Staff Biographies 

Maureen Abell, Staff Attorney
Maureen Abell practices immigration law at NHLAA, focusing mainly on removal defense. She joined the organization in 2019 after working as a family and immigration law attorney for St. Cloud Area Legal Services in Minnesota, STEPS to End Family Violence in New York City, and the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in North Carolina. Maureen received her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in New York City in 2007. During her time in law school, she served as a legal intern with Equality Now in Kenya to identify and address family law codes that did not comply with countries’ international treaty obligations and also interned with the Brooklyn DA Sex Crimes Bureau. After graduating she worked as a law fellow for the Global Justice Center in New York City where she focused on gender-based crimes and international human rights law. While living in New York, she also volunteered with the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! Program assisting people filing pro se citizenship applications.

Vicki Acker, Bookkeeper
Vicki has been balancing LAA’s books since 2007. She is a former small business owner and attended the Stone School of Business. Vicki makes cupcakes that look and taste like they came from a specialty bakery. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Don, her 17-year-old daughter, Bethany, and her Shitzhu, Levi.

Laura Clark, Controller
Laura has been with the organization since 2000. Before she was Controller, she worked as Bookkeeper and Assistant Controller/Office Manager. She is a Southern Connecticut State University graduate and has been working in accounting since 1989. She is married and the mother of two teenagers, and enjoys gardening, reading and photography.

Francis X. Dineen, Senior Counsel
Frank is one of the longest-serving legal services lawyers in the country, and a Clinical Lecturer at Yale Law School. Frank was instrumental in the founding of New Haven Legal Assistance in 1964  and served as its Deputy Director for over 30 years. He is credited with reinventing landlord/tenant practice in Connecticut and has been involved in many landmark cases. He has argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court: Simmons v. West Haven Housing, challenging the substantial bond requirement as it affected indigent persons in their eviction appeals; and Kelly v. Robinson, involving the dischargeability of monetary criminal restitution obligations in bankruptcy. Frank is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from Yale University and Yale Law School for his work in legal services and with law students; the Charles J. Parker Legal Services Award from the Connecticut Bar Association for his work in legal services; the Yale Law Women’s Award for Teaching Excellence;  the Connecticut Law Tribune Award for Pro Bono Legal Services; and the Access to Justice Award from New Haven Legal Assistance. He was designated a James W. Cooper Fellow by the Connecticut Bar Foundation in 1994. Frank’s other responsibilities and titles at LAA have included Acting Executive Director, Director of Training, and Director of the Legal Aid Bureau. He has an A.B. from Dartmouth, and an LL.B. from Yale Law School.

Amy Eppler-Epstein, Staff Attorney
Amy Eppler-Epstein has been an attorney with NHLAA since graduating law school in 1986. She works primarily with tenants in our housing unit, but she has also worked on domestic violence family law, immigration, and is one of the attorneys running our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration clinic to help immigrant youth.  She has represented tenant organizations, has successfully litigated a discrimination case in federal court for a non-profit developer who was being blocked from developing housing for people with disabilities, and has helped influence state and federal law to protect the rights of tenants after foreclosure.  She also wrote and successfully lobbied for legislation to encourage tenants in bringing fair housing litigation by exempting such awards or settlements from state liens.   She has argued three times before the CT Supreme Court, attempting to establish a state constitutional right to shelter, and successfully arguing that tenants cannot be put out by banks after foreclosure unless they are named in the foreclosure or eviction case.  She is currently on the boards of HOME Inc., Columbus House Shelter, and the Grants Committee of the Guilford Fund for the Education. She volunteers with the Community Dining Room and Habitat for Humanity, and over the years has been a volunteer with Domestic Violence Services, Mutual Housing, and the girl scouts.  She speaks competent Spanish, and loves her job at New Haven Legal Assistance. She can’t think of anywhere else she would rather work!

Tyrese Ford
Tyrese joined NHLAA in January 2022 as a staff attorney in the Housing Unit. He graduated cum laude from Southern Connecticut State University with a B.A. in 2017 and received his J.D. from Howard University School of Law (“HUSL”) in 2020. While attending HUSL, Tyrese represented indigent persons charged with misdemeanor crimes in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, as part of HUSL’s Criminal Justice Clinic. He was also a proud member of the Charles Hamilton Houston Moot Court Team. Prior to joining NHLAA, Tyrese served as a family clerk for the Honorable Judge Price-Boreland. In his spare time, Tyrese enjoys watching anime and spending time with his family.

