GHLA Staff

We are a diverse and experienced group of lawyers and support staff who work to help our clients meet their basic human needs for shelter, safety, education, employment opportunities, and basic support.  We are skilled negotiators, litigators and policy advocacy leaders who are community-informed and focused on our mission. 

Staff Bios

Linda Allard - Staff Attorney
Linda Allard practices family law representing victims of domestic violence.  She’s worked for more than a decade on behalf of domestic violence victims, including time as one of GHLA’s “Partnership Attorneys” who represented victims as part of a statewide legal assistance initiative funded by the federal Office on Violence Against Women.  Linda was appointed by Senator Donald E. Williams, Jr., President Pro Tempore of the Senate to co-chair the Grandparents’ Visitation Rights Task Force.  She was also appointed by Senator Coleman as a member of the Task Force on Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children. Linda states, “I love being a legal aid attorney.”   Linda graduated from Cornell Law School, where she was a member of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, President of the Black Law Students Association, and Secretary of the American Indian Law Students Association.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, where she was a Student Association Representative of the Minority Industrial and Labor Relations Student Organization.

Jamey Bell - Executive Director
Jamey has more than 30 years of experience as an attorney and policy advocate in the areas of health care access, education, child welfare, and family economic security.  She provides day-to-day oversight of the agency, including administrative, financial, advocacy, personnel, strategic planning, communications, and legislative issues. She serves on the CBA Pro Bono Committee, and the Judicial Branch Access to Justice Libraries Work Group.  Previously, she was appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy to be the Child Advocate for the State of Connecticut in November, 2012. From 2008 to 2012, she was the Executive Director of Connecticut Voices for Children, where she worked on health, education, child welfare, and tax and budget issues, and led the organization’s legislative advocacy.  She was an attorney at GHLA for 26 years. During that time she was lead counsel in successful class action litigation to require the Connecticut Department of Social Services to provide adequate dental care to children in the Medicaid program.  Jamey Bell has a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. 

Kelly Bonafé - LawyerCorps Attorney
Kelly Bonafé is the LawyerCorps Attorney fellow at Greater Hartford Legal Aid, where she represents children and adults who have been denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and parents who are seeking special education services for their children in school. Prior to receiving the LawyerCorps Connecticut fellowship, Ms. Bonafé clerked for the Honorable Robert E. Beach at the Connecticut Appellate Court.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Dickinson College, where she was a Benjamin Rush scholarship recipient, a member of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and majored in International Relations and Russian.  Ms. Bonafé earned her J.D. with honors and a concentration in criminal law from Western New England University School of Law, where she was an Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. scholarship recipient and Senior Note Editor of the Western New England Law Review. 

Janet Caraballo - Legal Secretary
Janet Caraballo provides secretarial support to GHLA’s employment and benefit units and has over 24 years of experience in both legal administrative work and customer service.  Janet is fluent in English and Spanish.  She obtained an Associates Degree in Applied Science in Secretarial Studies from Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York in 1991.

 

 

Mike Casasanta - Finance Director
Mike Casasanta joined GHLA in 2014.  Before that, Mike had his own accounting and financial planning practice, and worked in public accounting auditing non-profit organizations and financial institutions.  Mike is a graduate from the University of Hartford and has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration as well as a Master of Science in Professional Accounting.  Mike has been a Certified Public Accountant since 1988 and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants.  Mike has also been Certified Financial Planner™ since 2005.

 

Lynn B. Cochrane - Staff Attorney
Lynn Cochrane began her career at GHLA in 1982.  She represents parents and students in special education, school discipline matters, and educational issues arising out of homelessness and student residency. She has extensive practice and litigation experience in juvenile delinquency and child protection matters, and has argued before the Connecticut Supreme and Appellate Courts.  Along with Jill Davies, she co-authored Family Problems, DCF, and the Law: A Guide for Parents.   She received her B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in 1979, and her J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1982.  She is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association and a board member of Connecticut Voices for Children.

