeffel teaches in the areas of criminal law and procedure, the death penalty, evidence, and law and gender. She was the recipient in 2005 of the Felix Frankfurter Distinguished Teaching Award, conferred each year by the graduating class. Professor Hoeffel served as Vice Dean of the Law School for three years from 2009 – 2012. She has also served on the Louisiana Public Defender Board and the Innocence Project New Orleans Board.
Melanie Carr is an independent consultant, investigator, and mitigation specialist, working on human rights and civil rights cases, primarily on behalf of poor people facing the death penalty or lengthy sentences.
After graduating from Harvard with a degree in social anthropology, Melanie moved to New Orleans ins 1997 to work as a capital defense investigator and mitigation specialist with the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center. In 2002, she received an Echoing Green Fellowship to establish A Fighting Chance, a nonprofit capital defense investigation and mitigation office. A Fighting Chance (now known as NOLA Investigates) expanded access to qualified investigators and mitigation specialists through aggressive funding litigation and improved investigation and mitigation standards through recruiting, training and supervising investigators and mitigation specialists. After rebuilding A Fighting Chance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Melanie transitioned the leadership of the organization and moved back to her native northeast in 2007.
As a solo practitioner now based in Brooklyn, Melanie’s clients have included the Jena 6, a Civil Rights Era innocence case in the Deep South, worker’s rights and discrimination class actions, juvenile detention conditions, police brutality and civil rights cases, and sentencing advocacy for juveniles service lengthy sentences in adult prisons. She also provides training on investigation and mitigation development for criminal defense team members.
Mark Cunningham is a partner with the Corporate Compliance and White Collar Defense Team at Jones Walker. He maintains an active national trial and appellate practice focused on antitrust, intellectual property, export control, and securities disputes and has been annually recognized by Benchmark Litigation, Super Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America, and New Orleans CityBusiness for his trial work and leadership in the New Orleans legal community. The attorneys of Louisiana recently elected Mr. Cunningham to serve as the 2015-2016 president of the Louisiana State Bar Association.
Mr. Cunningham serves as primary outside antitrust counsel for companies in a wide range of industries, including the energy, petrochemical, and healthcare sectors. His recent significant antitrust engagements include serving as lead counsel for Stewart Enterprises, Inc. before the Federal Trade Commission in connection with its $1.4 billion acquisition by Service Corporation International. He also recently defeated an application for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against an international recycling concern charged with federal antitrust violations.
Samantha Kennedy is an attorney and mitigation specialist specializing in Miller/Montgomery (juvenile cases) sentencing advocacy and capital defense penalty phase development. Samantha obtained a Bachelor of Art degree in Sociology/Anthropology from Carleton College and a juris doctor from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Samantha has extensive experience and training in legal strategy and narrative building derived from fieldwork and record investigation and analysis. She has developed, in particular, an understanding of mental health and illness, symptomology, adolescent and brain development, intellectual disability, as well as the role that economics, gender, language, race, and culture can play both in life experiences and in systems that impact people. She has coached many budding professionals in the field of mitigation, as well as been faculty for dozens of capital defense, mental health, and Miller/Montgomery trainings, workshops, and conferences around the world. Samantha was raised in the Twin Cities and is based out of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Denny LeBoeuf has been the Director of the ACLU’s John Adams Project since 2008, participating in the defense of the capitally charged Guantanamo detainees. From 2011-2013 she was Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, heading the organization’s integrated advocacy to achieve abolition by litigation, legislation, communications and policy change.
In 2006 Ms. LeBoeuf served as the Chair of the Orleans Public Defenders Board, where she assisted in the effort to re-establish and reform indigent defense in post-Katrina New Orleans. She also served as a Federal Habeas Corpus Resource Counsel, providing consultation to federal defenders, Capital Habeas Units, and panel attorneys representing death-sentenced inmates in federal habeas proceedings, and was the founding director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, the first state-funded capital defender office in Louisiana. She has been a capital defender for 25 years, representing persons facing the death penalty at trial and in state and federal post-conviction proceedings. She teaches and consults with capital defense teams nationally.
