Meet the Team

Staff

Johanna Fierstein, MSW

Johanna Fierstein, MSW

Executive Director

David J. Newstone, Esq.

David J. Newstone, Esq.

Director of Legal Services and General Counsel

Shannon Brien, Esq.

Shannon Brien, Esq.

Staff Attorney

Joanne McDonald

Joanne McDonald

Chief Financial Officer

Sue Ann Springer

Sue Ann Springer

Senior Family Law Paralegal

Daed Ayala, LCSW

Daed Ayala, LCSW

Trauma Therapist

Heather Harpest

Heather Harpest

Family Law Paralegal

Liz Avila, MSW

Liz Avila, MSW

Helpline Advocate (bilingual English/Spanish)

Board of Directors

Dick Geasland, LCSW

Dick Geasland, LCSW

Board Chairperson

Mr. Geasland served as Chief Executive Office of MIKID (Mentally Ill Kids In Distress). For nearly 50 years, he tirelessly worked in direct service and management in a variety of human services organizations. Today, as an Organizational Development Consultant, he serves Defenders of Children with his visionary leadership and executive management skills by helping solve organizational challenges and leading the agency to a higher level of effectiveness. Mr. Geasland’s impressive professional experience includes serving as Executive Director of Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Associate Director of Sojourner Center, Interim CEO/Chief Clinical & Operations Officer with Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Phoenix, and Chief Executive Officer of Neighborhood Partners, Inc.

Trish Leon, CDFA

Trish Leon, CDFA

Treasurer/Secretary

Judge (Ret.) Penny Willrich

Judge (Ret.) Penny Willrich

Member

Judge Willrich holds bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and History, a Master’s degree in Human Services-Community Psychology, and her Juris Doctorate degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. Judge Willrich was a judicial officer on the Superior Court from 1995 to 2005. She spent many years involved in working in the community providing pro bono legal advice to clients in domestic violence and homeless shelters. She Commission on Minorities in the Judiciary, the Arizona Disciplinary Commission, the Arizona Board of Governors, the Maricopa County Bar Board of Directors, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, and the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health.

Judge Willrich has received many educational, community, and professional awards for her professional work, both locally and nationally. In 1999, she was appointed by Governor Jane Dee Hull as the first African American female to serve as a judge for the Superior Court of Arizona. In 2012 she received the prestigious Phi Alpha Delta Fraternity John J. MacAulay Legal Educator Award based on a lifetime of dedication to the principles and ideals of integrity, compassion, courage and professional service. In 2014, she received the Jurisprudence Living History Award from The Links, Inc., Jack and Jill of America, Inc., and the Gamma Mu Boule for her service to Arizona and the local legal community. In 2015, Professor Willrich was selected as the American Bar Association Family Law Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. She is also a Fellow of the American Bar Association and a Commissioner on the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Kelly Mendoza, Esq.

Kelly Mendoza, Esq.

Member

Kelly L. Mendoza practices primarily in Family Law including divorce, paternity actions, child custody, legal decision making, parenting time, business and property valuation, division of assets and debts, spousal support, child support, as well as matters involving domestic violence, orders of protection and other issues related to domestic relations. Ms. Mendoza also represents clients on appeal for Family Law matters. She was an acting Judge Pro Tempore with the Superior Court of Maricopa County from 2013 through 2022 covering judicial calendars and conducting settlement conferences in the Family Court division. She has also been appointed as Chair of the State Bar of Arizona’s Family Law Practice and Procedure Committee for four consecutive years.

Volunteers

Annette Ruskin, LCSW

Volunteer Therapist, Forensics Expert (bilingual English/Spanish)

Pat O’Connell

Educational Advocate

Pat is an experienced advocate for clients in education, court and with community agencies.She has over twenty years’ experience serving as a Special Education Advocate/Parent for children with special needs and those in the Department of Child Safety custody. Recognized for exemplary service as an Education Advocate and Court Appointed Advocate in two states and keeps the student plan for success focused as the most important goal for all. She was also part of Arizona Governor Napolitano’s Child Protective Services Reform, Education Workgroup that addressed changes in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) laws, established CPS education policies, open and continuing communication between agencies and education program improvement and legislation.

Alex McFarland

Legal Intern

Advisory Council

Faren Akins, PhD, J.D.

Akins Law Firm

Dr. Akins is a Psychologist AND Attorney licensed in Arizona and Cali­fornia with more than 35 years professional experience. He is a published author and has received grants and fel­lowships. He served 6 years as a Board member and Vice-President of the Arizona Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Currently, he is in pri­vate practice providing representation and consultation to mental health pro­fessionals with ethics or licensing board complaints. In his forensic psychol­ogy practice he does custody evaluations, works as a consultant to attorneys, offers trial testimony, and regularly does continuing education courses.

Alisa Gray, Esq.

Tiffany & Bosco, P.A.

Alisa Gray is a shareholder at Tiffany & Bosco who concentrates her practice on probate and trust litigation, estate administration, elder law and mediation. She is a judge pro tem with the Maricopa County Superior Court and routinely conducts settlement conferences for the court. She is a sought-after speaker on probate and trust issues, stress management and work-life balance.

Sadaf Khwaja, MBA, M.Ed.

Sadaf Khwaja Consulting

Sadaf Khwaja, MBA, M.Ed., is a Neuro-Linguistic and Theta Healing Practitioner and Master Life Coach who is an invaluable asset to our organization. Ms. Khwaja’s primary passion lies in bringing families together by addressing the “Teenage Brain” and its impact on parenting. In her private practice, she works intimately with clients in creating family systems to primarily recognize that the teenage brain is not fully developed until late 20’s. She is a strong advocate for children, helping to identify that old patterns of pain, misery, and hardship can be released and replaced by authentic, healthy, loving and meaningful relationships between parents and adolescents for a lifetime.

Christopher J. Meister, Esq.

Managing Shareholder, Ogletree Deakins

Chris graduated magna cum laude, with accounting and business management degrees from North Carolina State University and in the top quarter of his class at Wake Forest School of Law. Chris practices in the area of union relations, Human Resources, employment law, and labor matters in arbitrations, in state and federal courts, and before state and federal administrative agencies including the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Department of Labor. Chris is also a former member of the Board of Directors of the Military Assistance Mission, an Arizona charitable organization dedicated to providing our Armed Forces personnel with the support and assistance they deserve.

David Weinstock, J.D., Ph. D.

Forensic Counseling and Evaluations, PLLC

Dr. Weinstock received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona and his J.D. from the Boston University School of Law. He is a licensed psychologist in Arizona AND a licensed and retired attorney. He has conducted family law evaluations for almost two decades. Dr. Weinstock has valuable experience with sexual offender and sex addiction evaluations and treatment. He is also a former member of Arizona’s Domestic Relations Committee and a former co-chair of the Arizona Psychological Association’s forensic committee.

Paul Beljan, PsyD, ABPdN, ABN

Beljan Psychological Services, Neuropsychologist & Founder

Dr. Beljan is a pediatric and adult neuropsychologist specializing in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of neuropsychological disorders. He has lectured nationally and internationally (Netherlands, Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Canada) on topics of giftedness, ADHD, executive functioning, developmental disorders, learning disorders and neurocognitive therapy. Dr. Beljan has published significant research on neurocognitive intervention and math learning disorder.

Courtney Glenny, LPC

Healthy Connections Counseling