Staff

Prairie State Legal Services is composed of more than 200 staff members located throughout our 36-county service area. 

LEADERSHIP TEAM

Denise Conklin

executive director

Jean Ruthe

finance DIRECTOR

JeRRY Dombrowski

DIRECTOR of Information Technology

Jessica hodierne

Director of Human Resources

Jenn Luczkowiak

director of development

katie liss 

deputy director of Litigation

Sarah Megan

DIRECTOR of Litigation

gail walsh

DIRECTOR Of program development

LINDA ROTHNAGEL 

director of advocacy training & volunteer services

Kim Thielbar

director of Pro Bono services

david wolowitz

associate director

kathy bettcher

Director of Victim Services

MANAGING ATTORNEYS

ketura baptiste

kankakee OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

adrian barr

bloomington OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

paul zukowski

Woodstock OFFICE

managing attorney

thomas dennis

peoria/galesburg OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

Andrea Detellis

Joliet OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney  

Samuel digrino

waukegan OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

Don dirks

ottawa OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

gretchen farwell

rock island OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

melissa fuechtmann

telephone counseling

managing attorney

jesse hodierne

rockford OFFICE

MANAGING Attorney

marisa wiesman

wEST SUBURBAN

managing attorney

BIOGRAPHIES

Denise Conklin – Executive Director

Denise Conklin is the Executive Director of Prairie State Legal Services. She began her career at Prairie State as a Volunteer Attorney in our Peoria Office 2004 and became a Staff Attorney in 2007. Denise later became Managing Attorney in 2009.

Prior to joining Prairie State, Denise worked as a Senior Associate in the Litigation Department of the Katten Muchin Rosenman law firm in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1997. 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 the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois. Her practice focuses on all aspects of poverty law, including family law, government benefits, education law, and housing law.

Jean Ruthe – Finance Director

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.

Jerry Dombrowski – 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.

Jessica Hodierne – 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.

Jenn Luczkowiak – Director of Development

Jenn Luczkowiak is the Director of 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.

Katie Liss – Deputy Director of Litigation

Katie Liss has been Deputy Director of Litigation for Prairie State Legal Services since July 2021. She assists the Director of Litigation to provide leadership and oversight of program-wide legal services and provides litigation support for appeals and complex cases. Katie began her career as a Seniors’ Project Staff Attorney at Prairie State’s 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.

Sarah Megan – Director of Litigation

Sarah Megan is Director of Litigation for Prairie State Legal Services, Inc. Ms. Megan has more than 38 years of experience in housing, public benefits, and other poverty law issues. In addition to representing clients in complex litigation in state and federal court, Ms. Megan has been a supervisor of litigation for more than 27 years, assisting our legal aid program’s 90 plus lawyers and paralegals with litigation and special projects covering a wide range of legal issues that affect the poor, the disabled and the elderly, including housing, health, family, education, and consumer issues. In 2016, Ms. Megan received national recognition for her work, as the recipient of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s Reginald Heber Smith Award, recognizing the dedicated services and outstanding achievements of civil or indigent defense attorneys while employed by organizations supporting such services. Ms. Megan is a graduate of Grinnell College and the University of Iowa Law School.

Gail Tilkin Walsh – Director of Program Development.

Gail Tilkin Walsh is the Director of Program Development at Prairie State Legal Services. In this position she develops concepts for service delivery, coordinates legal needs assessments, prepares grant applications and reports, and works with her team to oversee our case management system and much of our grant administration.

Gail began her career with Prairie State in 1979 as a paralegal with the Senior Citizens Legal Services Program in our Peoria office. She spent 11 years moving throughout our organization and serving in our Bloomington, Rockford and Ottawa offices in positions such as Community Legal Education Coordinator, Pro Bono Coordinator, direct service paralegal, and a local office administrator.

Gail left Prairie State in 1990 to pursue her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois-Urbana with a focus on serving older adults. She later worked at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County focusing on housing development for persons with mental illness and then joined an area United Way where she conducted needs assessments and coordinated planning efforts. She returned to Prairie State to her current position in 1995.

Linda Rothnagel – Director of Advocacy Training and Volunteer Services

Linda Rothnagel is Director of Advocacy Training and Volunteer Services for Prairie State Legal Services. She is responsible for new employee orientation for all of Prairie State’s offices across 36 counties; she coordinates Prairie State’s MCLE program for staff and volunteers; and she works with lawyers across Prairie State on client matters. Linda also maintains her own caseload of client matters, assists with supervision of the legal work of Prairie State’s McHenry office staff, and since December 2016 has been responsible for coordinating Prairie State’s pro bono efforts.

