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LawNY’s Prieto honored for 40 years of public service

Lou Prieto has been affiliated with Legal Assistance of Western New York (and its predecessor organization Monroe County Legal Assistance Corporation) since 1991. But his public service experience dates back to the late 1970s, when he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice while earning his degree from Fordham Law School. Once admitted to the New York bar, he began his career as a trial attorney for the Criminal Defense Division of The Legal Aid Society in New York City.

Colleagues, family, and friends gathered at the Memorial Art Gallery on Jan. 22 to honor Prieto’s many years of service and congratulate him on his retirement. All three of his children came from out of town, and many former LawNY attorneys came to personally wish Prieto the best.

Kenneth Perri, LawNY executive director, spoke about Prieto’s Rochester years, noting that he grew the staff of the organization from about 10 in 1996 to 40 today, finding funding. His leadership has been based on a community lawyering partnership model that guided priorities via communication from low-income communities regarding their needs, rather than just offering a set checklist of services.

“Balancing routine services with new initiatives was one of Lou’s strengths,” Perri continued.  “The number of cases closed by LawNY Rochester when I became executive director in 2002 was 1,653. In 2015, LawNY Rochester closed just under 4,000 cases – a 138 percent increase.”

Lori O’Brien, the new managing attorney of Legal Assistance of Western New York, helped organize the event and also spoke of Prieto’s many achievements.

O’Brien had been serving as supervising attorney for the firm’s general law practice and began her new position last fall, providing a smooth transition as Prieto worked towards a Dec. 31 retirement date.

In her remarks, O’Brien noted that “Lou is the type of leader who will always be valuable to the community,” asking that he continue to be available for questions

When Prieto took the podium he acknowledged the rarity of having all three of his children –daughter from New Orleans and sons from Pala Alto and Los Angeles, CA – “especially in the winter,”

Talking about the future of the office, Prieto noted, “Lori is a born leader and has the ability to take this office to the next level.”


Valor Day Rochester

Prieto was a key player in organizing the first Valor Day Rochester, an annual event for U.S. veterans, either on active duty or reserve, and their immediate family members. The program offered one-on-one legal consultations, employment counseling workshops, financial counseling, along with information about housing, medical, and educational services and opportunities.

Kevin Saunders, attorney at Nixon Peabody and U.S. Marine Corps reserve officer, explained how Prieto, retired County Court Judge Patricia Marks, and Nixon Peabody partner David Schraver first investigated how they might replicate a Valor Day program implemented in Onondaga County.

“Lou was the tip of the spear as we moved forward,” Saunders stated.  “He got the grant that covered marketing, so people knew about the program. He loaned us volunteer staff, he made the connections to get printing done for free, and food comped.”

On June 13, 2015, Valor Day was held at Monroe Community College with 50 service providers and dozens of attorneys offering pro bono legal services to over 200 veterans.

In addition to Prieto’s Valor Day contributions, he has worked with the Veterans Outreach Center day in and day out for years.

“He approached us years ago,” explained Jocene Henderson, director of operations at the Veterans Outreach Center, Inc.  “Since then, LawNY has been given office space in our building, and we’ve used his connections to offer similar services in Buffalo.”

To honor Prieto, Henderson presented a folded U.S. flag in a shadow box – a high honor for a civilian and a sign of ultimate respect.

“We wanted to do something special for Lou,” Henderson added.  “The flag display shows our gratitude for his service.”


The early years

Prieto is the son of Cuban immigrants. He grew up in upper Manhattan’s West Harlem neighborhood.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the City University of New York before receiving his JD from Fordham.

From 1977-1986, he represented the interests of the accused and developed extensive trial experience in all types of criminal cases.  In what has come to mark his holistic view of how to solve a problem, his advocacy was not limited to the courthouse. Prieto worked with social agencies on sentencing alternatives that would afford better outcomes for the defendant and the community.

In 1986, Prieto became a general litigation attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s civil division of the Far Rockaway Office, which later led to a position as supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, in charge of the housing law unit for Bronx County. He was involved in recruitment, training, supervision, grant proposal writing, and community outreach.