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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 eight 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

Civil Rights Paralegal
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

Zoraima Yoli Cruz

Director of Development
Zoraima Yoli Cruz is a 3 time AmeriCorps alumna. Through the leadership development program Public Allies, she recruited attorneys and corporate donors to support FDLA’s programs. She has extensive experience with volunteer development, fundraising, and event planning having worked with Chicago Cares, City Year Chicago, and the American Cancer Society. Zoraima continues her passion of...
Zoraima Yoli Cruz

Alex Santistevan

Staff Attorney & Legal Education Director
Alexandria (“Alex”) Santistevan is the Community Justice Initiative (CJI) Program Manager and a Know Your Rights (KYR) Staff Attorney at First Defense Legal Aid. Alex’s experience as an advocate for justice began with Colorado Legal Services- Migrant Farmworker Division (CLS). There, she deepened her passion for helping underrepresented and underserved communities. Since, she has been...
Alex Santistevan

Daniel Massoglia

Staff Attorney & Civil Rights Program Manager
Daniel Massoglia is a Staff Attorney and the Civil Rights Program Manager 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...
Daniel Massoglia

Ray Robinson

Know Your Rights Know Your Resources Organizer
Ray Robinson is a member of the Alumni Association of Cook County Jail, and advocate for the formerly incarcerated and addicted. Ray has held numerous outreach and policy advocacy roles where he helps bring the voices of those impacted to the table with professionals in the system to address human rights issues in the jail...
Ray Robinson

Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley N. Rodriguez, Esq. fuels her passion for social justice as a VISTA Attorney with First Defense Legal Aid, where she educates over-policed communities of their rights as citizens and on alternatives to policing. In addition, Ashley is the Founder and Principal Attorney of Second Chance Law LLC. As an advocate for the people, Ashley...
Ashley Rodriguez

DeNashia Robinson

Hotline VISTA Attorney
DeNashia Robinson is an AmeriCorps Vista. She helps educate local communities on their constitutional rights when interacting with police and has a focus on discussing alternative resources beyond calling 911 when police May not be the answer. DeNashia is a recent May 2020 graduate and will be starting law school in Fall 2021.
DeNashia Robinson

Suzanne Brown

Suzanne Brown is an AmeriCorps VISTA working to build the capacity and partnerships of FDLA’s 24-hour hotline. Originally from Florida, Suzanne is a rising junior at Yale studying Ethics, Politics & Economics, and is taking a year off from her studies to serve with AmeriCorps. She is passionate about liberating impoverished communities, and she hopes...
Suzanne Brown

Brittany Shaw

Help not Jail VISTA
Brittany manages pro bono partnerships, restorative justice project development and cases in FDLA’s new Civil Legal Aid program. Saint Louis University School of Law (2019) and Bradley University (2016) Alum. Raised partially in NC, but mostly in Illinois suburbs. Practices Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Family Law, and Small Business/Non-profit law for the time being. Hobbies...
Brittany Shaw

Maddison Brindle

Maddison Brindle is an Americorps VISTA working on the development team at FDLA. She received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in English Literary Studies and a minor in Women’s Gender Studies in 2018, and plans on starting graduate school in the fall of 2021 to begin her PhD in English. She...
Maddison Brindle

Lyla Wasz-Piper

Civil Rights Legal Aid and Restorative Justice Fellow
Lyla Wasz-Piper is a Civil Rights Legal Aid and Restorative Justice Fellow at FDLA. She is recent graduate of Harvard Law School. Upon bar admission, Lyla will work in four key capacities: as a litigator in FDLA’s Civil Rights Legal Aid Program, in a dual role as legal counsel and community organizer for FDLA’s Know...
Lyla Wasz-Piper

Queen Daphne

Enforce Your Rights VISTA
Queen Daphne is devoted to delivering accessible relevant actionable legal information and resources to the community. She has extensive experience in organizing people, information, media and money. At her current post, she is supporting a team of 10 community members to reach others with effective Know Your Rights – Know Your Resources materials and supports....
Queen Daphne

Eddie Lee

Jury of Our Peers VISTA
Eddie served as an AmeriCorps VISTA building the capacity of our education and outreach programming. Now in his second year of service, he spearheads the new Jury of our Peers pre-trial jury education program development letting people impacted by the criminal system know how juries work and why consider serving. He is an alumnus of...
Eddie Lee

Alonso Cisneros

Policy Advocacy Coordinator
Alonso is a third-year undergraduate student at Northwestern University studying Social Policy with a minor in Legal Studies. With an interest in the intersection between law, race, and social justice, he is motivated to push forth policy that helps and protects marginalized communities. Born and raised in the west suburb of Aurora, Alonso hopes to...
Alonso Cisneros

Board of Directors

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 Law Offices, 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