John N. Gallo
Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director
John Gallo is the CEO and Executive Director of Legal Aid Chicago. Prior to joining Legal Aid Chicago in 2017, John was a partner at Sidley Austin LLP for twenty-one years. He was Firmwide Co-Chair of Sidley’s White Collar Practice from 2010 to 2017, and Head of Litigation in Sidley’s Chicago Office from 2014 to 2017. While at Sidley, he represented institutional clients in criminal and civil matters before federal and state agencies and conducted internal investigations for those clients in response to allegations of wrongdoing. In 2005, John created Sidley’s Capital Litigation Project, designed to ensure that inmates incarcerated on Alabama’s death row had effective legal representation, perhaps for the first time since their arrest. In connection with this project, In 2007, the American Bar Association gave Sidley the Pro Bono Publico Award for the firm’s work on this project. From 2000 to 2017, John served as Trial Counsel to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, the body responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by Illinois judicial officers. In that capacity, John was responsible both for investigating complaints and prosecuting cases before the Illinois Courts Commission.
From 1989 to 1996, John served as a Criminal Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, and from 1994 to 1996, he also served as a Deputy Chief. From 1994 until his departure from the office in 1996, John was the lead prosecutor in the public-corruption investigation commonly known as “Operation Silver Shovel.”John has been an Adjunct Professor at Notre Dame Law School since 2002, and he clerked for the Honorable Ann C. Williams in federal district court in Chicago from 1986 to 1988. John received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
KATHERINE W. SHANK
Katherine W. Shank is the Deputy Director. Kate is responsible for identifying and managing organizational issues regarding recruitment, hiring, and retention of legal staff, development, and implementation of program policy, support of directors in personnel and other matters, and work with administrative staff on matters of grant funding, program operation, and governance.
Kate began her career at Legal Aid Chicago in 2001 as an AmeriCorps attorney representing clients in family law matters and spent several years as a general litigator also handling bankruptcies and subsidized housing eviction defense. As a Supervising Attorney, Kate concentrated her practice in the areas of family law, domestic violence, and custody matters. She has also served as the Interim Executive Director and the Director of Volunteer Services where she oversaw all of Legal Aid Chicago’s pro bono efforts including project development, volunteer recruitment, volunteer training, law firm, and corporate relations, law student recruitment and management, and volunteer recognition and management of the legal aid statewide AmeriCorps VISTA program.
Kate received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Miami University, and her law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. She also received a Certificate of Civic Leadership from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
Sheila Brooks is the Comptroller in the Accounting and Finance department. She joined Legal Aid Chicago as a staff accountant in August 2012. After two years, she transitioned to the Comptroller Position. Sheila oversees the financial health of the organization with the help of her team. Sheila received her undergraduate degree in Accounting from Chicago State University. She also received a Master’s degree in Accounting from Keller Graduate School of Management.
Gloria Friedman is Chief External Relations Officer at Legal Aid Chicago. She has extensive experience in Non-Profit Development and Marketing. Prior to joining Legal Aid Chicago, she served as Managing Director of Marketing and Individual Giving at WNYC Public Broadcasting in NYC and as Vice President at American Jewish World Service. She began her career in classical music management— serving as Vice President of Marketing at Columbia Artists Management where she oversaw marketing and PR for some of the world’s greatest classical artists, orchestras and dance companies. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the PBS Advertising and Promotion Award. Gloria is currently on the Board of Governors of the Stratford Festival, and she is a past Chair of the Board of TimeLine Theatre Company. Gloria received her undergraduate degree from Boston University and her MA and Ph.D. from NYU.
