September eNewsletter, ICJIA Grant, and Comprehensive Services

GPruz2When 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 (proof: she is pictured here with the original sign from the southside neighborhood office from the ’70’s.).
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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LAF Represents at Legal Aid Conference

 Earlier this month, most of LAF’s staff attended the 2017 Illinois Legal Aid Advocates Conference hosted by the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. The two-day event is only put on every three years, and this year it was held at the McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. The conference gave our staff the chance to learn new things, meet new colleagues and reconnect with old ones, and renew their commitment to serving our most vulnerable populations. The guest speakers encouraged attendees to recognize inherent racial biases and remember the importance of the work. Many LAF attorneys led break out sessions and were featured panel speakers, which covered all legal areas our organization handles.

LAF Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Propelling Supreme Court Victory

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.

illinoisWhen 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 issued on Friday, 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.