Our Team

CDEL’s staff is committed to public interest law, serving our clients, and supporting our volunteers with professionalism and integrity.



MARK HELLNER, Executive Director

Mark joined CDEL in November of 2012 after over 25 years in private practice. He was a partner at Schwartz & Freeman before establishing his own firm. He also served as General Counsel of the Illinois Department of Revenue and as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.  Mark was a CDEL volunteer while in private practice beginning in 1986.

He is the former Chair and current member of the Arlington Heights Housing Commission and he helps with two regional National Alliance on Mental Illness committees, one addressing housing needs and the second addressing criminal justice matters. The Illinois State Bar Association honored him with its Board of Governor’s Award for his work as Chair of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Evaluation.

Mark is admitted to practice in Illinois, is a Trial Bar member of the Northern District of Illinois, and is admitted before several Federal District Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeal together with the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated with Honors from Illinois State University, and in 2017 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from ISU’s Department of English. His J.D. degree is from the University of Illinois.


THOMAS WENDT, Legal Director Thomas Wendt

Tom joined CDEL in 2007, serving first as a Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Coordinator, and is currently CDEL’s Legal Director. He started his legal career as a volunteer paralegal at CDEL more than 15 years ago. Tom is active with the Chicago Bar Association, American Bar Association and is a member of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). Before joining the staff, he worked as a private attorney in the areas of commercial, investment and residential real estate, estate planning and business law and was a staff attorney with Chicago Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service.

Tom is a past Chair of the CBA Legal Aid Committee and a member of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals. Tom is a contributing author to Wolter Kluwer’s Elder Law Portfolio series. Tom also teaches Paralegal Studies at the City Colleges of Chicago, lecturing in the areas of Legal Ethics, Elder Law, Real Estate Law, and Estates & Wills. Tom's first text book was published in 2017 by Carolina Academic Press.  Tom was an adjunct professor at John Marshall Law School in their Elder Law Program.  

Tom earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Loyola University Chicago. He received his Juris Doctor degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he served as Notes and Comments Editor for the Journal of International & Comparative Law. While in law school, Tom studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and King’s College, London.


CAROLINE MANLEY, Supervising Attorney 

Caroline Manley

Caroline Manley joined CDEL in 2011 through the support of the Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging. As a Borchard Fellow, Caroline implemented legal clinics in four of Cook County’s suburbs to ensure that seniors outside of the Chicago city limits are able to access CDEL’s services. In 2012, Caroline continued her work in the suburbs, and began expanding the clinic model to high-need Chicago communities through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by The Chicago Bar Foundation.  Caroline now oversees ten Clinics throughout Cook County.

Prior to joining CDEL, Caroline interned with a wide range of legal organizations that serve seniors including the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Cook County Office of the Public Guardian and AARP Foundation – Litigation.  Before attending law school, Caroline worked with socially isolated seniors in Chicago as a Program Coordinator at Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly. 

Caroline attended the University of Illinois for her undergraduate degree in Sociology. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University in 2011 where she was an active member of the Center for Public Interest Law and the Article Selection Editor of the DePaul Journal for Social Justice


STEPHANIE RIDELLA VITTANDS, Staff AttorneyStephanie Ridella Vittands

Stephanie Ridella Vittands is a staff attorney at CDEL.  She provides representation in eviction defense, property owner evictions, CHA housing voucher termination informal hearings, and a wide range of landlord-tenant issues and other property issues.  In 2015-2016, she fellow through a fellowship with the Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging. Prior to accepting a Borchard fellowship, Stephanie joined CDEL as an AmeriCorps VISTA Housing Coordinator after graduating from law school.  Stephanie also assists with coordinating the Guardianship Help Desk. 

Stephanie began interning with CDEL during her first year of law school.  In addition to her work with CDEL, she also interned at Chicago Legal Clinic, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Illinois Legal Aid Online, the Chicago-Kent Law Offices and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Stephanie earned her Bachelor of Arts in History and a Paralegal Certificate at Oakland University.  She went on to earn her Master of Arts in Medieval History and Early Modern History at Loyola University of Chicago. 

Stephanie received her Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law in May 2014, with certificates in Public Interest Law and Labor and Employment Law.  She was also awarded the Dean's Distinguished Public Service Award.


ELISE ROBIE, Staff Attorney

Elise Robie is a staff attorney at CDEL and formerly CDEL’s Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Elder Justice Legal Fellow.  She represents clients experiencing potential elder financial abuse, which includes a variety of civil legal issues such as revoking powers of attorney, filing civil complaints, communicating with Adult Protective Services, and demanding accountings of the senior’s financial records. In addition, she conducts outreach presentations to educate seniors on these issues, and assists with CDEL’s Senior Center Initiative outreach presentations and workshops, as a preventive measure against future abuse. Elise joined CDEL in 2015 as a Kott Gerontology Scholar during her third year of law school.

Elise attended UCLA for her undergraduate degree in English Literature. She received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University of Chicago School of Law with a certificate in Health Law. At Loyola, she was a 2015 Women’s Bar Foundation Scholar and member of the Alpha Sigma Nu Honor Society.


CRYSTAL HUIZAR, Paralegal and Administrator   


Crystal Huizar joined CDEL in the Winter of 2017 as a full time paralegal. Crystal provides administrative and paralegal support for CDEL and is the primary staff liaison for the Winter Awards Benefit Committee. 

Crystal began at CDEL in January of 2016 as a paralegal intern through Wilbur Wright College. In May of the same year, Crystal received her Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies and became CDEL’s Paralegal Screening Coordinator. Crystal assisted the Senior Legal Assistance Clinics by screening and scheduling seniors for the Clinics, as well as updating files after appointments.  

Crystal is also fluent in Spanish and often translates in the office, making CDEL’s services more accessible to limited English-speaking clients.   

Crystal was the Vice President of the Paralegal Club during her paralegal program and will begin working on obtaining her Bachelors of Political Science from Roosevelt University. 



Ivette Chacon joined CDEL in January of 2017 as a paralegal intern through the Wright College Paralegal Program. In March of the same year she was hired by CDEL as the Screening Coordinator Paralegal, and in May she received her Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies. Ivette works closely with the Senior Legal Assistance Clinics where she screens and schedules seniors for appointments. Ivette is also fluent in Spanish and expands CDEL’s services by opening a line of communication to Spanish speaking seniors in Cook County.

Ivette is working on obtaining her bachelors in Paralegal Studies from Roosevelt University and expects to graduate in December of 2018.