Staff Directory

Samantha Bosalavage – Outreach and Education

Samantha graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Sociology and Social Policy & Practice, as well as minors in Philosophy and Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship. She has interned at the Orleans Public Defender, the National Criminal Justice Association, and a re-entry nonprofit called Defy Ventures.

Mara Abramson - Client Welfare Coordinator and Avodah Corps Member

Mara operates PJI’s Client and Family Assistance Program. She works closely with prisoners and their families to create and maintain meaningful family relationships and provide prisoners with basic hygiene materials, educational materials, and medical needs.

Ben Cohen – Of Counsel

Ben Cohen has been with The Capital Appeals Project since its founding in 2001 and the founding of The Promise of Justice Initiative in 2012. He holds a JD from Michigan ’96, and has worked with the AIDS Law Project (RSA), the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center.

Beth Compa- Staff Attorney

Beth Compa joined PJI in 2012 following a fellowship year with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, where she examined the effects of privatization on Georgia’s prison and misdemeanor probation systems. Beth holds a B.A. in History from NYU (2004) and a J.D. from Yale (2011), where she was Editor in Chief of the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, a director of the Rebellious Lawyering conference, and a member of the Detention & Human Rights clinic.


Calvin Duncan- Project Director – Light of Justice Project

Calvin Duncan is the Project Director for the Light of Justice Project and a 2013 Soros Justice Fellow. Calvin’s project focuses on reducing the procedural barriers prisoners face in securing justice for their cases.  Calvin Duncan, who was wrongfully convicted, completed paralegal training at Northwest Missouri Community College from 1992-1993 and worked as a paralegal (Inmate counsel substitute) for 21 years; nineteen years were spent working with men on Death Row. He assisted in winning the freedom of several individuals who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and sentenced to lengthy sentences. He is currently enrolled in the Tulane Paralegal Degree Bachelors program, teaches GED classes, works in the community to foster prisoner reentry and consults at Tulane University’s Law Clinic. 

Sidney Garmon – Project Director- Abolition

Sidney Garmon holds a BA in Theology from Spring Hill College and a Masters in Social Work from Tulane University. Previously, Sidney taught at the high school level, and worked with individuals who were incarcerated and battling substance abuse. She works alongside exonerees, murder victims’ family members, families of death row inmates, and community leaders throughout the state to push for an end to the death penalty in Louisiana.


Mercedes Montagnes- Director

Mercedes earned a B.A. in Urban Studies from Barnard College, and received her J.D. from Harvard Law School. While in law school law school, she interned for civil rights and capital defense attorney Robert McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi, and for the Orleans Public Defenders Office. Ms. Montagnes clerked for Judge Carl Barbier in the Eastern District of Louisiana and Judge Roger Gregory at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for the United States. Ms. Montagnes steers projects which focus on inhumane conditions of confinement, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, poor representation, race discrimination, and ineffective resource allocation.  

Chris Murell - Executive Director

Chris graduated summa cum laude from Emory University (B.A. Philosophy) and obtained his J.D. at New York University School of Law. Chris was awarded an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellowship while at N.Y.U and also worked with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Immediately prior to joining the Promise of Justice Initiative, Chris worked at the Orleans Public Defenders for seven years, including co-founding their capital trial division in 2012. Before that, Chris completed a two and a half year fellowship attorney position at the Georgia Capital Defender, representing capital trial defendants across the state. During law school, Chris worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, on federal capital trials in Alabama, and served as a research assistant for Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam.

Zain Tewalthomas- Administrative Director

Zain has been the Promise of Justice Initiative’s Administrative Director since September 2013. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of New Orleans. 




Board of Directors


Judge Calvin Johnson (Retired), Chairperson

Calvin Johnson is currently the Executive Director of Metropolitan Human Services District and an adjunct Law Professor at Loyola University School of Law. Before retiring, he was District Court Judge for Orleans Parish Criminal District Court from 1990 through 2007, where he served as Deputy Chief Judge from 1999 to 2000 and Chief Judge from 2004 to 2006. Before becoming a judge, he worked as a Staff Attorney for Orleans Parish Indigent Defender’s Program.

Judge Johnson is a past president of the Louis A. Martinet Society and the founder of Orleans Parish Mental Health Treatment Center. He is the recipient of Louis A. Martinet Society’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 1985 and Distinguished Jurist Award in 2009. In 1992, he received the Justice Albert Tate Award. He is also the recipient of the 2008 Louisiana ACLU’s Benjamin Smith Award.