Kate Geruntho Frank, Web and Publications Manager,
Kate writes self-help booklets in plain language so that people who can’t afford a lawyer can have access to justice through self-advocacy. She also manages, a self-help website that provides low-income people with free civil legal information. Kate and the statewide website project are housed at LAA and supported by grants from the Connecticut Bar Foundation and the Legal Services Corporation. Kate has worked for newspaper and magazine websites (including the New Haven Register and Fine Gardening magazine) since 2000. In her spare time, Kate enjoys spending time with her two sons, knitting, yoga, and gardening.

Joanne Gibau, Staff Attorney
Joanne assists clients in the areas of Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits. Her first priority is to represent “O” income and “O” SNAP benefits clients who have been improperly denied or discontinued from TFA cash assistance, SAGA cash assistance and SNAP. Joanne also represents clients in TFA cash assistance cases where a medical or mental health exemption from the TFA time limit has been denied or discontinued, and she represents clients in SAGA cash assistance cases when their “unemployability” status has been denied or discontinued. Joanne is the LAA contact person for Raymond v. Rowland disabled class members for whom DSS has not afforded reasonable accommodations, such as scheduling a medical or mental health appointment and obtaining a report, to show that class members meet disability criteria for DSS benefits. In the area of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, Joanne represents disabled child and adult recipients of TFA cash assistance who have been improperly denied SSI. Joanne received her B.A. from Boston College in 1980 and her J.D. from George Washington University Law School in 1983.  She is a member of the Bar of the State of Connecticut and a member of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Carolyn Gontarski, Office Manager/Administrative Assistant
Carolyn joined LAA in 2002 and is responsible for keeping the office running smoothly. She is a former secretary for the criminal, housing and family units. She also worked for the Office of the State’s Attorney in New Haven and attended Stone School of Business. Carolyn and her husband are very proud parents of their three children. On the weekends they can be found traveling the state to watch swim meets and hockey games.

Richard Hine
Richard joined NHLAA in 2023 as a staff attorney in the housing unit as part of the Right to Counsel Program. Before joining NHLAA, Richard worked in a private immigration practice in Seattle, WA. He represented clients in removal defense in immigration court, and before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Richard earned his B.A. from the University of Vermont and his J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he received the Certificate in Human Rights. Richard is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and served as the Programs Chair of its Washington State chapter. He is a member of the Bar of the State of Washington and a member of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In his spare time, Richard enjoys hiking with his dogs, attending concerts, and trying new restaurants with his wife. 

Cat Itaya
Cat Itaya runs the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Program, providing free, limited-scope legal services to pro se civil litigants in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Before coming to LAA to start this program, Cat ran a similar program in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She has served as a law clerk to the Honorable Guido Calabresi in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Honorable Raymond J. Dearie in the Eastern District of New York, and the Honorable Mark G. Mastroianni in the District of Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2010. Cat is admitted to practice in New York and Connecticut.

Caitlin Maloney, Community Organizer
Caitlin is a Community Organizer in the Community and Economic Development (“CED”) Unit. Through her work, Caitlin assists in building partnerships between neighborhood groups and individuals for the purposes of empowering the community to work toward equitable economic development opportunities. Prior to NHLAA, Caitlin worked at the YMCA fundraising for health and education initiatives. Her focus has been to advocate and connect with others around social, economic, gender and racial justice issues. Caitlin co-founded a New Haven County based grassroots organization, which empowers mothers to work on issues at the local, state and national level, and is also the co-founder of West Haven Progressive Action Network. Caitlin loves spending time in nature with her two daughters and exploring new restaurants with her husband, Ryan.

Ben Martin, IT Administrator
Ben Martin joined LAA in 2018 after working in IT at a regional accounting firm for 9 years. He got his Bachelor’s degree at Albertus Magnus College (Go Falcons!) and his Masters at SCSU. When he’s not at work, Ben spends his time with his wife and two children and reading altogether too many books recommended on the podcasts to which he listens.

Amy Marx, Staff Attorney
Amy joined LAA in 2002. Her work in the housing unit includes representing tenants in state housing court eviction cases; representing public housing tenant groups who live in buildings facing demolition; representing tenants with federal and state housing subsidies at administrative hearings; and representing tenants in federal court. Amy is also a national leader in assisting tenants living in foreclosed properties. Before she came to LAA, Amy was a staff attorney with Connecticut Legal Services in the benefits unit. Amy received her J.D. from Yale Law School and clerked for the Honorable Kimba M. Wood at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Amy is admitted to practice in Connecticut. She serves on the Executive Committee of the ROOF Project, a collaborative project of city leaders dealing with the regional foreclosure crisis. She is a board member of New Haven Youth Tennis and Education and the Calvin Hill Daycare Center.  Her hobbies include raising backyard chickens.