Vivian Hessel is the Chief Information Officer at Legal Aid Chicago, where she has worked since 1989. In this role, Vivian manages major technology projects in collaboration with other legal aid organizations, oversees the work of the Information Technology group, chairs the Program Evaluation Committee, and acts as the on-site administrator for Legal Aid Chicago’s case management system, LegalServer. Vivian regularly presents at technology and legal aid conferences across the country on topics involving legal and ethical issues, case management software, and best practices. From 1989 to 2009, she worked as a staff attorney and then a managing attorney at one of Legal Aid Chicago’s general intake offices where her practice involved a wide variety of poverty law issues including consumer, family, housing, public benefits, and employment matters. Vivian received her undergraduate degree in psychology and mathematical methods in the social sciences, an honors program, from Northwestern University, and her law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Ruby is the Chief Operating Officer and has more than 15 years of nonprofit experience in strategic Human Resources Management, Corporate Compliance, and Operations Management. Ruby is responsible for implementing strategies and workflow processes to foster an atmosphere of efficiency, inclusion, and accountability for HR and office support services. Before joining Legal Aid Chicago, Ruby was Vice President of HR and Compliance for Loretto Hospital, a community-based hospital in Chicago. Ruby was appointed to serve on the board of directors of Girls in the Game to assist in its effort to encourage physical and emotional health through fun and active sports, health and leadership programs. Ruby holds a Masters of Jurisprudence from Loyola University at Chicago and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Roosevelt University and has been recognized for her vast knowledge and accomplishments throughout her career.
Jennifer Payne is the Chief Litigation Officer and the Director of the Children and Families Practice Group, where she has worked since 1990. From 1997-2011, Ms. Payne supervised Legal Aid Chicago’s Westside Office, previously located in North Lawndale, where her practice involved a wide variety of cases, including family law, housing, public benefits, employment, and special education. Ms. Payne has represented clients in jury trials and bench trials, both in federal and state court, she has handled dozens of cases in the Illinois Appellate Court and one case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She provides legal education for the Chicago Battered Women’s Network 40-hour DV training and works on a variety of collaborations with pro bono attorneys. She was the 1995 recipient of Legal Aid Chicago’s Equal Justice Award and the 2007 recipient of the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award. Ms. Payne received her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and her law degree from Indiana University School of Law.
Cynthia Sadkin is the Chief Strategy Officer. She began her legal career at Legal Aid Chicago in 1992 as a staff attorney and then as a supervisory attorney, practicing a wide range of poverty law including housing, employment, consumer, disability, and family law. As Director of Client and Community Services, she led the design and launch of the centralized Client Screening Unit and was actively involved in the agency’s reorganization in 2010. Through creative and strategic project development, Cynthia has acquired more than $1 million in new funding for Legal Aid Chicago to increase access to legal services for underserved communities, provide comprehensive legal services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and expand legal services for older adults by engaging with volunteer attorneys. Her collaborative approach creates opportunities for partnership with service providers and other legal aid programs to provide holistic and client-centered services to clients and community members. In 2009, she received the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award for exemplary leadership and commitment to legal services. Cynthia has a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.S. in Finance from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Richard Wheelock is the Chief Legal Counsel, responsible for managing Legal Aid Chicago’s legal compliance and risk exposure and serving as the primary legal adviser to the Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer, and the executive management team. Previously, he served as Director of Advocacy, Housing Law Project Supervisor, and Senior Attorney. Rich has received awards for outstanding advocacy in housing, including the 2000 Tenant Champion Award from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, the 2001 Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate Award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, and the agency’s 2006 Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award. In 2012, he was the recipient of the Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service from the U.S. District Court, N.D. IL, and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. In 2016 he received the 7th Circuit Bar Association Pro Bono and Public Service Award for Outstanding Work in the District Courts of Illinois. From 2000 to 2009, Rich was a lecturer-in-law at the University of Chicago Law School, teaching a seminar on poverty and housing law. Rich received his undergraduate degree from Middlebury College and law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Dennericka Brooks is the Director of the Housing Practice Group. Dennericka has spent her career at Legal Aid Chicago, first as a generalist working in diverse areas of poverty law, including family, housing, consumer, and employment. As a supervisor, Dennericka has specialized in subsidized housing law ensuring that tenants live in decent, safe, and affordable housing that is free from discrimination. Dennericka helped to create and manage the Woodlawn Legal Clinic on Chicago’s south side and served as a mock trial coach. Currently, Dennericka serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member teaching trial practice at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Dennericka mentors students at Loyola and has served as a tutor and board member of Minority Legal Education Resources, a not-for-profit bar preparation program. Dennericka has been the recipient of several awards, including The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Kimball and Karen Public Interest Law Fellowship (2007) and its Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Scholarship (2004); Loyola’s Norman C. Amaker Award of Excellence (2014); St. Bellarmine Award (2013) and Mock Trial Coach of the Year (2010). Dennericka earned her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law (‘07) and her B.A. from Grinnell College (‘04).