Soren Gisleson, Treasurer

Soren E. Gisleson is a partner of Herman, Herman & Katz , L.L.C. Mr. Gisleson attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned a bachelor of arts in Philosophy in 1993. After receiving his B.A. from the University of Colorado, Mr. Gisleson attended Loyola University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate in May of 1999. While at Loyola Law School, Mr. Gisleson became a member of Law Review in 1998 and published his casenote, Graham v. Willis-Knighton Medical Center: The Dissipation of Statutorily Admitted Liability in Medical Malpractice, 44 LOY. L. REV. 315 (1999). Mr. Gisleson served as articles editor of the Law Review from 1998-99, soliciting and editing legal writings ranging from death penalty litigation to environmental regulation and from constitutional law to admiralty. In 1999, Mr. Gisleson was also named to the National Law School Dean’s List.

Immediately upon graduation, Mr. Gisleson clerked for the Honorable Carl J. Barbier, District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

In the Fall of 2000, Mr. Gisleson became an associate with Herman, Herman & Katz. Mr. Gisleson handled a variety of cases including criminal pro bono cases. Since 2005, Mr.Gisleson has focused his practice on first party insurance cases on behalf of homeowners and businesses, and has even undertaken a special appointment by the State of Louisiana to prosecute an antitrust case against the insurance industry for their claims handling practices after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mr. Gisleson has also represented the New Orleans City Council in civil litigation involving utility, zoning and other regulatory matters.


Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero, Jr. (Retired)

Pascal F. Calogero, Jr., a native of New Orleans, was four times elected and re-elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court from a district comprised of the seven parishes in and around metropolitan New Orleans area. Retired Chief Justice Calogero graduated from St. Aloysius High School in New Orleans (1949) and Loyola University School of Law (1954), where he graduated first in his class and received his LLB. In 1982 he earned a Master of Laws Degree in judicial process from University of Virginia. He served in the U. S. Army 1954 – 1957 in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps – separated with rank of Captain. A law clerk for the judges of the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans for one year, he formed a law firm in 1958 with Moon Landrieu and Charles A. Kronlage, Jr. He practiced law with the firm of Landrieu, Calogero and Kronlage until 1968, then with the firm of Calogero and Kronlage until 1972 when he was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was elected three more times where he served a total of 36 years, 18 of them as Chief Justice. He retired at the end of his final term in office on December 31, 2008. Upon his retirement Mr. Calogero had served longer than any other justice in the history of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

President of the student editorial board of the Loyola Law Review, he has authored articles in law reviews and legal periodicals and lectured to law classes at the University of New Orleans, Harvard Law School and Loyola Law School. He was the recipient of Louisiana Bar Foundation’s 1991 Distinguished Jurist Award. He has been selected as a member of LSU’s Law Center’s Order of Coif and Hall of Fame and has received numerous awards including being named the 1995 Distinguished National Jurist by the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis; the national 1995 Judge Bob Jones Memorial Award, presented annually to a judge by the American Judges Association for significant contribution to judicial education, in 2007 the American Judicature Society, awarded the Chief Justice the Fourth Annual Dwight D. Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence, an award presented annually to a state judge of a trial or appellate court who has had a career of distinguished judicial service. The Francophone Section of the Louisiana State Bar presented The Judge Allen M. Babineaux International Civil Law Symposium Celebrating Louisiana’s Rich Legal Heritage and honored Four Heroes of Civil Law in Louisiana, namely François-Xavier Martin, Albert Tate, Jr., James L. Dennis, and Pascal F. Calogero, Jr.

Following the conclusion of his fourth term in office, the Chief Justice has returned to the practice of law in association, of counsel, with the Law Firm of Ajubita, Leftwich and Salzer, with a practice primarily as a consultant and in handling of writs and appeals. He has been successfully practicing law for the past four years in association with the Ajubita Law Firm and continues to do so.