Jill Davies - Deputy Director
Jill Davies started at GHLA in 1984 and has served as Deputy Director since 1988.  She directs Building Comprehensive Solutions to Domestic Violence, a key initiative of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, in collaboration with GHLA.  Her advocacy on behalf of family violence victims spans three decades.  One aspect of her work is the conception and continued development of the victim-defined approach to advocacy.   She has written and consulted extensively on issues of importance to family violence victims, including advocacy and safety planning, poverty, and legal issues.  The author of numerous articles and materials regarding violence against women and family violence, her writing encourages critical thinking and supports improved practice.  She is co-author of the book, Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices, Sage Publications (2014). 

Marilyn Denny - Staff Attorney
Marilyn Denny has twenty six years of experience as an elder law attorney, first at Neighborhood Legal Services, then at GHLA since 1997.  Marilyn also previously worked at Westfield State College, Mt. Holyoke College, the University of Saint Joseph, Trinity College, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Marilyn has a B.A. from Oberlin, a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.

 

 

Enelsa Díaz - Managing Attorney
Enelsa Díaz represents victims of domestic violence in family law and immigration matters, in addition to her management responsibilities.  She is a liaison to local domestic violence shelters regarding clients with legal needs.  Fluent in Spanish, Enelsa provides Spanish-speaking clients with the opportunity to speak to her directly about their legal issues.  She is frequently asked to speak and train other attorneys concerning domestic violence throughout the state.  She was on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence for six years.  She has also been a mentor to several middle school students through the Truancy Intervention Project for the past six years, and is their longest-serving volunteer to date.  Before joining GHLA in 2007, Enelsa worked in private practice in a small general practice firm.  There she focused mostly on litigation in the areas of family, housing, and criminal defense. She obtained her B.A. in Criminal Justice from The University of Hartford summa cum laude and her J.D. from Western New England University School of Law.

Amy Corbett Dion - Staff Attorney
Amy Corbett Dion divides her practice between education and employment issues. In the education realm, Amy assists families with students who may be eligible for special education.  Her work includes seeking appropriate supports and services and remedies for violations of the law, addressing bullying and discrimination issues, and representing students in expulsion hearings.  In her employment practice, Amy represents clients in unemployment hearings, discrimination cases, and wage theft cases.  Amy has a B.A. from Boston College and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law. She has been a member of the bar since 2007.

 

Thamar Esperance-Smith - Staff Attorney
Thamar Esperance represents victims of domestic violence in family law matters including dissolution of marriage, child support, alimony, restraining orders, and child custody and visitation.  She currently serves as Secretary of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association.  She also serves on the Executive Board of the Connecticut Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Section and as a District 12 Delegate on the Connecticut Bar Association’s House of Delegates.  Before joining GHLA in 2012, she was a Legal Research Clerk in the Connecticut Superior Court. Ms. Esperance received her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Pace University in 2007, minoring in Sociology, Anthropology and History. She earned her JD with honors at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where was awarded a Law and Government Fellowship and won the Conference of Municipalities Award. During law school she was an intern in the CIty of Hartford Office of Corporation Counsel. She also served as an intern for the Rockland County NY District Attorney’s Office.

Sue Garten - Managing Attorney
Sue has worked at GHLA since 1985 and has been a managing attorney since 1995.  She is responsible for supervising GHLA’s housing, employment, benefits, and senior work.  She represents persons with disabilities, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS, in employment, public benefit, and confidentiality cases.  Sue pursued litigation and legislative initiatives that resulted in Connecticut allowing disabled individuals to qualify for unemployment benefits even if they can only work part-time.  She also actively advocates for clients who are shut out of the job market because of their criminal records.  Sue gives this explanation for her long tenure at GHLA: “What I love about this job is the freedom to seek a remedy for my clients’ problems in whatever forum is most effective and appropriate- a court, an administrative agency, the legislature, or the media.”  Sue graduated from the New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar and an editor of the Review of Law and Social Change.  She was a labor and community organizer before attending law school.

Veronica Halpine - Staff Attorney
Veronica Halpine has been a staff attorney at GHLA for over 17 years.  She primarily represents GHLA clients in Social Security disability appeals.   She is a graduate of Connecticut College and the University of Connecticut School of Law.   

