PLS Albany Immigration Unit
41 State St., Suite M112
Albany, NY 12207
Brian Wang supervises and advises the PLS Immigration Unit on a part-time basis. He is also the managing attorney of a private immigration law practice in Albany. His prior experience includes immigration attorney positions at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia. He obtained a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law. He has served on the executive committee of the Upstate NY Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and is a member of the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Immigration Representation.
Nicholas Phillips, is the Acting Managing Attorney of the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York Immigration Unit. Before joining PLS, Nick worked as an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at Pace Community Law Practice in White Plains, NY, where he provided free legal representation to prisoners in deportation proceedings and to unaccompanied children in Immigration Court and Family Court proceedings. A 2014 graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Nick worked in law school at the Immigration Justice Clinic, where he represented immigrants in deportation proceedings because of criminal convictions, and at the Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented incarcerated clients in federal civil rights lawsuits. After graduation, Nick served as a judicial clerk to the Honorable Frederic Block of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Joo Young Seo is an immigration staff attorney. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 2015, and jointed PLS in 2016, where she focuses on defending indigent immigrant detainees with criminal convictions from removal. Previously, she was a law fellow at The Legal Aid Society, where she represented detained and non-detained respondents in New York immigration courts. Her past internships include the Immigration Defense Externship at Columbia, impact litigation internship at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, and student clerkship under the Hon. Kiyo Matsumoto at EDNY.
Noel Mendez grew up in New York City. He received a B.A. in theater from Lehman College in the Bronx, and graduated from the University at Buffalo Law School in 2009. While in law school, he participated in various moot court and mock trial programs. He also became a member of the Buffalo Law Review. After law school, Noel returned to New York City to practice commercial litigation in a private law firm. Thereafter, he went to Georgetown University Law Center to pursue an LLM in Securities Regulation. In 2011, he came to Albany to work for the New York State Court of Appeals. After clerking for the court as a member of its Central Legal Research Staff, he moved in chambers to clerk for one of the judges. Prior to coming to PLS, he worked as a housing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.
Karen L. Murtagh is the Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS), a not-for-profit legal services organization that was founded in 1976 to provide civil legal services to indigent inmates in New York State correctional facilities. She is a graduate of Clarkson University and Albany Law School. She is admitted to practice law in New York State, all Federal District Courts of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court. She has litigated issues concerning prisoners’ due process rights at disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, deliberate indifference, the First Amendment and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). She has tried cases in both the Court of Claims and Federal Court and has argued numerous cases before New York State courts including the New York Court of Appeals where she successfully argued that an incarcerated person’s mental health must be considered as a mitigating factor at a prison disciplinary hearing. Ms. Murtagh was also successful as amicus, appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging the constitutionality of a New York State statute that prohibited prisoners from filing federal 1983 actions in state court. For more on PLS' Executive Director, see below.
PLS Ithaca Office
114 Prospect St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Betsy Hutchings has been the managing attorney of the Ithaca Office of Prisoners’ Legal Services since 2004. Ms. Hutchings is a graduate of Hampshire College and Rutgers Camden School of Law. She began her career in legal services as an attorney for Appalachian Research and Defense Fund in Kentucky and the North Central West Virginia Legal Aid Society. In 1984, Ms. Hutchings joined the Ithaca Office of Prisoners’ Legal Services. Between 1998 and 2004, Ms. Hutchings worked for the Criminal Appeals Bureau of The Legal Aid Society.
