Katten de Diego Clinic Celebrates Five Years

We’re proud to share that the Katten de Diego Community Legal Clinic celebrated its fifth year serving Chicago’s Humboldt Park and Wicker Park neighborhoods yesterday.

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP has had a longstanding relationship with the Jose de Diego Community Academy in the form of tutoring, school supply drives, a Lawyers in the Classroom program, and other efforts. In 2013, the firm began providing their legal expertise to the school’s families as well. The first clinic was held in April of that year and has since served over 400 members of the surrounding community with the help of more than 70 volunteers.

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Volunteers from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP at De Diego Community Academy

None of this would be possible without our partnership with Katten. They provide volunteer attorneys and paralegals each month, in addition to administrative support. “[The clinic] provides an incomparably rewarding opportunity for our attorneys to use their skills to make a tangible difference,” says Jonathan Baum, Katten’s Director of Pro Bono Services. “I have never had an attorney who came to the clinic once and didn’t come back again.” Katten also offered invaluable support to de Diego Academy last year by renovating and increasing the space used by the clinic, allowing us to host more attorneys and meet with more clients at once.

The clinic commonly addresses matters in family law, housing, and public benefits. Volunteers from Katten interview clients, then consult with LAF attorneys with experience in the relevant areas of law, and collaborate to offer some combination of advice, referrals, and representation to the client. Clinic volunteers are often able to expand LAF’s capacity by working alongside LAF attorneys on cases, or handling cases that LAF is unable to take for various reasons.

Jonathan calls Katten’s partnership with LAF “indispensable and delightful,” saying, “We simply could not have established and maintained the clinic without the insights of LAF lawyers into its creation, the training provided by LAF lawyers, and the close collaboration and mentoring from LAF lawyers both onsite at the clinic and in long-term representations that come from it.”

Even in the instance where someone does not need full representation, but rather a demand letter written or a simple phone call made, our volunteer lawyers have been willing to go above and beyond to stand up for a client. “That’s a major benefit of the Katten clinic – that the pro bono attorneys independently take things on,” says Dana Harbaugh, LAF’s AmeriCorps VISTA attorney who coordinates the clinics.

LAF is excited to see Katten de Diego and our other clinics continue to grow in their ability to increase access to civil legal services in Chicago. Many thanks to our firm, corporate, and community partners who make it all happen!Katten infographic

 

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Fighting for the Poor and Vulnerable: March 2018 eNewsletter

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 a lot more, in this month’s eNewsletter here.
And join us in the good fight.
Sincerely,
John N. Gallo
LAF CEO and Executive Director

 

A fresh start for Linda

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.

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Jose De Diego Community Academy, the site of LAF and Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP’s monthly legal clinic in Wicker Park, where we first met Linda

“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.

January eNewsletter

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.  Read more about them, and much more, in this month’s eNewsletter here.
Thank you for your continuing support.  We could not do it without you.

Elephant in the Room: #MeToo

The Elephant in the Room is a new series written by LAF attorneys discussing their experience representing individuals in situations impacted by systemic racism.

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.

Women make up the majority of the low-wage workforce in the U.S. and women of color are disproportionately represented in these jobs. These workers face rampant levels of harassment by coworkers, supervisors, and customers. Restaurant workers alone file the highest number of claims for sex harassment and retaliation with the EEOC than in any other field.

These workers face barriers in reporting their harassers at every turn:

  • An African-American housekeeper, hired through a temp-agency, may fear being attacked by a hotel guest, but is warned by others to not raise this issue to her manager as he may label her as “difficult,” which will result in the temp agency banning her.
  • A server receives lewd and graphic text messages by her coworker. When she approaches the manager he quickly dismisses her complaint because he is friends with the accused.
  • The farmworker, who picks the pumpkins for our thanksgiving pies, may decide not to report a sexual assault because she knows it will result in the loss of her work visa along with future prospects for jobs the following summer.