Benna Crawford is the Director of the Children & Families Practice Group. Benna joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2010 as an AmeriCorps VISTA attorney where she ran a clinic teaching unrepresented litigants how to file for divorce. In 2012, she transitioned to a staff attorney where she focused on divorce cases involving real estate. In 2017, Benna became a supervisory attorney. Her practice currently focuses on representing survivors of domestic violence in divorces, allocation of parental responsibility cases, and orders of protection. Benna received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Hugh F. “Trey” Daly III is the Director of the Public Benefits Practice Group. Trey came to Legal Aid Chicago in 2017 after 27 years in legal services in Cincinnati, Ohio and most recently as the Ohio State Director for Enroll America, a non-profit seeking to expand participation in the Affordable Care Act. In 2009, Trey was named a Community Health Leader by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation an honor that brought a $125,000 grant to the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. Trey supervises six Supervisory Attorneys and manages a staff of 42 attorneys and paralegals. Trey has represented clients on issues related to benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid and disability benefits from the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs in hundreds of administrative hearings, state courts including the Ohio Supreme Court and Federal Courts including the U.S. Court for Veterans Appeals and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trey received his undergraduate degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio and a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law.
Mischa Fleishman is Director of Foundation and Government Grants in the External Relations department. He joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2015 as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as the Volunteer Coordinator, where he helped support efforts to develop and maintain pro bono projects and recruit and train volunteers. At the end of his VISTA year, Mischa became the Grants Administrator where he researched, developed, and wrote grant applications, and completed grant reports. In 2018, Mischa was hired into his current role, where coordinates Legal Aid Chicago’s grants program and he supervises the current Grants and Data Administrator. Mischa received his undergraduate degree in creative writing from Luther College in 2011.
Daniel P. Lindsey is the Director of the Consumer Practice Group. Daniel joined Legal Aid Chicago as a neighborhood staff attorney in 1992. He left to focus on consumer fraud and subsidized housing litigation but returned in 2001 to lead the agency’s homeownership preservation work. In 2011 Daniel became a Supervisor Attorney in the newly formed Consumer Practice Group, and in 2015 he became its Director. As Director of the Consumer Practice Group, Daniel supervises 12 attorneys litigating in the areas of bankruptcy, foreclosure, quiet title, debt collection, consumer fraud, and utilities. The group’s focus is to preserve our clients’ most valuable financial assets – homes, cars, and wages. Daniel also supervises the operation of the Northern District of Illinois Bankruptcy Court Help Desk. Daniel has drafted judicial rules and testified in support of local, state, and federal laws protecting homeowners and he has taught and guest lectured at numerous law schools. He is a 1985 graduate of Davidson College and a 1990 graduate of Harvard Law School.
Lisa has worked at Legal Aid Chicago for over 25 years. Lisa previously worked on the U.S./Mexico border representing Central American asylum seekers; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong with Vietnamese asylum seekers; and on the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo where the U.S. Government detained Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers.
