Our Team

Meetourteam_navlawMost parents would agree that just getting a child through school these days is a far cry from what it was when they went to school. It seemed so much simpler then, before school districts were gargantuan and schools were strapped for cash. Our schools have so many problems to deal with on a daily basis that the individual child — especially one who may have some special needs — may easily fall through the cracks. While parents generally try their best on their children’s behalf, sometimes they hit an administrative brick wall and still their children’s needs are not being met. That’s where the attorneys and staff at Newman Aaronson Vanaman come in. The attorneys of Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman are experts who, with the excellent support of their staff, comprise the team that will help you with any problems you may have with any of these issues.

Our Attorneys

  • Valerie Vanaman
    Attorney
    Valerie Vanaman
    Attorney

    cartoon-valerieFor four decades, Valerie Vanaman has represented people who need help obtaining services from private and governmental agencies, providing knowledgeable and compassionate legal representation to families with special situations.

    Since entering private practice in 1980, Valerie has become an acknowledged leader in providing representation for individuals challenged with disabilities and for their families, securing for her clients a basic education, as well as their rights under such programs as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Social Security Act, Supplemental Security Income Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

    In addition to an impressive track record (with an overwhelming number of her cases falling into the “win” column), Ms. Vanaman’s credentials are equally strong. She is a member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal and the Federal District Courts for the Central, Northern and Southern Districts of California, as well as the California, Ohio and Massachusetts State Bars. Valerie received her undergraduate and law school education at Ohio State University. She served as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School and as an attorney for such public interest organizations as the Children’s Defense Fund.

    School can be a rocky ride for many kids. Parents who find they need help getting their children’s needs met anytime during the elementary through secondary school years can rest assured that Valerie Vanaman is in their corner.

  • Joel Aaronson
    Attourney
    Joel Aaronson
    Attourney

    Joel S. Aaronson became known as a champion for the rights of children when he served as a member of the Juvenile Court Panel in the 1970s. After receiving his law degree from UCLA, Joel served as an Associate Professor teaching Real Property and Conflict of Law at the University of San Fernando Valley College of Law and as an Associate Professor of Business Law at the USC School of Business. He also served as a member of the Panel of Arbitrators for the American Arbitration Association, the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles County Bar Associations, as well as the State Bar of California.

    Joel is currently President of the Jewish Federation of Ventura.

  • Sophia Bliziotis
    Attorney
    Sophia Bliziotis
    Attorney

    Sophia Bliziotis joined Newman Aaronson Vanaman in December, 2005. She found her legal home at Newman Aaronson Vanaman practicing special education law.

    She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley with a degree in English. While at Berkeley, she was a co-recipient of the President’s Undergraduate Fellowship and with those funds she co-produced and directed a documentary about the homeless women of San Francisco. After college, Sophia worked in Los Angeles then Australia in film and television.

    While living in Australia, Sophia decided to become an attorney. She began her legal studies at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. Upon her return to the United States, she received her J.D. from Southwestern Law School.

    She wakes up each day grateful to have work that is meaningful and to work at NAV with a group of experienced and highly effective colleagues.

    Sophia is married to cinematographer Bruce Ready and they have one son, Luke.

  • Annabel Blanchard
    Attorney
    Annabel Blanchard
    Attorney

    Annabel Blanchard joined Newman Aaronson Vanaman full-time in 2015, after having worked as Of-Counsel to the firm for 5 years prior. At NAV Law, Annabel helps families with Estate Planning, Special Needs Planning, Probates, Trust Administration and Limited Conservatorships.

    Mrs. Blanchard has been working with Special Needs families since she was admitted to the bar in 2008. This type of legal work inspires Annabel to create solutions for her clients. She sees herself as a counselor and advisor, and cherishes the opportunity to help people with some of their most important legal and personal decisions.

    Annabel graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001 and received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She then attended Southwestern University School of Law, where she was a recipient of the Paul Wildman Scholarship for Academic Achievement.