Kara Hart - Staff Attorney
Kara provides outreach to increase immigrants’ knowledge of legal rights and represents immigrant survivors of violence and sexual assault in immigration matters including Violence Against Women Act Self-Petitions, Battered Spouse Waivers and U Visas.  From 1998 until 2014, she worked with the Connecticut Domestic Violence Legal Assistance Partnership Initiative, a state-wide project funded by the federal Office of Violence Against Women, and she continues to represent clients referred by area domestic violence programs.  She is a member of Connecticut’s Trafficking in Persons Council and of Connecticut’s Family Violence Model Policy Governing Council.  She currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Kara received a B.A. from College of the Holy Cross, an M.A. from New York University in Hispanic Civilization, and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Brenda Hernandez - Receptionist
Brenda enjoys welcoming clients and visitors with a warm smile. She not only takes phone calls and refers them to the appropriate unit, she also processes intakes and performs other tasks as assigned. She has over 20 years of experience in customer service and working with low income families. She strongly believes in giving a helping hand to those in need. Previous employers include The Husky Program and Benecare.  One of her favorite quotations is “Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in his/her shoes”.  (Nelle Harper Lee)

 

 

Nancy Hronek - Staff Attorney
Nancy Hronek has been a staff attorney in GHLA’s Housing Unit since 1986.  Her practice primarily involves representing tenants in eviction defense and other landlord-tenant issues, as well as representing clients threatened with loss of their federal and state housing subsidies.  Nancy has a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a B.A. from Bowling Green State University.  Prior to joining GHLA, Nancy worked at the Connecticut ACLU.  Nancy is a member of the steering committee of the Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs (CABHN).

Luz Jones - Legal Secretary
Luz Jones supports the Housing Unit’s work, as well as the Family, Social Security Disability and Employment units.  She has been with GHLA since 2012, and has over a decade of experience as a paralegal and legal secretary.  Luz is fluent in Spanish and English, and provides interpreting support for GHLA’s clients.

 

 

Lisa Levy - Staff Attorney
Lisa Levy joined GHLA in 2000 as a staff attorney in the Employment Unit.  She represents clients in cases involving employment discrimination, wage theft, violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, unjustified charges of abuse/neglect against direct care workers by state agencies, unemployment compensation, ex-offender issues, and retaliation against non-unionized workers who engage in protected activities. Lisa also advocates for systemic issues affecting GHLA clients.  She’s worked to improve due process procedures for placing individuals on the Department of Children and Families’ child abuse registry, and for additional safeguards for employees under the Connecticut Personnel Files Act.  Lisa also regularly presents on employment law topics to non-profit and public organizations that serve low income individuals.  Lisa previously worked at Day, Berry & Howard (now Day, Pitney) and the Connecticut State Police Union. She was an Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a Clerk for the late Justice Paul J. Liacos of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  She graduated from Smith College and Suffolk University Law School cum laude.

Lucy Martinez - Legal Secretary
Lucy Martinez has been a secretary at GHLA since 1988.   She currently supports GHLA’s Social Security Disability work.  She previously worked for Neighborhood Legal Services and Connecticut Legal Services, and has worked in most of the substantive units of legal aid practice.

Ramona Mercado-Espinoza - Staff Attorney
Ramona represents clients in family law matters. Throughout her career, Ramona has demonstrated a strong commitment to achieving equal justice for poor people though legal services. She began her career as a Public Defender at Hartford Geographical Area Court 14 representing indigent persons. Later Ramona opened a private firm in Hartford, practicing personal injury, real estate and family law. Before coming to GHLA as a staff attorney, Ramona served for nine years as a member of GHLA’s Board of Directors. Ramona received her J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1986.

 

Brian D. Moore - Information Technology Administrator
Brian has more than 17 years of IT experience and has worked across a broad spectrum of industries, including finance, manufacturing, non-profit, and government.  Strategic use of technology is central to GHLA’s efficient provision of services and Brian plays an essential role in technology planning and implementation.  He provides day-to-day IT support and troubleshooting, trains staff, handles hardware and software issues, and also works on IT expansion projects.  Increasingly, technology issues arise in GHLA’s legal practice, particularly regarding evidence, and Brian also assists with these matters.  Brian serves on the Connecticut Bar Foundation Website Advisory Board.  Previous employers include ING (now VOYA), Ability Beyond Disability, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  Brian is an A+ Certified Computer Technician, an N+ Certified Network Technician, and a Microsoft Certified Professional.

