eNewsletter - January 2018

    LAF eNewsletter
January 2018    
In This Newsletter
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A Client Thank You Note Four Years in the Works 
In 2014, Melissa got an Emergency Order of Protection against her husband, who had been horrifically abusive to her for years.  Though the Order of Protection forced him to move out, a few weeks later, the bank filed a foreclosure against her home.  Without his income, she couldn’t afford the mortgage on her own and didn’t know how to manage refinancing it.  Desperate and afraid of becoming homeless, she came to LAF. 
A team that spanned LAF’s practice groups took her case.  Benna Crawford, a supervisory attorney in the Children & Families Practice Group, helped her secure a divorce from her abuser.  Benna was able to get his name off of Melissa’s home title, and secured additional maintenance income from him to help her make ends meet.  Dan Lindsey, the director of the Consumer Practice Group, got the foreclosure dismissed, and worked with the bank to develop a loan modification so Melissa could afford to stay in her home.  LAF’s social work team also worked with Melissa to make sure she was safe in her home and comfortable in court, even when her abuser was present.  Together, they also represented Melissa at a contested hearing for an Order of Protection, and won the house and its equity from Melissa’s ex-husband.   
Melissa’s story is a telling example of the ways legal problems tend to pile onto each other until only a holistic solution can really solve them.  “This case involved consumer issues, client support services issues, family law issues, and it shows how none of these problems could have been fixed on their own.  Just a consumer attorney or just a divorce attorney couldn’t have helped Melissa in all the ways she needed to get back on her feet.” Benna Crawford explains. 
Then, just a few days ago, Benna received this note from Melissa, which says it all:

Not even sure where to begin.  I hope you realize LAF and you saved me.  I really could not imagine what would have happened if it were not for all your help and everyone else’s at LAF.  I will always be indebted to all of you.  It has been a long road and I am sorry for that, but this was my future and I felt I had one chance at getting a life back and that is exactly what you did for me.  Everyone there gave me a sense of security.  I still have a ways to go with my emotions but I do feel I have become a much stronger person and now have self-esteem.  All those things I was told about myself all those years from him I know are not true and that I deserve so much better than the treatment he gave me.  The best part is being able to walk into MY HOME and not be afraid or nervous.  I will never let anyone treat me like that again.  I wish there was something I could do or give you to show my appreciation.  If I can help one person the way I was helped it would mean a lot to me. 

I do have to say one more thing; I will miss you and everyone else that helped at LAF.  It has been almost four years and that is a long time to know someone.  I respect what you do so much.”