Lisa is an expert in complex immigration cases, including the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, human trafficking cases, and removal proceedings. She has argued cases in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, is fluent in Spanish and work-proficient in French. Lisa was the 2010 recipient of the Jerold Solovy Award and has received awards from the Lawyers Trust Fund and the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association. Lisa is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law and received her undergraduate degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Steve Phillips is the Director of Information Technology at Legal Aid Chicago, where he manages information systems and technology to support the achievement of the organization’s mission and goals. In his role, Steve oversees daily operation and projects related to internal systems, including networks, software applications, and telecommunications; manages network administration and security protocols; and maintains a disaster recovery strategy for all software applications and data. Steve brings more than 20 years of IT experience to Legal Aid Chicago.
Melissa O. Picciola is the Director of Volunteer Services. Melissa oversees all of Legal Aid Chicago’s volunteer and pro bono projects, including internships, in-house volunteers, community legal clinics, and all law firm and corporate partnerships and has created volunteer focused projects at Legal Aid Chicago serving clients in advance directives, eviction defense, and record expungement. She also oversees Legal Aid Chicago’s 45-member statewide AmeriCorps VISTA program. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2018 after a career in legal aid. She has practice experience in family law and domestic violence, eviction defense, and representing people with disabilities on individual and systemic matters. Melissa received both her undergraduate and a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Piper Taggart is the Director of the Client Screening Unit. Piper joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2000 as a Staff Attorney. In 2010, she was promoted to Senior Attorney. As a Staff Attorney and Senior Attorney, Piper represented clients in Consumer, Employment, Family and Housing cases. Piper came to the Client Screening Unit as a Director in 2011. Piper currently leads the staff of Intake Specialists and Attorneys that handle intake and screening for the majority of Legal Aid Chicago’s clients. Piper received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
Miriam Hallbauer is the Supervisor of Complex Litigation. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2000 as a staff attorney at the Westside neighborhood office, then located in North Lawndale, after having served as a judicial clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. As a neighborhood attorney, Miriam gained experience in every area of law in which Legal Aid Chicago practices. She currently works with each of Legal Aid Chicago’s five practice groups, supervising appeals and co-counseling complex and novel affirmative litigation. In 2014, the agency awarded Miriam the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award. Miriam received her undergraduate degree with high honors from Wesleyan University and her law degree with honors from the University of Chicago.
Senior & Supervisory Attorneys
Stephanie Bogdan is a Supervising Attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2012 as an Intake Attorney in the Client Screening Unit where she conducted phone intake for new clients and provided advice on consumer, family, housing, and public benefits issues. In 2014, Stephanie became a staff attorney with the Public Benefits Practice Group where she focused on helping clients obtain and maintain access to Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance, and Social Security Benefits. In 2018, after a year an Assistant Inspector General with the Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General, she returned as a supervising attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group where she supervises the enrollment projects for both Department of Human Services and Social Security benefits and represents clients in administrative proceedings before the DHS and the SSA. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas and her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
James Brady is a Supervisory Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group. Mr. Brady began his legal career as a staff attorney with Legal Aid Chicago in 1991 at the Englewood Office on Chicago’s southside. In 1995, he moved to the Southside office and in 2004, to the Homeownership Preservation Project. Mr. Brady’s practice focuses on bankruptcy, homeownership, and consumer fraud. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Michigan and a 1991 graduate of the DePaul University College of Law.
Suzanne Courtheoux is a Supervisory Attorney in Legal Aid Chicago’s Public Benefits Practice Group. Since she joined the organization in 2013, Suzanne has been in the Ombudsman Project, advocating for residents of long term care facilities in suburban Cook County and Lake County. She advocates on a broad range of issues affecting residents, and often represents residents in involuntary discharge hearings and Medicaid appeals. Prior to joining Legal Aid Chicago, Suzanne represented a wide range of clients in commercial litigation, labor & employment and insurance issues at large law firms – Jenner & Block and Seyfarth Shaw.
Suzanne earned her bachelor’s degree at Yale University and her law degree at University of Chicago Law School in 2004.
