eNewsletter - March 2018

 
  
    LAF eNewsletter
March 2018    
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.
In This Newsletter
Article Image
  
Meet Melissa Picciola
 
 Melissa Picciola, LAF's
Director of Volunteer Services
 
In January, Melissa Picciola joined LAF’s staff as our new Director of Volunteer Services. She brings a wealth of experience working in legal aid and plenty of enthusiasm to her job. Frankly, we’re lucky to have her.
 
As Director of Volunteer Services, Melissa leverages resources from volunteers that expand LAF’s impact. She recruits attorneys interested in pro bono work, oversees our three monthly legal clinics, and coordinates hiring our summer law student interns. She matches volunteer attorneys’ interests and expertise with the practice areas that could most use their help, and she makes the case for LAF at law firms around the city, motivating them to donate their time and skills to our clients.
 
“Sometimes people misunderstand what we’re trying to do,” says Melissa. “The legal problems that our clients face are not unique to them, they’re endemic to poverty. So, we don’t put a plug in the hole. We find out what’s causing the leak.”
 
Melissa comes to LAF with an array of legal aid experience under her belt, and an interesting career trajectory. After law school, she briefly joined the Mergers and Acquisitions practice group at McDermott Will & Emery. Unfortunately this was in the Fall of 2008, and shortly after she started, the financial crisis caused the firm to reduce its staff. So Melissa changed course, and she’s been working in poverty law ever since.
 
For the last ten years, Melissa has worked to increase access to justice in a variety of roles. She’s lobbied for policies to protect the rights of people with disabilities at Equip for Equality, defended tenants against wrongful evictions at Lawyer’s Committee for Better Housing, and represented clients in family law litigation at Catholic Charities Legal Assistance.
 
All along, she’s juggled direct client involvement with pro bono outreach, and she continues to multitask in her new position. She was eager to join the team here at LAF because, as she puts it, “LAF has a reputation for doing things smarter and better. I knew there would be room for my ideas here. We’re connecting cases to larger systemic problems; we’re setting precedent every day.” 
 
Ultimately, Melissa’s work is motivated by her passion for helping people in poverty and giving them a chance to improve their lives. “So often our cases are a big guy versus a little guy,” she says, “and I’m so amazed by what people are able to do despite the barriers they face. It’s a privilege to speak with a client face to face and say, ‘We can help you.’”
 

Article Image 
 
 
 
  

A message from LAF's
CEO and Executive Director
John N. Gallo
 
Our core mission at LAF?  We fight for the poor and vulnerable.  Today let me unpack a couple of those seven words.
 
“We” does not just mean LAF staff, but also includes the volunteers of all kinds who work at our staff’s side.  Those volunteers include folks of all kinds and from all generations.  Lawyers, social workers, technicians, marketing and advertising professionals, community organizers, labor workers, and many more.  Managing this amazing volume of support is a full-time, sophisticated job, done here by our Melissa Picciola.  Read about Melissa here.
 
“Vulnerable” includes survivors of intimate partner violence, like our client Linda, who is finally free of her abusive husband, after months of needlessly complex legal work.  And our colleagues Myka and Alyse, a volunteer from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, made that happen.  Read about it.
 
And join us in the good fight. 
 
Sincerely,
 
John N. Gallo
LAF CEO and Executive Director 
 
 
A Fresh Start for Linda 
Myka and Alyse's client now
on the road to safety and stability
 
When Linda came to the Jose De Diego Legal Clinic in the fall of last year and spoke with the volunteers there from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, she was seeking assistance with obtaining a divorce from her abusive husband.
 
Since the pension was the only piece of property at issue, it should have been a straightforward process that didn’t require the resources of an attorney. For that reason, LAF initially planned to refer Linda to the CARPLS divorce help desk for help filling out the appropriate paperwork. “We would have closed the case if it wasn’t for Alyse,” says Myka Held, an attorney with LAF’s Family Law Practice group who served as co-counsel with Alyse Sagalchik in representing Linda. “In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t.”
 
Alyse is an attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP who regularly volunteers at the clinic, which, she notes, is her “favorite pro bono commitment—not just since I have been at Katten but since I began practicing law.” Alyse had been looking to contribute even more, and, she says, “Linda happened to reach out to LAF at exactly the right time.” So Alyse took Linda’s case pro bono and moved forward with the divorce, hoping to resolve the issue as quickly as possible by obtaining a default judgment. Since Carl was in jail and unlikely to appear in court, this should have been easy.
 
Before they could obtain that judgment though, Alyse and LAF received a letter from Carl in jail. It was a rambling, 4-page long document that accused Linda of abuse toward him, demanded money before he would agree to a divorce, and ranted about the attorneys representing Linda. Carl also sent correspondence to the presiding judge, which delayed the case further. On top of all that, based upon a technical issue in the criminal case against him for assaulting Linda, Carl successfully appealed his conviction in the criminal case and was granted a new trial.
 
