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24/7/365 Emergency Response
Lawyer-Community Creative Collaboration
Incubating Policy Solutions from the Grassroots
Interrupting Mass Incarceration at the Point of Entry
Policing the Police
Fueled by Volunteerism
Popular Education & Leadership Development
Action Research
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What does FDLA Stand For?
Organizational Values

Fairness: We work to create a society where everyone is treated fairly and equitably. We strive to show honesty, humanity, patience, and respect for all people in the process.

Dignity: We celebrate diversity with an understanding of Ubuntu: my humanity is tied to yours. We believe in a world where everyone is respected, safe, and able to flourish in every way. 

Liberation: We work together to fight for human rights and racial justice by committing ourselves to building anti-oppressive spaces and systems. 

Accountability: We believe our integrity lies in how well we hold ourselves and each other accountable to our mission and the communities we exist to serve and protect.
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FDLA's updated mission statement allows for new program strategies and expresses a broader purpose. 

FDLA mobilizes lawyers and overpoliced community members to fill gaps in public defense & create, protect, and engage replicable alternatives to the criminal system starting with its entry points.
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A: Transition Hotline Direct Services 
B: Share the First Defense Model
C: Launch New Program Strategies 
D: Build Organizational Capacity
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24/7 ONCALL ATTORNEYS: FDLA now sends attorneys from the public defender's office, exclusively, whenever station-house representation is requested.

POLICY ADVOCACY: FDLA continues to advocate a dependable way to retain and communicate with counsel as is every arrestee's right. 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS PEER EDUCATION: FDLA still spreads hope, skills, and knowledge for all to retain counsel immediately upon arrest. 

ALTERNATIVES TO 911: FDLA can now connect you with existing emergency and restorative resources to prevent unnecessary police contact and avoid violence and arrest.
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Legal Help for Victims of Police Abuse

EDUCATIONAL PACKET: community members perennially ask: can I sue? now there is a new resource with some answers!

REFERRALS: first defense will refer those who ask to firms who may consider representing them without charge

LEGAL AID: a new first defender department will consider taking cases in house as capacity allows
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Expanded Know Your Rights Topics

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: why and how to invoke our rights in a police encounter.

ENFORCE YOUR RIGHTS: what to know if you think police violated your rights and you want to sue. 

A JURY OF OUR PEERS: how it works and why consider serving on a jury.

SURVEILLING THE POLICE: points of law and safety for recording on-duty police.

Our Staff

Eliza Solowiej

Executive Director
Eliza Solowiej has been Executive Director for over five years.  She is dedicated to stopping the cradle-to-prison pipeline and replacing it with government accountability for human rights. For 20 years, she has focused her career on youth, community and organizational leadership development to this end. She is a Public Allies staff alumna, AmeriCorps alumna and management...
Eliza Solowiej

Charles Jones

Know Your Rights Organizer
Charles Jones won two 1983 suits pro se as a teenager. Since then, he worked for 2 years as an outreach counselor with Ceasefire. Charles Jones has received extensive training and experience in conflict resolution and violence prevention. He has committed his life to working with at risk youth and ensuring that communities work on...
Charles Jones

Larry Redmond

Senior Staff Attorney
Larry Redmond is an attorney, writer and photographer. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy with a minor in English. He later attended the John Marshall Law School, earning a Juris Doctor degree. He has worked as a criminal defense attorney representing high-profile death...
Larry Redmond

Ariel Atkins

Safety and Justice Community Engagement Liason
Ariel Atkins has been organizing in Chicago for the last few years. She’s been involved in the #Justice4Laquan campaign, the Justice for Ronnieman campaign, the campaign for CPAC, and many others throughout Chicago. She firmly believes that nothing can be won without educating and mobilizing the people for justice. Contact ariel (at) first-defense.org
Ariel Atkins

Gerald Polanco

CJI Program Manager & KYR Staff Attorney
Gerald Polanco is a child of immigrants and is passionate about client-centered advocacy. He is driven to provide holistic representation and community empowerment when working alongside low-income communities of color. He currently manages a city grant to increase community education on 4th, 5th, and 6th amendment rights and outreach to inform people of free legal...
Gerald Polanco

Tanya Woods

Know Your Rights Attorney
Tanya Woods, Esq. is the principal of her own solo practice and the Executive Director of the Westside Justice Center, a non-profit, holistic legal aid clinic which serves the communities on the west side of Chicago. She is a member of several national, state and local bar associations including The American Immigration Lawyers Association, The...
Tanya Woods

Phillip Sprouse

Staff Attorney
Phillip J. Sprouse is dedicated to providing client-focused representation and increasing access to justice. He began as a volunteer at FDLA and is currently a part-time staff attorney. He manages volunteers, answers hotline calls, and performs police station visits. Phillip previously practiced law in Ohio and currently has in own law practice in Chicago focusing...
Phillip Sprouse

Ben Meyer

Staff Attorney & Operations Manager
Ben Meyer is a Staff Attorney & Operations Manager with First Defense Legal Aid. Ben earned his Juris Doctorate degree and graduated from DePaul University School of Law in 2010. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in the same year. Benjamin was also been admitted to the general bar of the U.S. District Court...
Ben Meyer

Zoraima Yoli Cruz

Development & Partnerships Manager
Zoraima Yoli Cruz is the Development & Partnerships Manager at First Defense Legal Aid. Ms. Cruz has completed 3 years of AmeriCorps service; one of which serving with Public Allies where she recruited attorneys and partnered with corporate donors to support FDLA’s programs. She also launched FDLA’s in-house social enterprise call center and has extensive...
Zoraima Yoli Cruz