Ellen Messali, Staff Attorney
Ellen Messali is a new staff attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance and began working in the family law unit, doing family and immigration work, in August, 2016.  Prior to coming to NHLAA, Ellen worked as the staff attorney for the Survivor Services Program at the International Institute of Connecticut for nearly four years. There, she represented torture survivors in their applications for asylum, and other humanitarian relief, and also represented survivors with U Visa and VAWA Petitions.  Before beginning her work at the International Institute of Connecticut, Ms. Messali served as a civil clerk at Waterbury Superior Court for the Honorable Wilson Trombley, and as a family clerk at Milford Superior Court for the Honorable Robert Malone.  She holds a BS in Legal Studies and Political Science from Roger Williams University, and a Juris Doctor and Human Rights Certificate from University of Connecticut School of Law.  Ellen enjoys yoga and tap dancing and is working on speaking both French and Spanish conversationally.

Anthony Nanni
Anthony Practices Housing Law at LAA. He joined in July 2022 after graduating from Syracuse University College of Law. Prior to joining LAA, Anthony participated in New York’s Pro Bono Scholar Program. He worked at Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse, New York, where he represented clients at the New York Department of Labor and Syracuse City Housing Court. Anthony also received a Master’s Degree on Race and Gender in the Antebellum South from the University of Connecticut and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Hartford with a bachelor’s degree in American History.

Elizabeth Rosenthal
Lizzie joined LAA as Deputy Director in May 2017, after more than ten years at Legal Assistance Foundation in Chicago. Lizzie was an undergraduate at Yale and attended Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, from which she graduated cum laude with a Law and Social Policy concentration. Before LAF, Lizzie clerked for the Honorable Benson E. Legg, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in Baltimore. In 2016, Lizzie and her litigation team, which included attorneys from a private law firm, were awarded the Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s Pro Bono and  Public Service Award for litigating a Fair Housing Act case in federal court that led to securing 1800 units of public housing in a desegregated opportunity area in Chicago. In her free time, Lizzie enjoys spending time with her extended family, traveling abroad, and catching up on news and politics from her native ashington, DC.

Rachel Scotch
Rachel A. Scotch, Esq. is an alum of Yale College (BA, 2003) and Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA (JD, 2008). She also proudly passed through several of the New Haven area’s other fine institutions of higher learning along the way, including South Central Community College (now Gateway)(AS, 1991), Paier College of Art, and Southern Connecticut State University. Rachel is admitted to practice law in both Connecticut (2016) and Massachusetts (2008). Prior to joining NHLAA as a Right to Counsel Housing Attorney in October of 2022, she had spent most of her legal career zealously defending clients as a public defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) in Massachusetts. In that capacity, she represented people who could not afford attorneys and were facing criminal prosecution, as well as involuntary mental health and civil commitments. She holds a certificate from the renowned National Criminal Defense College and worked in the nationally recognized Criminal Defense Training Unit of CPCS as a training attorney. Rachel has taken over 20 trials to verdict, and has worked on appeals in Massachusetts’ highest courts. In 2010 she co-authored the appellant’s brief in Commonwealth v. Porter P., 456 Mass. 254 (2010), a case which established the right to privacy for residents of transitional living spaces in Massachusetts. For many years, Rachel fought alongside her colleagues in CPCS to gain the right to collectively bargain, and from 2019-2022 she was honored to serve them as president of the MassDefenders, the union of administrative professionals, investigators, social service advocates, attorneys, paralegals, IT and HR core staff at CPCS. Prior to going to law school, Rachel spent time with the Yale Child Study Center as an IICAPS (Intensive In-Home Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services) mental health counselor. She sings in the alto section of the Trinity on the Green Parish choir, is an avid baker, and will happily tell you all about the 10+ seasons she spent working for her beloved Boston Red Sox as a game day employee.  

Rachel Slajda
Rachel joined NHLAA in 2023 as a staff attorney in the housing unit, where she represents tenants in eviction proceedings as part of the Right to Counsel program. Previously she worked as a journalist at MSNBC, Law360, and elsewhere. She attended Northeastern University for her bachelor’s degree and City University of New York School of Law for her law degree. She is licensed to practice in Connecticut.  