Hallie Mitnick joined PLS in September of 2015 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in June of 2015. While at Cardozo, Hallie participated in the Innocence Project clinic as well as the Civil Rights Clinic. She was also a Public Service Scholar and Dean’s Merit Scholar. She was a recipient of the Cardozo Center for Public Service Law’s INSPIRE! Award, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to public service law, in January 2015, and the Cardozo Service and Achievement Award, which is given annually to graduating students for achievement and outstanding service to the law school, in June 2015. Her note “Estelle v. Gamble in a Post-Affordable Care Act World” was published by the Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal in summer 2015. Hallie also was a Charles H. Revson Law Student Public Interest Fellow at the Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit during the summer of 2014. At Legal Aid, Hallie worked on solitary confinement appeals for Rikers Island inmates as well as impact litigation concerning Rikers Island. While an undergraduate at Cornell University, Hallie was a teaching assistant in the Cornell Prison Education Program at Auburn Correctional Facility.
Alissa Hull has joined the Ithaca office of PLS as a staff attorney. Alissa received her JD from CUNY in 2010. Before attending law school, she co-founded and volunteered with the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago, a youth-run harm reduction program for youth in the sex trade and street economies. She has participated in a wide-variety of clinics and internships in the area of prisoner’s rights, including the National Lawyers Guild’s Prison Law Project, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Southern Poverty Law Center’s School to Prison Reform Project, the Prisoner’s Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, and CUNY’s Criminal Defense Clinic. She was a contributor and researcher for the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook, 5th Edition, published by the National Lawyers Guild and CCR. Upon graduation, she worked as a criminal defense attorney for indigent clients. Prior to joining PLS, she was a staff attorney with the Human Rights Defense Center (aka Prison Legal News), where she worked primarily on First Amendment claims against jails and prisons.
Aleta Albert has worked at Prisoners’ Legal Services since 1985. She has held a number of positions since beginning her employment and is currently the Director of Advocacy. She processes and responds to intake letters from inmates. She handles production and copy editing for Pro Se and Essentials of Life as well as maintaining the mailing lists for both newsletters. She also works on the production and layout of the PLS form memos and performs a variety of other office functions
Elizabeth Banks joined Prisoner’s Legal Services on February 22, 2016 as a legal secretary, providing the Ithaca attorneys with administrative assistance. She came to PLS from Heritage Park Apartments, in Elmira, NY, where she was the Assistant Youth Project Director for The Heritage Park Apartments Resource Center. Prior to that position, she worked from 1991 to 2008, as a Legal Secretary for a New York City law firm specializing in construction law.
PLS Staff and Offices
PLS Central Office
41 State St., Suite M112
Albany, NY 12207
Karen Murtagh, Executive Director. Ms. Murtagh has worked as a staff attorney, managing attorney, Director of Litigation and Deputy Director for PLS. She has provided extensive training to staff and pro bono attorneys on administrative and Article 78 practice and how to litigate excessive force cases in federal court. She also served on the faculty of Albany Law School as an adjunct professor where she established a clinic program for prisoners’ rights and taught Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Court of Claims Practice, and Litigation Skills. She conducts an annual training for CUNY law students in the Criminal Defense Clinic, training them on the prison disciplinary process and Article 78 procedure. She has lectured and conducted CLE trainings across the State on prisoners’ rights issues. Ms. Murtagh is the author of “Solitary Confinement in New York State” the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Civil Rights Report to the House of Delegates which resulted in the House of Delegates adopting a resolution urging, among other things, that the imposition of long-term solitary confinement on persons in custody beyond 15 days be proscribed. Under her leadership, PLS was awarded the 2014 Denison Ray Non-Profit Organization Award which recognized PLS’ extraordinary commitment to strengthening access to justice initiatives, delivering the provision of civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients, increasing the provision of pro bono services and marshaling resources to maximize services to the community. Ms. Murtagh is a member of the New York State Bar Association and sits on the NYS Bar Association’s Civil Rights Committee. She is also an advisor to the NYS Bar Association’s Immigration Committee. In 2017, Ms. Murtagh was presented with the Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Correctional Services award from the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association.
Hector Nayo, Controller. Mr. Nayo is a Board Certified Public Accountant who began working at PLS in 2005.