Maria Morelli-Wolfe - Staff Attorney
Maria Morelli-Wolfe has been a staff attorney at GHLA since 1997.  During her early years at GHLA, Maria practiced disability, family, employment, housing, and child protection law.  For the past 10 years, Maria’s work has focused on education, representing families of children with disabilities to enforce their rights to a free appropriate public education and related services, compensatory educational services, and due process in school discipline.  Maria obtained her J.D., cum laude, from The Washington College of Law at American University, where she served as Editor in Chief of the Journal of International Law & Policy.  Prior to law school, Maria was a full-time volunteer for a year in East Harlem, New York in a small social service and home health care agency.  She obtained her B.A. from Yale University.

David Pels - Staff Attorney
David Pels has been a legal services attorney for over 35 years, first at Neighborhood Legal Services, then at GHLA since 1997. He practices in the Housing Unit. 

 

 

 

Lucy Potter - Staff Attorney
Lucy Potter has been a staff attorney at GHLA since 1984. She has practiced in every area since that time, but came to focus on public benefits and child support enforcement.  While much of her work is representing clients in administrative forums, she has also been involved in federal litigation to reform access to the Department of Social Services, seeking timely processing of food stamps and timely distribution of child support collections. In state court she successfully argued several child support cases at the Appellate and Supreme Courts. At the legislature, she has advocated extensively around child support and public benefits issues, and helped shape Connecticut reforms to protect low income people and reunited families in the child support system.  She has also served on five Child Support Guideline Commissions.  She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Shirley M. Pripstein - Staff Attorney
Shirley Pripstein has practiced family law at GHLA since 1980, serving as managing attorney from 1982 to 1988.  She was appointed as a family law special master in Hartford Superior Court at the program’s inception in 1986, and has continued in that capacity in the judicial districts of Hartford, New Britain, and Tolland.  She has also served as an attorney special master at the Regional Family Trial Docket in Middletown.  While at GHLA, Shirley has been active in the Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, including as chair.  She has served on the executive committee since 1991, and has been either the section’s legislative liaison or active on the legislative subcommittee since the mid-1990s.  Prior to joining GHLA, Shirley was both Environmental Coordinator and Acting Director of Environmental Health at the New Haven Health Department, and worked in New Haven’s corporation counsel’s office. She is a former board member of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, the Emergency Medical Services Council of South Central Connecticut, and the New Haven Women’s Liberation Center.  Shirley earned a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law, an undergraduate degree from Temple University, and a Master in Public Health from Yale University School of Medicine.

Edna Rodriguez - Legal Secretary
Edna Rodriguez has been a secretary at GHLA since 2000.  She provides support for education unit attorneys in a full range of activities including intake and eligibility determinations, closing cases, managing weekly unit meetings, maintaining electronic files, scheduling, and preparing routine correspondence.  Edna also maintains the short calendars and coordinates service of subpoenas and domestic violence shelter referrals.  Edna is bilingual (Spanish and English) and provides interpretation in attorney and client communications.  Prior to joining GHLA, Edna worked at a local private firm and as a paralegal in the legal department of a national insurance company.

Rafael Rodriguez Cruz - Staff Attorney
Rafael Rodriguez Cruz has been a staff attorney at GHLA since 1997. He focuses on children’s advocacy, representing clients in the areas of education and Social Security/SSI benefits.  He also conducts community outreach, currently working in the towns of Bristol and East Hartford. He is fully bilingual (English/Spanish). Rafael is one of the co-chairs of the East Hartford Community Partners Group, a coalition of human services agencies in the city of East Hartford.  

