Interim Executive Director
Ashleigh Backman is CVLC’s Interim Executive Director. Prior to her current role, she was the Director of Pro Bono, Partnerships & Development. No stranger to legal aid advocacy before joining CVLC, she was the Pro Bono Attorney Manager at Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut where she directed statewide pro bono programming, private bar engagement, data collection, reporting, and performance monitoring. She is a member of the Connecticut Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, Connecticut Bar Association’s Pro Bono Section, and a Connecticut Bar Foundation James W. Cooper Fellow. She also sits on the CTLawHelp.org Statewide Advisory Committee. Ashleigh has been recognized by Connecticut Law Tribune as an “Unsung Hero” award recipient and named Connecticut Magazine's 40 under 40. She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College and University of New Hampshire School of Law, where she was the Doris Monroe Rappe Scholar and the Franklin Pierce Public Interest Scholar. She is admitted to practice in Connecticut.
Shannon is a Project Coordinator at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. She was previously a Research Assistant at the Housing and Health Equity Lab through the Yale School of Public Health. Her background in qualitative research centers primarily on the intersection of housing instability and homelessness with substance use. Their work is driven by a philosophy of harm reduction and dignity for vulnerable populations. Shannon is working toward their MPH in Health Policy with a concentration in Health Justice from Yale School of Public Health. She has a BS in Public Health from Southern Connecticut State University.
Paralegal and Office Manager
Felix supports CVLC's administrators and lawyers as an office manager and paralegal. Before joining CVLC, Felix worked at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, where he taught and organized classes for detainees.
Felix recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Philosophy and German and may pursue a legal degree in the future.
Staff Attorney, Veteran Benefits & Eligibility
Passionate about access to justice and trauma-informed practice, Chelsea has chosen to dedicate her life to serving the community that requires legal aid the most: low-income individuals struggling with mental illness and trauma. Her primary practice at CVLC remains heavily focused on veterans struggling from severe mental health diagnoses accessing the healthcare and services that they need to heal. Her recent access to justice advocacy includes expanding access to re-entry services to incarcerated veterans and developing pro se legal resources for all veterans stigmatized by unjust “bad paper” discharges.
Chelsea began her career at CVLC as a Connecticut Bar Foundation Singer Fellow representing survivors of military sexual trauma in VA Benefits cases. Prior to her Singer Fellowship, Chelsea worked as clerk for the Connecticut Judicial Branch. Her graduate career includes clinical experience as a social worker for incarcerated people reintegrating into society. She earned her J.D., cum laude, from Western New England University School of Law and her M.S.W. from Springfield College. She is admitted to the Connecticut State Bar and Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC).
Staff Attorney, Veteran Benefits for Seniors
Sharon Fialkovich is CVLC's Staff Attorney focusing on Veterans Benefits for seniors. Prior to joining CVLC, she worked as an Agency Attorney for the City of New York Department of Social Services. Before her time at DSS, she worked as a Staff Attorney at Womankind (former New York Asian Women’s Center), where she headed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Project and assisted trafficking and domestic violence victims seeking immigration remedies. Sharon received her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law and her B.A. from the State University of New York Binghamton. She is admitted to practice law in Connecticut and New York.
A graduate of George Washington University National Law Center, Christy has an impressive resume in public interest law. Her previous experience includes working as Director of George Washington University’s Consumer HELP Bankruptcy Clinic, the Managing Attorney at Valley Legal Assistance, and the Deputy Director at New Haven Legal Assistance. Christy has also worked as a Visiting Clinical Instructor at Yale Law School and served on the Board of Directors at the Columbus House and Washington Council of Lawyers.
Karen joins CVLC as our new Screening Attorney. She began her legal career at Common Law Inc. working with community organizers to increase access to legal services in low-income NYC neighborhoods.
At Common Law, Karen co-created an innovative model to address the foreclosure crisis through pro se training. This model worked to bridge the access to justice gap for low-income individuals and their families facing home foreclosure.
She also co-founded and co-directed Benincasa Community, a small non-profit offering hospitality and supportive services in NYC and—most recently—therapeutic farming and eco-education in Guilford, CT.
Karen earned her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law and a B.A. in English Literature from Loyola University Chicago. She is admitted to practice in Connecticut and New York.
Cindy Johnson has worked at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center since 2011. Prior to pursuing her dream to become a public interest lawyer, she had a 25-year career in Software Development. She is a graduate of University of Connecticut School of Law. While finishing her law degree, she interned with CVLC and could not bear to work anywhere else. She is admitted to the Connecticut State Bar and the Court of Veteran Appeals Claims. She is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association (CBA) and a member of the Veterans and Military Affairs Section. Cindy also teaches a Veterans Benefit Clinic at UCONN Law.
Peter is a paralegal at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and is currently studying at Quinnipiac University School of Law. He brings a diverse professional background to CVLC in both the public and private sectors, ranging from independent work as a journalist to educational support to communications. With advanced degrees from Columbia University and CUNY, Peter's communications experience includes freelance and full-time non-profit work as well as extensive time doing media and constituent services with the NYS Senate. At Quinnipiac, Peter serves as a Senator in the Student Bar Association.
Nicola Kelsey is a paralegal at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. Nikki comes to us with a diverse legal background. Prior to this position, Nikki worked at the U.S. District Court clerk’s office as the Operations Supervisor in the Hartford division, and previously as a case administrator in the New Haven division. Before her time at the Court she worked for almost ten years as a paralegal at Wiggin and Dana LLP in New Haven and she worked over six years as a legal assistant for the Subway franchisor in Milford, CT. Nikki is a graduate of Wellesley College with a B.A. in history.