Jancy Hoeffel, Secretary

Professor Hoeffel is the Catherine D. Pierson Associate Professor of Law at Tulane Law School. She joined the Tulane law faculty in 1999. After graduating from Stanford Law School, she clerked in Chicago for a federal district court judge. Professor Hoeffel then joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she remained for six years, working as trial attorney, staff attorney supervisor, and appellate attorney. Subsequently, she entered private practice in Denver, Colorado, where she engaged in criminal and civil litigation. Professor Hoeffel teaches in the areas of criminal law and procedure, the death penalty, evidence, and law and gender. She was the recipient in 2005 of the Felix Frankfurter Distinguished Teaching Award, conferred each year by the graduating class. Professor Hoeffel served as Vice Dean of the Law School for three years from 2009 - 2012. She has also served on the Louisiana Public Defender Board and the Innocence Project New Orleans Board.

Denise LeBoeuf

Denny LeBoeuf has been the Director of the ACLU’s John Adams Project since 2008, participating in the defense of the capitally charged Guantanamo detainees. From 2011-2013 she was Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, heading the organization’s integrated advocacy to achieve abolition by litigation, legislation, communications and policy change.  

In 2006 Ms. LeBoeuf served as the Chair of the Orleans Public Defenders Board, where she assisted in the effort to re-establish and reform indigent defense in post-Katrina New Orleans. She also served as a Federal Habeas Corpus Resource Counsel, providing consultation to federal defenders, Capital Habeas Units, and panel attorneys representing death-sentenced inmates in federal habeas proceedings, and was the founding director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, the first state-funded capital defender office in Louisiana.  She has been a capital defender for 25 years, representing persons facing the death penalty at trial and in state and federal post-conviction proceedings.  She teaches and consults with capital defense teams nationally.

Wilbert Rideau

Wilbert Rideau is a writer, lecturer, and expert on criminal behavior, the world of prison (prison culture, sexual violence, journalism & censorship), capital defendants and the death row experience. Since 2008, he has coordinated the Life Support Project for the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project; and since 2006, has served as faculty for continuing legal education programs and as consultant to capital defense teams with “difficult” clients.

From 1961-2005, Mr. Rideau was an inmate in the Louisiana prison system. While incarcerated, he became editor of The Angolite, the prisoner-produced newsmagazine, and was the first prisoner in American penal history to win freedom from censorship. Over the next quarter century, he won many of the nation’s highest journalism awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award, for his outstanding contributions to public understanding of the criminal justice and prison systems. In 1979, he became the first prisoner ever to receive the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for an investigative exposé, “Conversations with the Dead,” that resulted in the release of a number of long-term inmates “lost” in the Louisiana prison system. In 1984, he was selected to participate in an unprecedented nationally televised dialogue with Chief Justice Warren Burger of the Supreme Court on ABC-TV’s Nightline. In March 1993, Life magazine called him “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America.” That same year, he ventured into broadcast journalism, producing award-winning reports for national radio and television. In 1996, he became the only prisoner ever to receive the Louisiana Bar Association’s highest journalistic honor for a documentary film he co-produced, Final Judgment: The Execution of Antonio James. In 1998, he co-directed a documentary, The Farm: Angola, USA, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. He is the co-editor of The Wall Is Strong: Corrections in Louisiana, a textbook now in its fourth edition; Life Sentences, an anthology of articles from The Angolite; and In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance, his autobiography.

Michael Rubenstein

Mr. Rubenstein is a litigator with a diverse commercial practice encompassing business bankruptcy, complex business litigation, and criminal law. His bankruptcy practice is largely, though not exclusively, devoted to the representation of creditors in complex reorganizations. He routinely represents leading financial institutions throughout Texas and Louisiana. 

Mr. Rubenstein has extensive experience in general business litigation and government enforcement proceedings. He also has substantial arbitration experience. In both the criminal and civil contexts, Mr. Rubenstein has managed complex and difficult electronic discovery projects. 

Also, by order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Mr. Rubenstein represented an inmate on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. This representation resulted in a compromise with the State whereby the client was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and a life sentence. In recognition of this work, Mr. Rubenstein received the Camille Gravel Pro Bono Award from the New Orleans Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the firm received the Beacon of Justice Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Andrea Armstrong

 Andrea Armstrong is an Associate Professor at Loyola College of Law where she teaches constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and race and the law. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School, her Masters in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and her Bachelor of Arts from New York University. Prior to joining Loyola’s faculty, Ms. Armstrong clerked for the Honorable Helen G. Berrigan in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Ms. Armstrong litigated prisoner civil rights cases as a Thomas Emerson Fellow and researched international human rights issues for the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Center on International Cooperation, and the United Nations. She has published articles on prison conditions, reparations, peacebuilding, and pre-emptive war.