Wilfred Rodriguez - Staff Attorney
Wilfred Rodríguez has been a legal services staff attorney, first at Neighborhood Legal Services, and then at GHLA, since 1987.  He concentrates in housing cases.  Wilfred serves on the board of directors of AIDS Connecticut and before that, served on the board of AIDS Project Hartford.  Wilfred received his B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Connecticut.

 

 

Jessymar Rosario - Legal Secretary
Jessymar is a Hartford native and is fluent in English and Spanish.  She has experience working with the community through her previous positions with the City of Hartford, the Hartford Public Library, and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).  She then worked in a products liability defense law firm in Puerto Rico for almost 10 years.  She obtained a B.S. in Human Development & Family Studies from the University of CT in 2002.  She recently joined the GHLA team providing administrative support to the Family, Immigration and Litigation units.

 

 

Giovanna Shay - Litigation and Advocacy Director
As GHLA's Litigation and Advocacy Director, Giovanna Shay supports GHLA's attorneys in all practice areas. Giovanna served as a staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and as a Robert M. Cover Fellow at the Yale Legal Services Organization, where she helped to supervise students in the Complex Federal Litigation Clinic and in the inaugural year of Yale's Supreme Court Clinic.  Earlier in her career, she was a Soros Justice Fellow at the ACLU National Prison Project and law clerk to then-Senior Justice Ellen Ash Peters at the Connecticut Supreme Court.  Immediately before joining GHLA, Giovanna was a tenured Professor of Law at Western New England University School of Law, where she taught courses including Professional Responsibility and Domestic Violence, and her research focused on over-incarceration.  She is a graduate of Pomona College and Yale Law School.

Geralynn Sylver-McGee - Policy Advocate
Geralynn McGee is the Policy Adocate at Greater Hartford Legal Aid. She supports organizations and state agencies focused on oral health advocacy, with the intention of becoming a thought leader committed to health equity and integration through policy and systems change in Connecticut. She is a member of the Connecticut Coalition of Oral Health, where she serves on the Policy and Advocacy Group. Geralynn received her Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2006 and earned her J.D. at the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2015, where she was awarded the Nina E. Olson and Janet Spragens Low Income Taxpayers Clinic Award for exceptional dedication and excellence in the representation of Connecticut’s low-income taxpayers. During law school she interned for the Honorable Vanessa Bryant in the U.S. District Court in Hartford. She also served as Legal Intern to Chief Public Defender Susan Storey at the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services.

Cecil J. Thomas - Staff Attorney
Cecil J. Thomas has been a staff attorney at GHLA since 2006.  During this time, he has represented hundreds of clients in a variety of areas, predominantly in housing matters.   His experiences have included state and federal class action lawsuits, as well as appellate litigation.  Cecil has been a member of the board of directors of the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut (SABAC) since 2007, and served as president of SABAC in 2008 and from 2010-12.   He also serves on the board of the University of Connecticut School of Law Alumni Association.  Cecil is the recipient of the 2008 Connecticut Supreme Court Law Day Award, the 2013 Hartford County Bar Association Judge Maxwell Heiman Memorial Award, and was named as a “New Leader in the Law” by the Connecticut Law Tribune in 2014.  Cecil received his Juris Doctor from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2006. He graduated cum laude from Brandeis University in 2003 with a Master of Arts in American History, and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and in History.

Kathy Tracy - Executive Administrative Assistant
Kathy Tracy has been an Executive Administrative Assistant at GHLA since 2008.  Kathy provides administrative support for the GHLA Foundation including scheduling, processing payments, generating mailings and acknowledgements, and maintaining donor lists.  She also supports human resources and provides backup assistance with financial procedures and payroll.  She assists the executive and administrative management teams in a myriad of tasks including preparing for board and other meetings, and maintaining an extensive ongoing “tickler” system for internal operations and grant applications and reporting.  Prior to working at GHLA, Kathy worked for a large corporation for 22 years, holding many different positions, most recently Administrative Assistant.

Linda Woods - Bookkeeper
Linda has been a bookkeeper and/or financial administrator for over 30 years, working with various nonprofit organizations from the Amistad House to the Village for Families and Children.  She joined GHLA in 1998 and prepares and maintains the payroll and other financial records at GHLA.