Jordan Lownsdale is the Screening Assistant at CVLC and provides technical support and assistance for the screening team. Prior to joining CVLC, Jordan was a Prior Authorization Coordinator at The Resource Exchange in Colorado, where they managed cases for people receiving services through Medicaid waivers. Their work included the co-founding of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workgroup, which promoted an intersectional model of understanding identities. They have a passion for advocacy through education, social supports, and community resources.
Jordan holds a BS in Psychology and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Central Florida, where they were a Burnett Honors student and a National Merit Scholar. Their background in mental health, LGBTQ+ identities, at-risk youth and youth offenders, and disability supports all demonstrate their versatility. They are honored to apply these experiences to serve the veteran population of Connecticut.
Howard R. Udell Staff Attorney
Brendan Murphy is honored to be CVLC's Howard R. Udell Fellow. Attorney Murphy's practice covers a wide range of civil legal matters, including housing, child support, and VA benefit claims. He serves veterans in northern, central, and eastern Connecticut. He uses an interests-based approach and mediation to promote multi-party cooperation and address client needs.
Prior to joining CVLC, Brendan started a solo law practice through the Connecticut Community Law Center (CCLC) incubator. During and after his time with the CCLC, Brendan's practice focused on 'low bono' services aimed to bridge the access to legal services and conflict resolution gap.
Brendan has been named a Connecticut Mediation Association board member . He is also a member of the Sustainable CT Windham town committee. He earned his J.D. from the Western New England University School of Law and a B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut.
Cyd Oppenheimer is a staff attorney with CVLC's Civil Legal Unit.
Prior to coming to CVLC, Cyd worked with the Yale Law School Project on Prosecutorial Accountability. From 2007-2016 she was a Senior Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, where she engaged in research, data analysis, and legislative and administrative advocacy on issues related to child welfare, juvenile justice, early care and education, and K-12 education. Over the course of her legal career, Cyd has also represented defendants in criminal court and children in special education and disciplinary proceedings. As well, she taught eighth grade English in Raymondville, Texas, as a Teach for America corps member.
She holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was awarded an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship, and a B.A. from Williams College. She lives in New Haven with her husband, four daughters, two dogs, and one son.
Alden Pinkham is a Connecticut Bar Foundation Singer Fellow focused on improving veterans’ access to their mental health benefits. Before deciding to become an attorney, Alden worked as an advocate for victims of human trafficking on the National Human Trafficking Hotline and as a consultant and trainer for anti-trafficking non-profits. She also worked for Central Virginia Legal Aid Society as a migrant outreach worker, educating migrant farmworkers about their employment and housing rights. Alden received her J.D. from Yale Law School and her M.A. and B.A. from the University of Virginia.
As a Supervising Attorney at CVLC, Darren Pruslow’s practice covers a wide range of areas from civil legal issues (housing, child support) to various VA Benefit claims. In addition to representing clients, he is a lead on working with our VA partners and strengthening CVLC’s Medical Legal Partnership (MLP).
Prior to CVLC, Darren created a small ‘low bono’ practice focused on bridging the gap between legal services and traditional representation. He continues a near 20-year career as an educator as the co-founder of the Quinnipiac University School of Law Veteran’s Clinic and as an adjunct in the University of New Haven’s Legal Studies and Political Science Department. He also is on the board of the Connecticut Mediation Association.
Darren has his J.D. form Quinnipiac University School of Law and MS in Education from Hofstra University. His undergraduate degree is from the College of the Holy Cross where he majored in Sociology with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies.
Intake and Program Access Specialist
Juliet Taylor is a decorated Army veteran having served for over eleven years, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She brings to CVLC's screening team extensive experience as a veterans advocate, having worked tirelessly with several veteran and community organizations across Connecticut. Juliet has completed her Licensed Professional Counselor degree at the University of Bridgeport and she is currently the State Commander for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
Staff Attorney for Discharge Upgrades and Policy Counsel
Millie VandenBroek returns to CVLC as a staff attorney on the Discharge Upgrade Team. She served previously as CVLC’s Howard R. Udell Fellow in Veterans Justice specializing in VA benefits law. Millie has also taught in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School as a Visiting Clinical Lecturer. Prior to joining CVLC, she worked as an Assistant Public Defender in Baltimore City’s Mental Health Court and as a litigator in the private sector. Millie holds a JD from Georgetown University Law Center and an MPH from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Janice Wolf is a staff attorney with CVLC's VA Benefits and Eligibility. Prior to coming to CVLC, Janice worked for the Connecticut Public Defender's Office for over 17 years in various offices including Manchester G.A., Middletown G.A., New London G.A., and the appellate unit. She also taught general and business law classes at several local colleges/universities. Her most recent position was as a staff attorney with Tang & Maravelis, PC in the area of civil defense law specializing in insurance defense.
Over the course of her legal career, Janice has represented hundreds of clients during some of the most difficult periods in their lives. She is a strong advocate for coordinating any needed mental health and/or addiction services into resolutions for her clients with the goal of giving her clients the tools they need to succeed on their own.
She is admitted to practice law in Connecticut and is a certified mediator. Janice resides on the shoreline with her husband and two children