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New executive director to take the reins at Disability Rights Ohio

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 24, 2020

She has been a part of the Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) team since 2009, now Kerstin Sjoberg is preparing to take the reins as executive director of the nonprofit organization, which advocates for the human, civil and legal rights of Ohioans with disabilities.
Sjoberg, who currently serves as director of advocacy and assistant executive director, will assume the role on March 1. She replaces longtime executive director Michael Kirkman, who is retiring after close to 40 years of advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities.
“There is no one better prepared to lead this agency than Kerstin,” Kirkman said in a press release. “She is a respected leader within DRO and has an established rapport with the staff. She has the knowledge, skills and connections that are essential for this position and is ready to lead on day one.”
In the press release, Jennilee Mohler, president of DRO’s board of directors echoed similar sentiments, adding Sjoberg is “recognized and respected both in Ohio and nationally as a leader in disability rights advocacy. And, she works collaboratively to get things done. She is the right person to lead DRO into the future.”
During her tenure at DRO Sjoberg successfully partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice on two major cases and is the lead attorney in the community integration class action lawsuit, Ball v. DeWine. The preliminary settlement in that case better informs Ohioans with developmental disabilities about their options for living and working in the community.
“I am excited to take on my new responsibilities as executive director,” said Sjoberg. “I love my work and am excited to continue to carry out the important mission of this organization.”
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Sjoberg grew up in Columbus, attending The Ohio State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in international studies and Spanish.
After obtaining her juris doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2003, she spent a year working as a judicial clerk for U.S. District Court Judge John Holschuh, who served in the Southern District of Ohio.
In 2004, she became an associate in the Columbus office of Jones Day. She said it was during her time in the firm’s trial practice group that she developed her passion for handling discrimination cases.
“My first year at Jones Day I worked on a civil rights case pro bono,” she said. “It was a Fair Housing Act discrimination case. The federal trial lasted six weeks and at the time the $10.8 million verdict was the largest in a Fair Housing Act case.
“After that, I knew I wanted to work on civil rights cases full time.”
In January 2009, she became the legal director of Disability Rights Ohio. Four years later she was promoted to director of advocacy and assistant executive director.
“My current position involves managing legal and client work,” said Sjoberg. “As executive director, I will have a more diverse range of responsibilities.
“My focus will be on leading the organization and developing our strategic vision while maintaining the overall integrity of the organization. I will also be responsible for grant compliance, fiscal integrity, external and media relations and our administrative structure.”
Sjoberg will be working closely with the organization’s community partners to fulfill DRO’s vision that Ohioans with disabilities enjoy the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Since the public announcement on Jan. 20, Sjoberg has been meeting regularly with Kirkman to get up to speed on her new position.
“Our organization plays a key role in Ohio by addressing the legal issues faced by Ohioans with disabilities,” said Sjoberg. “We are unique in that there is no other legal advocacy organization that focuses on disability rights in the state.
“We have many fantastic programs already in place,” she said. “My goal is to further the reach of our advocacy to help Ohioans with disabilities to solve daily problems and to address barriers that impede access to services and the community, including healthcare, housing and employment.”
In addition to her work at Disability Rights Ohio, Sjoberg serves as a peer reviewer for protection and advocacy organizations and is a former chair of the National Disability Rights Network’s Legal Strategy Workgroup.
From 2009-2011, she chaired the Ohio State Bar Association Access to Justice Committee and previously served as chair of the Columbus Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee.
She is also a former adjunct professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
“I truly enjoy the work that I do and more importantly it has a positive impact,” she said. “It is a privilege and honor to be entrusted with the leadership of Disability Rights Ohio.”