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Staff

Misty C. Thomas, Esq. | Executive Director

Elisa M. Ortiz | Deputy Director  

Tracy Velázquez | Interim Policy Director  

Jennifer Ubiera, Esq. | Senior Policy Counsel  

Danielle M. Burs, Esq. | Senior Policy Counsel  

Sarah A. Baczewski Director of Development  

Sharon L. Terrill | Operations Manager  

Marissa C. Ramirez | Policy & Education Associate  

James P. Tuite, Esq. | Senior Advisor  

Morgan B. Grizzle, Esq. | Open Horizon Criminal Justice Fellow  

Gene S. Downing | Galena Yorktown Fellow  

Aayushma Bastola | Research & Data Fellow  

 

 Staff Bios

 

SARAH A. BACZEWSKI (she/her). As the Director of Development,  Baczewski leads the full range of CCE's fundraising and development efforts. Prior to joining CCE, Baczewski spent three years with environmental nonprofit Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) where she served as the Office & Development Manager, handling operations, finances, strategic planning, event coordination and fund development.  Baczewski’s transition to the nonprofit space in 2018 followed a 12+ year career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, working for Japanese/U.S. production companies Akatsuki Entertainment and ANEW USA, producer Sandy Climan at Entertainment Media Ventures (EMV) and talent/literary manager Barry Krost Management (BKM). She holds a B.A. from Whitman College and a Certificate of Completion from The Seattle Film Institute.  

AAYUSHMA BASTOLA (she/her). As the Research & Data Fellow, Bastola is focused on ensuring that research, data collection, and data analysis are conducted in a rigorous manner across portfolios, while also supporting policy platform development, advocacy, and community education efforts. Bastola graduated from the University of Virginia in 2023 with a double major in Public Policy and Leadership and Global Development Studies. She was involved in many collegiate organizations, holding roles such as Chair of External Affairs in Student Council and President of Harmonious Hoos Acapella. For the past 6 years, she has worked as a Volunteer Coordinator for a nonprofit that provides educational opportunities in rural Nepal. Bastola loves singing, rock climbing, soaking up the sun, and reading books!

DANIELLE M. BURS (she/her)As Senior Policy Counsel, Burs advocates for policies that can improve D.C.’s legal systems which she develops with the CCE Civil Justice Committee through collaborating with stakeholders, designing and conducting research, performing data collection and analysis, and issuing reports. Prior to joining CCE, Burs was Counsel at the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. There, Burs provided research, analysis, and project management for COVID-19, affordable housing, HIV/AIDS, Anacostia watershed and river restoration, CareFirst reform, attorney general, paid leave, and D.C. democracy projects. Burs has also been an associate at Goldblatt Martin Pozen LLP, Legislative Director for Ward One Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, Director of Policy at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, and JD Distinguished Fellow at affordable housing developer Manna, Inc. She currently serves on the boards of Mi Casa, Inc. and River East Design Collaborative. Burs received her BA in English and Government from Clark University and her JD from Washington College of Law at American University. She is barred in the District of Columbia and Maryland.

GENE S. DOWNING (he/him)As the Galena Yorktown Fellow, Downing co-leads the Second Chance Hiring Alliance. In addition to his work with the Alliance, Downing develops and executes strategies for distribution of CCE publications, and helps CCE to facilitate community events, engaging a more diverse group of residents and organizations. Before joining CCE, Downing served as Congressman John Lewis Fellow at Free Minds Book Club and Writing workshop where he co-facilitated community outreach programs, such as OTSP (On the Same Page). He continues to serve as a Poet Ambassador and is Co-Chair of “Thrive Under 25”, a transformative coalition in the District of Columbia that uses advocacy, legislation, and public education to end the racist, damaging, and punitive responses of D.C.’s adult criminal legal system toward people who encountered the system when they were under age 25. Downing is passionate about giving back to the youth and building up the D.C. community.

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MORGAN B. GRIZZLE (she/her)As the 2023-2024 Open Horizon Criminal Justice Fellow, Grizzle will work with justice system stakeholders to develop policy to improve the function of DC’s criminal legal system. Grizzle is a 2023 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. She was active in several of Georgetown’s student organizations, serving as the Black Law Students Association’s Recruitment and Retention Chair, the Women of Color Collective’s Programming Director, and LawCappella’s President and Social Media Chair. During law school she interned with Brady, The Bail Project, and the ACLU of DC. Grizzle holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. She also holds a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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ELISA M. ORTIZ (she/her)As the Deputy Director, Ortiz manages CCE’s research, policy, advocacy, and education work, coaches staff members, leads the development of organizational systems and processes, and works with the Executive Director on overall management issues. Prior to joining CCE, Ortiz was the Chief of Staff of the Politics and Policy Department at RepresentUs, an organization fighting political corruption, working to reform American democracy, and pushing back against authoritarianism. In that role, she managed a large team of political operatives, developed systems and processes to facilitate their work, and led the development and operations of several programs including a vote by mail state advocacy program and a Campaign Accelerator, which provided monetary and in-kind support to nascent democracy campaigns around the country. In the past, she's worked on a very diverse set of social and racial justice issues including criminal justice reform, ending the school to prison pipeline, eliminating judicial elections, immigration issues, transportation equity, tobacco control, and reproductive rights. Ortiz received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration from Utica University (fka Utica College of Syracuse University).