  • Jodi Ossen Bynder
    Attorney
    Jodi Ossen Bynder
    Attorney

    Jodi Ossen Bynder, a graduate of UCLA, earned her law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Both as a law clerk and later as an attorney, Jodi worked with Valerie Vanaman assisting families to obtain appropriate education for their children. Jodi was always drawn to helping people and for a while even wanted to get a Masters in Social Work. She was encouraged by Ms. Vanaman to pursue a law degree instead and incorporate her interest in social work with the practice of law.

    Jodi has worked at Newman Aaronson Vanaman since 1997. She finds the work to be extremely rewarding and likes knowing that she is making a difference in the lives of children and families. Jodi is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Southern California Special Education Task Force. Jodi is happily married with two children. When not working, she loves spending time with her family, traveling, reading and watching movies.

  • George Crook
    Attorney
    George Crook
    Attorney

    George D. Crook, who joined the Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman team in 1999, also has more than thirty years of experience with educational issues. George graduated from St. John’s Seminary College in 1964 with a degree in Philosophy.He taught in an inner-city Catholic high school from 1964 to 1971, when he entered Loyola of Los Angeles School of Law. At Loyola, he was Managing Editor of the Loyola Law Review, in which he was also published. George served as a law clerk for Chief Judge Albert Lee Stephens, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, was a three-time elected board member in Pico Rivera’s El Rancho Unified School District, and speaks Spanish.

  • David German
    Attorney
    David German
    Attorney

    David German represents individuals and families in a broad range of disability rights and education matters. A substantial part of his practice involves appellate litigation.

    David received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his J.D., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. During law school, David participated in the Children’s Legal Issues Clinic. He also served as a Judicial Extern for both the Honorable Margaret M. Morrow of the United States District Court for the Central District of California and the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. David received USC Law’s Edward and Eleanor Shattuck Award, the USC Public Interest Law Foundation Student of the Year Award, and the State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel Award. He was also named a Graduate Fellow of the USC Center for Law, History, and Culture and served as the Managing Editor of the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.

    After graduating from law school, David completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy while working as a Habeas Corpus Law Clerk for the United States District Court for the Central District of California. His dissertation focused on issues in professional ethics faced by attorneys whose work is dedicated to civil rights and social change.

  • Valerie Gilpeer
    Attorney
    Valerie Gilpeer
    Attorney

    Valerie J. Gilpeer has been practicing law for over 30 years, over 8 of which have been with NAV. She completed her undergraduate work at University of California at Berkeley, received her Masters of Public Administration Degree from George Washington University and earned her law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Valerie finds her work at NAV very rewarding and is pleased to be associated with such a highly committed and knowledgeable group of professionals.

  • Eric Menyuk
    Attorney
    Eric Menyuk
    Attorney

    Before coming to NAV, Eric Menyuk acted in film and television for about 12 years, which paid for his law school education. Eric graduated in 1998 from Loyola Law School and for the next ten years practiced in a variety of areas. He started as a litigator and has tried a number of cases in both state and federal court. He spent the last few years working in-house, keeping the world safe for Fortune 500 companies.

    Eric has a son who has been in special education since fourth grade, and he often found himself in the place he now finds parents whom we represent. Through his advocate, who helped him with his son for many years, Eric arrived at Newman Aaronson Vanaman. He heard of NAV numerous times and knew that when it came to advocating for children’s education rights, NAV was the best place to be. So, when an opportunity arose for him to work with Valerie Vanaman, he jumped at it.

    Eric really enjoys the people he works with and the clients he represents. Making a significant difference in people’s lives gives him a feeling of fulfillment that had been lacking in prior positions. In the corporate world, litigation can go on endlessly and the resolution, if there is one, has little effect on people’s lives. Eric now feels he is making a difference in people’s lives almost on a daily basis.

    Outside of work, Eric tries to spend as much time as he can with his family and friends. Whether it’s spending time with his wife of twenty years, Laurie, watching his daughter’s volleyball games or his son’s water polo matches, Eric treasures his family time.

