The executive office is comprised of Executive Officer Jennifer P. Shaffer, Chief Counsel Jessica Blonien, Chief Deputy of Program Operations Tara Doetsch, Chief Hearing Officer Rhonda Skipper-Dotta, Chief Psychologist Cliff Kusaj, and Chief of the Investigations Brian Kelley.
Jennifer P. Shaffer
Executive Officer Jennifer P. Shaffer is the administrative head of the Board who is responsible for managing the daily operations and implementing policies.
Jennifer Shaffer was appointed executive officer for the Board of Parole Hearings by Governor Jerry Brown on June 10, 2011. She most recently served as the Board’s Chief of Hearing Operations for the Northern Region. Previously, she served in the Bureau of Independent Review with the Office of the Inspector General, as special assistant inspector general from 2006 to 2008 and then as senior assistant inspector general from 2008 to January 2011. Ms. Shaffer served with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as assistant director in the Office of Victim and Survivor Services from 2004 to 2005 and then as assistant secretary in the Office of Victim and Survivor Services from 2005 to 2006. Ms. Shaffer served as counsel and analyst for California Performance Review in 2004, as staff counsel and deputy executive officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board from 1997 to 2004, and counsel to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety in 1996. This position requires Senate confirmation.
Chief Counsel Jessica Blonien oversees the board’s legal division, which is responsible for providing legal counsel to the executive officer, commissioners, and board staff. Ms. Blonien is also responsible for reviewing the board’s parole suitability hearings decisions, coordinating the board’s monthly executive board meetings, and providing commissioner and deputy commissioner training.
Jessica Blonien was appointed chief counsel at the Board of Parole Hearings on June 27, 2019. She served as supervising deputy attorney general at the California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General from 2008 to 2019, where she was a deputy attorney general from 1998 to 2008. This position does not require Senate confirmation.
Chief Deputy of Program Operations
Chief Deputy of Program Operations Tara Doetsch is responsible for the board’s administrative support services, including the scheduling of parole suitability hearings, contracts, procurement, the board’s budget, transcription services, appointment of inmate counsel for parole suitability hearings and severe mental health disorder hearings, pre-hearing audits, correspondence, facilities, training, and fleet management. In addition, Ms. Doetsch also oversees the board’s executive analysis unit, which is responsible for analyzing legislation and managing the board’s information technology systems, website, workload projections, and data.
Chief Hearing Officer
Chief Hearing Officer Rhonda Skipper-Dotta oversees the board’s deputy commissioners and associate chief deputy commissioners, who handle pre-hearing motions, parole discharge reviews, certification, placement, and annual hearings for persons with a mental health disorder, parole suitability hearings, and parole reviews for nonviolent offenders. Ms. Skipper-Dotta is also responsible for the board’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance unit.
Emily Wisniewski (A)
Chief Psychologist Emily Wisniewski (A) oversees the board’s Forensic Assessment Division, which is comprised of forensic clinical psychologists and senior psychologists responsible for conducting risk assessments for persons scheduled for parole suitability hearings and for conducting clinical screenings of persons to determine if they are sexually violent predators.
Chief of Investigations
Chief of Investigations Brian Kelley oversees the board’s Offender Investigations and Screening Division, which is responsible for conducting the board’s investigations. These investigations include pardon, reprieve, and commutation cases. Other investigations include death penalty investigations, requests for medical parole and compassionate release, Intimate Partner Battering/Battered Woman Syndrome investigations, and investigations arising out of the parole suitability hearing process. The Division also screens the background and history of persons to identify potential Sexually Violent Predators and processes holds for completion of the Sexually Violent Predator screening process. The division is also responsible for the state’s International Prisoner Transfer Program, and for verifying parole plans once a person is granted parole. Finally, the division is responsible for the board’s security at public meetings and provides executive protection.