OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced his executive team. The newly announced team brings together a wealth of knowledge and experience to the California Department of Justice. Together, through a broad range of unique responsibilities, each team member will contribute to the overall mission of serving the people and interests of California.
Venus D. Johnson, Chief Deputy Attorney General. Venus will serve as the Attorney General’s senior advisor and will oversee the Divisions of Legal Affairs, Law Enforcement, Operations, Policy, and Technology, and the following Executive programs: Office of Solicitor General, Opinion Unit, Equal Employment Rights and Resolution Office, and the Office of Program Oversight and Accountability. With over 15 years of legal, law enforcement, and criminal justice expertise, Venus has served in senior staff roles in the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, as well as with the City of Oakland, and the California Department of Justice. She most recently served as Chief Assistant District Attorney for District Attorney Diana Becton, where she managed the overall administration of the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office — overseeing the general operations, budget, and personnel decisions of all units within the office and serving as the District Attorney in her absence. Some of her many accomplishments in this role include creating the office’s first Conviction Integrity Unit and Human Trafficking Unit. Venus previously served in the executive office of Attorney General Kamala D. Harris as Associate Attorney General where she oversaw the Attorney General’s executive team and served as a senior legal and policy advisor in the areas of civil, criminal, consumer protection, e-crimes, and environmental law. Prior to this role, Venus served as Deputy Attorney General/Legislative Advocate for California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. Venus earned a Juris Doctor from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Loyola Marymount University.
Viviana Becerra, Chief of Staff. Viviana will serve as the Attorney General’s senior policy advisor and will oversee the following Executive programs: Office of Communications, Office of Native American Affairs, Office of External Affairs, Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement Team, and the Office of Legislative Affairs. Viviana most recently served as Chief of Staff and Legislative Director within the Office of Assemblymember Bonta, where she oversaw staff in Sacramento and Oakland. Some of her many accomplishments include staffing Assembly Bill 32, which banned the use of for-profit private prisons and immigration detention in California, creating a statewide system through Assembly Bill 1793 to have eligible criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses removed or modified on people’s records, securing millions of dollars in funding for comprehensive human trafficking victim services, and playing an instrumental role in expanding overtime pay for farmworkers. Prior to her Assembly service, Viviana worked as a legislative advocate for a former minority and woman-owned government relations firm and served as a Capital Senate Fellow for former California State Senator Loni Hancock. Viviana earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is born and raised in Sacramento and is the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
Francesca Gessner, Chief of Policy. Francesca will serve as the Attorney General’s primary legal policy advisor and will be responsible for developing, managing, and executing the Attorney General’s policy initiatives. She will coordinate and assist in developing strategic investigations, litigation, and resolving major cases reflecting important priorities of the Attorney General. Francesca will also oversee a team of Special Assistant Attorneys General who are charged with developing and implementing the Attorney General’s affirmative agenda. Prior to Francesca’s appointment, she served 15 years in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, most recently as General Counsel to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where she advised on all legal issues, including applicable city, state, and federal laws, and supervised a team of deputy city attorneys. Francesca also worked as a San Francisco Deputy City Attorney on the Government team, serving as General Counsel to the Office of the Mayor and a multitude of San Francisco Commissions and Boards. Francesca also clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Francesca earned a Juris Doctor degree from Stanford Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Brown University.
Damon M. Brown, Special Assistant Attorney General. Damon will serve as a legal and policy advisor on civil rights. He has over 15 years of experience working with some of the most prestigious private law firms in California where he represented a diverse client base of public agencies and private businesses in a range of civil matters, including labor and employment, class action litigation, and constitutional and civil rights litigation. Damon most recently served as the City Attorney for the City of Compton where, as the chief legal officer for the city, he led an office of attorneys and staff responsible for advising Compton City officials in matters pertaining to their offices, represented the City in civil litigation and code enforcement matters, prosecuted municipal code violations, reviewed all bonds and contracts, and brought affirmative litigation to protect the rights of consumers and citizens. Previously, Damon served on the State Bar Commission for Judicial Nominees Evaluation, as President of the John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles, Inc., the oldest and largest bar association in California for African American attorneys and judges, and the California Association of Black Lawyers. Damon earned a Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University Law School and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and African American studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
Eleanor Blume, Special Assistant Attorney General. Eleanor will serve as a legal and policy advisor on economic justice. She brings experience working within government agencies and departments identifying and advancing strategic priorities. She has served as a Director at the Department of Defense, overseeing implementation of new regulations to protect military families from abusive lending. She also served as Counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, providing legal and policy guidance on consumer protection matters. During her time as Senior Economic Advisor to former Attorney General Xavier Becerra, she covered a wide spectrum of responsibilities including consumer protection, antitrust, and labor. Eleanor earned a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Wellesley College, and is a recipient of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence.