Richard Cozzola is a Supervisory Attorney in the Children & Families Practice Group. He has focused his legal career on juvenile justice, special education, school discipline, child welfare, and housing law. Prior to coming to Legal Aid Chicago in 1997, he was Program Director of the Loyola Civitas ChildLaw Center, training director, and Deputy Public Guardian at the Office of the Public Guardian, and supervising attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. He has taught litigation and trial skills for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Loyola, DePaul, and the University of Chicago. He has regularly conducted trainings nationally for attorneys and other professionals working in Juvenile and Family Courts. He has published articles on advocacy and is a Steering Committee member for the ABA National Alliance for Parent Representation. His appellate work includes precedent-setting cases in parental rights, adoption, juvenile confessions, child welfare, and the rights of public housing residents. He has helped expand Legal Aid Chicago’s practice in record relief by working to eliminate barriers to Juvenile Expungements. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola University Chicago.
Ashley Fretthold is the Supervisory Attorney for education law in the Children & Families Practice Group. She represents students in education matters, including special education, school discipline, Title IX, residency, and bullying. She was a member of the Legal Aid Chicago teams that filed civil rights suits in 2013 and 2018 against Chicago Public Schools on behalf of communities whose schools were selected for closure. Prior to working in education law, she represented low-income clients in a variety of matters at the Westside neighborhood office at Legal Aid Chicago. Primarily, she advocated for survivors of domestic violence in Order of Protection cases and family law matters such as divorce and custody disputes. Prior to law school, Ashley worked in the education field, first as an education research associate at the American Institutes for Research, and later she taught fifth grade in Escazú, Costa Rica. Ashley completed her undergraduate degree at Duke University and received her law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
Michelle J. Gilbert has been an attorney with Legal Aid Chicago since 1990. She has been a Supervisory Attorney in the Housing Practice Group since its inception in 2011. Previously, she was Supervisory Attorney and Project Director of LAF’s HIV Project and a Senior Attorney in the Central Intake Office and Policy Advocacy Project. She has undertaken a wide range of litigation on behalf of people with low incomes in the areas of housing, domestic relations, bankruptcy, health confidentiality, and discrimination. She was the lead attorney in Pickett v. Housing Auth. (N.D. Ill. 2017), which held that a housing authority could not terminate a Housing Choice Voucher tenant for the expiration of a search voucher without due process, for which she was recognized by the Northern District of Illinois for Excellence in Pro Bono Service. Michelle was also lead attorney in Cotton v. Alexian Brothers (N.D. Ill. 2003), which is the first decision to uphold due process rights of tenants in federally funded supportive housing for people with HIV. She received the 2003 LAF Equal Justice Award for enforcing the due process rights of tenants and 2006 and 2012 AIDS Foundation of Chicago awards for advocacy for housing rights of people with HIV. Michelle graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois College of Law and has served on its Alumni Board. Michelle received a B.S., with honors, in psychology from Western Illinois University.
Jessica Kalmewicki is a Supervisory Attorney in the Housing Practice Group. She began her career at Legal Aid Chicago as a staff attorney in 2000 and litigated domestic relations, consumer, employment, bankruptcy, and housing law matters before administrative agencies, and state and federal courts. In 2009, she joined the Housing Practice Group, where she concentrated her practice on defending housing rights pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, and state and local statutes. In addition to litigating her own matters, Jessica currently oversees staff and senior attorneys handling housing law matters. Jessica is also a member of Legal Aid Chicago’s Veterans Task Force and HIV Task Force. In addition to working for Legal Aid Chicago, Jessica has worked as a corporate litigator in Detroit, Michigan, and as an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Bureau for the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. She is licensed to practice law in Michigan and in Illinois. Jessica earned an undergraduate degree in Political Science and English from Aquinas College and her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
Amy Marinacci is a Supervising Attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2006 as a general staff attorney handling public benefits, evictions, and family law matters. She joined the Public Benefits team in 2011 and became the supervising attorney of the General Public Benefits team in 2015. She represents clients before the Social Security Administration and Illinois Department of Human Services involving cash, medical, and food benefits, as well as on appeal of those decisions in state and federal court. Amy is a member of the National Coalition of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Advocates, a group of legal aid and other public interest advocates that work to improve the Social Security disability programs. Amy is a 2005 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law, where she was a Public Interest Scholar, and a 1998 graduate of Williams College.
