In Illinois, there are approximately 750,000 veterans, 20,000 active service members, and 13,000 members of the Illinois National Guard. There are over 20,000 dependents of service members who were deployed between 9/11/2001 and 5/31/2015. A survey of legal aid providers and veteran serving organizations demonstrates that civil legal services are a highly sought resource by these groups. The top civil legal needs fall into the broad categories of housing, family, and consumer law issues. In addition, veterans often need assistance with VA benefits and appeals and discharge upgrades.
Civil legal problems destabilize families and can be barriers to benefits, housing, anD employment.
Overview and Implementing Legislation
The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) has been charged with the implementation of Public Act 99-0281, an amendment to the Access to Justice Act (2013). The Act created the Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council, with the mandate to create a pilot statewide legal assistance hotline and coordinated network of legal support services for military personnel, veterans, and their families. This effort is funded by a $2 filing fee on all civil filings until 2020. IEJF is responsible for developing, monitoring, and reporting on this project, with leadership from the Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council.
Members and Affiliates
Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council
Trish McGill, Chair
Appointed by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Trish formerly served as the General Counsel and Ethics Officer for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She joined the State of Illinois after serving as a Senior Policy Advisor to the US Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Prior to that, she was a Senior Policy Advisor to the Chief Defense Counsel for the Office of Military Commissions working on Guantanamo Bay detainee litigation. Before attending law school at DePaul University College of Law, Trish served six years in the Army as a Counterintelligence Special Agent and Russian linguist. She is currently an attorney in the government affairs department at Verizon.
William W. Austin
Appointed by the Illinois Bar Foundation
Mr. Austin is Of Counsel to McDevitt Osteen Chojnicki & Deters in Effingham, Illinois. Mr. Austin is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Senior Lawyer Section Council and its Standing Committee on Military Affairs, which he previously chaired. Mr. Austin is a former Assistant and Special Assistant Attorney General. He retired in 2001 as a Brigadier General, following more than 30 years of military service in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and Illinois Army National Guard. He has been active in Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired generals and admirals which has advocated bipartisan state and federal public policy solutions to prepare our youth for life and to be able to serve their nation in any way they choose.
Appointed by the Chicago Bar Foundation
Bob has served as the Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Foundation since 1999. Prior to his current position, Bob was a civil litigator with Menges, Mikus & Molzahn. Bob is active on the advocacy front and led the effort to amend the Access to Justice Act so work could begin on the legal aid hotline for veterans and active military. He has also been active in the Joining Forces legal resources committee. He is a member of the Chicago Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Bob is a graduate of John Marshall Law School.
Appointed by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation
Kenneth is Counsel for Trade and Anti-Corruption at Baxter International where his practice focuses on trade sanctions, anti-corruption, and government contracting. Kenneth has used his law degree as a pro bono attorney assisting veterans for many years and is admitted to the United States Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is a member of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation and Girls, Inc. Board of Directors.
Appointed by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation
Lauren is a retired as partner in the firm of Meachum & Starck. She served as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General Corp of the US Army and is a NITA certified instructor. She is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the DuPage County Bar Association as well as a former President of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Illinois, College of Law.
Appointed by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General
Ronald Michel was born in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian immigrants. He holds a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University, and a Juris Doctor degree from Chicago-Kent College of law, where he served as a student representative for the Chicago-Kent Access to Justice panel. Prior to joining the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Military and Veteran’s Rights Bureau, Ron practiced law as a legislative attorney at the Illinois State Capitol, and as a Public Defender in Missouri. Ron is a military veteran and continues to serve as a Judge Advocate in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Appointed by The Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois
Jennifer Nijman is a founding partner (2008) of the environmental firm Nijman·Franzetti LLP with wide ranging experience in environmental litigation defense and enforcement issues as well as issues involving waste and contaminated property.
Tom currently serves as the Chief of the Illinois Attorney General’s Military & Veteran’s Rights Bureau and is the ISERRA Advocate. Prior to that, Tom served as counsel for the Illinois Department of Military Affairs. He served over 20 years in the military as both a Judge Advocate and in the Infantry in both the United States Marine Corps and the Illinois Army National Guard. He is a Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Just Cause. Tom is a graduate of St. Louis University School of Law.
Deb serves as the Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of GATX Corporation. Prior to her work at GATX, Deb served as Vice President and General Counsel of Midwest Generation LLC and as the Assistant General Counsel for Ameritech Corporation and SBC Communications, Inc. Additionally, she served as Deputy General Counsel for the State of Illinois and began her career at Schiff Hardin & Waite. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and a current Board member of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation. Deb earned her law degree from Loyola University of Chicago.
George R. Ripplinger
George was a partner in the firm Ripplinger & Zimmer in Belleville, IL. He was a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Missouri Bar Association. He served as a member of the Board of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, the Illinois Bar Foundation, the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and Illinois Legal Aid Online. George was a retired Colonel of the US Army Medical Services Corp and a graduate of the University of Illinois, College of Law. George volunteered his time and considerable expertise and had been with us since we first started dreaming up the IL-AFLAN program. He was smart and funny and always willing to think through a problem, attend a site visit, or make a call. He did many things in his life, but for IL-AFLAN what we know is that he made it better. He passed away in 2023 and we miss him every day.
The Honorable Ronald D. Spears
Judge Spears served as a Judge in the 4th Judicial Circuit 1993 to 2015. He is a member of the Illinois Judges Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Bar Foundation. He is a retired Colonel of the Illinois Army National Guard and served in the Judge Advocate General Corp. Judge Spears is a graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Law.
Grant currently works in the general counsel's office at the Edward J. Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. During his tenure on the Council, Grant served as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General working on veterans’ issues. Then and now he is a Command Judge Advocate in the Illinois National Guard. He has also served as the Deputy General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Grant is a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law.