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A message from LAF's
CEO and Executive Director
John N. Gallo
Our team at LAF began 2018 doing what it does best:  fighting for the poor and vulnerable in Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois. 
In particular, our Immigrants and Workers’ Rights group has traveled the state ensuring that migrant workers are treated fairly.  Our Consumer group has been advocating on behalf of clients on the wrong end of unconscionable land-sales contracts.  Our Housing team on a daily basis has been saving clients from wrongful evictions.  Our Public Benefits team has been advocating for disabled clients deprived of Social Security benefits.  And one of our Children and Family lawyers was selected by the Illinois State Board of Education to serve on an inquiry team to examine whether Chicago Public Schools is wrongfully depriving special needs students of the services they need.
Thank you for your continuing support.  We could not do it without you. 
John N. Gallo
LAF CEO and Executive Director 
Making Fresh Starts 
Matt, Sarah, and Federico talk
Juvenile Records Expungement
Matthew Hiltibran, Sarah Sallen Stewart, and Federico Guzman, who,
along with Richard Cozzola, Jennifer Payne, and a team of law students,
run the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk
Making a fresh start just got easier.  A new law passed in Illinois gives teeth to the work LAF has been doing in juvenile records expungement for over a decade.  The law, as of January 1st, clearly defines expungement and ensures physical destruction of the files in question.  It includes automatic expungements for some offenses, expands eligibility for expungement, and shortens waiting periods before expungements are allowed to take place.  It also created penalties for the unlawful exposure of juvenile records.  Exposing a juvenile record now comes with a stiff fine and potential criminal charges, and the possibility of being sued for damages.  This law clarifies the process of juvenile expungements and makes it easier for people who were arrested as children to put their past behind them and begin afresh. 
Juvenile arrest records should have always, by law, been sealed and kept confidential.  But people have also always been able to find these records, and expunging them from the record is one of the only ways to ensure that they’re gone for good.  These arrest records can be a barrier to so many things, like employment, licensure, and housing.  Having those records expunged allows people to legally treat these arrests as if they never happened. 
This is a niche legal field that very few law firms and legal agencies fill, and there is a real need.  In recent years less than .3% of all eligible juvenile records in Illinois are expunged. The Juvenile Expungement Help Desk, staffed by law students and volunteers, and overseen by LAF attorneys Matthew Hiltibran, Sarah Sallen Stewart, and Federico Guzman, and partners at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, is a one stop shop for juvenile records expungement.  Located inside the juvenile courthouse building, the Help Desk has access to the clerk’s records and the probation department.  Clients who come in can get a printout of their rap sheet, a fingerprint background check, and everything they need to begin the expungement process in one place.  It’s also completely free.  LAF’s team has tried to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible, and this helpdesk is a major part of that.  Matt explains how rewarding it is to see how comparatively little work can have such an outsized impact on a client’s life, allowing them to get a job or a professional license because their record is clean.  Sarah knows the importance in this work, because, as she explains, “Juvenile court is supposed to be rehabilitative, but when these records are there, they just keep punishing people.” 
Federico sees the hope this process gives people.  “The work is straightforward, but there’s so much impact,” he says.  “A court employee brought a kid in and helped him get his record cleared.  He told me about how he sees kids like him all the time.  These kids lose hope that anything can change, that their fate was sealed when they were still kids, and this expungement helps them see it’s not hopeless.” 
You can still join the Equal Justice League! 
Support LAF with a recurring monthly gift
Though the excitement of #GivingTuesday and the year-end holidays are over, LAF is still celebrating its superheroes every day.  You can join the Equal Justice League by signing up to make a recurring monthly donation to LAF, and we will cheer you on with your own Equal Justice League membership card, complete with your superhero ID and superpowers!  We encourage you to get in on the fun and join the League!
A Fresh Look at Food Justice 
LAF Fellow talks about what's on our tables
Food insecurity—the condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food—is a patent symptom of poverty, so it’s no surprise that communities with the highest rates of food insecurity in Chicago largely overlap with the communities where LAF clients live and work. But with food insecurity linked to problems we see so many of our clients struggling with—like obesity, diabetes, and poor performance in school—it’s imperative we look at what justice and equity look like in the broader context of our food system.
“Our food system—all of the practices, processes, policies, and people involved in getting our food from the farm to the table and beyond—is shaped by the same structures of power and oppression that beset the rest of society,” says LAF attorney Daniel Edelstein.  Read more on LAF's blog here.
Another installment in LAF's
Elephant in the Room blog series  
We are in the midst of a watershed moment in how we respond to sexual harassment at work. The #MeToo movement has created a demand for predators to be held accountable for their actions. Survivors are no longer overly-scrutinized and held to an unattainable standard, nor are the abuser’s actions ignored simply because they are good at their job. As we watch the dominoes fall in politics, media, and the entertainment industry, we will continue to see more and more outcry of sexual harassment in other industries, because as all women know—this happens everywhere. And while the focus has been on high-powered industries where the survivors are rich and glamourous women, we must not forget to listen to and defend low-wage workers. Because the truth is that the harassment that occurs on the casting couch is the same reprehensible harassment that happens in the back of the kitchen at your local restaurant.
Read more on LAF's blog here.
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For more than 50 years, LAF has provided free legal services in non-criminal matters to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community, ensuring they have the same access to legal services as those who can afford it.  By resolving critical legal problems that systemically trap people in poverty, such as domestic violence, consumer fraud, and unfair evictions, LAF has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals get their lives back on track and given them hope for a brighter future.  
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