Following a career highlighted by his advocacy to protect children, people with disabilities, and inmates of correctional facilities, Benjamin Wolf today announced his upcoming retirement as the legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. Wolf joined the organization in 1984 and has served as legal director since 2015. He will remain in his current position until a successor is identified and retained.  

“It is difficult to imagine finding more satisfaction in a legal career than I experienced at the ACLU,” added Wolf in making his announcement. “It has been an honor – to work with some incredible people, to take on issues that truly matter for those without a voice, and to create a foundation for our work moving forward.” 

“This feels like the right moment to take my leave – with the organization poised for great things.”   

Wolf is perhaps best known as counsel in a federal lawsuit in which he represents all children under the care of DCFS. When the case was filed in 1988, DCFS was in complete disarray: the Department was unable to locate some children among the nearly 50,000 in their care, caseworkers were carrying an impossible number of cases, children often failed to receive basic health and educational services, and there was little to help children to move into safe, permanent homes. The consent decree achieved in that litigation spurred groundbreaking reforms and, when DCFS failed to maintain those improvements, has once again provided essential protections to thousands of Illinois children.  

“Over more than three decades, Ben has brought his compassion, great intellect, and empathy to his work on behalf of our clients in each step he has taken,” said Colleen Connell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “His thoughtful, strategic approach to long-term reform has improved the lives of thousands and helped guide our organization through these past few years of growth and high demand.” 

“We will miss Ben and his contributions to the ACLU.”  

In addition to his work challenging conditions and services for children in DCFS care, Wolf also led efforts to improve  state-operated mental health centers (K.L. v. Edgar), reform the nation’s largest juvenile detention facility (Jimmy Doe v. Cook County) and – along with allied organizations – challenge the State of Illinois’ practice of warehousing people with disabilities in large institutions, rather than offering them the opportunity to receive the services and support they need in community-based settings (Ligas, Williams and Colbert). 

As legal director, Wolf has overseen the ACLU of Illinois’ groundbreaking response to efforts by the Trump and Rauner Administrations to curtail basic rights. He presided over unprecedented growth in the legal staff, largely in response to challenges and need in the wake of the 2016 election. During his tenure, the ACLU was able to play a significant role in the consent decree now in place to reform the Chicago Police Department, secure an agreement to improve the dangerous system of health care in Illinois prisons, advance the rights of students who are transgender, and help to facilitate a settlement on behalf of a south suburban police officer discriminated against because she was pregnant. 

The ACLU has retained Koya Leadership Partners to conduct a national search to fill the Legal Director position. Koya Leadership Partners is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm exclusively dedicated to mission-driven search. Please visit www.koyapartners.com to learn more about this role. 

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