James Toma, Special Assistant Attorney General. James will serve as a legal and policy advisor on health matters. He claims a diverse legal and policy background, most recently serving as Supervising Deputy Attorney General in the DOJ’s Charitable Trusts Section at the California Department of Justice, where he supervised investigations and enforcement actions, and reviewed transactions involving nonprofit hospitals and other charitable assets. He previously worked in the California Department of Justice Consumer Protection Section where he litigated consumer protection enforcement cases, including mortgage fraud matters. Prior to this, he was a litigator in the private sector and was a legislative analyst in the California State Assembly. In addition to his full-time work, James lectures at the UCLA School of Law and has been active in the Japanese American Bar Association. James holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Policy.
Matthew D. Goldberg, Special Assistant Attorney General. Matthew will serve as a legal and policy advisor on labor, worker rights, and immigration. He has served as Deputy City Attorney at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office for the last eight years. His docket of complex affirmative litigation included actions against gig economy companies for misclassifying workers, fossil fuel companies for contributing to climate change, and the Trump Administration for unlawful rulemaking. Prior to this role, Matthew helped manage the City of San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, where he secured millions of dollars in unpaid healthcare benefits for workers. During his time as Staff Attorney and Director of the Unemployment and Wage Claims Project at Legal Aid at Work, Matthew represented low-wage workers with wage theft and other employment law claims and advocated for the expansion of worker rights. Matthew has written and taught widely about California employment law. Matthew earned a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University.
Michael Redding, Special Assistant Attorney General. Michael will serve as a legal and policy advisor on law enforcement, firearms, and criminal justice. He most recently served as Assistant United States Attorney for the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California, where he helped organize violence-reduction prosecution strategies with local police departments, task forces, and district attorney’s offices, focusing on firearm and gang cases. He also implemented domestic violence prevention efforts as District Coordinator for the Violence Against Women Act and as a member of the Sacramento Domestic Violence Death Review Team. Prior, he served as Deputy District Attorney in San Mateo County for more than five years, creating a more collaborative domestic violence court in San Mateo. Michael received a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and philosophy from University of Notre Dame.
Victoria Sawyer, Special Assistant to the Chief Deputy Attorney General. Victoria will serve as a key advisor to the Chief Deputy Attorney General. Victoria has over 20 years of experience in public policy administration, program management, personnel, budget, and reporting. She joined the California Department of Justice under former Attorney General Bill Lockyer and has worked in multiple capacities for numerous DOJ programs since. For the last nine years, Victoria has served as an integral member of the executive management teams for former Attorneys General Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra. Her various responsibilities included transition of the new administrations, establishment of the Attorneys General’s organizational structure, and modernization of various administrative policies and processes. Victoria earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from California State University, Sacramento.
