Volunteer Success Stories: November, 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Here's what our volunteers have been up to this month! 


After a car accident left her quadriplegic, Judy enrolled in graduate school and went on to receive a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She works for a healthcare provider, where she focuses on treatment of patients with spinal-cord injuries. 

Despite the extreme physical toll it takes on her body, Judy continues to work because she believes she is in a unique position to help her patients cope with the emotional devastation that can accompany their injuries.

After taking on her current position, Judy informed Social Security that her salary would be increasing. Two years later, Social Security told Judy that she had to repay all of the disability benefits she had received since her current position began. After representing herself in an unsuccessful attempt for reconsideration, Judy sought an attorney’s help.

Numerous attorneys passed on her case before she made her way to CVLS’ Salvation Army Legal Clinic sponsored by Sidley Austin LLP. There, she met Sidley Austin associate and CVLS Junior Board member Justin From, who agreed to represent her.Justin filed an appeal with Social Security’s Office of Disability Assessment and Review. 

He argued that, although Judy’s salary was more than triple the typical eligibility threshold for disability benefits, Judy qualified for a number of significant deductions from her salary (including the cost of the attendant she pays to assist her with basic functions at work) due to the severity of her disability. 

The administrative law judge who heard the appeal agreed and granted Judy a “fully favorable” decision. As a result, Judy did not have to pay back any disability benefits she had previously received, received the back benefits she had been denied, and had her benefits reinstated going forward.

To date, these benefits total more than $140,000.

Judy is extremely grateful to CVLS, Sidley Austin, and Justin for providing her with access to free legal services.


Tara came to CVLS for help ending the seven-year marriage her father had arranged for her when she was just eighteen.  She had only met her husband three times—he lived in Saudi Arabia. Tara had dreams of going to college and becoming a career woman, while his dreams involved her staying at home. 

Determined to make a life here, Tara and her family became United States citizens, with the aid of a CVLS volunteer.  

Afterwards, Tara moved out of her parents’ home and moved in with her sister.  For the first time in her life, Tara was independent and pursuing the life she had always dreamed. But there was one more chapter in Tara’s life that she needed to close—her marriage. She returned to CVLS where Czarina Powell, a Case-Western Law School Fellow, took her case.

When Czarina called Tara to let her know she was taking her case, she could sense the trepidation in Tara’s voice. Czarina met with Tara a week before the hearing to put her at ease.  Tara’s main concern was for being questioned about her marriage in open court.  

Czarina reassured Tara that the questions would be fact-based to establish only when the marriage took place, the date of separation, the grounds of the break-up, etc.

On the day of Tara’s divorce hearing, despite her nervousness Tara kept her composure and answered Czarina’s questions with strength and confidence. Everything went smoothly and the court granted Tara’s divorce.

Tara was ecstatic. She was so grateful to finally close that last chapter in her old life. She was beaming as she and Czarina walked out of the court, and she told Czarina that she loved her new life.  With CVLS’ help, she was now both a new citizen and a new woman.  

Tara couldn’t thank CVLS enough, and now her future looks bright.    


Czarina passed the bar! A recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Czarina Powell has worked at CVLS as a Fellow since August. 

A terrific attorney who handled family law cases under Deputy Director Phil Mohr’s supervision, Czarina will leave us to join the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office when her CVLS fellowship ends.