Linda served in the role of Director of Advocacy Training since January 2008. She previously supervised our Waukegan office for 22 years and the Ottawa office for 2 years. Her experience includes representation of clients in a variety of family law, housing, foreclosure, consumer, Social Security, and public benefits matters; she has handled cases at the state and federal trial court levels, at the state appellate court level, and before numerous administrative agencies.

Linda is a graduate of Middlebury College and the University of Michigan Law School. She is the winner of the Illinois State Bar Association’s 2019 Joseph R. Bartylak Memorial Legal Service Award.

Kim Thielbar – 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.

Dave Wolowitz – Associate Director

Dave Wolowitz is the Associate Director of Prairie State Legal Services. His duties include the oversight, administration, and supervision of special projects; supervision of project managers and specialized units; provide legal resources to attorney and paralegal staff in a number of practice areas; staff professional development; grant applications and budgets, contracts and other written agreements with outside contractors, lessors, funders and partners; reports to and liaison with funders; various interagency relations and referrals; development/implementation of program policies, procedures and systems; support for Executive Director and other administrative functions, including hiring/recruitment, personnel issues, regulatory and contract compliance; and direct support to PSLS Board of Directors and its governance. 

Dave joined PSLS when it was founded in 1977, having previously been Executive Director of the Legal Aid Bureau of Kane County. He has been Associate Director since 2008 and previously served as Director of Special Projects (1988-2008), Deputy Director of Litigation (1984-1988), and Managing Attorney of the St. Charles Office (1977-1984). From 2000-2008, Dave taught litigation skills to second- and third-year law students at Northern Illinois University College of Law from 2000-2008.

Dave is admitted to the Supreme Court of Illinois, the federal courts for the Northern District, Central District, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Illinois Bar Association, and the DuPage County Bar Association. His publications include co-authoring Laws and Programs for People with Disabilities and The Senior Citizens Handbook (author and editor). 

Dave received his J.D. and B.A. from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

Kathy Bettcher – 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.

Ketura Baptiste – Managing Attorney, Kankakee Office

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. 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.

Adrian Barr – 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.

Paul Zukowski – 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.

Thomas Dennis – Managing Attorney of the Peoria/Galesburg Office

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.

Andrea DeTellis – Managing Attorney, Joliet Office

Andrea DeTellis is the Managing Attorney of our Joliet Office. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and received her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago. Andrea holds bar licenses in Illinois and California bar, and is also barred in the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of California. She has been at Prairie State since 2013.

Andrea began her legal career as an Assistant State’s Attorney in McLean County, Illinois. She later served in the U.S. Army in the field of military intelligence and also worked as adjunct faculty teaching legal classes at the undergraduate level. She practiced in California in the areas of education, domestic violence, housing, employment, and public benefits. During her time in California she focused particularly on the disparity in education among children of color.

Andrea is also a co-chair for the Racial Justice Initiative in Prairie State. She has authored an article for the Shriver’s Center Clearinghouse Review and co-authored an article for the MIE Journal. She has previously served as Secretary of the Black Bar Association of Will County and currently serves as President. In addition, she serves on the Lawyer’s Trust Fund Statewide Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. She is also a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Will County Bar Association, and Will County Women’s Bar Association.

Sam DiGrino – Managing Attorney, Waukegan Office

Sam DiGrino is the Managing Attorney of our Waukegan office. 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 in 2014.

Sam has represented clients in housing, consumer, family, municipal, and education cases in his time 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.

Don Dirks – 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.

Gretchen Farwell – Managing Attorney, Rock Island Office

Gretchen Farwell is the managing attorney of 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.

Melissa Fuechtmann – Managing Attorney, Telephone Counseling

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.

Jesse Hodierne – 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.

Marisa Wiesman – Managing Attorney, West Suburban

Marisa Wiesman is the Managing Attorney of Prairie State Legal Services’ West Suburban office. Prior to assuming this role in 2016, she served as Prairie State’s Director of Volunteer Services; the managing attorney of Prairie State’s Kankakee office; and a staff attorney in Prairie State’s Rockford office.

Before joining Prairie State, Marisa clerked for the Honorable Marilyn Brown Rosenbaum in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. She is a member of the Illinois Access to Justice Commission’s Procedural Forms Subcommittee and Remote Appearance Committee; the Illinois State Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services; the 18th Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee; the Impact DuPage Steering Committee; and the Public Interest Law Initiative’s Board of Directors. She is a 2015 recipient of the Chicago Bar Foundation Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship.

Marisa received her J.D. cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School, and her B.A. magna cum laude from Macalester College.