Ellen Rheaume is a Senior Attorney in the Veterans’ Rights Project. Ellen joined the staff of Legal Aid Chicago in September 2015 as an Equal Justice Works-AmeriCorps Fellow and then transitioned to the position of Staff Attorney before being promoted to her current position. Ellen represents low-income veterans and their family members in the areas of public benefits, housing, family law, and consumer protection. She has focused a large portion of her practice on representing veterans with claims for VA benefits and applications for discharge upgrades. Ellen also serves as the Leader of the Veterans Task Force, through which she coordinates volunteers from the various Legal Aid Chicago practice groups to assist with community outreach efforts, including the Veterans Legal Clinic. Prior to working at Legal Aid Chicago, Ellen represented individuals in criminal appeals cases in California. She also represented people on death row in habeas corpus proceedings as a Staff Attorney at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center in San Francisco. Ellen received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
Alice Setrini is the Supervising Attorney for Legal Aid Chicago’s Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLP) Project. She works with providers at Erie Family Health Centers and students at Loyola University School of Law’s Health Justice Clinic to address social determinants of health through legal interventions. Alice also supervises the Health Forward/Salud Adelante MLP with Cook County Health and Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Justice Through Generations MLP with Rush University Medical Center. She has presented locally and nationally on the value of using the law as a strategy for addressing social determinants of health and how addressing health disparities is a mechanism for combatting structural racialization. Before working in MLP, Alice was a staff attorney at Legal Aid Chicago in the Westside office. She then focused on immigrant’s and worker’s rights and ran the Federal Court Pro Se Assistance Program. Since 2011, she has been involved in the agency’s Civil Rights Task Force. Alice is a graduate of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts and Science.
Teresa Sullivan is a Supervisory Attorney with the Children & Families Practice Group. She joined Legal Aid Chicago as a Staff Attorney in 2017 after five years in private practice as a commercial litigator in Chicago. Teresa represents clients in a variety of family law matters. She focuses on divorce cases in which the parties own a marital home. She also litigates orders of protection, parentage cases, and Hague Convention disputes. Outside of her work at Legal Aid Chicago, Teresa currently serves as the Board President for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Prior to law school, Teresa spent three years as a healthcare consultant and one year as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs.
Teresa received her undergraduate degree in International Studies and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis and her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.
Melissa Staas is a Supervisory Attorney with the Children & Families Practice Group. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2018 after practicing public interest law for 10 years with the Family Defense Center, where she represented parents involved in the child welfare system through direct services during an investigation, representation in DCFS administrative proceedings and juvenile court proceedings, appellate advocacy, and affirmative class action and federal civil rights litigation. During law school, she focused on legal issues involving families and children, serving as Editor-in-Chief of her school’s Children’s Legal Rights Journal. She represents Legal Aid Chicago clients in a variety of matters impacting families, including child welfare, orders of protection, divorces, and parenting allocation cases. In 2010, Melissa was a recipient of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Sun-Times Fellowship in recognition of her academic achievements and commitment to public interest law. Melissa received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and her law degree, magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law.
JoAnn Villasenor is a Supervising Attorney in the Children & Family Practice Group. She came to Legal Aid Chicago in 1985 as an intern and was hired in 1987 as a Staff Attorney. She initially worked at several of the agency’s neighborhood offices (Westside office in Lawndale, 18th Street office in Pilsen, and Northwest office in Wicker Park) before going to the main downtown office in 1998. In 2003, JoAnn became a supervisor, assigned to the Family Law Project, which became a part of the practice group. At the neighborhood offices, she represented clients in legal matters including child abuse and neglect proceedings, eviction defense, unemployment compensation appeals, and Social Security Disability appeals. Throughout her career, JoAnn has represented clients in family law matters including orders of protection, custody litigation, paternity and support cases, and divorces. She has developed expertise in pension issues as they relate to divorce litigation. She currently supervises three attorneys and a paralegal, has an individual caseload and provides guidance to the practice group. JoAnn is fluent in Spanish, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois-Champaign and a law degree from John Marshall School of Law.