Daniel Massoglia

Staff Attorney & Legal Outreach Coordinator
Daniel Massoglia is a Staff Attorney and Legal Outreach Coordinator at FDLA. He graduated from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2014 and was sworn in to the Illinois Bar the same year. Daniel was introduced to social movements by Occupy Chicago and likes dogs, punk rock, and Liverpool Football Club. He also has a...
Daniel Massoglia

Diana Vargas

Know Your Rights VISTA
Diana is an AmeriCorps VISTA. She was born in Riverside, California. She has been living in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood since she was a child. Diana attended Dominican University where she majored in Political Science and Psychology and became passionate about social justice and working with underprivileged communities. Her hobbies include concerts, writing, reading and...
Diana Vargas

Alec Albor

Street Law Corps Member
Alec Albor is from Chicago. He is working actively to obtain a degree in Child Development and Liberal Arts and Sciences. Contact: alec (at) first-defense.org
Alec Albor

Nyjah Crosby

Street Law Corps Member
Nyjah Crosby is Street Law member for FDLA. She has worked in social justice with S.T.O.P.(Southside Together Organizing for Power) for 2 years. She is passionate about human rights. Nyjah is a determined young woman who strives for the best. She is outgoing, caring and she always keeps an open-mind. Contact: nyjah (at) first-defense.org
Nyjah Crosby

Board of Directors

Faith Pledger, Department of Labor, Interim Chair

Hugh Mundy, the John Marshall Law School, Secretary

Fernando Moreno, Spanish Public Radio, Treasurer

Emmanuel Andre, Northwestern University, Member

Sharone Mitchell, Illinois Juvenile Justice Project, Member

Debra Lefler, Katten LLP, Member

Mariana Karampelas, Latino Union, Member

Advisory Board

Julie Biehl, Director, Children and Family Justice Center

Jeff Brown, Northeastern University

Besty Clark, Juvenile Justice Initiative

Elfreda Dockery, Law Offices of Elfreda Dockery

Richard Dvorak, Dvorak, Toppel & Barrido, LLC

Alan Mills, Uptown People’s Law Center

Shaena Fazal, John Howard Association

Craig Futterman, University of Chicago School of Law

Scott Levy, Law Offices of Scott Levy

John Lyke, Law Offices of John Lyke Jr.

Wayne Novak, Law Offices of Wayne Novak

Sean P.  MacCarthy, Chittenden, Murday & Novotny LLC

Dev Parikh, Law Offices of Dev Parikh

Emlyn Ricketts, Jones College Prep

Sulaiman M. Qazi, Abbott Laboratories

Sarah Garza Resnick, Cook County Public Defender’s Office

Brendan Shiller, Shiller Preyar

David Simon, Eimer Stahl LLP

Patricia Smith, Law Offices of Patricia A. Smith

Theodore Woerthwein, Woerthwein & Miller

Honorary Board

Alan Goldberg: Office of the State Appellate Defender

Andrea D. Lyon: DePaul University College of Law

Carol A. Brook: Federal Defender Program

Cathy Cohen: University of Chicago department of Political Science, Black Youth Project

Cheryl Graves: Community Justice for Youth Institute, Northwestern Univeristy School of Law Children and Family Justice Center (Former Professor)

Darrius Lightfoot: Fearless Leaders by the Youth

David Coar: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Former District Judge)

Edwin A. Burnette: Former Cook County Public Defender

Flint Taylor: Founding Partner People’s Law Office

Harold Saffold: CPD Veteran, Founding member of: FDLA Board of Directors, Afro-American Patrolmen’s League (AAPL) and the National Black Police Association (NBPA)

Harold Winston: Assistant Cook County Public Defender and Supervisor in the Post-Conviction Unit

Herschella Conyers: University of Chicago Law School Mandel Legal Aid Clinic

Jamie Kalven: Invisible Institute

Jane Raley: In Memoriam: Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions

Joey Mogul: People’s Law Office, DePaul University

John T. Fitzgerald: Howard Area Community Center (Retired Executive Director)

Jorge Roque: New Life Center, CeaseFire Violence Interrupter

Karen Yarbrough: Cook County Recorder of Deeds

Kenneth L. Cunniff: Law Offices of Kenneth L. Cunniff

Locke E. Bowman: Northwestern University School of Law

Martin Castro: Former Chair: Illinois Human Rights Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Miguel Rodriguez: Alternatives Inc., Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD)

Ora Schub: Community Justice for Youth Institute

Eugene Pincham: In Memoriam, Former Justice, Illinois Appellate Court

Randolph N. Stone: University of Chicago School of Law

Richard S. Kling: Chicago-Kent College of Law

Robert Wildeboer: WBEZ

Scott Turow: Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP and Author

Sladjana Vuckovic: Law Office Of Sladjana Vuckovic, Former First Defense Staff Attorney

Sonia Antolec: Chief Administrative Law Judge for Illinois Healthcare and Family services, Former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney

Stan Willis: Law Office of Standish E. Willis, Ltd., Black People Against Police Torture

Terence F. MacCarthy: Federal Defender Program

Terrence Truax: Jenner & Block

Terri Mascherin: Jenner & Block

Thomas Sullivan: Jenner & Block

Thomas Breen: Breen & Pugh