Meet the Pro Bono Team

Special Projects Director, Maryann Tharappel

Maryann Tharappel is the Special Projects Director at Catholic Charities, where she develops, implements, and supervises special legal initiatives within New York State.

Maryann oversees and ensures the provision and quality of these special initiatives, which encompass a variety of core services, including but not limited to: community outreach coordination and engagement; clinical programming; legal services delivery in the Lower Hudson Valley and New York City; volunteer and pro bono recruitment and management; implementation and supervision of funded city, regional and statewide-initiatives; supervision, coordination and training of attorneys and managers; and direct advocacy.

In particular, Maryann focuses on community outreach, pro bono development, and innovative legal services delivery in the Lower Hudson Valley and New York City, including overseeing and supervising Catholic Charities' Community Legal Clinic Project, the Immigration Court Helpdesk Project, the ActionNYC in Schools Project, Catholic Charities' Immigrant Justice Corps Fellows, the New York State Liberty Defense Pro Bono Project, and the expansion of Catholic Charities’ Lower Hudson Valley legal team.

Prior to joining Catholic Charities, Maryann was the Assistant Director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group as well as their Lead Attorney for community-based immigration legal initiatives. She also was a Law Fellow with the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Chief Counsel.

Maryann graduated from Stony Brook University in 2007 and from Brooklyn Law School in 2011. She is admitted to practice in New Jersey and New York.

Pro Bono Legal Manager, Susan Marks

Susan Marks is the Pro Bono Legal Manager at Catholic Charities.

Susan specializes in building new pro bono programs from the ground up: identifying a service need, developing a vision, launching fledgling projects, and strengthening them over time.

Susan grounds her work in innovation and dynamism, volunteer engagement and relationship-building.

Prior to her current role, Susan worked at the American Immigration Lawyers Association where she managed AILA’s pro bono presence for more than a decade, working with attorneys, community-based organizations, large law firms, law schools, embassies, consulates and other constituents.  Susan’s work responded to both ongoing and emergent pro bono project management needs, including AILA’s family detention pro bono projects in Artesia, New Mexico, and Dilley, Texas.  The Artesia Pro Bono Project utilized an innovative new pro bono model and was an intensive round-the-clock effort to recruit, train and coordinate volunteer resources to provide pro bono immigration legal assistance to women and children detained in a remote facility and effectively denied access to counsel.

Susan graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 and from CUNY School of Law in 2006. She is admitted to practice in New York.

Special Projects Supervising Attorney, Franco Torres

Franco Torres is a Special Projects Supervising Attorney at Catholic Charities.

Franco supervises and mentors a team of attorneys, staff and volunteers dedicated to provide pro bono legal services. Franco also provides direct representation to numerous clients before the Immigration Court and agencies. He is a regular spokesperson for Catholic Charities and has been featured on a weekly segment on the Univision New York’s nightly news where he informs and educates about immigration related issues.

Franco is a supervising attorney at the St. John’s School of Law Immigrant Rights and Refugee Litigation Clinic where he teaches about both immigration law and practice.

Prior to his work at Catholic Charities and St. John’s, Franco was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to work with detained immigrants in Miami, Florida.

Franco received his Juris Doctorate from Boston University School of Law where he graduated with honors in a concentration in Litigation and Dispute Resolution in 2011. Franco also holds a Master’s degree in Education from Pepperdine University, 2003; and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Stanford University, 2001. He is admitted to practice in Florida and New York.

Pro Bono Supervising Attorney, Liane Aronchick

Liane Aronchick is a Pro Bono Supervising Attorney at Catholic Charities. 

Previously, Liane was the Senior Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney at Kids in Need of Defense, and a staff attorney at Human Rights First in New York, where she represented Central American families and children in removal proceedings, and mentored pro bono attorneys in pursuing asylum and SIJS for their clients. 

Liane spent four and a half years on defense teams representing individuals charged with international human rights violations in The Hague, Netherlands, both at the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Before moving to The Hague, Liane served as a clinical intern and of counsel at Catholic Charities’ Department of Immigrant and Refugee Services, where she pursued family based petitions, T/U-visas, asylum and other relief for clients.

Liane served in the Peace Corps in Quito, Ecuador from 2003 to 2006, where she spearheaded a number of adult literacy, anti-domestic violence, and anti-trafficking-in-persons campaigns.

She graduated from Barnard College in 2003 and graduated from St. John’s University School of Law in 2009. She is admitted to practice in New York.

Natalia Lucak, Supervising Attorney

Natalia Lucak is a Special Projects Supervising Attorney at Catholic Charities, where she assesses and mentors cases for pro bono representation, specializing in cases involving immigrant youth who face legal challenges in both family court and immigration court. In 2019, Natalia joined the Pro Bono Project to help implement a new municipal commitment to increase citywide pro bono capacity to represent immigrant youth at Catholic Charities.

From 2016 until 2018, Natalia supervised a team of two attorneys and six paralegals at Catholic Charities as a part of the ActionNYC in Schools Project, a collaboration with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and a host of New York City non-profits. Through ActionNYC in Schools (the only municipal program nation-wide offering regular immigration legal help at schools), Natalia implemented programming to deliver weekly, onsite legal supervision and representation to immigrant students and their families citywide, covering the largest school district in the country.

Prior to her work at Catholic Charities, Natalia Lucak represented low-income clients in removal proceedings as well as victims of human trafficking and domestic violence as a Staff Attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). In her role at NYLAG, Natalia also supported community initiatives by coordinating large scale legal clinics and conducting volunteer trainings to respond to emerging needs of immigrant communities across New York City.

Natalia earned her Bachelor of Arts in European History from Barnard College in 2007. She then graduated with honors from University of Maryland School of Law in 2012, where she served on the Maryland Journal of International Law as Senior Editor. As a law student, Natalia also completed a judicial internship at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Baltimore, Maryland. After law school, Natalia spent nearly a year in Johannesburg, South Africa working as a legal intern at two of the leading public interest law and human rights organizations, The Legal Resources Centre and PASSOP (People against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty).

Natalia is fluent in Czech, French, and is conversant in Spanish.

 

Mirjam Grünenfelder-Reig, Special Projects Manager

Mirjam Grunenfelder-Reig joined Catholic Charities in 2019 to offer project management oversight and support across multiple programs, including volunteer recruitment, engagement, and case placement for the Pro Bono Project. Mirjam has nearly nine years of experience working in the non-profit sector in New York City. She has implemented immigration programming and developed community engagement priorities while at The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). She also has extensive experience advocating for support through fundraising initiatives and grant management in both the criminal justice and immigration fields at various organizations, including Exalt Youth, The Legal Aid Society, New York Legal Assistance Group, and The Fortune Society. At NYLAG, Mirjam also represented victims of domestic violence and undocumented youth as a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Representative.

Immediately prior to joining Catholic Charities in 2019, Mirjam conducted frontline volunteer work herself, by participating in the Dilley Pro Bono Project in Texas, where she prepared women at The South Texas Family Residential Center for their credible fear interviews. Originally from Switzerland, Mirjam returned to Europe in the summer of 2018 to bear witness to the continent’s migrant crisis by volunteering at House of All, a refugee safe-house in Bosnia and Collective Aid, a collaborative providing food to hundreds of homeless refugees at the Sarajevo train station.

Mirjam received her Bachelor of Arts in Languages & Literature from Bard College in 2009 and her Master of Arts in International Education from New York University in 2015, where she studied best practices in educational interventions in the refugee context and other crisis situations. Mirjam speaks fluent German and Spanish and is conversant in Russian and French.