OUR STAFF

Meet the team.

Justin Brooks | Director

Justin is the Director and Co-Founder of the California Innocence Project. Prior to coming to California, he practiced as a criminal defense attorney in Washington D.C., Michigan, and Illinois and over the course of his career he has served as counsel on several high profile criminal cases. He has been recognized several times by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California. In 2010 and 2012, California Lawyer Magazine recognized him with the “Lawyer of the Year” award.

Justin began his teaching career as a Fellow at Georgetown Law Center in 1990. He continued to teach at Georgetown after his fellowship ended and served as Associate Director of Georgetown’s Corrections Clinic. In 1993, he began teaching at Thomas M. Cooley Law School where he taught criminal law, criminal procedure, death penalty law, and law and literature. He directed the moot court program, coached the law school’s first National Championship moot court team, and supervised a death penalty clinical program.

Justin has worked extensively in Latin America training lawyers for the past 20 years.  Justin co-founded Red Inocente, an organization devoted to founding and supporting innocence organizations in Latin American, including: the Puerto Rico Innocence Project, Mexico Innocence Project, Chilean Innocence Project, Colombian Innocence Project, and Argentinian Innocence Project.

Justin is a tenured professor at California Western School of Law. He is the author of the only legal casebook devoted to the topic of wrongful convictions.

Alex Simpson | Associate Director

Kimberly Hernandez | Program Manager

Alissa Bjerkhoel | Staff Attorney

Alex has been an attorney with the California Innocence Project since 2006.

In his earlier years, Alex was a student in the Project and then went on to earn his LL.M. in Trial Advocacy in Federal Criminal Law from California Western School of Law.

He has co-authored two law review articles “Find the Cost of Freedom: The Struggle to Compensate the Innocent for Wrongful Incarceration and the Strange Legal Odyssey of Timothy Atkins,” 49 San Diego Law Review 3 (2012), and “Blood Sugar Sex Magik: A Review of Postconviction DNA Testing Statutes and Legislative Recommendations,” 59 Drake Law Review 799 (2011).

Over the course of his career, he has been successful in exonerating many wrongfully convicted clients. He currently directs and oversees all active cases in litigation on behalf of the Project.

Alex has been recognized by the San Diego Daily Transcript as “Top Attorney” and by the he Board of Directors of the Criminal Defense Bar Association of San Diego as “Post-conviction Lawyer of the Year.”

Kimberly has been the Program Manager for the California Innocence Project since its inception in 1999.

With nearly 20 years experience in production management, she created a case management system to process the 1,500 cases the Project receives each year.  The system, still used by the Project today, has been adopted by many Innocence Organizations around the country.

She is responsible for Project funding, the day-to-day operations of the Project, case intake, and the oversight of Project investigations.  Over the course of her work at the California Innocence Project, she has shown an attention to detail that has helped not only keep the Project afloat, but has contributed to the mission of releasing the wrongfully convicted.  Four of the Project’s exonerations would not have happened without her hard work and dedication.

 

 

Alissa has been an attorney with the California Innocence Project since 2008.

In her ealier years, Alissa was a student in the Project. Realizing her passion for assisting the wrongfully convicted, she joined the Project staff upon passing the California State Bar.

Alissa has spoken at a number of conferences relating to forensics, DNA, and innocence work including the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Conference, the Innocence Network Conference, and the California Association of Criminalists Spring Seminar.

She currently serves as the in-house DNA expert, authors petitions filed on behalf of the Project’s clients, as well as directs and supervises clinic student casework.

Alissa has been recognized by the San Diego Daily Transcript as “Young Attorney” of the Year, and by the Board of Directors of the Criminal Defense Bar Association of San Diego as “Post-conviction Lawyer of the Year.”  She is an Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.  In 2012, California Lawyer Magazine recognized Alissa with the “Attorney of the Year” award.

Raquel Cohen | Staff Attorney

Audrey McGinn | Staff Attorney

Michael Semanchik | Staff Attorney

Raquel has been an attorney with the California Innocence Project since 2011.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Raquel enrolled at California Western School of Law with the intention of working for the California Innocence Project. Raquel first served in the Project as a volunteer and clinic student while in law school. Upon passing the California and Nevada State Bars, she worked with private criminal and civil firms in Southern California before fulfilling her goal of assisting the wrongfully convicted and re-joining the Project.

Over the course of her career, she has played an integral role in preparing and arguing motions essential to the Project’s cause. As the pro bono coordinator, Raquel supervises law firms, lawyers, experts, and investigators who assist the Project on a volunteer basis. She currently authors petitions filed on behalf of the Project’s clients, as well as directs and supervises clinic student casework.

Audrey has been an attorney with the California Innocence Project since 2011.

Audrey began as a student volunteer in the Project and later joined us as a clinic student. Realizing her passion for assisting the wrongfully convicted, she joined the Project as a staff attorney upon passing the California State Bar.

Audrey is fluent in Spanish and is the Project Coordinator of Red Inocente, a network of innocence organizations.  Audrey has helped coordinate efforts to establish innocence organizations in other countries, including: the Argentinian Innocence Project, Colombian Innocence Project, Chilean Innocence Project, and the Mexico Innocence Project.

Over the course of her career, she has helped broaden the Project’s outreach to Spanish speaking clients who may be innocent so that we could pursue their cases. She currently authors petitions filed on behalf of the Project’s clients.  She also directs and supervises clinic student casework and all of the Project’s volunteer students and lawyers.

Mike has been an attorney with the California Innocence Project since 2011.

In his earlier years, Mike graduated cum laude from California Western School of Law where he was student in the California Innocence Project.  After passing the California State Bar, Mike first worked as an investigator for the California Innocence Project and later became a staff attorney.  Mike has spoken at a number of conferences related to investigations and innocence work including the Defense Investigators Association Conference, the Innocence Network Conference, and SDSU School of Public Affairs.

Over the course of his career, he has lent his investigatory skills to break open many cases which have led to exonerations. He currently authors petitions filed on behalf of the Project’s clients, as well as directs and supervises clinic student casework.

In 2012, California Lawyer Magazine recognized Mike’s work with the California Lawyer of the Year award.  In 2014, the San Diego Daily Transcript recognized Mike as a “Top Attorney.”