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.
MEET OUR TEAM
Kelsey Bannon - Staff Attorney
Kelsey Bannon joined GHLA as a staff attorney in 2020. Prior to Kelsey’s work with GHLA she practiced fair housing law and represented clients facing housing discrimination in Massachusetts. Kelsey earned her J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2018 where she was the Editor in Chief of the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal. Kelsey graduated magna cum laude from Suffolk University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology.
Jamey Bell - Executive Director
Jamey has more than 35 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 organization agency, including administrative, financial, advocacy, personnel, strategic planning, communications, and legislative issues. She serves on the CBA Pro Bono Committee, the Judicial Branch Access to Justice Libraries Work Group, and the Advisory Board of the Connecticut Community Law Center. She is also a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation James W. Cooper Fellows Program. 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.
Nicole Bettinelli - Community Advocate Social Worker
Nicole "Nikki" Bettinelli joined GHLA in 2019 as a Social Work Intern and again in 2021 as GHLA’s first Community Advocate Social Worker. Nikki graduated with a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Connecticut in 2020 and received her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Sacred Heart University in 2019. Her graduate studies focused on grassroots community organizing, and micro and macro social work. As a social work intern at GHLA she assisted with the first ever GHLA Pardon Clinic, designed lobbying tools for policy and legislative advocacy, and collaborated with attorneys to provide resources to clients. Originally from Massachusetts, Nikki worked there with Partners in Health’s Community Tracing Collaborative Project as a Care Resource Coordinator during the pandemic, locating resources such as food, financial assistance, housing assistance for people affected by COVID-19. As GHLA’s Community Advocate Social Worker, Nikki is excited to continue to work on pardons, advocacy for seniors, and various community projects. Nikki is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) in the State of Connecticut and a Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) in the State of Massachusetts.
Douglas Butler - Staff Attorney
Doug Butler joined GHLA in 2021, working primarily in family law. Doug is an experienced civil litigator and trial attorney, working for several years with one of Hartford’s leading boutique civil defense firms. He also has extensive appellate experience, having completed a two-year clerkship at the Connecticut Appellate Court for Judges Paul M. Foti and Thomas G. West. Doug also represented indigent incarcerated individuals in both habeas and criminal appeals as Assigned Counsel for Connecticut’s Division of Public Defender Services for several years, and handled appellate matters for his previous firm. Prior to law school, Doug worked for fifteen years in human services, including in various settings from secured psychiatric units to group homes to sheltered workshops. He has worked with persons afflicted with developmental disabilities and severe mental health and substance abuse issues in various roles including providing direct care, management and clinical services. One highlight was Doug’s involvement in opening a group home for three middle-aged women who had been institutionalized for nearly the entirety of their lives. Doug graduated summa cum laude from WNEC Law School in 2008 and received his Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies from Norwich University in 2002.
Janet Caraballo - Legal Secretary
Janet Caraballo provides secretarial support to GHLA’s Elder Law and SSI units and has almost 30 years of experience in both legal administrative work and customer service. Janet is fluent in English and Spanish. She obtained an Associate 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.
Yetzael Clement - Secretary
Yetzael Clement joined the GHLA team in 2017 providing administrative support to immigration, policy, litigation and family work. He has over 10 years of experience in family law, child services, and customer service. He gained direct legal support experience working in his previous positions with the State of Delaware Family Court, Department of Social Services, and Division of Child Support Services. Yetzael is fluent in Spanish and English, and provides interpreting support for GHLA’s clients and staff.
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).
Enelsa Díaz - Managing Attorney
Enelsa Díaz joined GHLA in 2007 and has been a managing attorney since 2012. She is responsible for supervising GHLA’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault work, including the family law, immigration and SSI practice. She also manages the support staff for the entire office across practice areas. In addition to her management responsibilities, Enelsa represents victims of domestic violence or sexual assault in family law and immigration matters. She was on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence for six years and is a liaison to local domestic violence and sexual assault programs in the greater Hartford area regarding clients with legal needs. She is frequently asked to speak and train other attorneys concerning domestic violence throughout the state. Before joining GHLA, Enelsa worked in private practice in a small general practice firm where she focused mostly on litigation in the areas of family, housing, and criminal defense. Fluent in Spanish, Enelsa provides Spanish-speaking clients with the opportunity to speak to her directly about their legal issues. 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.
