Our Team

RYLEE SOMMERS-FLANAGAN

Founder and Executive Director

Before founding Upper Seven Law, Rylee Sommers-Flanagan served as Montana Governor Steve Bullock's deputy chief legal counsel, not only defeating the Trump campaign in election-related litigation, but winning two other cases against the administration over the course of a few short months.  Rylee also worked as a fellow for the nationally renowned class action firm, Cohen Milstein, and as the Supreme Court Assistance Project Fellow for the Public Citizen Litigation Group.  Before that, she clerked for the Honorable Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, and for Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle and Judge Thomas Hogan, of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.  

Rylee graduated from Stanford Law School, where she served as president of the Stanford student chapter of the American Constitution Society.  She graduated magna cum laude from Emory University.  There, she founded Emory's Day On, a service day in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King.  She also has a creative writing degree from the University of St. Andrews.  Rylee is a fifth generation Montanan who grew up in Missoula and spent summers on the family's working ranch in Absarokee.

Publications: Rylee is the author of The Legal Story of Guantánamo North, 19 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 1169 (2017), and Our False Promise of Justice, Democracy Journal (Spring 2020).

Constance Van Kley

Litigation Director

Constance Van Kley grew up on the Iron Range of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she watched mining corporations create and then withdraw from small towns throughout the region, destroying livelihoods and landscapes.  She graduated from high school in Custer, South Dakota, a small town with a tourist economy in the Black Hills, and attended college in Minnesota.  Constance married a wildland firefighter, whose job as a smokejumper brought her to Montana.  When their first child was born prematurely, she and her husband were uninsured.  As a result of that experience, Constance and a group of hotshot firefighters organized a successful citizens’ movement, pushing the Obama administration to extend federal healthcare benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters and their families.

A nontraditional student with two children at home, Constance graduated first in her class from the University of Montana School of Law.  During her time in law school, she was elected Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Montana Law Review, participated in the Mediation and National Moot Court competition teams, and served as a teaching and research assistant.  After law school, she clerked for Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then-Chief Judge Dana L. Christensen of the District of Montana.  Constance worked in private practice before joining Upper Seven Law in July 2021.

Jamie Wattnem

Operations Director

Jamie Wattnem is a dynamic financial expert with a business degree from Montana State University and experience in government accounting, start-ups, and nonprofits. She is a master of business systems and thrives in roles that demand versatility. 

Through her work as an accountant with the State of Montana, Jamie honed her expertise in financial management, budgeting, and compliance. Her tenure in this role laid the groundwork for a keen understanding of financial intricacies in the public sector. In late 2020, Jamie began to work as a consultant, guiding diverse nonprofits to enhance their accounting and business processes. Jamie is a trusted advisor who excels in analyzing intricate financial systems and delivering tailored solutions.

Jamie’s Montana roots also run deep. Her great-great uncle, Forrest Anderson, served as Montana's Governor during a transformative era, overseeing Montana’s pivotal Constitutional Convention in the 1970s. Jamie's profound connection to Montana's heritage fuels her passion for Upper Seven’s mission: holding the powerful accountable and safeguarding the rights of ordinary citizens. She brings a personal commitment to this cause and is an essential support to our dedicated attorneys.

Dimitrios Tsolakidis

Staff Attorney

A native of Athens, Greece, Dimitrios moved to the United States when he was sixteen. After graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in Philosophy and Classics, he served in the Justice for Montanans AmeriCorps program and worked for the Montana Legal Services Association.

Dimitrios earned his J.D. with academic honors in 2021 from the University of Montana School of Law. During law school, he served as the teaching assistant for Civil Procedure and was elected co-Editor-in-Chief of the Montana Law Review. He was also a core member of the University of Montana National Lawyers Guild and a clinical intern for the Honorable Dana L. Christensen, United States District Court Judge for the District of Montana. Upon graduation, Dimitrios received the John P. Archer Service and Excellence in Law School award.

Dimitrios joined Upper Seven Law after practicing law at a regional civil defense firm. Prior to private practice, he clerked for the Honorable Beth Baker on the Montana Supreme Court.

Christopher Patalano

Staff Attorney

Christopher grew up on Long Island, New York. In 2009, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesleyan University where he focused on the study of literature, history, and philosophy. After graduating, he moved to Hartford, Connecticut to teach middle school English as part of Teach for America.

Christopher received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2014 and subsequently practiced civil litigation in New York. He moved to Montana in 2021 to pursue an MFA in creative writing and to teach undergraduate composition and fiction courses at the University of Montana. Upon completion of his MFA degree, Christopher joined Upper Seven Law as a staff attorney.

