Executive Director

Rachel O'Konis RuttenbergRachel O’Konis Ruttenberg has dedicated her career to working with organizations that serve children and families, and brings experience in leadership, strategic planning, project management, and policy advocacy to the Family Defense Center. Prior to joining the Family Defense Center as its Deputy Executive Director in March of 2015, Rachel was the Chicago director of a youth services organization. She previously served as Assistant Counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and spent six years in various roles at Chicago Public Schools, including as Special Assistant to the Chief Administrative Officer. Rachel received her J.D. with a concentration in public interest law from Chicago-Kent College of Law, her M.S. in integrated marketing communications from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a graduate of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (IWIL), which trains women to run for office. Rachel lives in Evanston with her family.

Legal Director

Diane RedleafDiane L. Redleaf is the founder and Legal Director of the Family Defense Center. A child and family advocate since she graduated from Stanford Law School in 1979, Ms. Redleaf has brought more than three dozen major systemic reform cases on behalf of families, has been involved in over 60 cases with published opinions, including a large number of precedential appellate decisions, has spearheaded major legislative and regulatory reforms in Illinois, and has represented parents in hundreds of juvenile court and administrative proceedings. Ms. Redleaf is widely considered a national leader in the field of parent representation in child welfare proceedings. She has served as the President of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and sits on the Steering Committee of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law’s Parent Representation Project.

Read more about Diane Redleaf

 Staff Attorneys

liadandonnellyLíadan Donnelly received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in May 2014, where she was an Articles Editor for the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. While in law school, Líadan spent a semester in London studying at the Center for Transnational Legal Studies, with a focus on international human rights. She also pursued her interest in public interest law during law school by working on behalf of political prisoners at Freedom Now. Prior to joining the Center’s staff, Líadan worked for a year in her home town, New York City, on a special fellowship at MFY Legal Services. There, she represented low-income clients in New York City in a variety of public benefits and Social Security cases, winning kudos from her superiors for her intellect, creativity and tenacity on behalf of her clients. Líadan received her B.A. in U.S. History, with honors, from the University of Chicago in 2011. She is proficient in Spanish and enjoys cooking, dancing, and traveling.


Sara GilloonSara Gilloon received her J.D., with high distinction, from the University of Iowa College of Law in May 2008.  She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish, summa cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame. Sara studied abroad in Spain during both college and law school and speaks Spanish proficiently. Prior to joining the Family Defense Center, she was a litigation attorney at Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago, where her extensive pro bono work included successfully obtaining political asylum for a young mother from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is also an avid tennis, basketball, and volleyball player and loves college sports.


Melissa Staas received her J.D., magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in May 2007, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Children’s Legal Rights Journal. In 2010, Melissa was awarded the Chicago Sun-Times Public Interest Fellowship in recognition of her academic achievements and her commitment to public interest law. Through her work with the Family Defense Center, Melissa has represented hundreds of families involved in the child welfare system and has gained expertise in cases involving allegations of domestic violence and cases involving complicated medical issues. Prior to attending law school, she gained valuable experience as a grant-writer with Centro San Bonifacio (a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in Chicago, IL) and coordinator with Disability Services at the University of Minnesota. Melissa received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of Minnesota.

Domestic Violence Project Attorney

saraSara Block received her J.D., magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2007, where she was a Child Law Fellow and the Features Editor of the Children’s Legal Rights Journal. Sara was a Skadden Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago with a fellowship focusing on the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare. As a two-time Skadden Flom Incubator Grant recipient, Sara has been advocating to improve the way the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services intervenes into the lives of families experiencing domestic violence through litigation and policy reform, and co-founded the Domestic Violence Child Welfare Resource Coalition. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Masters of Jurisprudence in Child Law program at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, in which she teaches Child Welfare Law and Policy, and Juvenile Justice Law Policy. In 2014, Sara was awarded the Family Defense Center’s Major Litigation Award for her involvement in Julie Q. v. DCFS and the Jewish United Fund’s “36 Under 36” award. Sara is currently the President of the Board of Directors of SHALVA. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in American Studies from Northwestern University. Sara has two daughters and feels honored to be their mother.

Intake Coordinator

Bryan Liberona received his J.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia in 2007 and his JBA in Public Relations and Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002. Prior to attending law school, Bryan gained valuable experience in the AmeriCorps Vista program working in public relations in New York. Before moving to Chicago, he worked as an intake attorney at SeniorLAW Center in Philadelphia where he represented seniors in collections cases and utility cases in addition to his intake work. Bryan is fluent in Spanish and enjoys reading, writing, and jogging in his spare time.


Development and Communications Manager

Connie Prater is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish Language and Literature. Prior to joining the Center, she volunteered as a citizenship preparation class teacher and worked as Grants Manager at another Chicago nonprofit, where she was responsible for all facets of the organization’s grant portfolio and increased grant revenue by over 30% over three years. Connie is proficient in Spanish and enjoys cooking, going to concerts, and traveling.


Administrative Staff

Alex-BallesterosAlejandra “Alex” Ballesteros is the administrator at the Family Defense Center. She is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. She is fluent in Spanish. Alex is a proud mom of a toddler girl and a young boy. Alex likes to read, play with her children, and do yoga in her spare time.




Mayra Miranda is the administrative assistant at the Family Defense Center. She is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender and Women Studies and a certificate in Global Health. Prior to joining the Center, Mayra served as a health educator through the Chicago Health Corps AmeriCorps Program. She hopes to obtain a nursing degree in the near future. Mayra is fluent in Spanish and enjoys reading and traveling.