2016 – Lesley A. Arizmendi

Lesley Arizmendi’s deep commitment to the rights of people with disabilities has been evident throughout her time at Equip for Equality. What started as an externship during law school led to one year as a volunteer attorney, and to date, six years as a staff attorney for the organization.

In her current role as a staff attorney, Lesley represents clients with disabilities in various areas of civil rights including housing, employment, guardianship and community integration. Her expertise in Illinois probate law and her willingness to take on a significant number of these cases as well as mentor new attorneys and legal interns in this area has made her a highly valued member of the Equip for Equality Civil Rights Team. While she continues to take on discrimination cases, Lesley’s focus has now shifted to mental health rights and working with victims of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Among the most vulnerable and marginalized are people with mental illness who have been institutionalized in mental health facilities. Despite having limited previous experience with these legal issues, Lesley agreed to take a leading role in representing these clients. Over the past year, Lesley has been advocating for individuals who have been unlawfully and forcibly medicated, deprived of basic rights to communicate, or unlawfully restrained. Her contributions have proven to be invaluable and she has emerged as a true leader in the organization.

In addition to her significant caseload, Lesley frequently volunteers to take on additional projects. She recently provided training to staff at a public library on their legal obligations to allow patrons using service animals to access the library. Lesley also joined the Northwest Suburban Hoarding Task Force as the Equip for Equality liaison. As the only attorney in the group, Lesley provides guidance to social workers, mental health professionals, environment health workers, and law enforcement on how to assist vulnerable adults in the community who are at risk of institutionalization due to hoarding.

Lesley’s dedication to advocating for the most marginalized existed long before she joined Equip for Equality. While she attended Southwestern Law School, Lesley advocated for homeless clients at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and served as a Student Legal Representative at the Los Angeles Pro Bono Immigration Project.