Samantha Howell is the Director of Pro Bono & Outreach at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS). She earned a B.A. in 2004 from Whitman College, located in Walla Walla, WA (so nice they named it twice) and a J.D. from Albany Law School in 2010. Samantha has worked in the civil legal services, public interest and pro bono fields for over fifteen years. Joining PLS in 2011, Samantha developed the nation’s only pro bono program tasked specifically with referring individual civil cases involving incarcerated persons. Over the last five years, the program has more than doubled with more than 9100 hours of service being donated in the 2015-2016 reporting year. Samantha currently serves as the President of the National Lawyers Guild - Albany Chapter, a Board Member for the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and as the Training Chair for the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals. Samantha also serves on the New York State Bar Association's (NYSBA) President's Committee on Access to Justice, Pro Bono Coordinators Network and committee on Student Loan Assistance. She is a member of the Capital Region Pro Bono Committee, Capital Region Immigration Collaborative and the ABA's Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense. She is also a co-founder, board member and facilitator with The Center for Community Insight, Inc., which provide poverty simulations and trainings. In 2014, Samantha received the Supervising Attorney Award from Albany Law School’s Pro Bono Program, for the work she does with the school’s Prisoner’s Rights Project and, in June 2017, she was named Public Citizen of the Year by the NYS Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The Public Citizen award is awarded to a non-social worker who exemplifies the values and mission of the social work profession.”
Patricia Kane has been with PLS as the Executive Administrative Assistant since November 2009, prior to joining PLS she was the Office Manager in the printing field for 15 years. In her free time she is active in many local community groups and has sat on committees with the developmentally disabled, Cystic Fibrosis, and a local Cancer Research Treatment Center.
PLS Plattsburgh Office
24 Margaret St., Suite 9
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Michael E. Cassidy is the Managing Attorney of the Plattsburgh Office of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS). He received his juris doctor, cum laude, from Vermont Law School in 1991 and his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont in 1987. He served as a staff attorney at PLS from 1991-1996 and Managing Attorney for Litigation from 1996-1998. He engaged in private practice in Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine from 1998-2002, before returning to the Plattsburgh Office of PLS. He is admitted to the state bars of New York, Vermont and Maine. He is also admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Districts of Vermont, Maine, the Northern District of New York and the Western District of New York, as well as the United States Courts of Appeals for the First, Second, and D.C. Circuits.
Elias Shebar, attended law school at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he practiced as a student attorney in the Civil Rights Clinic. He gained additional exposure to prisoners’ rights through his internships, which have included positions at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Lambda Legal. He served as a Notes Editor on the Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender, where his note on the administrative law questions raised by Title IX as an emerging source of protection for trans students, was published. In his spare time, he seeks out new music and appreciates exploring Vermont and the North Country.
Darby Cronin, a native of Plattsburgh, NY, graduated from Plattsburgh High School and went on to North Country Community College. She later transferred to Clinton Community College where she earned her degree in Secretarial Science. Darby began working at Prisoners’ Legal Services May, 1987.
PLS Buffalo Office
14 Lafayette Square, Suite 510
Buffalo, NY 14203
Maria Pagano is the Managing Attorney of the Buffalo office of Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS). She is a graduate of Barnard College and C.U.N.Y. Law School, class of ’93. PLS provides free civil legal services to prisoners in New York State prisons. Maria left a career in the visual arts to attend C.U.N.Y. law school and “practice law in the service of human needs ”. She has practiced public interest and poverty law for over 18 years in New York, Arizona, and on the Navajo Nation. Prior to her current position at PLS, she was the Managing Attorney at DNA-People’s Legal Services in Flagstaff, Arizona where she practiced family law, public benefits, consumer and housing law. Maria is a member of the Erie/Niagara Prison Re-Entry Task force and is working with community groups and agencies to address the needs of people in prison who are returning to Western New York.
