Sun-Times Fellowship Recipients
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.
2016 – Adrian G. Barr
Adrian Barr’s strong commitment to making our justice system more fair and efficient for all has been the hallmark of his 13-year legal career. Upon his graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law, he joined Prairie State Legal Services as a staff attorney where he handled landlord-tenant, public benefits and disability cases. After 5 years in that role and facing financial pressure from his student loans, Adrian shifted to private practice for 3 years. During his time at a law firm in Peoria, he handled several pro bono cases for Prairie State clients and realized legal aid would be his path long-term. He returned to Prairie State’s Bloomington location as Managing Attorney in 2011.
In his role as Managing Attorney, Adrian supervises the delivery of civil legal services to low-income people and seniors in McLean, Livingston, and Eastern Woodford Counties. Under his leadership, Prairie State has implemented many innovations to expand access to justice, including playing an important role in the launch of an early Illinois JusticeCorps collaboration in McLean County with the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court and The Chicago Bar Foundation. Over the past three years, Adrian has focused his efforts on improving access to justice for victims of domestic violence. After noticing that organizations that provide domestic violence services in the county had a long history of conflict and a lack of coordination, he brought them together to meet for the first time in over a decade. Thanks to Adrian’s work, a collaboration with court staff, law enforcement, legal aid and social services has formed in order to resolve issues faced by victims of domestic violence. Even though it is fairly new, the collaborative has already resulted in improved and more comprehensive services to domestic violence victims.
Adrian’s devotion to public interest law extends far beyond his work at Prairie State. Adrian serves on the board of directors of the Immigration Project, a nonprofit organization in Bloomington providing immigrants with affordable immigration legal services. He serves on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Name Change Standardized Forms Subcommittee, and chaired it in 2015. In addition, he is a member of the PILI Eleventh Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee and is active in the McLean County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee.
2016 – Graham Bowman
Graham Bowman enrolled in law school determined to use his law license to fight poverty. After six years, Graham has not strayed far from his original goal. He developed a special interest and passion in improving access to healthcare for low-income people, particularly unaccompanied homeless youth.
Since he graduated from the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, Graham has been with the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, first as a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellow and currently as a Youth Futures Staff Attorney. In these roles, Graham has served scores of unaccompanied and homeless youth, many with disabilities and severe health needs. When Graham started at the Law Project in 2013 as a fellow, there was no health care practice and limited knowledge of the Medicaid program within the organization. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and Illinois’ expansion of Medicaid, essentially every homeless youth in the state became eligible for coverage. Because of his work during law school at Loyola’s Health Justice Project and several other public interest law organizations, Graham was ideally positioned to spearhead the health care practice within the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Graham expanded the reach of the Youth Futures Program, a mobile legal clinic deployed to schools, shelters, and other non-traditional sites throughout the city where homeless youth congregate. Thanks to Graham, Youth Futures now assists homeless youth navigate our complicated healthcare system in addition to their education and other legal needs.
Graham’s devotion to helping disadvantaged people extends far beyond his work at the Law Project. He has immersed himself in Chicago’s public interest legal community and has become an instrumental part of both the support network for homeless youth in Illinois and the larger advocacy community. In addition to representing individuals experiencing homelessness in approximately 175 cases per year, Graham drafts and advocates for legislation that promotes access to quality healthcare for homeless youth. His most successful legislation, which passed in 2014, allows unaccompanied homeless youth over the age of 14 to consent to their primary health care.
2016 – Virginia L. Torres
Virginia Torres pursued and graduated with a dual MSW/JD degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Virginia knew that with both degrees, she would have the necessary tools to deliver holistic services to people in crisis and better understand the legal and mental health issues impacting survivors of domestic violence.
Virginia has been able to put both degrees to good use at Life Span since 2013, where she works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault so that they get the legal help and support they need to find safety, rebuild their lives, and heal. As the only Spanish-speaking attorney with a social work degree at Life Span, Virginia works in a variety of capacities at the organization. Primarily she handles domestic violence and sexual assault cases, including representing survivors in their related immigration and family law cases. Her cases are often complex and the stakes are high. Life Span’s executive director says that Virginia “works hard, looks for opportunities to try new things, and does not shy away from forging new ground in cases.”
In her role as a social worker at Life Span, Virginia provides individual counseling to domestic violence survivors. Virginia also co-created and facilitates a weekly survivor support group. In recognition of the important work Virginia does at Life Span, she was nominated by the faculty and received recognition as “1 in 100 Most Notable Alumni,” commemorating Loyola’s School of Social Work centennial year.
Virginia’s deep commitment to public interest law started when she was in law school. She was a member of the school’s Public Interest Law Society and worked as a Bilingual Domestic Violence Advocate at Sarah’s Inn, an organization providing comprehensive services for families affected by domestic violence. In addition to working full time and being a dual degree student, she sought out other public interest internship opportunities, including working as a law clerk with the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, a legal intern with the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office, and a social work intern with West Suburban Senior Services.
2016 – Samoane E. Williams
After seeing firsthand how the law affects people differently depending on race and socio-economic status, Samoane Williams knew she wanted to pursue a career in public interest law. Soon after graduating from Michigan State University College of Law, she started a one-year term as an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney at First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA), an organization that provides free, 24-hour, legal representation to people in Chicago Police Department custody prior to the appointment of a public defender, and educates Chicagoans about how to protect their constitutional rights.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney, Samoane earned a poverty-level stipend, further demonstrating her enormous commitment to public service. In this role, she refined, improved and expanded FDLA’s pro bono attorney recruitment, training, management and appreciation systems, enhancing the capacity of FDLA’s pro bono program. Because of her achievements, at the conclusion of her year as a VISTA, FDLA created a new staff attorney and program administrator position for her. Now in her third year at FDLA, half of her work consists of representing people in Chicago Police Department custody at any time of the day or night when someone calls FDLA’s hotline. Her other responsibilities include supervising 24-hour shifts on FDLA’s hotline, managing pro bono attorneys and helping to create policies that direct how FDLA staff and pro bono attorneys respond to hotline calls.
While she attended Michigan State University College of Law, Samoane worked at a series of internships where she helped to preserve the rights and interests of vulnerable community members. Among these were: the Social Security Administration Office of Civil Rights & Equal Opportunity; MSU Law’s Street Law Program; and Michigan State University’s Chance at Childhood Clinic, where she assisted low-income clients with custody, divorce, and adoption cases. She spent a summer as a law student intern at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, an experience which reinforced her desire to live and work in Chicago as a public interest law attorney.
Debby Knoblock Brown
Erica Spangler Raz
Ryann Katherine Moran
Kevin Patrick Curran