Lawrence is a Supervisory Attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group where he supervises a team of Community Ombudsmen to protect the rights of individuals living in nursing homes. Lawrence first joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2004 as a Staff Attorney at the South Side neighborhood office where he represented clients in a variety of legal matters. Lawrence then joined the Homeownership Preservation Project (“HOPP”) where he represented clients in legal matters related to home ownership. Lawrence left HOPP for the Veterans’ Rights Project where he helped and recruited pro bono attorneys to help, veterans fight for their earned service connected benefits. Because he believes that housing is a fundamental human right, Lawrence joined the Housing Practice Group where he represented subsidized housing residents and became a Senior Attorney. In 2017 Lawrence left Legal Aid Chicago for a position in the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and rejoined Legal Aid Chicago in 2019 in his current role. Lawrence is a 2004 graduate of DePaul University College of Law.
Michelle Weinberg is a Supervisory Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group, concentrating on the representation of seniors in consumer protection and financial exploitation cases. Ms. Weinberg began her career as a consumer lawyer in 1993 with the class action firm of Edelman & Combs. Ms. Weinberg has litigated a wide range of cases, including published decisions under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Truth in Lending Act, the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, and other consumer protection statutes. She joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2001. In 2005, Ms. Weinberg received the Excellence in Public Interest Service Award from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. She was also named Advocate of the Month in 2007, by Illinois Legal Aid Online. Ms. Weinberg has been a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (“NACA”) since 1997, and in 2011, she received the NACA Consumer Advocate of the Year award for public interest work. Ms. Weinberg is a former Chair of the Chicago Bar Association Consumer Law Committee and served on NACA’s board of directors and ethics committee. She currently serves as a public/consumer representative on the State of Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation’s Collection Agency Board. She is frequently called upon to speak at legal conferences and to comment in the news media on emerging consumer issues. She is a 1992 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Lawrence Wood is a Supervisory Attorney within the Housing Practice Group and started his career at Legal Aid Chicago in 1990, as a Staff Attorney. Over the course of his career, he has represented tenants in state and federal trial and appellate courts and prevented more than 1,500 unwarranted evictions from subsidized housing. As a member of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Housing Committee, he works to improve the administration of justice in eviction courts both here in Illinois and across the nation. Since 2000 Lawrence has been a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches a seminar on housing and poverty law. Lawrence is a graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo School of Law and received his undergraduate degree from Connecticut College.
Kulsum Ameji is a Senior Attorney in the Community Engagement Unit. Kulsum’s role includes community legal education and community engagement. In her previous role as a staff attorney, she provided legal advice and representation. Kulsum is the current Chair of the Domestic Violence Task Force. Kulsum is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Award, the KANWIN Community Changemaker Award, the Community Renewal Society’s 35 Under 35 Nonprofit Leaders Award, and the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. After graduating with honors from Smith College, Kulsum received her law degree from the DePaul University College of Law.
Kari Beyer is a Senior Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group where she assists low-income consumers with bankruptcy, foreclosure, collections cases, and other consumer issues. Prior to her employment at Legal Aid Chicago, Kari was a staff law clerk at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Kari is a graduate of John Marshall Law School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Katie Liss is a Senior Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group at Legal Aid Chicago, where she focuses on helping clients preserve their homes and other assets. She does so by negotiating and litigating cases including consumer fraud, foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, and other consumer issues. Prior to joining Legal Aid Chicago in 2012, Katie worked as a staff attorney for Prairie State Legal Services and Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. In these roles, she provided legal representation in a variety of civil cases including family law, housing, disability, and public benefits. Katie received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin- Madison in 2005 and her law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2008.
