Prairie State Legal Services is composed of more than 200 staff members located throughout our 36-county service area.
In 2022, Denise Conklin began serving as the Executive Director of Prairie State Legal Services, Inc. (PSLS). Prior to that appointment, Denise served as the Managing Attorney of PSLS’ Peoria and Galesburg offices. Denise began her career at PSLS in 2004 as a Volunteer Attorney in PSLS’ Peoria office and became a Staff Attorney in 2007.
Prior to joining PSLS, Denise worked as a Senior Associate in the Litigation Department of the Katten Muchin Rosenman law firm in Chicago, Illinois. In 1997, Denise graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1994.
Denise is admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois and in federal court. Her poverty law practice included criminal records relief, education law, housing law, government benefits and family law. In her current role as Executive Director, Denise is committed to high quality legal services, staff success, process and systems improvement, and revenue development. Denise is married and has three children.
Director of Victim Services
Kathryn Bettcher graduated from the Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1991 and was licensed in Illinois that same year. Ms. Bettcher has worked for Prairie State Legal Services since 1991, first as a staff attorney. From 2005 until 2020 she served as managing attorney of the Fox Valley office. Ms. Bettcher now is Director of Family Advocacy and supervises family law litigation across Prairie State’s offices. Ms. Bettcher has concentrated her work in family law, and in particular in representation of victims of domestic violence. She has represented numerous clients in contested hearings and trials of family law matters. She also has served as supervisor of Prairie State’s domestic violence project located at the Kane County Courthouse. Ms. Bettcher is recognized as a leader among domestic violence advocates and attorneys in Kane County. Ms. Bettcher also has experience representing clients in other matters such as evictions and Social Security disability claims.
Director of Legal Operations
Sam DiGrino is the Director of Legal Operations. He joined Prairie State Legal Services in 2007 as a Staff Attorney and was hired in 2012 to lead Prairie State’s Foreclosure Defense Program before becoming Managing Attorney of the Waukegan office in 2014.
Sam has represented housing, consumer, family, municipal, and education clients at Prairie State. He earned his undergraduate degree from Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota, and his law degree from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois.
Director of Information Technology
Jerry Dombrowski is the Director of Information Technology (IT). He oversees all aspects of computing, networking, cybersecurity, and IT resources. Jerry began his career at Prairie State in 2014 as a staff attorney focusing on housing and eviction cases. He then transitioned into the Director of IT role utilizing his extensive background in IT. Previously, Jerry has worked for the Rockford Park District, Northwestern University’s IT department for University Enrollment, Mosaic Technologies, and the Barbara Olson Center of Hope.
Jerry holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management from Elmhurst University and a J.D. from Northern Illinois University.
Director of Intake Services
Melissa Sobol Fuechtmann joined Prairie State Legal Services as a telephone counseling attorney in 2006 and became the Managing Attorney of the Telephone Counseling Service in 2017. As a telephone counseling attorney, Ms. Fuechtmann provides legal advice and referrals on a wide range of civil matters, including housing, family, consumer, and public benefits. She manages the daily operation of the Telephone Counseling Service, including supervision and support of the attorneys and intake specialists. She also manages the technology needs for the client call center and online applications. Ms. Fuechtmann graduated from DePaul University College of Law and was licensed in Illinois in 2005.
Director of Human Resources
Jessica Hodierne is the Director of Human Resources. She leads Prairie State’s human resources policies, programs, practices, and objectives that provide an employee-oriented, high performance culture that emphasizes empowerment, quality, productivity, goal attainment, and the recruitment, retention and ongoing development of a superior workforce.
Jessica joined Prairie State Legal Services in 2012 as an AmeriCorps VISTA in our Peoria office, There, she developed that office’s first medical-legal partnership with the local Federally Qualified Health Center and represented clients in administrative hearings. She later transitioned into the role of Administrative Manager and oversaw the office’s major grants, office operations, and handling local human resources tasks. She was hired as the Director of Human Resources in 2018.
Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Western Illinois University and is a Society for Human Resources Management Certified Professional.
Director of Compliance Operations
Peter is PSLS’ new Director of Compliance Operations. His responsibilities include contract review, office lease management, board of director liaison, lead on PSLS policies and procedures, Ethics and Safety Officer, and records custodian for PSLS.
Peter comes to PSLS with legal aid and corporate counsel experience. Before PSLS, Peter worked for CARPLS Legal Aid as their Supervising Attorney for the New Leaf Cannabis Expungement Project. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Japanese, Japanese Language, and Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his JD from Gonzaga University School of Law.
In his free time, Peter enjoys traveling and practicing martial arts, and teaching self-defense.
Director of Complex and Appellate Litigation
Katie Liss is Director of Complex and Appellate Litigation for Prairie State Legal Services. Katie strives to elevate the impact and quality of PSLS' work by guiding and supporting the agency's most complex cases, including in federal and appellate court.
Katie began her career as a Seniors’ Project Staff Attorney at PSLS' Waukegan office from 2008-2011. She worked for Ascend Justice as a family law attorney and then for several years as a senior attorney in Legal Aid Chicago’s Consumer Practice Group, where her practice included bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, student loan issues, and consumer fraud. From March 2020-June 2021, Katie worked as Director of the Anti-Predatory Lending Database (“APLD”), Consumer Complaints and Investigations for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Katie implemented changes that brought more accountability to the APLD and she also aided in the creation of a new state law which incentivizes safer mortgage lending practices by state-regulated financial institutions to low and moderate-income communities.
Katie is a past chair, vice-chair and presenter for the Chicago Bar Association’s Consumer Law Committee. She is a graduate of UW-Madison and the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Director of Resource Development
Jenn Luczkowiak is the Director of Resource Development. She oversees the marketing and communications efforts and fundraising efforts from individual, corporate, and small foundation donors.
Jenn previously served as Prairie State Legal Services’ Project Director of the Legal Help for Homeowners Project at PSLS, which provided legal counsel and representation for homeowners and tenants facing foreclosure. Before arriving at PSLS, Ms. Luczkowiak worked for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley serving homeless and runaway youth as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Staff Attorney. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University and her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Jean brings more than 30 years of finance experience in multiple industries, including printing, vehicle and food manufacturing, health care, and accounting and advisory services. She is responsible for the overall management of PSLS financial operations, including Financial Reporting, Payroll and Benefits Management, Budget Preparation and Program Reporting, and Property and Insurance.
Most recently, Jean worked at MercyHealth in Rockford, IL as the supervisor of reimbursement in their Finance Department. She previously worked for six years as Controller/Director of Revenue Cycle for Rockford-based non-profit, Rosecrance Health Network.
Jean received her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Organizational Administration from Oklahoma State University, and her MBA from Northern Illinois University.
Director of Pro Bono Services
Kim Thielbar is the Director of Pro Bono Services. She helps evaluate, organize and expand Prairie State’s overall pro bono program and connects volunteers with clients in need of critical civil legal aid services.
Kim has worked at Prairie State Legal Services since 2013, first as a Staff Attorney in the Rockford office, and then as that office’s Managing Attorney in 2015. She was hired as Director of Pro Bono Services in 2019. Prior to joining Prairie State, Kim worked as a Public Interest Fellow at Equip for Equality in Chicago, working in the Special Education Clinic.
In 2016, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce designated Kim one of its “40 Leaders Under 40.” In 2017, RAMP Center for Independent Living awarded Kim its “Youth Advocate of the Year” award. In 2019, the Rockford Register Star profiled Kim as part of its “Next Up” series focused on future leaders of the Rock River Valley.
Kim received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, and a law degree from Loyola University in Chicago.
Managing Attorney, Kankakee and Joliet Offices
Ketura Baptiste began her career at Prairie State Legal Services in 2007 where she worked as a Staff Attorney before becoming the Managing Attorney of our Kankakee Office in 2013 and Joliet Office in May 2023. Ketura is certified in Family Law, received her BA from Washington University in St. Louis and JD from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, in Chicago, IL.