David Bentivegna attended Canisius College for his undergraduate education, successfully completing the school’s rigorous Honor’s program to graduate with Bachelor degrees in History and Philosophy. David next moved on to the University at Buffalo Law School where he earned his Juris Doctor in 2007. David has been a staff attorney with the Buffalo PLS office since 2010. Raised in Western New York, David is also an avid runner who participates in races for various charitable causes throughout the year.
Monique Lewis joined Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York in 2016. After high school, she went to Villa Maria College in Buffalo, New York to complete her Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. Then she went on to Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. Monique enjoys listening to old and new music.
PLS Buffalo Immigration Unit
Fauto Falzone was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a son of immigrants and an immigrant himself he is committed to helping and serving his immigrant clients. Fausto is fluent in English, Italian, and Spanish and understands Portuguese. Fausto practiced immigration law for six years and criminal defense as a public defender for two years. As a deportation attorney he practiced before 20 different immigration courts and successfully handled appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals. Fausto is licensed in Maine, Florida, Texas, and Arizona and recently applied to become a member of the New York Bar.
PLS Albany Office
41 State St., Suite M112
Albany, NY 12207
James Bogin is the Managing Attorney of the Albany office of PLS. Mr. Bogin graduated from Cornell Law School in 1984, and was a staff attorney at North Country Legal Services from 1985 to 1987. In 1987 Mr. Bogin joined the Albany office of PLS as a Staff Attorney. Between 1994 and 2000 Mr. Bogin worked at times as a Staff Attorney and at times as ManagingAttorney of the Albany office. He has been the Managing Attorney of the office continuously since 2000
Chrisiant Bracken is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law where she completed full-time internships working on death penalty appeals in Louisiana, legal services for incarcerated women in Washington, DC, criminal defense in Massachusetts, and civil legal services for state prisoners in Minnesota. She also completed clinical programs in Prisoners’ Rights, and Poverty Law and Practice. Chrisiant joined the Albany Office of PLS as a staff attorney in 2016.
Sophia Heller joined PLS in 2011 after graduating from Georgetown Law. As a student attorney, Sophia represented indigent defendants facing trial for misdemeanor cases in D.C. Superior Court, and those convicted of crime in parole and probation hearings. She also served as an Executive Editor of the Georgetown Journal on Legal Ethics. Prior to law school, Sophia earned a B.F.A. in film and a Ph.D. in mythology. Her dissertation, The Absence of Myth, was published by SUNY Press in 2005. Sophia was also a contestant on NPR’s “Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!” and proudly uses Carl Kassell’s recorded greeting on her voicemail to this day.
Matthew McGowan joined the Albany office of PLS as a staff attorney in 2013. His experience in the fields of prisoners’ rights and public interest advocacy includes fulltime internships with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit, and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel. He also served as a judicial intern for the Hon. Shirley S. Abrahamson, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law, where he completed clinical programs in both Prisoners’ Rights and Poverty Law and Practice.
Mary Cipriano-Walter became a staff attorney in the Albany Office of PLS in January 2015. Before becoming a staff attorney, Mary interned at the Albany office from June 2013 through April 2014. Mary is a graduate of Albany Law School, where she studied civil rights law and served as the project director of the Pro Bono Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.
Kathleen Anderson started as Legal Secretary at PLS’ Albany Office in September of 2015. She grew up in Hudson, a small urban community in Columbia County, New York. Kat graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Political Studies from Bard College in May 2013. Before coming to PLS Kat worked as a group facilitator and community organizer for the Apogee Mental Health Recovery Center, an organization that works to empower individuals who struggle with mental health recovery in Columbia County. Kat has also participated in a variety of volunteer initiatives, including AmeriCorps’Hudson Promise Corps, and Bard College’s New Orleans Summer Teaching Program at Wilson Charter School in Broadmoore, New Orleans. In her spare time, Kat facilitates a Spoken Word group that shares poetry and performs original poems at venues around Columbia County. She enjoys cooking, gardening, writing, and spending time with her two children