Public Interest Law Center

Staff Biographies

Deirdre von Dornum, Assistant Dean for Public Service
BA University of California, Los Angeles
MA (Classics), Princeton University
JD Columbia Law School

Deirdre von Dornum joined NYU School of Law from the Federal Defenders of New York, where she served from 2002 to 2013, first as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Southern and Eastern Districts, and from 2011-2013, as the Deputy Attorney-in-Charge for the Eastern District of New York. At Federal Defenders, Deirdre advocated for indigent clients charged with federal crimes, and handled a wide range of cases from investigation to appeal. She supervised numerous attorneys in trials, hearings, motion practice, sentencing litigation, and client counseling, as well as investigators and social workers in litigation and client support. Deirdre has also co-taught the yearlong Federal Defender Clinic at NYU Law, and taught as a guest lecturer at Columbia Law School in evidence, criminal procedure, and sentencing.

Prior to joining Federal Defenders, Deirdre was a litigation associate at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr in New York, where she specialized in white collar criminal defense and securities litigation. She also did extensive pro bono work during that time, including assisting the Capital Defenders of New York in LaValle v. New York and representing immigrants in proceedings in Immigration Court and before the Second Circuit.

Deirdre earned a BA in Classics from the University of California at Los Angeles, a MA from Princeton University, where she was a doctoral candidate in Classics, and a JD from Columbia Law School, where she was a Review and Essay Editor for the Columbia Law Review. After graduating, she clerked for Judge Anita B. Brody of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court.

Sarah Hudson-Plush, Career Counselor
BA University of Michigan
JD Cardozo School of Law

Sarah joined PILC, where she specializes in non-profit domestic organizations and post-graduate fellowships, as a part-time counselor in February 2012. After law school, Sarah was a Skadden Fellow at the Center for Family Representation, where she completed a project focused on the educational rights of indigent parents, including teen parents, involved in all stages of the child protective system. After completing her fellowship, Sarah remained at CFR, where she represented parents in neglect and abuse proceedings in Manhattan Family Court. Immediately prior to joining PILC, Sarah worked for a short time as a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New York, where she represented families in special education matters and supported impact litigation work. Between college and law school, Sarah was a public school teacher, first as a Teach for America corps member in Newark, NJ, and then at a charter school in Hoboken, NJ.

Heidi Gilchrist, Associate Director
BA cum laude, Yale University
JD Columbia Law School

Heidi Gilchrist is the Associate Director of Academic Careers Program and Government Service. She also teaches legal writing. She was previously a Managing Editor at Wordsworth Publishing. She was an Analyst for the federal government and served on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City. She was an associate at Cleary Gottlieb. Ms. Gilchrist served as a law clerk to the Honorable Judge Patterson in the Southern District of New York and was a Fulbright Scholar in Damascus, Syria.

Jorge Luis Paniagua Valle, Department Administrator
BA cum laude, Loyola University Chicago
MPA NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (Expected May 2015)

Jorge Luis joined the Public Interest Law Center as its Department Administrator in August 2011. Before that, he served as a conflict resolution associate and outreach coordinator at The Center For Conflict Resolution at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles for several years, where he conducted bilingual mediations and telephone conciliations for indigent mono-lingual Spanish-speakers. At PILC, he works closely with the Assistant Dean for Public Service administering the events and programs for PILC as well as coordinating the Root-Tilden-Kern Program. He is currently an MPA candidate in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy at the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Rachel Peckerman, Associate Director
BA magna cum laude, University of Pennsylvania
JD New York University

Rachel joined the Public Interest Law Center in March 2010. She specializes in domestic non-profit and criminal justice counseling and organizes the annual Legal Career Fair. After law school Rachel spent several years working as a public defender, first at New York County Defender Services, and then at the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn. As a public defender, Rachel represented hundreds of indigent clients accused of misdemeanors and felonies. Rachel acted as lead counsel in jury trials, as well as at school suspension, sex offender registration, parole revocation, and housing hearings. Rachel has served as a Career Consultant at New York Law School, where she specialized in working with public interest students. She is a Trial Skills teacher for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. She completed the professional course in culinary arts at the French Culinary Institute, and is currently completing an MSW at Silver School of Social Work.

Sara Rakita, Associate Director
BA magna cum laude, American University
MIA Columbia University
JD cum laude, New York University

As Associate Director of PILC, Sara specializes in international public interest law and also administers the summer public interest grants. Sara has worked extensively on human rights and the rule of law, primarily in Africa. Before joining PILC, she served as a long-term consultant to the Ford Foundation, where she was responsible for piloting and setting up TrustAfrica, a new African grant-making foundation that is now based in Senegal. After graduating from law school, Sara was the first NYU Fellow at Human Rights Watch and worked there four more years, including two years as the organization’s representative in Rwanda. Sara has also consulted for Amnesty International, Global Rights, USAID, and the Austrian development agency. While a student at NYU, Sara was awarded the ILC Fellowship to summer at the United Nations International Law Commission in Geneva. She has published numerous articles, reports, and chapters on issues related to human rights and Africa. Sara is fluent in French and has a working knowledge of Spanish and Russian.