Yana Garcia, Special Assistant Attorney General. Yana will serve as a legal and policy advisor on environmental law matters pertaining to the environment, land law, and natural resources sections of the Attorney General’s Office. She previously served as the Deputy Secretary for Environmental Justice, Tribal Affairs and Border Relations at the California Environmental Protection Agency, where she advised the Governor’s Office on issues related to clean air, climate justice, drinking water, wastewater, water rights, and harmful exposure to pesticide and oil and gas production-related emissions. She has also litigated environmental cases as an attorney for Earthjustice, assisted judges with trials at the San Francisco Superior Court as a Legal Research Attorney, and defended vulnerable communities throughout California from environmental injustices as a Staff Attorney for Communities for a Better Environment. Yana earned a Juris Doctor from Northeastern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Laura Stuber, Chief Advisor to the Chief Deputy Attorney General. Laura will serve as a senior legal and policy adviser to the Chief Deputy and manage high-profile projects for the Attorney General and Chief Deputy. She will develop and maintain an integrated set of change management plans and devise strategies that will benefit the department and the Attorney General. Laura has over 20 years of experience as a senior manager and political strategist in both the legislative and executive branch of the federal government. She served as Policy Director under former Attorney General Xavier Becerra. She was previously appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the Senior Counsel to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, managing Congressional oversight inquiries regarding the Affordable Care Act and leading multiple complex and high-stakes investigations of major U.S. and international financial institutions. She has expertise in many areas, including managing sensitive public policy matters, Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctions, anti-money laundering, tax havens, shell companies, U.S. tax compliance, Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, Consumer Protection Act, Affordable Care Act, and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Laura earned a Juris Doctor from Drake University Law School and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Vanderbilt University.
Bethany Lesser, Director of Communications. Bethany will serve as an advisor on all policy matters related to the media and serve as the chief spokesperson for the Department of Justice. Bethany has nearly 20 years of communications experience handling sensitive and high-profile issues and will oversee the communications team and internal communications for the executive department, including legal and law enforcement divisions. Bethany served as Communications Director for former Attorney General Xavier Becerra, where she led communications operations on major federal lawsuits, including defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Affordable Care Act. Previously, she served as a presidential appointee in the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), promoting private sector-led sustainable development. Prior to that, Bethany was Communications Director for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, where she developed and implemented a statewide and national media strategy. She successfully led communications for Mark Begich’s Coordinated Campaign for U.S. Senate, and served as Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. Bethany earned a Master of Public Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the State University of New York at Albany.
Joanne Adams, Deputy Director of Communications. Joanne will serve as an advisor to the Attorney General and supervisor for the Attorney General’s communications and digital teams. Joanne has eight years of experience working in communications and California public policy. Joanne served as Deputy Director of Communications for former Attorney General Xavier Becerra, helping lead the California Department of Justice's communications, press, and digital teams responsible for both external and internal communications. She previously served as Associate Director of Communications at the California Medical Association, where she led successful media campaigns related to California's Tobacco Tax and health policy issues. She served as a Press Aide in the Office of former California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and in various roles, including Press Secretary and Special Assistant to the Speaker, in the Office of former California State Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins. Joanne earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in comparative literature and French from the University of California, Berkeley and completed a year of study at Université de Lumière Lyon 2.
Izzy Gardon, Executive Speechwriter. Izzy will serve as the Attorney General’s speechwriter. Izzy joins the Attorney General’s Office following his position as Digital Director at Grace Public Affairs where he worked on multiple political campaigns including Xavier Becerra for Attorney General, Rob Bonta for Attorney General, Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner, and No on Proposition 20. In this position, he was responsible for digital communications and daily operation tasks for the campaigns – including writing remarks, talking points, fundraising emails, video scripts, social media posts, opinion editorials, and endorsement quotes. Prior to this role, Izzy served as Assistant Deputy Director of Digital Media in the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, Assistant Press Secretary in the Office of former Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., and was an Executive Fellow with the Capital Fellows Program. Izzy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Seattle University and a Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy and Government from California State University, Sacramento.
Catherina Nou, Director of CARE. Catherina will serve as the Director of the Office of Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement (CARE). Catherina joins the Attorney General’s Office with nearly 15 years of diverse experience in management specializing in policy advocacy and program development for governmental and nonprofit organizations. Previously, Catherina served as the Chief of Staff for Sacramento City Councilmember Mai Vang, Senior Policy Consultant for Assemblymember David Chiu, and Chief of Staff for Assemblymember Mariko Yamada. Prior to those roles, she served as Chief Consultant for the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and established the policy arm for Everyday Impact Consulting. Catherina earned a Master of Arts degree in educational leadership and policy studies from California State University, Sacramento and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of California, Davis. Catherina is a Central Valley native and sister and daughter of Cambodian refugees.
