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Former DOJ official is new head of pro bono law firm Public Counsel

Monica Ramirez Almadani, a former DOJ official, takes over as the new head of the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.
Monica Ramirez Almadani, a former Department of Justice official, takes over as the new head of the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.
(Monica Ramirez Almadani)

Mónica Ramírez Almadani, a former Department of Justice official and American Civil Liberties Union attorney, this week takes over as the new head of the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.

Public Counsel’s 74 attorneys provide free and low-cost legal services to thousands of people each year and regularly file public-interest litigation, such as a suit earlier this year seeking to halt in-person traffic and eviction trials in Los Angeles County courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramírez Almadani, 41, will serve as president and chief executive of Public Counsel. She is succeeding Margaret Morrow, a retired federal judge who led the firm for the last five years.

Raised in Huntington Park by parents who emigrated from Mexico, Ramírez Almadani took a job after law school at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, where she investigated civil rights violations and was involved in bringing lawsuits against law enforcement agencies in Arizona. For one of those lawsuits, which challenged an Arizona law denying bail to immigrants in the U.S. illegally, Ramírez Almadani said she interviewed detainees in local jails. An appellate court found the law unconstitutional.

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In Iowa and Mississippi, Ramírez Almadani and other ACLU lawyers challenged workplace raids by the Bush administration and hosted “know your rights” presentations for workers here illegally, she said.

Ramírez Almadani joined the Obama administration’s Department of Justice in 2009, working with an assistant attorney general who oversaw the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. She later became an aide to the deputy attorney general, handling civil rights and immigration matters.

After three years at the Department of Justice headquarters, Ramírez Almadani missed working on cases and returned to Los Angeles to join the U.S. attorney’s office. She worked first in its general crimes section, then moved to public corruption and civil rights. Ramírez Almadani called her three years as a federal prosecutor “incredibly formative,” saying it opened her eyes to the “tremendous power” the government wields against criminal defendants.

Her tenure at the U.S. attorney’s office “showed me we need more diverse voices within government, and especially in prosecutorial offices that have so much power,” she said.

Ramírez Almadani then worked in the California attorney general’s office, advising then-Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on issues of immigration, civil rights and criminal justice reform. In 2017, she took a job at the law firm of Covington & Burling and worked in its Los Angeles office for two years before joining the faculty at UC Irvine School of Law, where she co-directs the school’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.

“I’m back where I started, I’d say,” she said.

As the head of Public Counsel, Ramírez Almadani said she intends to grow the well-known firm into “a national model for community and movement lawyering.” Public Counsel, she noted, is already on the front lines of some of the region’s most pressing issues — homelessness, immigration and the inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted the poor and people of color.

The pandemic, she said, has thrown into sharp relief the “huge divide” that exists between those with the means to stay safe, and those without. But she said she believes the stark realities illuminated by the pandemic, the reckoning over policing brought on by the murder of George Floyd and the end of the Trump presidency have combined to create a momentum to not merely recognize these inequalities but address them.

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“There is so much hunger for change,” she said.


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