Clarissa Guerrero - Singer Fellow Attorney
Clarissa Guerrero is a J.D. (’20) and M.S.W. (’19) graduate from the University of South Carolina. She received her B.S. from Florida State University (’16) – Go Noles! Clarissa has extensive public interest experience, having interned with organizations including the ACLU-Virginia and the Lexington County South Carolina Public Defender, and serving as a judicial intern in the U.S. District Court, South Carolina. She was a Community Leadership Corps member of the Obama Foundation in 2018, working on a school-to-prison pipeline project, and worked with Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities in South Carolina. She has four years of experience working as a Guardian ad Litem for children in foster care through the CASA program. During law school she served as a student attorney for the Veterans Legal Clinic, the Co-President of the Pro Bono Program, and the Co-Chair of the Student Ambassador Program. She brings these skills to her Singer Fellowship project dedicated to identifying cases of children impacted by trauma, beginning with projects related to immigration and education. She also will help GHLA enhance our trauma-informed advocacy and continue to build sustainable community networks/resources for children in the Hartford area experiencing the effects of trauma.
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.
Shehrezad Haroon - Staff Attorney
Shehrezad Haroon joined GHLA as a staff attorney in 2021. Prior to becoming a staff attorney, Shehrezad worked at GHLA as a Community Justice Fellow and later, a GHLA Fellow. Shehrezad earned her J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law and her B.A. from the University of Connecticut. In law school, Shehrezad was President of the Muslim Law Student Association, an executive editor of the Connecticut Journal of International Law, and champion of the 2017 Hastie Moot Court competition. Shehrezad was also a law student representative in UConn’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic as well as the Immigration Detention and DACA Clinic and held a number of public interest internships prior to her work at GHLA.
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).
Brittany Ignace - Staff Attorney
Brittany joined GHLA as a staff attorney in 2021 and currently practices in the housing unit. She earned her J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2020 where she held leadership roles on the Health Law Journal, Public Interest Law Project, Women’s Law Society, and Health Law Society. She was a member of the Civil Justice Clinic and worked in several public interest internships, including an internship with New Haven Legal Assistance Association working on housing and prisoner re-entry cases. Brittany graduated from Sacred Heart University with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017.
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 earned her B.A. in Science/Criminal Justice in 2020. Luz is fluent in Spanish and English, and provides interpreting support for GHLA’s clients.
Jin A. Kim - Staff Attorney
Jin works in the family law unit representing domestic violence victims in the areas of dissolution of marriage, custody, restraining orders and relocation. She also represents victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in immigration matters which include Violence Against Women Act self–petitions and U visa petitions. Prior to joining GHLA, she worked as an Administrative Law Judge at New York State Department of Labor – Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board in the Brooklyn office. Jin received her B.A. and Master’s Degree with honors in International Studies from the Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, and obtained her J.D. degree from New York Law School, where she was a John Marshall Harlan Scholar and an associate editor of the New York Law School Law Review. She is admitted to practice in Connecticut and New York, and is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association and the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Fluent in Korean, Jin is working hard to reach out to various immigrant communities to inform them of their legal rights and GHLA’s services.
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.
Kumbukeni Mjuweni - Law School Graduate Advocate
Kumbukeni joined GHLA in August 2021 and is currently focusing on public benefits advocacy. Her research and interests include human dignity rights, and incorporating human dignity in advocacy. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Widener University Delaware Law School, and her Bachelor of Arts in Government (cum laude) from Grand Canyon University. She is bi-lingual in English and Chichewa.
Brian D. Moore - Information Technology Administrator
Brian has more than 20 years of IT experience and has worked across a broad spectrum of industries, including finance, manufacturing, non-profit, and government. He plays an essential role in GHLA’s leveraging of technology - from strategic planning and implementation to staff training, support and reporting - to support GHLA’s mission. Brian also serves on the Connecticut Bar Foundation’s Website Advisory Board, and as the Co-Chair of the Activities & Events Committee for the Connecticut Chapter of the Tri-State Diversity Council. Brian has the following Certifications: A+ Certified Computer Technician, N+ Certified Network Technician, and 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.
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.
Ryan Powell - Staff Attorney
Ryan V. Powell joined GHLA as a Staff Attorney in 2020. Prior to joining GHLA, Ryan focused his practice on defending insurers, employers, and third-party administrators against workers’ compensation claims. Ryan received his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Connecticut before going on to earn his Juris Doctor from the University’s School of Law. As a law student, he worked with the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative to provide transactional-based legal services to non-profit organizations. He also served as an intern in the Anti-Trust Division of the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.