Maheen Ahmed, Deputy Director of CARE. Maheen will serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement (CARE). Maheen most recently served as Legislative Director within the Office of Assemblymember Rob Bonta, where she was the first Muslim Legislative Director in the history of the California state legislature. In this role, Maheen crafted and oversaw progressive budget and policy priorities on a wide range of issues impacting Californians and staffed numerous bills signed into law. Prior to this, Maheen served in various capacities at the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She serves as a Community Organizing Trainer for the Muslim Power Building Project and Board Member for Sacramento Area Congregations Together. Maheen was an Assembly Fellow, earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Science degree in community and regional development from the University of California, Davis.
Amy C. Alley, Director of Office of Legislative Affairs. Amy will serve as a high-level policy advisor in the development and advocacy of legislation. Amy joins the Attorney General’s Office with 20 years of experience working in the public sector. Previously, Amy served as a principal consultant to Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins where she worked on legislation and critical issues regarding public safety, policing, criminal justice, and gender and racial equity. Prior, Amy served as a Deputy Attorney General in the Office of Legislative Affairs for former Attorneys General Xavier Becerra and Kamala D. Harris where she assisted in the development of legislative priorities for the Attorney General, represented the department before the Legislature, and provided technical assistance and consultation to Legislators and staff, committee consultants, and program staff. She also served as a Legislative and Communications Director for former Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Sandre Swanson after spending several years as a deputy with the Office of Legislative Counsel. Amy earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Davis and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and journalism from California State University, Sacramento.
Merri Lopez-Keifer, Director of Office of Native American Affairs. Merri will serve as a legal and policy advisor on tribal affairs. Merri joins the Attorney General’s Office following over 15 years serving as the Chief Legal Counsel for the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians (SLR), where she worked to protect Luiseño culture, cultural resources, sacred burial and ceremonial sites, and history. In that capacity, she advised the SLR Tribal Council on environmental impacts to tribal cultural resources, healthcare rights, climate change, NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA repatriation issues, child welfare, and property rights. Merri also served as an Assistant District Attorney at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office for six years where she specialized in the area of domestic violence prosecutions. She also worked as a private practice attorney where she provided strategic counsel to Native American advocacy organizations. Merri earned a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in law and society with special emphasis in criminal justice from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Edwin Saucedo, Director of External Affairs. Edwin will serve as Director of External Affairs. Edwin joins the Attorney General’s Office following his time as a Senior Legislative Aide in the Office of Assemblymember Rob Bonta. In that capacity, he was responsible for making policy recommendations and representing the Assemblymember in meetings with constituents, lobbyists, and advocates across 12 issue areas. Previously, Edwin served as Senior Global Strategy Associate at Delta Airlines, Campaign Manager for Georgia House of Representative Nincoe Byrd, and Assembly Fellow for California Assembly District 18. Edwin earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California, a Master of Global Affairs degree from Tsinghua University in Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar, and a Bachelor of Science degree in public policy from the University of Southern California.
Reina Orellana, Director of Scheduling. Reina will serve as Director of Scheduling. With over 15 years of experience in customer service and support roles within the private and public sectors, Reina will continue her role as Scheduling Director within the Attorney General’s Office. Reina previously served as the Scheduling Director for former Attorneys General Xavier Becerra and Kamala D. Harris. Her duties will include managing external and internal correspondence with the Attorney General, coordinating public and private collaboration projects directed at the Department of Justice’s consumer protection responsibilities, and maintaining the calendar for the Attorney General. Previously, she served as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office where she was responsible for a variety of clerical and support functions. Reina holds a Real Estate Salesperson License, Tax Preparer License, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from the University of La Verne.
Leandra Mekata, Deputy Director of Scheduling. Leandra will serve as Deputy Director of Scheduling. Leandra joins the Attorney General’s Office following 12 years of working in the California State Assembly. In her most recent role, she served as the Executive Secretary in the Office of former Assemblymember Rob Bonta. In this position, she served as a community liaison, managed correspondence between the Assemblymember and elected officials, legislative staff, public agencies, lobbyists, community-based organizations, and constituents as well as coordinated travel arrangements and tracked appointments, meetings, and events.