  • Robert M. Myers
    Attorney
    Robert M. Myers
    Attorney

    Robert M. Myers grew up in Northern Orange County when there were more orange trees than people. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1972 and Loyola Law School in 1975. While at Loyola, he was editor-in-chief of the law review. He wrote Santa Monica’s rent control law as staff attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and served as Santa Monica City Attorney from 1981-1992. His private law practice focuses on complex civil rights issues and two post-conviction death penalty cases. He is lead counsel in the Chanda Smith class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District. and one of the lawyers on the legal team suing the Los Angeles Police Department for violently breaking up a lawful demonstration in MacArthur Park on May Day 2007. He serves as Campus Counsel for the Santa Monica Community College District.

    He is on the Executive Board of the National Lawyers Guild/Los Angeles Chapter and coordinates its legal observer program and military law clinic. He is also a founding board member of Death Penalty Focus, the leading organization in California seeking abolition of the death penalty.

    He is an outings leader with the Sierra Club, serves on the Management Committee of the Wilderness Training Committee and is Navigation Chair for the Leadership Training Committee.

  • Sharon Robinson
    Attorney
    Sharon Robinson
    Attorney

    Sharon Robinson (B.A. UCLA 1983; J.D. Loyola Law School 1989), served two years as a law clerk for U.S. District Court, Central District of California upon graduating from law school. After the clerkship, Sharon associated with the ACLU Foundation and honed her sense of justice for the under-represented. She first came to Newman Aaronson Vanaman in the mid-1990’s as a consulting attorney on the freeway callbox litigation, and associated full-time with the firm in 2005. Sharon finds personal and professional fulfillment in a practice merging civil rights and education for special needs children.

  • Bryan Winn
    Attorney
    Bryan Winn
    Attorney

    Bryan Winn joined the NAV team in May 2006. He has his undergraduate degree in Cinema and Multimedia Studies from California State University, Northridge and his J.D. from Whittier Law School. While working in film development at a management firm, Bryan decided to pursue a legal career which could provide him with the opportunity to make significant positive changes in the lives of others. While at Whittier Law School he participated in the Lanterman Special Education Clinic which instilled in him the passion to pursue a career in Special Education Law.

    Bryan is motivated by the desire to improve the future of each child’s life we represent. Bryan is married to a behavior therapist who works with children. He is a runner, an avid reader and a film aficionado. Bryan also enjoys traveling, attending plays and concerts.

  • Dina C. Kaplan, Esq.
    Attorney
    Dina C. Kaplan, Esq.
    Attorney

    Ms. Kaplan joined Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman in July 2017. Ms. Kaplan has been practicing law for more than 36 years. She has an extensive litigation  background and has been protecting the rights of children with disabilities for the past 22 years. She is excited to continue to concentrate her practice on special education litigation with the entire team at NAV!

    Ms. Kaplan is also the mother of Brandon, a young adult with multiple physical and developmental disabilities. Brandon has taught her a love she never knew existed! Since his birth, all of the good in h er life has happened because or about Brandon. Brandon continues to inspire Ms. Kaplan to be an outstanding advocate for children with special needs.

Our Staff

  • Arpine Ashikyan
    Arpine Ashikyan

    Arpine Ashikyan was studying for an Associate degree and tutoring Algebra at Los Angeles Valley College before she joined Newman Aaronson Vanaman in 1998. She is Joel Aaronson’s secretary and also does a variety of administrative tasks. Arpine enjoys working at NAV because each day is filled with different responsibilities. She is the person who is always here willing to lend her hand to learn new skills and assist others.

    Outside of work, Arpine cherishes her husband, Sarkis and her two daughters, Lisa and Julie. She is currently expecting a new addition to the family and is very excited to meet her new baby in August, 2009. Arpine is also currently studying at the University of LaVerne to get a B.A. in business administration. She is also pursuing a degree in educational administration.

  • Maria Austin
    Maria Austin

    Maria E. Austin has been with NAV since February 1991. After representing Maria and her daughter in a lengthy special education battle with a local school district which was resolved in Federal Court, Valerie Vanaman recruited Maria to join the NAV support staff. Leaving the boring full-charge bookkeeper’s career behind, Maria became a valuable member of NAV and has been lovingly nick-named the “Queen of Crap” of the office and Valerie’s “right and left hand” assistant.