Wilbert Rideau is a writer, lecturer, and expert on criminal behavior, the world of prison (prison culture, sexual violence, journalism & censorship), capital defendants and the death row experience. Since 2008, he has coordinated the Life Support Project for the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project; and since 2006, has served as faculty for continuing legal education programs and as consultant to capital defense teams with “difficult” clients.
From 1961-2005, Mr. Rideau was an inmate in the Louisiana prison system. While incarcerated, he became editor of The Angolite, the prisoner-produced newsmagazine, and was the first prisoner in American penal history to win freedom from censorship. Over the next quarter century, he won many of the nation’s highest journalism awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award, for his outstanding contributions to public understanding of the criminal justice and prison systems. In 1979, he became the first prisoner ever to receive the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for an investigative exposé, “Conversations with the Dead,” that resulted in the release of a number of long-term inmates “lost” in the Louisiana prison system. In 1984, he was selected to participate in an unprecedented nationally televised dialogue with Chief Justice Warren Burger of the Supreme Court on ABC-TV’s Nightline. In March 1993, Life magazine called him “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America.” That same year, he ventured into broadcast journalism, producing award-winning reports for national radio and television. In 1996, he became the only prisoner ever to receive the Louisiana Bar Association’s highest journalistic honor for a documentary film he co-produced, Final Judgment: The Execution of Antonio James. In 1998, he co-directed a documentary, The Farm: Angola, USA, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. He is the co-editor of The Wall Is Strong: Corrections in Louisiana, a textbook now in its fourth edition; Life Sentences, an anthology of articles from The Angolite; and In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance, his autobiography.nb
A New Orleans native, Michael Stone is an independent strategy consultant and executive coach focused on improving the performance of mission-focused non-profits in and outside of education. From 2010 until 2018, Michael served as Chief External Relations Officer, President, and Co-CEO for New Schools for New Orleans, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring that every child in New Orleans attends an excellent school. At various points, Michael oversaw the organization’s school investment, talent investment, fundraising, finance, grant compliance, government relations, analytics, and communications functions. During his tenure, NSNO supported the launch of 31 new charter schools, helped develop a community-based process to determine school citing, and led the city’s effort to tell the story of education resurgence in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Before joining NSNO, Michael was a consultant in McKinsey & Company’s New York office. While at McKinsey, Michael worked on several projects for public and private sector clients, including product growth strategy, federal grant strategy, and organizational effectiveness. Prior to McKinsey, Michael taught 7th, 8th, and 9th grade math in public schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Michael is a former Aspen-Pahara Fellow and former Broad Resident. He has an A.B. from Harvard College, an M.S.T. in teaching from Pace University, and an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School.
Sara Totonchi is the Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. As Executive Director, Sara leads the SCHR team in carrying out its mission to dramatically transform the criminal justice system. Sara joined SCHR in 2001 as the Public Policy Director and became the organization’s Executive Director in 2010. For more than a decade, she represented SCHR on a full range of criminal justice and public safety issues at the Georgia General Assembly. Sara led coalition efforts and legislative advocacy to establish Georgia’s statewide public defender system and enact criminal justice reforms, specializing in building partnerships with unlikely allies such as law enforcement, survivors of crime, and conservative elected officials.
In 2019, Atlanta Magazine named Sara as one of the top 500 Most Influential Leaders of Atlanta. Sara was appointed by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to serve on the city’s 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and the Atlanta Criminal Justice Commission. In 2017, Sara was selected as a Strengthening Democracy Fellow with the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Sara has been recognized twice as a “Top 40 Under 40”, in 2010 by Georgia Trend Magazine and in 2012 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. In 2011, Atlanta Magazine named Sara as one of “Five of the Future” and in 2016, one of ten “New Guard” leaders of Atlanta. Georgia Trend has annually named Sara a “Notable Person” from 2012 through 2017. Under Sara’s leadership, SCHR has received numerous awards, including the Commitment to Equality Award from State Bar of Georgia’s Committee to Promote Inclusion, the Gate City Bar’s R.E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, and the Martin Luther King Community Service Award from Emory University.
Nilay Vora is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on complex civil litigation and criminal defense. He has served as lead trial counsel and lead appellate counsel. Nilay’s commercial litigation practice covers a wide array of cases for both plaintiffs and defendants in matters involving contract disputes, consumer class actions, employment and fiduciary duty matters, trade secrets, and intellectual property. He has successfully defended clients in criminal matters against both federal and state authorities and has handled internal investigations for large and small companies.
