CBA Record Sept-Oct 2019


Pro Bono Week 2019 Connecting with Communities

By Katherine W. Shank

I t was just after 5:00 p.m. when Betty Martin (not her real name) arrived at the Woodlawn Legal Clinic. Though it was a cold and already dark January night, Ms. Martin was one of 29 people waiting in the lobby of the AKArama Founda- tion Community Service Center, seeking assistance for a legal problem she couldn’t begin to tackle on her own. After complet- ing her intake forms, Ms. Martin waited patiently to meet with pro bono attorney Annie Geraghty Helms from DLA Piper, who was among the 17 volunteers staffing the clinic that evening. After staff from Legal Aid Chicago (formerly LAF) greeted Ms. Martin and signed her in, Annie introduced herself and walked with her into a large room at the back of the Center. There, pro bono attor- neys and their clients sat at tables spread across the room, gathering information

Illinois had ongoing jurisdiction over the children because their mother had been awarded custody in divorce cases filed in Cook County. When the children’s mother passed away a few weeks later, Annie and Erica promptly filed the guardianship petition for Ms. Martin. Just three days after they filed, Annie and Erica received a devastat- ing phone call from Ms. Martin’s other daughter, Jasmine (not her real name) letting them know that Ms. Martin also passed away just a day after her daughter’s funeral. Annie and Erica worked quickly to file a new petition to name Jasmine as the children’s legal guardian. After hearing the case, the court granted the petition and also granted Jasmine permission to relocate the children back to Indiana where Jasmine resided with her own family. The pro bono attorneys from DLA

and providing initial advice. After sitting down, Ms. Martin shared that she wanted to become the legal guardian of her three grandchildren because their mother had just entered hospice care for advanced stage cancer. Knowing she would have training and support from the experienced staff attorneys at Legal Aid Chicago, Annie vol- unteered to help Ms. Martin even though she had never handled a guardianship case before. Back at the office, DLA attorney Erica Sitkoff joined Annie in representing Ms. Martin. Their first task was to verify that Illinois actually had jurisdiction over the children. The children and their mother had been living in Indiana and had only recently moved into Ms. Martin’s home on Chi- cago’s South Side. Following interviews with family members and a search of court cases, Annie and Erica determined that

20 September/October 2019

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