Our Members
S. Daniel Harbottle   |   Jennifer Fant   |   Alefia Mithaiwala  |  Tracy Petznick Johnson
Ellie Austin   |  Sydney Blaauw   |   Catherine Hegdale   |   Julie Nakasaki   |  Deanna Romero

S. Daniel Harbottle, JD, PhD

Mr. Harbottle practices in both State and Federal courts in California and nationwide, as well as in the administrative law settings unique to the practice of Education Law, and he has succeeded on several occasions in ushering in new law in his area. Dan also provides ongoing legal consultation to numerous school districts, and conducts frequent seminars and workshops regarding Education Law.

Prior to founding HLG, Dan was the Chairman of the Education Law Practice Group at Rutan & Tucker, LLP, Orange County’s oldest and largest law firm. Mr. Harbottle practiced law with Rutan & Tucker for 18 years, and was an equity partner for his last 11 years there.

After graduating with his BA and MA Phi Beta Kappa from Purdue University, Dan received his JD Summa Cum Laude from Indiana University, where he also served as an Editor of the Indiana Law Review. Dan also holds a PhD in Educational Foundations which he received from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1995. His dissertation involved application of U.S. Constitutional Law in the context of public education.

At Purdue University, Mr. Harbottle taught Biology and American History, and at the University of Michigan, he taught Educational Foundations and Law. Mr. Harbottle has also served as an adjunct Professor of Law at Chapman University School of Law.

Mr. Harbottle was selected in August 2009 to serve a two-year term on the California Office of Administrative Hearings Advisory Committee, which advises the Office of Administrative Hearings on special education due process and mediation procedures. Mr. Harbottle’s service with the Advisory Committee will provide the firm with an enhanced opportunity to serve the special education legal community.

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Jennifer Fant, JD, MA, MS

Ms. Fant, prior to co-founding HLG, worked for over a decade as a special education teacher and program specialist in Southern California school districts. Ms. Fant holds Masters degrees in both Clinical Psychology and Special Education, and a law degree from Loyola University. In September 2008, Ms. Fant joined Mr. Harbottle, providing legal representation to Southern California school districts.

Prior to joining Dan in legal practice, Jennifer was already well known throughout Southern California school districts for her work as a special education program specialist. Jennifer was instrumental in the founding, development and maintenance of the autism programming in one of Southern California’s largest and most populous school districts. She, along with Mr. Harbottle and other team members, made well-received presentations at the annual ACSA Conference in Monterey, California explaining the fundamentals of this program.

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Alefia Mithaiwala, JD, Ed.M.

Ms. Mithaiwala joined the Harbottle Law Group in January, 2011. She earned her Bachelor's degree from Duke University and her Master's Degree in Education, with a focus on Special Education, from Harvard University in 2002. Ms. Mithaiwala then earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Georgia, cum laude, in 2005.

Prior to her arrival in California, Ms. Mithaiwala practiced special education law for over five years in Missouri and Illinois. In that capacity, she provided legal consultation and representation to public school district clients on compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ms. Mithaiwala has also published in several prominent education journals, magazines, and newsletters, and has conducted numerous trainings and seminars across the country in the area of special education law.

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Tracy Petznick Johnson, JD

Ms. Johnson joined Harbottle Law Group in October, 2011. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and her Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where she earned membership in the Order of the Coif. Throughout law school, Tracy focused her studies on the way law affects youth within the dependency, delinquency, and educational systems. She served as an Educational Surrogate for a foster youth diagnosed with emotional disturbance, and in that role became familiar with the state and federal legal structures for such students. She also co-directed two of Berkeley Law’s service programs for first year law students, Advocates for Youth Justice and Juvenile Hall Outreach. Prior to law school, Ms. Johnson worked in grant-making with a Northern California foundation that funded effective afterschool programming for preteens.

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Ellie Austin, JD

Ms. Austin joined Harbottle Law Group in September, 2012. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, magna cum laude, from Humboldt State University, and her Juris Doctorate from the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She received an award for Outstanding Public Interest Student from the Philadelphia Bar Association upon graduation for her work coordinating programs with local law schools which allowed female youth in Pennsylvania to access the court system without parental consent. During her second summer of law school, Ellie volunteered in Thailand for three months teaching English to Thai schoolchildren and preparing lesson plans on Thai law for refugee women seeking a safe haven from Burma. She spent her sophomore year of undergraduate work at Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she played for the women’s soccer team and hosted a number of soccer camps for local, underprivileged youth in the city. In addition, Ellie comes from a family of special education professionals, and is intimately aware of the personal impact of special ed. disputes on educators and school administrators.

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Sydney Blaauw, JD

Ms. Blaauw joined the Harbottle Law Group in November, 2013. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Women and Gender Studies from the University of California, Davis. Ms. Blaauw then earned her Juris Doctor, with an emphasis in Advocacy and Dispute Resolution, from Chapman University School of Law.

During her second year as a law student, Ms. Blaauw served as the law clerk for the General Counsel of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Through this position, she gained first-hand experience with special education cases and supported the General Counsel’s office in its representation of the district. As a second and third year law student, Ms. Blaauw volunteered to mentor incoming law students and undergraduate students with an interest in pursuing a legal career. She enjoyed mentoring other students so much that she created and implemented a mentoring program for minority law students during her presidency of Chapman Law’s Minority Law Students Association. As an undergraduate, Ms. Blaauw also worked as a Peer Advising Counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program where she provided academic and social counseling to the student body with the goal of improving retention rates of underprivileged students.

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Catherine Hegdale

Ms. Hegdale joined Harbottle Law Group in August 2011. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, and her Master’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of California at Irvine, where she is currently pursuing a certificate in paralegal studies. At UC Irvine, Catherine taught classes at the undergraduate level. Coming from a family of educators, including special educators, Ms. Hegdale has always been committed to education, working with youth programs, after school environments, and high school summer internships.

Prior to joining Harbottle Law Group, Catherine enjoyed a successful career as an architectural lighting designer. In addition to ten years of management experience, she has also designed and administered architectural lighting projects both internationally and locally in the U.S. for such venues as museums, educational touring exhibits, grand resorts and communities, arenas and live events.

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Julie Nakasaki

Ms. Nakasaki joined Harbottle Law Group in April, 2012. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Riverside and her certificate in paralegal studies from the University of California, Irvine. During her undergraduate studies, she became an Academic Peer Advisor.

Prior to joining Harbottle Law Group, Ms. Nakasaki spent several years as a substitute teacher in southern California schools. This experience allowed her the flexibility to teach in various classroom settings and learning environments. Julie taught in several different special education programs for students from kindergarten through high school with varying degrees of educational needs.

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Deanna Romero

Ms. Romero brings to Harbottle Law Group over 10 years of comprehensive experience providing assistance to attorneys practicing in various areas of education law. Deanna has collaborated with legal professionals in providing high quality client service to over 60 school districts throughout Southern California. She has broad and ongoing experience in personnel, pupil services, construction, real property, and special education matters. The majority of her experience and her passion is in special education. One of her key assets is developing and maintaining great working relationships with the firm’s clients. Like all member of HLG, client service is her top priority. Deanna also works closely and collaboratively with the California Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) and the state and federal courts in which HLG practices, and is highly knowledgeable regarding the filing and e-filing procedures for those courts, as well as OAH.

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