Shirley M. Pripstein - Staff Attorney
Shirley Pripstein practiced family law at GHLA from 1980 to 2018. She was appointed as a family law special master in Hartford Superior Court at the program’s inception in 1986, and has served in that capacity in the judicial districts of Hartford, New Britain, and Tolland. She has also served as a special master at the Regional Family Trial Docket in Middletown. Shirley has served on the executive committee of the Family Law Section of the CBA since 1991, is a past president of the section, and continues to be active on the section’s legislative subcommittee. Currently at GHLA Shirley is doing advance directives for seniors and assisting crime victims with filing for compensation from the Office of Victim’s Services. Shirley holds a B.S in Health, Physical Education and Recreation from Temple University, a Master’s in Public Health from Yale University School of Medicine and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
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 received his B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Connecticut.
Jessymar joined the GHLA team in 2015. She is a Hartford native and is committed to helping underprivileged people. She has experience working with the disadvantaged 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 was a co-chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at GHLA from 2017 to 2020. She is fluent in English and Spanish and provides interpreting support for GHLA clients as well as preparing translations of a variety of documents.
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 in 2014, 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.
Cecil J. Thomas - Staff Attorney
Cecil J. Thomas has served as an attorney at GHLA since 2006, during which time he has represented thousands of clients, predominantly in housing matters. He has led appellate and class action litigation resulting in significant victories on behalf of low-income Connecticut residents, including a multi-million dollar class action judgment and settlement on behalf of tenants who had been displaced from condemned homes in Hartford, Connecticut. Cecil is the President of the Connecticut Bar Association (CBA), and has served as a long-time chair of the CBA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, as well as several other CBA committees and initiatives. He is a past president of the UConn Law School Alumni Association, four-term past president of the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut and a member of its Advisory Council, a member of the Connecticut Law Tribune Editorial Board, a James W. Cooper Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Cecil received the Connecticut Supreme Court Law Day Award in 2008, the Hartford County Bar Association’s Judge Maxwell Heiman Memorial Award in 2013, and the New Leader in the Law Award from the Connecticut Law Tribune in 2014. In 2019, he was included in the UCONN Law School “Gallery of Pioneers” photo exhibit, recognizing alumni “who have broken through barriers and/or have emerged as leaders in public, business or philanthropic life.” In 2021, Cecil was honored with the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity Edwin Archer Randolph Diversity Award, and the South Asian Bar Association of North America Cornerstone Award. Cecil received his Juris Doctor from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He graduated cum laude from Brandeis University with a Master of Arts in American History, and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and History, with honors.
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.
Rose Webb - GHLA Fellow
Rose Webb is a GHLA Fellow and a 2021 graduate of The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law (‘21). She received her M. Ed. from Union University (’15) and her B.A. in Psychology from Indiana University-Bloomington (’13). Rose has extensive experience in public interest and advocacy for education equity. Prior to law school she worked in Memphis, TN as a licensed elementary educator for five years. She practiced as a student attorney in the University of Memphis Medical Legal Partnership Clinic working on education cases. Rose served as the judicial law clerk to the Honorable Gina C. Higgins, Shelby County Circuit Court Division IV in Memphis TN. She is also a recipient of the Deans Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award having completed over 60 Pro Bono hours through various public interest organizations during law school. She brings these skills to her GHLA Fellowship project dedicated to enforcing students’ rights to education equity and conducting community outreach.
Alison Weir - Policy Advocate/Staff Attorney
Alison Weir is the Benefits Policy Advocate and a staff attorney. Prior to joining GHLA, she was at the National Diaper Bank Network for seven years where she developed and implemented the advocacy agenda for a network of 300+ diaper banks across 47 states. Through her efforts, California passed the first statewide diaper benefit for families on assistance, San Francisco and New York implemented government funded diaper distribution programs, diaper banks in multiple states have received direct state funding, and legislatures in over twenty states have considered proposals to reduce or eliminate sales tax on diapers. Alison has also worked as an attorney at the Wiggin and Dana law firm in New Haven; she was a clerk to the Hon. José A. Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; and she was a Supreme Court Fellow with duty at the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Prior to her legal career, Alison was an active duty officer in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. She earned her B.A. (English) and B.S. (Electrical Engineering) at Cornell University, her Ph.D. (English) from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, her J.D. from Georgetown University (magna cum laude), and her LLM (Insurance) from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
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.