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MARISSA C. RAMIREZ (she/her)As the Policy and Education Associate, Ramirez works with relevant stakeholders to inform the residents of the District on laws, policies on laws that may affect their lives as well as advocacy opportunities. Before joining CCE Ramirez worked in communications and outreach roles in nonprofits across the country including Neighbors West-Northwest, Riverlife Pittsburgh, and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University.

 

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SHARON L. TERRILL (she/her)As Operations Manager, Terrill works closely with staff, bookkeeper and auditor, vendors, and Board of Directors to effectively carry out daily operations and office management for CCE. She also handles database and records management, event logistics, and provides communications support. Terrill’s background is primarily in finance and administrative work. Prior to joining CCE, she worked as Chief of Staff for a fintech startup, and as a Program Specialist for the American Bar Association’s Center for Public Interest Law. Terrill has an AAS in Accounting from Baltimore City Community College, and is earning her Bachelors of Science in Accounting with a minor in Business Administration from UMGC.

 

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MISTY C. THOMAS (she/her)Thomas joined CCE in 2018 as Executive Director. She brings her years of experience representing indigent clients in both civil and criminal matters in the District and directing two legal reform non-profit organizations to further CCE’s vital mission to enhance D.C.’s justice system and ensure that all people who rely on our courts and government are served fairly and effectively.

Prior to joining CCE, Thomas served as the Director of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Due Process Review Project, which focuses on research, education, and policy advocacy related to capital punishment and other criminal justice issues. She previously was a senior Affordable Housing Initiative attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, where she represented homeless individuals and low-income tenants in cases to preserve their access to housing or shelter, and advocated to government agencies for more effective affordable housing laws and regulations in the District. Thomas also worked at Howrey LLP as the firm’s Pro Bono Fellowwhere she represented indigent clients in a wide range of criminal and civil cases and supported the pro bono practices of other lawyers at the firm. Prior to law school, she served as the inaugural Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which works to correct and prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Thomas holds a B.A., cum laude, from Claremont McKenna College, and a J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a Public Interest Law Scholar and where she has taught as an adjunct professor of law. 

JAMES P. TUITE (he/him). As Senior Advisor, Tuite provides strategic and substantive guidance and support to CCE’s leadership team. For nearly 45 years, Tuite practiced law in the District of Columbia, initially with the federal government and then with two private law firms. Before retiring in 2017, he practiced complex commercial litigation, representing clients in federal and state court trials and appeals and before federal and state agencies. Tuite is a long-time Civic Director and a former Executive Committee member of CCE. He is a member of CCE’s Civil Justice and Justice Education Committees and has worked on a range of CCE projects, including assessments of the District of Columbia’s Office of Administrative Hearings, the District’s Department of Behavioral Health, and the District’s criminal justice system’s interactions with persons who have substance use disorders. He also chaired the Steering Committee responsible for producing CCE’s community guide: When Adults Need Help Making Decisions and Managing Daily Affairs: A Non-Lawyer’s Guide to D.C.’s Legal Tools for Assisting Adults. Tuite is a graduate of Duke University and the University of Texas School of Law.

JENNIFER UBIERA (she/her). As Senior Policy Counsel,  Ubiera collaborates with stakeholders, designs and conducts research, performs data collection and analysis, and issues reports to inform public policy and advocate for changes to D.C.’s legal systems. Ubiera staffs CCE’s Youth Justice and Justice Education committees. Prior to joining CCE, Ubiera was the Organizing and Advocacy Fellow at the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic & Initiative at the Georgetown University Law Center. There, Ubiera represented youth accused of committing delinquent acts and organized local coalitions to advocate for solutions to issues in the youth justice landscape. Ubiera is a member of Law 4 Black Lives DC where she provides jail support for community members, including youth protesters, and facilitates popular education workshops at the intersection of law, race, and identity. Ubiera holds an LL.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown Law, a J.D. from Barry University School of Law, and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of South Florida. 

TRACY VELAZQUEZ (she/her). Velázquez assumed the role of Policy Director for CCE in December 2023, bringing with her over 15 years’ of experience in the justice field, including at the Vera Institute of Justice, the Justice Policy Institute, American University, and most recently, the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she served as Senior Manager of Research, Strategy and Development for the Trusts’ Safety and Justice portfolio.  In her almost six years at Pew, Velázquez led projects involving a wide range of subjects in criminal and youth justice and at the intersection of mental health and the legal system, including crisis response, use of the legal system to address substance use disorders and people with behavioral health conditions on probation supervision. Velázquez also has worked on public health issues, including as executive director of the Montana Mental Health Association, where she led advocacy efforts that resulted in the creation of a statewide suicide prevention office and funding for behavioral health services for people leaving prison.  She is also an alumna of CCE, having served as Senior Policy Associate from 2014– 2016. Velázquez has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Science in Justice, Law and Criminology from American University and a Master of Public Policy from Montana State University. She is an author on several peer-reviewed journal articles and has been interviewed by and had opinions published in national media, including CNN, the New York Times, NPR and the Washington Post. 

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