“Linda desperately wanted to be rid of him,” says Myka. “She was worried that he would come after her if he got out of jail.” What’s more, Carl planned to represent himself in his second criminal trial, which means he would be the one questioning Linda about his own violence toward her. Thanks to Alyse and Myka’s hard work, the divorce was at last finalized in early March—five months after the petition for dissolution of marriage was filed. Linda also put the prosecutor assigned to Carl’s domestic violence case in contact with LAF so they could share information that will hopefully prevent Linda from being subjected to the trauma of being questioned by her abuser in court.
 
Linda’s story reminds us of the difference legal aid can make in the lives of our clients, and demonstrates how vital our volunteer partners are as we work to increase access to justice. As Alyse puts it, “It is amazing to me the difference between the results for those who have legal representation and those who do not…that is not part of my understanding of how justice ought to work. I am trying, in this tiny way, to fix that for as many individuals as I can.” Her help, combined with contributions from LAF staff and her fellow clinic volunteers, enabled Linda to make a break with her abuser and start a new chapter in her life.
 
 
Justice is Served 2018 
Tickets Available Now!
 
Justice is Served is here again! You're invited to join us in just six weeks - on Friday, April 13th, 2018 at City Winery - for an evening of world-class wines, buffet, passed hors d'oeuvres, and an impressive silent auction.  You'll be able to bid on items including international vacations, liquor packages, sports tickets, theatre date nights, and more.
 
Tickets cost $150 each, and sponsorships begin at $750. And they're on sale now - available here!  Then register for and preview the silent auction while you're at it!  
 
Leave the Light (and the heat) On 
LAF's work in Utilities Preservation
 
 
As the winter wears on into a spring that feels no different, plenty of Chicagoans take for granted the refuge of their warm, comfortable homes as they duck inside and out of the weather.  But for many of LAF’s clients, that security is in jeopardy, owing to the simple fact that they sometimes lack the resources to pay their utility bills.  This becomes especially dangerous during the winter months when heating costs spike, making a tight financial situation even tighter; and when temperatures drop below zero, threatening health and safety.  Depending on their income level, clients may be eligible for grants from LIHEAP (CEDA) or from their utility provider to offset the cost of monthly bills.  Read more on LAF's blog here.
 
 
LAF Welcomes New Board Members 
Megan Thibert-Ind, Patrick Salvi II, Bobbi Anderson, Ledeidre Turner, Pete Tarsney, and
Tony Balkissoon join LAF Governing Board
 
LAF's Governing Board has welcomed its 2018 class of new members, who represent every corner of the Chicago legal and business community. 
 
Megan Thibert-Ind is a former Young Professionals Board member and partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.  Patrick Salvi II, a partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., has spent his career advocating for victims of accidents, abuse, and neglect.  Bobbi Anderson is a Principal and General Counsel at Elementum, where she advises on legal issues relating to reinsurance and risk-linked investments.  LeDeidre Turner works at the Cook County State's Attorney's office to make the justice system work for young people across Chicago.  Pete Tarsney works as a general counsel in the healthcare technology and services industry.  Tony Balkissoon, an attorney at Loevy & Loevy, fights for clients whose civil rights were violated through wrongful convictions or cruel and unusual punishment in jails and prisons.  
 
We are grateful for the excitement they bring to LAF's Governing Board and the work they will do on behalf of LAF!  
 
 
Celebrating LAF Volunteers 
with Gelato and Pro Bono Awards
 
LAF Volunteers, with staff, celebrating their Volunteer of the Year awards
  
Last month, we held our sixth annual Volunteers Appreciation Event, hosted in DLA Piper's beautiful new offices, to honor our active volunteers who donated their time and services to LAF last year.  In 2017, LAF staff collectively logged 12,399 hours of volunteer engagement - and the volunteers themselves worked many thousands more on behalf of our clients!  We honored many with Volunteer of the Year awards and enjoyed gelato and time together.  Congratulations to all honored - check out the photos on Facebook and tag yourselves
 
 
Check out LAF on Social Media!
 
Follow us on Twitter at @ChicagoLAF, like our Facebook page, catch up with us on Instagram, and read our blog at lafchicago.wordpress.com to keep up with all our work!
 
 
Sign up for Monthly Giving
Pledge your ongoing support to LAF and
make your recurring gift today!
 
  
LAF
EQUAL JUSTICE STARTS HERE.

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.  
We rely on the generosity of individuals and companies to provide the private support we need to fulfill our mission.  
 
Join us on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, and our Wordpress blog to stay updated on everything happening with LAF.
 

 

 Click here to see our other eNewsletters and media.