eNewsletter - September 2017

    LAF eNewsletter
September 2017    
In This Newsletter
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Meet Gloria Pruzan
Gloria Pruzan, Supervisory Attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group, with the original sign from her old neighborhood office
When LAF secured a new $900,000 grant to fund comprehensive legal services for victims and survivors of abuse, there was a clear choice for who would lead the team: Gloria Pruzan. An attorney at LAF since 1979, she is now a Supervisory Attorney in LAF’s Public Benefits practice group.  Gloria will willingly explain, however, that the work she specializes in could just as easily fall into the Consumer practice group or the Children & Families group. Comprehensive services is what she’s been doing for years.
This new Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) grant will enable LAF to assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and financial exploitation, many of whom have multiple interconnected legal issues. For example, leaving an abuser means more than getting an order of protection – to truly begin a new life a woman often needs a divorce, child support, and/or immigration help. She may also need food stamps and health insurance and special education services for her children. "We're sort of a one-stop shop because clients can have more than one type of legal problem, and just a family law attorney can't get them the public benefits help they need. But this grant allows us to really embrace that comprehensive work," Gloria explains. This new grant funds 19 different LAF staff members across every Practice Group, to work together to provide those comprehensive services. It also helps LAF connect with 8 other Domestic Violence agencies around the county, which refer victims and survivors to LAF for help with their legal issues.
In addition to the new ICJIA grant-funded programs, Gloria also supervises the City Enrollment Paralegal Project. LAF staffs four paralegal desks in the offices of the City Department of Family Support Services. They help enroll people in Department of Human Services programs, like Medicaid, food stamps, and temporary cash assistance.  The paralegals also help people with their regular redeterminations of eligibility – a complicated paperwork renewal process, which you can read about in James' story at right.  “That’s what’s so great about the enrollment paralegals,” Gloria explained.  “If you get a form to redetermine your enrollment and you don’t understand it, there’s someone there to help you understand, interpret it, fill it out, and fax it in for you.  Sometimes just that last challenge is the hardest one.” And these paralegals are on the ground, LAF’s eyes and ears into systemic problems – often as simple as correcting listed office hours or clarifying sign-in sheets and forms. 
“People living in poverty face challenges in everyday life and don’t have the financial cushion that helps the rest of us with facing those challenges,” Gloria points out.  “If we can help someone with a challenge that’s threatening their food, health, or income, that’s a good thing.  Living in poverty doesn’t enable you to easily handle challenges that arise.”  This new grant, along with Gloria’s expertise, will help more people to handle all their legal challenges. 

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A message
from LAF's
Interim Executive Director
Kate Shank
LAF's legal aid is one of the most effective ways of helping families move out of poverty, and a significant reason we are successful is the holistic nature of our work. 
Poverty is insidious and complicated, and often, the legal problems families living in poverty have to face are interconnected with other legal issues. Small problems compound into incredibly difficult ones. If someone fills out a form wrong, resulting in fewer food stamps than he should get (like LAF’s client James did, whose story you can read below), he may have to make a choice between paying for food or paying his rent.  If he chooses food, he could end up facing eviction and homelessness. Or if a woman gets up the incredible courage to leave her abuser, she could find herself destitute without a home or income or healthcare, like many of the clients Gloria Pruzan and her team help. That's where LAF comes in. We can help them to solve all their legal issues that keep them in poverty and to stabilize their lives.
LAF’s ability to take on many of a client’s legal problems provides a comprehensive solution to their problems for good.  This approach to combatting poverty is one of the ways LAF’s work is unique – and it is work that is uniquely necessary in our community. Your support helps make that work possible. On behalf of our clients and staff, I want to thank you.
Katherine W. Shank
LAF Director of Volunteer Services
and Interim Executive Director
A Supreme Court Victory Impacting Survivors of Domestic Violence 
One Case Makes a Big Difference
Fifteen years ago, Matthew Gray was dating a woman. Four years ago, after having been broken up for over a decade, he stabbed her, and was found guilty of domestic battery. On appeal, he successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA) as it applied to his relationship with the victim, since they hadn’t dated for a number of years and were “just friends” at the time he attacked her. In essence, his argument was that because they were not currently dating, he should only be guilty of battery, not domestic battery, which is a more serious charge.
When the case made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court, LAF authored an amicus brief in partnership with pro bono attorneys from Dentons LLP, arguing that the Illinois legislature has intentionally continued to broaden the scope of protection for domestic violence survivors under the IDVA over the past 30 years, and that “the definition of a dating relationship under the IDVA should not be construed to restrict access to the legal system.”
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed in a unanimous decision, reversing the appellate court’s judgment and upholding the current, broad definition of a dating relationship. “This is an important decision because it upholds the constitutionality of the IDVA and protects survivors of domestic violence seeking Orders of Protection from former intimate partners, regardless of when the dating relationship ended,” says Jennifer Payne, Supervisory Attorney in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group.
Whether it’s representing individual clients or advocacy on a broader scale, LAF is proud to be on the front lines fighting for survivors of domestic violence.
Legislative Victory for  
Juvenile Expungement
Governor Rauner signed a bill to streamline records expungement processes
Rich Cozzola, center back, among others at a press conference
Photo courtesy of Twitter @ToniPreckwinkle
All juvenile criminal records are supposed to be sealed for good when a person turns 18, so that children who have committed crimes can get a fresh start as adults.  But even sealed records have a way of getting out, and the only way to really clear a record completely is through the sometimes complicated process of juvenile records expungement.  A new bill, which Governor Rauner signed into law this month, allows some juvenile records to be automatically expunged and makes it a class C misdemeanor with a $1000 fine to illegally share confidential juvenile records.
At LAF, Rich Cozzola, Director of the Children & Families Practice Group, has long been closely involved in efforts to increase the number of expungments by simplifying the process and providing access to attorneys.  Together with the Pritzger School of Law at Northwestern, SmartChicago, Mikva Challenge, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and the clerk’s office, their efforts have made a real difference for giving young people a second chance at school loans, jobs, and a future unburdened by records that should have been sealed in the first place.
Holding DHS to Its Promises 
A Pro Bono Volunteer Goes Way Beyond
Just Helping Fill Out Forms
Every year, people getting SNAP benefits (from the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) have to fill out a complicated form to redetermine their eligibility.  After James accidentally left a question about his medical expenses blank on his form, he understandably got back an erroneously low benefit.  He appealed and submitted proof of his medical expenses, and the Department of Human Services promised to restore his benefits if he withdrew the appeal.  He did, but DHS broke their promise and wouldn’t give him the food stamps he deserved. 
Two appeals later, with the help of an LAF attorney and a pro bono volunteer, DHS still wouldn’t budge.  So Karen Lewis, the volunteer attorney who works as a food engineer, who began volunteering because she “just wanted to help people fill out the forms,” found herself standing up next to James in front of a judge. 
A few hundred dollars in food stamps is not the sort of cases most law firms would take on.  But for James, it meant the difference between eating healthy food and not getting by at all.  In his decision, the judge noted taht the relationship between DHS and applicants should not be adverserial, and that they can't revoke a promise just because they don't like it anymore. Karen and James’ joy at learning he would be getting the appropriate balance on his LINK card was effusive, and his enthusiasm about the food he was planning on buying to celebrate was worth every effort. 
Thank you to Karen for her dedicated work on this case, and to all the unsung volunteers like her who go above and beyond for LAF’s clients every day. 
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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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