The common theme in the reluctance to report is not only the likelihood of being called a liar, but of how dependent the workers are on their jobs. Women working low-wage jobs aren’t able to simply find new employment the next day. Often the heads of households, they are charged with child-care, which requires flexible hours–something most jobs don’t offer. They may work paycheck to paycheck–a very real circumstance when women are rarely paid an equitable wage compared to their male counterparts; and face an even wider gap if they are women of color. And for immigrant workers, the language-barrier or lack of status, makes it seem impossible to find a job that is free of violence.

At LAF, we represent these clients; workers who have suffered workplace sexual violence and are attempting to enforce their rights. We fight to help them achieve justice. We are also proactive by training other worker rights’ advocates at our annual Modern Day American Worker conference. Most importantly, we believe women when they come to us for help.

It should then be no surprise that we celebrate Time’s person of the year selection and see glimmers of our clients’ faces–the dishwasher, the factory worker, the custodian–on the cover. We hope you see them as well and that you take a stand to believe and defend them.

Elephant in the Room: Who Is Worthy of an Education?

The Elephant in the Room is a new series written by LAF attorneys discussing their experience representing individuals in situations impacted by systemic racism. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

kidsPop quiz: who should decide which children deserve access to special education assistance?

  1. A) Parents
  2. B) Teachers
  3. C) Medical professionals
  4. D) Process improvement experts

If you are in charge of the country’s third largest school district you opt for process improvement experts who have no experience in special education or the unique needs of Chicago Public School students. Recently, a WBEZ investigation revealed how Chicago Public Schools underwent a secretive process to overhaul their procedures on how students may access special education services. CPS, through its process improvement auditors, created a “Procedural Manual” aiming to equally distribute services with more standardization. However, the new procedures ultimately resulted in CPS providing less financial support for all schools along with higher burdens placed on parents who must advocate and fight for their children’s services. According to the WBEZ report, the auditors focused less on connecting students with needed services and more on identifying ways to reduce costs by cutting services the auditors deemed unnecessary. Worse yet, CPS did not inform most parents of the manual’s existence leaving them in the dark as to why their children’s essential services were denied. CPS students are primarily students of color, living in poverty. It’s common for poor minorities to be viewed with suspicion when they seek help, yet one would think that small children with disabilities would be excluded from this type of distrust. Sadly, they are not. CPS’ new process resulted in an increase of hurdles, requirements, and delays in desperately needed services. Students with disabilities and their families, already marginalized, suffered the brunt of this harmful new policy.

For those of us that practice in special education law the result is no surprise. Students of color, particularly black students, are frequently left out of the Special Ed equation. They are less likely to be referred to programs; less likely to be given modifications and accommodations; and schools with high populations of minority students are less likely to receive the funding necessary to provide for those students with special needs. The lack of access to appropriate special education services leads to more problems. For example, students with unidentified and unmet social-emotional needs are commonly subjected to discriminatory school disciplinary actions and exclusions. Others students simply fall behind academically and are unable to fully participate in their education.

LAF has been at the forefront of this issue for years. In 2013, we sued CPS for discriminating against children with disabilities, seeking a court order to stop one of the 49 school closures that occurred that year. Those closures resulted in a disparate impact on students with disabilities, because the formula that CPS used to select schools for closure did not include a reasonable accommodation for schools that served large populations of students with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Now students with disabilities face a new barrier to appropriate services.  Last school year, when CPS created the Procedural Manual, CPS parents began to call us to help their children, who suddenly were going without their much needed resources. We advocated for dozens of individual clients who were denied special education services due to the new goals set forth by this manual.  We also began fighting for transparency and systemic change. We collaborated with other local agencies including Access Living, Legal Council for Health Justice, Equip for Equality, and the Children’s Law Group. After months of advocacy, CPS amended their manual with some improvement. However, there is still a long fight ahead to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable youth are granted access to programs and assistance they so desperately need. LAF intends to continue our fight both for our individual clients and for larger systemic change — so that all CPS students with disabilities are given the services they are entitled to under the law.