Ainat Margalit is a Senior Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group where she focuses on homeownership preservation, bankruptcy, and debtor’s rights. She has dedicated her career to serving the public interest and championing consumer rights is her passion. Before coming to Legal Aid Chicago, Ainat worked in the private sector in plaintiff-side consumer rights litigation and before that state government. Ainat is the 2018 recipient of Chicago-Kent Law School’s Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Award and the 2018 recipient of the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award. Ainat received her undergraduate degree from Tel-Aviv University and law degrees from Tel-Aviv University and Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Barbara Richardson is a Senior Attorney in the Consumer Practice Group. She joined Legal Aid Chicago as a Staff Attorney in 1990 as a General Civil Practitioner. Barbara’s practice areas include bankruptcy, utilities, collection cases, mortgage foreclosure defense, student loans, and other consumer cases. Barbara is the go-to for utility matters, and she has built a good reputation with the utility community of CEDA, ComEd, Peoples Gas, and other utility agencies. Barbara received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 1986 and her law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1990.
Sarah Song is an Interim Supervisory Attorney in the Housing Practice Group. Prior to joining Legal Aid Chicago in 2013, she spent one year as a Housing Law Fellow at Cabrini Green Legal Aid and three years in private practice as a commercial litigator. Sarah’s practice focuses on defending subsidized housing tenants against unwarranted evictions and voucher terminations, ensuring people with disabilities have equal opportunities to use and enjoy housing, and furthering fair housing. Sarah is also part of the legal team that represents the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, advocating on behalf of the former and current residents of Cabrini-Green. Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her law degree from Columbia Law School.
Dan Kresse is the AmeriCorps VISTA Program Supervisor at Legal Aid Chicago. Members of the VISTA Program, including VISTAs, VISTA Attorneys, and VISTA Leaders, build the administrative, financial, and organizational capacity of organizations seeking to expand access to justice and protect fundamental rights for those living in poverty. Dan manages grant compliance, project development, and recruitment efforts for the program, which comprises 45 members serving at Legal Aid Chicago and twelve organizations in Chicago and across Illinois. Dan joined Legal Aid Chicago in 2015 as a VISTA Leader and, prior to that, he served as a VISTA and then a legal assistant at Western New York Law Center in Buffalo, New York. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance degree from the State University of New York College at Brockport.
Felicia Moss is the HR Generalist at Legal Aid Chicago and has more than 20 years’ experience in Human Resource and Organizational Management. Felicia is responsible for HR department with duties to include the onboarding orientation process of new hires and benefits enrollment. Before joining Legal Aid Chicago, Felicia worked as an HR Manager within the healthcare /hospice industry for such organizations as Vitas Hospice, Kindred at Home (formerly Gentiva Hospice) and Peace Hospice. Felicia received her undergraduate degree from Robert Morris University in Business Administration Masters in Human Resources Management from Capella University.
Mary Ellen Diaz began her career at Legal Aid Chicago as a receptionist. After working several years in that capacity, she became office manager at one of the neighborhood offices. In 2011, when Legal Aid Chicago consolidated all of its offices and relocated to the current Loop location, she undertook the coordination of translation and interpreting services. She now oversees these services and also assumes office manager duties when necessary. Ms. Diaz is a state registered Spanish interpreter and provides interpreting and translation services in Spanish and in this role is able to be a voice for many LEP clients. With her strong belief in our mission, she works tirelessly to assure LEP clients have meaningful access to all of Legal Aid Chicago’s services. Ms. Diaz is a dedicated, hardworking and loyal employee who is passionate about her work.
Virginia Sandoval has been the Office Manager of Legal Aid Chicago since 2011 where she oversees all office support functions and is responsible for the supervision of the office support administrative staff. Virginia coordinates the agency’s events throughout the year such as the summer outing, holiday party, and employee appreciation activities. Virginia’s experience has given her the opportunity to work as a paralegal in the Public Benefits Project and in her current role as an Office Manager. She is a dedicated employee who strives to assist people living in poverty and her goal is to assure that clients are treated with compassion and respect.