Managing Attorney, Bloomington Office
Adrian Barr is the Managing Attorney of our Bloomington Office. He supervises the delivery of civil legal services and pro bono services to low-income people and seniors in McLean, Livingston, and Woodford counties.
Adrian began his career at Prairie State Legal Services in 2001 as a staff attorney in our St. Charles Office where he handled landlord-tenant, public benefits, and disability cases. After 5 years in that role, Adrian joined Kingery Duree Wakeman & O’Donnell, a Peoria law firm, for 3 years.
During his time in private practice Adrian handled several pro bono cases for Prairie State. He returned to Prairie State in 2011, serving in his current position.
Adrian has received several awards: The Chicago Bar Foundation Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship in 2016, the Children’s Home + Aid Blue Bow Award for Prevention of Child Abuse in 2017, the Illinois Wesleyan University Civic Engagement Award in 2018 and the 2020 Lincoln Award of Excellence. He serves on the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation; and The Immigration Project, a nonprofit organization in Bloomington providing immigrants with affordable immigration legal services.
Adrian received his undergraduate degree and his law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Managing Attorney, Waukegan Office
Megan Brady is the Managing Attorney of the Waukegan Office of Prairie State Legal Services. Megan joined Prairie State as a Staff Attorney in 2016, later becoming a Program Coordinator and Supervising Attorney. Megan’s legal career has focused on providing civil legal services to the poor and vulnerable in an effort to provide access to the legal system regardless of ability to pay. Assisting clients in family law, civil and criminal protective orders, immigration, housing, public benefits, and education-related matters, Megan’s approach looks at the person, not only the legal issue, to help clients meet their goals.
In addition to her day-to-day representation of clients, Megan is active in the broader legal community. She serves as a board member for the Association of Women Attorneys of Lake County (2022) and is the co-chair of the Prairie State Legal Services Family Law Task Force (2019-present), assisting attorneys program-wide. Megan also served on the Illinois Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Advisory Committee (2020-2022). In 2019-2020, the Illinois State Bar Association awarded Megan the Joseph R. Bartylak Memorial Legal Services Award, an award that honors “the extraordinary commitment and dedication of civil legal services attorneys who have provided the highest caliber of compassionate legal representation and outstanding services to Illinois’ vulnerable and low-income population.”
Megan earned her law and bachelor’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago (J.D., cum laude, 2012; B.A., cum laude, 2007). Megan is admitted to practice law in Illinois and the Northern District of Illinois.
Managing Attorney, Peoria and Galesburg Offices
Thomas Dennis currently serves as the Managing Attorney of our Peoria/Galesburg office. He joined Prairie State Legal Services in 2013 as a Staff Attorney. After three years of service with Prairie State, Thomas joined the Tazewell County State’s Attorney’s Office as an Assistant State’s Attorney. Thomas returned to Prairie State in 2017 where he focused on public benefits work, specifically Social Security Disability and education matters. Since 2020, Thomas has served as a Supervising Attorney in the Peoria/Galesburg Office. In April 2022, he became the Managing Attorney of the Peoria/Galesburg Office.
Thomas is admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois and in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. He received his J.D. from the University of Arizona College of Law, and his B.S. from Arizona State University.
Managing Attorney, Ottawa Office
Over the course of Donald Dirks, Jr’s more than three-decade long career at Prairie State Legal Services, he served as Staff Attorney from 1987-1998 and served as the Managing Attorney of our Ottawa Office since 1997.
Donald received his BA from Illinois Wesleyan University and JD from Northern Illinois University College of Law. He is a board member of Starved Rock Cycling Association and board member of Ride Illinois.
Managing Attorney, Moline Office
Gretchen Farwell is the managing attorney of the Moline office (formerly the Rock Island office). She began her career at Prairie State as a staff attorney in 1991 before becoming Managing Attorney in 1996. She also chaired the Family Law Task Force for many years. Gretchen focuses her practice on family law, elder law, and housing law. Her article, “HIV/AIDS and Adolescents: Implications for School Policies,” was published in the Journal of Law and Education in 1991.