Nilay serves as lead trial and appellate counsel with PJI in their suit against officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary seeking injunctive relief for violations of the Eighth Amendment. Nilay also received significant media coverage for his work with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center) for successfully representing San Gabriel Councilman Chin Ho Liao in an important civil rights matter involving the rights of individuals to run for and hold elected office. A fluent Spanish speaker, Nilay’s pro bono activities also include representation of clients seeking asylum in the United States.
Nilay is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served on the editorial board of the Harvard International Law Journal. His undergraduate education was completed at the University of Southern California, where he received degrees summa cum laude in Mathematics and Natural Science. Upon graduation from the University of Southern California, the British Government selected Nilay as one of forty Marshall Scholars awarded two years of study in England. He received an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and a MPhil in Management Science from the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.
Honored Previous Members
Andrea Armstrong, Emeritus
Andrea Armstrong is an Associate Professor at Loyola College of Law where she teaches constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and race and the law. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School, her Masters in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and her Bachelor of Arts from New York University. Prior to joining Loyola’s faculty, Ms. Armstrong clerked for the Honorable Helen G. Berrigan in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Ms. Armstrong litigated prisoner civil rights cases as a Thomas Emerson Fellow and researched international human rights issues for the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Center on International Cooperation, and the United Nations. She has published articles on prison conditions, reparations, peacebuilding, and pre-emptive war.
Judge Calvin Johnson, Emeritus
Calvin Johnson is currently the Executive Director of Metropolitan Human Services District and an adjunct Law Professor at Loyola University School of Law. Before retiring, he was District Court Judge for Orleans Parish Criminal District Court from 1990 through 2007, where he served as Deputy Chief Judge from 1999 to 2000 and Chief Judge from 2004 to 2006. Before becoming a judge, he worked as a Staff Attorney for Orleans Parish Indigent Defender’s Program.
Judge Johnson is a past president of the Louis A. Martinet Society and the founder of Orleans Parish Mental Health Treatment Center. He is the recipient of Louis A. Martinet Society’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 1985 and Distinguished Jurist Award in 2009. In 1992, he received the Justice Albert Tate Award. He is also the recipient of the 2008 Louisiana ACLU’s Benjamin Smith Award.
Michael Rubenstein, Emeritus
Mr. Rubenstein is a litigator with a diverse commercial practice encompassing business bankruptcy, complex business litigation, and criminal law. His bankruptcy practice is largely, though not exclusively, devoted to the representation of creditors in complex reorganizations. He routinely represents leading financial institutions throughout Texas and Louisiana.
Mr. Rubenstein has extensive experience in general business litigation and government enforcement proceedings. He also has substantial arbitration experience. In both the criminal and civil contexts, Mr. Rubenstein has managed complex and difficult electronic discovery projects.
Also, by order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Mr. Rubenstein represented an inmate on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. This representation resulted in a compromise with the State whereby the client was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and a life sentence. In recognition of this work, Mr. Rubenstein received the Camille Gravel Pro Bono Award from the New Orleans Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the firm received the Beacon of Justice Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.
Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero
Pascal F. Calogero was a native of New Orleans, was four times elected and re-elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court from a district comprised of the seven parishes in and around metropolitan New Orleans. Chief Justie Calogero graduated from St. Aloysius High School in New Orleans (1949) and Loyola University School of Law (1954), where he graduated first in his class and received his LLB. In 1982 he earned a Master of Laws Degree in judicial process from the University of Virginia. He served in the U.S. Army from 1954-1957 in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps – and separated with the rank of Captain. After clerking for the judges of the Civil District Court for New Orleans for a year, he formed a law firm in 1958 with Moon Landrieu and Charles A. Kronlage, Jr. He practiced law with the firm of Landrieu, Calogero & Kronlage until 1968, and then with the firm of Calogero and Kronlage until 1972 when he was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was elected three more times, where he served a total of 36 years; 18 of them as Chief Justice. He retired at the end of his final term in office on December 31, 2008. Upon his retirement, Chief Justice Calogero had served longer than any justice in the history of the Louisiana Supreme Court.