Alexis Smith, Executive Director
Alexis Smith is currently the Executive Director at LAA. Alexis served as LAA’s Deputy Director from 2012-2017 and prior to joining LAA she was a staff attorney at Greater Hartford Legal Aid, where she practiced in the education and employment units. Alexis obtained her B.A. from Duke University and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Alexis is admitted to practice in Connecticut, the District of Connecticut and the U.S. Supreme Court. She has served as president of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association and Secretary of the Connecticut Bar Association. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (CONNCAT), New Alliance Foundation, Discovering Amistad, Highville Charter School, The YMCA, and Elm City Internationals. In her spare time, Alexis enjoys running, refereeing youth soccer and basketball, and keeping up with her three small children.

Ingrid Swanson, Staff Attorney
Ingrid is one of four attorneys in LAA’s juvenile matters unit.  JMU attorneys are court-appointed to represent children and parents in child protection proceedings before the Juvenile Court.  The JMU evolved from LAA’s former child protection model project, and the unit strives to continue providing high quality representation to children and parents involved with DCF (the Department of Children and Families), through comprehensive legal, administrative, educational, and clinical advocacy.  Ingrid graduated from Dartmouth College and went on to teach elementary school in Charlotte, North Carolina, through Teach For America.  She then attended UConn Law School, and received a Skadden Fellowship which enabled her to begin working at LAA three years ago. Ingrid is admitted to practice law in Connecticut. She enjoys cooking, running, traveling, and spending time with family and her adorable dog, Roxy.

Nhi Tran, Staff Attorney
Nhi joined LAA in October, 2010, and is staff attorney in the juvenile matters unit. She graduated from New York University School of Law in 2005, where she particpated in the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.  After graduation, Nhi was hired as an AmeriCorps Access to Justice Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and subsequently, as a staff attorney.  There, she specialized in issues concerning public housing and Section 8 and spearheaded a partnership with the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to construct an implementation plan to ensure the Authority’s compliance with the Violence Against Women Act. Nhi relocated to Connecticut in 2008 and became the lead attorney in the Immigrants and Refugees New Arrivals Advocacy Project at the Center for Children’s Advocacy. Nhi is admitted to practice law in Connecticut and speaks Vietnamese and Italian.

Maria Velez, Paralegal
Maria has worked as an intake paralegal since 2014, and as a secretary in LAA’s housing unit since 1999. She previously worked for Attorney Sharyn D’Urso and is a Stone Academy graduate. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, going shopping, reading, singing, and helping others.

Jamie Wallack, Secretary
In her role as secretary, Jamie Wallack provides support for elder consumer and probate cases, employment issues, and benefits matters involving the Department of Social Services and the Social Security Administration. She also assists with developmental work and fundraising events. Prior to working at LAA, Jamie worked at Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport, Senie, Stock & LaChance in Westport, and Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff in Milford. Jamie holds a B.A. in studio art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She loves working for LAA because it gives her the opportunity to help the people of New Haven, where she was born.

Natasha White, Staff Attorney
Natasha represents children in the juvenile matters unit and has also worked in the benefits unit. She joined LAA in 2001 after graduating from Brigham Young University/J. Reuben Clark Law School. She is admitted to practice law in Connecticut.

Shelley White, Litigation Director
Shelley has been fighting for the civil rights of low-income people with LAA since 1987. She develops, manages, and supervises all federal cases, state court class actions, and appeals. She also coordinates amicus work done by LAA on cases raising issues of concern to our client community. She currently sits on the board of directors at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and is a past president of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. Shelley received the David H. Neiditz Professional Writing Award, 1994 (for best appellate brief in a Connecticut case), was a James Cooper Fellow and is a Connecticut Bar Foundation life member. For the last decade, she has been on the faculty for an Affirmative Litigation course for legal services attorneys currently sponsored by the Shriver Center in Chicago, IL. She worked for the Connecticut ALCU from 1982-1987, and at Georgia Legal Services in the Douglasville office. Shelley graduated from Boston College Law School and is a member of the Bar of the State of Connecticut and a member of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Yonatan Zamir, Staff Attorney
Yoni joined NHLAA in 2014 as a staff attorney in the housing unit, where he represents clients in a wide range of housing matters, including eviction proceedings and preserving access to affordable housing. Before joining NHLAA, Yoni served as a Fellow with Hofstra University School of Law’s Law Reform Advocacy Clinic, and previously, as Counsel to a Member of Congress and to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to working in Congress, he was a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society of New York. Originally from Chicago, Yoni earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law, where he received the Excellence in Housing Clinic Award. Yoni is a proud AmeriCorps alumnus. He is admitted to practice in Connecticut, New York, and the District of Columbia.

New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc.
205 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06510-2069
Phone: 203-946-4811 | Fax: 203-498-9271

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