    In January 2001, Maria became a Paralegal. She actually serves the office as a paralegal/parent advocate/legal assistant as well as one of the general “go to” persons. Maria has an adult daughter with special needs and has learned the special education system hands-on. Having gone through the system since 1985 and being under the tutelage of Valerie Vanaman, she brings to the office insight from a parent’s perspective. Because of this background she is able to counsel parents with compassion and not just legal terminology.

    Aside from experience in and knowledge of special education, Maria has the qualities of a strong memory and awesome recall, ability to replicate and impersonate a variety of environmental sounds and noises, as well as having a great sense of humor. Leisure activities include being with family – playing with her 3 whippets, watching movies, dining, cooking and traveling- on the road, in the air, by motor home, plane, boat or train. Some day in the future she dreams of getting back to drawing and painting for relaxation and perhaps attend a culinary arts school just because she can.

  • Betty Barnes
    Betty Barnes

    Betty Barnes has been working at Newman Aaronson Vanaman since 1999 and provides support for two attorneys, one of whom does litigation work. Betty likes that NAV provides a casual atmosphere that does not compromise the strong work ethic that each staff member has. She believe it is this quality that makes our firm so special and the workers so productive. Betty enjoys working closely with other support staff and feels it is very gratifying when getting the job done results in client’s happiness. She loves that her job ultimately goes towards the benefit of children.

  • John Chan
    John Chan

    After retiring from his previous job, John Chan obtained a paralegal certificate from UCLA Extension. He joined Newman Aaronson Vanaman in 2002 as a paralegal and works mostly on the litigation side of cases. John also attends IEPs as needed and works on various other projects for the office. John believes that the work he does is rewarding because of the benefits NAV helps obtain for children.

    John enjoys spending time at home with his several grandchildren.

  • Betty Gonzalez
    Betty Gonzalez

    Betty Gonzales starting working at Newman Aaronson Vanaman over 20 years ago. She manages the file room as well as doing other administrative tasks as assigned. Betty enjoys the close relationship she has with Valerie Vanaman who she has known and worked with for over 30 years. She also loves the relationships she has with her fellow co-workers and considers them family.

    Outside of work, Betty enjoys going out with friends and going to the gym. Her family is most important to her.

  • Joyelle Phillips Graden
    Joyelle Phillips Graden

    Joyelle Phillips Graden has worked at Newman Aaronson Vanaman since 1988. She started as a part time bookkeeper and after several years transitioned to the position of Office Manager. She works on everything that isn’t in the legal realm. Her responsibilities include billing, payroll, bookkeeping, staff management, technical and computer maintenance, system design, website updates and seminars as well as managing marketing for the firm.

    Working at NAV, with it’s close-knit staff and wonderful people, is a lot like working with a big family according to Joyelle. If you want to know how to do something on the computer, Joyelle is the person you ask. Her favorite saying is “Alls you gotta do is…”. She is a good motivator, very organized and a “reality-based” perfectionist. Joyelle is am active participant in the “eco-friendly” movement. She has turned NAV into a “green” workplace. We recycle all our paper, use real plates, utensils and cups in our kitchen and buy “green” office supplies .

    Joyelle got married to the love of her life, Jim Graden is March, 2008. She owns her own soap making company, www.madebymesoaps.com and is currently looking into making eco-friendly skincare products. She enjoys working out and has participated in several 50-mile bike rides and 60 miles 3 Day Cancer walks. Her beautiful daughter, Jessica, also works for firm.

  • Rose Karsian
    Rose Karsian

    Rose Karsian joined team NAV more than 20 years. She filled the position of receptionist and quickly developed her skills being promoted to Intake Coordinator and Administrative Legal Assistant. With her talent, Rose is considered to be a valuable asset working in a variety of roles in the office. She is kindly known as the voice of reason and sweetness quietly helping others behind the scenes. Rose loves her work and feels great knowing that NAV is helping out children who will be the future.

    Rose is married to her wonderful husband, Harry and has three children, Susie, Sam and Stevie. She volunteers at an Armenian church in Glendale and is involved in helping their youth group. She enjoys going to the movies with her husband and cooking elaborate meals for friends and family.