Mikaela Koski

Fellow

Mikaela Koski grew up in Columbus, Montana. She attended the University of Montana, earning degrees with high honors in both political science and history. After graduating, she returned home to Stillwater County and worked as the reporter at a small newspaper, primarily covering local schools and government. 

In 2022, Mikaela graduated magna cum laude from Penn State Law. While in law school, she served as president of the Penn State Law chapter of the American Constitution Society, as an articles editor for the Penn State Law Review, and as a research assistant. She also participated in the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic.

Mikaela joined Upper Seven Law after clerking for the Honorable Dirk Sandefur on the Montana Supreme Court.

Benji Glanz

Impact Associate

Benji Glanz grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, before heading to Brown University for college. He wrote his senior capstone on solitary confinement in the federal court system and graduated in 2023 with degrees in economics and international and public affairs. During his college summers, he worked at a start-up incubator in Tel Aviv and a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Benji is very excited to join Upper Seven Law and begin exploring Montana. After Upper Seven, he plans to attend law school and work in public interest law.

Our Board

Bill Jarosz

Board Chair

Bill Jarosz is a Founding Partner of Cartesian Capital Group, a global investment management firm headquartered in New York.  He started Cartesian’s office in Shanghai, China.  He also serves as Executive Director of Satellos Bioscience, a biotechnology firm focusing on novel treatments for skeletal muscle regeneration.  Bill grew up in Bozeman, Montana, and graduated from University of Montana.  He subsequently graduated from the Fletcher School at Tufts University with an M.A. in Law and Diplomacy and from Harvard Law School with a J.D., magna cum laude.  Before founding Cartesian, Bill practiced law in New York at Debevoise & Plimpton.

Bill is an avid outdoorsman who is grateful for the opportunities that Montana has provided.  He seeks to protect and preserve the sense of community that he believes lies at the root the Montana way of life and is honored to be part of the Upper Seven Law team.

Rachel CaRroll Rivas

Treasurer

Rachel Carroll Rivas is the Deputy Director of Research, Reporting and Analysis at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  For more than twenty years, Rachel has worked to expose anti-democratic far-right forces and to organize communities in response to hate activity.  Her work has supported and empowered rural community organizing and research across the United States. Rachel’s work countering white nationalism and the anti-government militia movement has been featured extensively in major news media outlets.

Before joining SPLC, Rachel was Co-Director of the Montana Human Rights Network.  Rachel’s collegiate studies took place at North Dakota State, University of Montana, Illinois State, and Utah State University. 

Rachel was raised in Central Montana by parents who were public servants and who instilled in her the value of community engagement and the public good. 

Kari hong

Board Member

Kari Hong has been with the Florence Project since June 2021. Kari has represented nearly 200 individuals before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, dozens of people before the Board of Immigration Appeals, and more than 50 people in state and federal criminal court appeals. The Ninth Circuit has issued decisions on more than 100 of her cases, including nearly 30 published decisions.

Before joining the Florence Project, Kari was a tenured law professor at Boston College Law School where she specialized in immigration law, criminal law, and founded the Ninth Circuit Appellate Program, a clinic in which law students argued cases to the Ninth Circuit.  Kari’s commentary and scholarship has appeared in national publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN.  She has spoken at numerous trainings and conferences on matters relating to asylum, immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and appellate advocacy. Before teaching, Kari was a solo practitioner specializing in immigration and criminal appeals, with offices in California and Oregon.  Kari is a graduate of Columbia Law School and Swarthmore College and clerked for Judge Jeremy Fogel (Northern District of California) and Judge Sidney Thomas (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals).

Jason Smith

Board Member

Jason Smith is enrolled with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and a descendant of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.  For eight years, Jason served as Governor Steve Bullock’s Director of Indian Affairs.  In that role, Jason acted as a liaison and advocate for tribes in Montana.  Jason has sweeping experience developing relationships and between state and tribal governments, developing policy, and supporting tribal economic development.  Before his work with the Governor, he served as Chairman Assistant to the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, and worked as Program Manager for the State Tribal Economic Development Commission in the Montana Department of Commerce.  He graduated from Salish Kootenai College with a business degree.

Jason is a proud member of his tribe and enjoys working to make a difference in the Big Sky State. He values his time with friends and family across the state. He loves to listen to people stories and experiences in Montana and finds we have more in common than we do difference. He strives to strengthen relationships and build new ones.

All donations are tax deductible.

EIN 86-1632816