Gretchen has been involved with the Continuum of Care since its inception, and has been a long standing member of the M-team for Elder Abuse. She also has been involved with the 14th Judicial Circuits Whiteside County and Rock Island County Family Violence Councils and has served as a board member for Community Service Options.
Gretchen graduated Cum Laude from the Northern Illinois School of Law in 1991 and received her Bs.Ed from Illinois State University in 1984. She taught impaired children at Medgar Evers Elementary School from 1985-1988.
Managing Attorney, Rockford Office
Jesse Hodierne received a juris doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 2012. During law school, Jesse worked at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation on a variety of legal matters. In 2012, Jesse joined Prairie State as a staff attorney and later became the supervisor for Prairie State’s Legal Help for Homeowners Project where he concentrated his practice in representation of clients impacted by foreclosure and related consumer matters. In November 2019, Jesse became Managing Attorney for Prairie State’s Rockford Office.
Managing Attorney, West Suburban Office
Amber Moore graduated from Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1996 with the intended purpose of working in legal aid. There were limited opportunities in legal aid in 1996, and Amber took a job in private practice for several years with Murphy & Murphy before joining Prairie State Legal Services in 1999. She began her tenure at PSLS as a staff attorney in the Batavia office and became a supervising attorney in 2000 in the West Suburban office before transitioning into the managing attorney role in 2023. While at PSLS, Amber has concentrated her practice on family law, where she represents victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in obtaining protective orders and in custody and divorce cases.
Managing Attorney, Woodstock Office
Paul Zukowski is the Managing Attorney of the Woodstock office at Prairie State Legal Services. He joined Prairie State as a staff attorney in 2012, after 15 years in private practice, and became Managing Attorney in 2019.
Paul focuses his casework on family law, with an emphasis on cases involving domestic violence. He received the Peace and Justice award from Turning Point, the local domestic violence advocacy organization, in 2016. He is the former President of the Family Law Section of McHenry County Bar Association and is a Facilitator for the 22nd Judicial Circuit’s Divorce Early Resolution Program. Paul is also an active participant in the community’s network of social service providers, such as the United Way, the 22nd Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council, the Continuum of Care to End Homelessness, and the Board of Directors for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northern Illinois.
Paul received his B.A. from Carleton College and J.D. from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Manager of Communications
Monica Bayne is PSLS’ Manager of Communications, and is responsible for all internal and external communications efforts. Monica comes to PSLS with more than a decade of communications experience. Her communications training began at the University of Miami where she studied broadcast journalism and political science.
Community Engagement Manager
Paris Brandy is the Community Engagement Manager for Prairie State Legal Services. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Strategic Outreach Plan for PSLS’ 36 counties. This work ultimately guides the legal priorities the firm will pursue. He also supervises all outreach staff for all 11 PSLS offices. Paris began working for PSLS in 2022 as the Community Advocate in the Rock Island (now Moline) office. There, he worked to advocate for the local community and establish relationships with key stakeholders to drive the firm's mission forward.
Paris’ public service began when he enlisted in the United States Air Force as a security forces member in 2001. He served during operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom in 2001. Once done honorably serving, Paris went back home as a community organizer educating Chicago’s low income communities on financial literacy and independence. During that time, Paris recognized the bigger impact he needed to make and joined the social services world. He became the youngest person appointed to a director role and as Assistant Director of Programs at The Inner Voice, Inc., Paris oversaw permanent supportive housing, transitional housing and veteran job readiness programs. Paris worked for seven years in this arena and served as the Co-Chair of Chicago’s Coordinated Entry Leadership Committee. His leadership helped design Chicago’s present day Homeless Entry System.
Paris received his paralegal certification in 2006 from Career Colleges of Chicago. His other major affiliations are: The National Association of Legal Assistants (Member), The Project of the Quad Cities (Board Member) and Continuum of Care (COC) 518 (Board Member).