  • Edith Mnatsakanyan
    Edith Mnatsakanyan

    Edith Mnatsakanyan began working at Newman Aaronson Vanaman in 2002 as a receptionist. In 2005 she transitioned to a legal assistant and she currently works as a calendar clerk, helping to schedule hearing s and meditations for the attorneys in the office. She also provides secretarial support for Valerie Gilpeer.

    Edith loves kids and enjoys her work because of the help NAV provides to children and families Edith excels at challenges and helps with the PowerPoint presentations at our NAV talks. She just got married in February, 2009 and is enjoying decorating her new apartment. She is passionate about her family and friends and spends much of her time with them.

  • Jessica Phillips
    Jessica Phillips

    Jessica Phillips was a regular fixture at Newman Aaronson Vanaman at only six months old. Her mother Joyelle, is the Office Manager and would bring her into the office while she worked. As the years went on, Jessica began working at NAV as the relief receptionist during the summer. After she graduated from high school she began working at NAV full time as the main receptionist and was promoted to the Intake Coordinator.

    After a few years of working full time, she decided to move up north to attend college and study Psychology. Despite the fact that she lives so far away, she still has the amazing opportunity to be able to work from home and continue being our Intake Coordinator. She loves talking to parents and having the chance to help their children. She has always taken pride in being able to provide a friendly voice to parents in need of help. She loves that NAV is not only a close-knit second family to her, but also that she has the unique opportunity to work with such smart, caring, talented and giving people. Being surrounded by such amazing people has given her the drive to finish college and pursue a Master’s Degree in Psychology.

    Outside of work, Jessica enjoys being surrounded by loved ones and entertaining friends. One of the most important things she feels is living life to the fullest and working hard to fulfill her goals.

  • Erika Santamaria
    Erika Santamaria
  • Cindy Vega
    Cindy Vega

    Holding a job as a tax preparer could not have been more different than the work Cindy Vega currently is responsible for at NAV. Cindy was interested in supplementing her income and was hired to help out a couple of days a week. After two months, she was hooked and her position gradually became a full-time job since 2005. She has never looked back.

    Her duties include the organization and analysis of all records received from Districts and parents for students we represent. She prepares documents for IEPs, mediations, hearings and court trials as well as providing Spanish to English translation and transcription for our Spanish speaking clients. Cindy can be found helping everyone in the office with various administrative tasks.

    NAV is a good place to work. She benefitted from having a flexible work schedule allowing her to pursue, in her “spare time”, a Bachelor Degree in Business from California State University at Los Angeles. Cindy loves that NAV is a small firm with a “home” feel. She is a family-oriented person and feels family is the number one priority. That’s why she thinks it is so great that working at NAV is like having a new extended family.

  • Bobbie Westil
    Bobbie Westil

    Bobbie Westil grew up in Long Beach, California and is a product of the Long Beach Unified School District system. She graduated from San Francisco State College and returned to Southern California in order to attend graduate school. She earned a M.S. degree in Counseling and worked for over 15 years as a private vocational counselor. Following a stint as president of CHADD of the Conejo Valley, a support group for parents who have children with Attention Deficit Disorder, Bobbie began working at Newman Aaronson Vanaman in February 1995 as a paralegal. Although hired on a part-time basis she proved herself to be indispensable in a variety of areas including intakes and soon began working on a full time basis. She now represents parents at IEP meetings.

    Bobbie began attending IEP meetings shortly after she began working at NAV and learned in a “trial by fire” fashion and under the supervision of Valerie Vanaman. She now spends most days representing parents and advocating at IEP meetings attempting to resolve conflicts in order to prevent having to file for due process. Her counseling background has been invaluable as she attempts to negotiate on behalf of parents.

    In addition to attending IEP meetings, she still processes intake calls from potential clients and provides general information to parents as they begin the “IEP/Special Education process”. She works with all the attorneys in the office and assists them as they prepare for Mediations and Due Process Hearings. After 13 years, Bobbie still enjoys her work and feels that everyday brings new challenges and learning opportunities.

    Now that Bobbie’s children are grown, she has time to garden, read, cook and enjoy good wine. She also has the opportunity to travel to Mexico where she and her husband own a small Bed and Breakfast Hotel outside of Guadalajara.

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