Mark Cunningham

Mark Cunningham is a partner with the Corporate Compliance and White Collar Defense Team. He maintains an active national trial and appellate practice focused on antitrust, intellectual property, export control, and securities disputes and has been annually recognized by Benchmark LitigationSuper LawyersThe Best Lawyers in America, and New Orleans CityBusiness for his trial work and leadership in the New Orleans legal community. The attorneys of Louisiana recently elected Mr. Cunningham to serve as the 2015-2016 president of the Louisiana State Bar Association.

Mr. Cunningham serves as primary outside antitrust counsel for companies in a wide range of industries, including the energy, petrochemical, and healthcare sectors. His recent significant antitrust engagements include serving as lead counsel for Stewart Enterprises, Inc. before the Federal Trade Commission in connection with its $1.4 billion acquisition by Service Corporation International. He also recently defeated an application for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against an international recycling concern charged with federal antitrust violations.  

Nilay Vora

Nilay Vora is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on complex civil litigation and criminal defense. He has served as lead trial counsel and lead appellate counsel. Nilay’s commercial litigation practice covers a wide array of cases for both plaintiffs and defendants in matters involving contract disputes, consumer class actions, employment and fiduciary duty matters, trade secrets, and intellectual property. He has successfully defended clients in criminal matters against both federal and state authorities and has handled internal investigations for large and small companies.

Nilay serves as lead trial and appellate counsel with PJI in their suit against officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary seeking injunctive relief for violations of the Eighth Amendment.  Nilay also received significant media coverage for his work with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center) for successfully representing San Gabriel Councilman Chin Ho Liao in an important civil rights matter involving the rights of individuals to run for and hold elected office. A fluent Spanish speaker, Nilay’s pro bono activities also include representation of clients seeking asylum in the United States.

Nilay is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served on the editorial board of the Harvard International Law Journal. His undergraduate education was completed at the University of Southern California, where he received degrees summa cum laude in Mathematics and Natural Science. Upon graduation from the University of Southern California, the British Government selected Nilay as one of forty Marshall Scholars awarded two years of study in England. He received an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and a MPhil in Management Science from the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.


About Us

Purus a sed adipiscing nunc enim? Cursus et, urna, auctor risus egestas nunc duis sed natoque lacus etiam! Velit enim est dapibus tempor enim tristique nec, placerat ut lundium mauris, porta, turpis rhoncus pulvinar phasellus duis? Eros mattis dignissim cursus, auctor auctor aliquam, placerat. Eu cum vut egestas, sit, nisi porttitor cursus enim vel pid a velit? Ac cras lundium. Adipiscing magna in? Rhoncus. Eu hac urna porta aenean magna risus parturient cursus tincidunt habitasse odio porttitor augue! Aliquam phasellus est scelerisque, nec lorem, dignissim egestas purus mid odio tincidunt. Egestas! Est, sed et augue parturient placerat turpis sit cras habitasse ut in auctor scelerisque tincidunt ridiculus non, nec risus non, eros aliquam dolor cum natoque elit magna amet magna.

Nunc cursus. Nunc purus quis dignissim scelerisque mauris platea et facilisis turpis ut dolor, ac augue tempor eu cum sociis sed ultricies et? Ut in nunc phasellus pid auctor placerat elit dis nascetur est nec etiam non amet ut mus, vut. Parturient enim magnis. Amet, et pulvinar lectus, nec? Pid. Pulvinar, rhoncus nunc tincidunt est dignissim, sagittis, ridiculus mus! Cursus magna etiam ut, odio sagittis enim aliquet, urna eros dolor a. Augue dapibus in urna elit, ridiculus quis augue? Turpis elementum nunc sed adipiscing sit augue! Nec ac, et. Turpis magna elementum, nec penatibus integer, augue enim nascetur odio, nec sagittis a penatibus sit augue magna cum lectus sed odio lorem mauris lundium diam adipiscing, phasellus mattis, tortor ridiculus.

Our Supporters

The Promise of Justice Initiative is proudly sponsored by the following

Avodah Logo Crescent City Classic
Bernie Kleina Logo Pure  Applied Logo
Soros Logo
Venture Justice


Who We Are

The Promise of Justice Initiative is a private, non-profit organization that advocates for humane, fair, and equal treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system.  

Our organization is composed of dedicated board members, staff and volunteers who are committed to our Constitution’s promises of justice and dismayed by society’s shortcomings in making good on them.

More Articles...