The Team

The People Who Make it Happen

We’ve enlisted a staff compromised of skilled attorneys and social workers with diverse life experiences and expertise. Our team focuses on the person and NOT just the problem. They are a group of highly trained professionals devoting their lives to make an impact.

Esther Franco-Payne

Executive Director

Esther Franco-Payne is the Executive Director Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), where she leads the strategy, fundraising and overall management of the organization. With a long career in violence prevention and criminal justice advocacy, Esther’s personal commitment has been to serve as a voice for underserved communities of color. Growing up on Chicago’s southside, she understands the issues that permeate communities impacted by crime, poverty, and disinvestment. Through her work with CGLA, Esther aims to spread CGLA’s impact through Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois. She is a long-time advocate who has engaged the public in the development of effective criminal justice and juvenile justice policies and continues to educate the community about issues related to exposure to trauma, violence prevention, and criminal justice reform. 
Franco-Payne is a member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, the federally mandated State Advisory Group to the Governor, the General Assembly and the Illinois Department of Human Services and Chairperson of the DMC Committee, focused on eliminating racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.  
She was a member of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Research Advisory Council and was recently appointed by President Preckwinkle as chairperson of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) Community Advisory Board. 
Before the creation of the Illinois Justice Project, Franco-Payne worked for Chicago Metropolis 2020 and Metropolis Strategies where she was a staff member with the Justice and Violence Group, the predecessor to the Illinois Justice Project.  Her previous employers included the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention and the Circuit Court of Cook County Family Violence Coordinating Council. 
Franco-Payne has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago - School of Social Service Administration.  She is a 2015 fellow with Leadership Greater Chicago and resides in Chicago with her husband, Mark Payne, and their three children.

Beth Johnson

Director of Legal Programs & Advocacy

Beth Johnson serves as the Director of Legal Programs at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) and has been an attorney with the organization since 2005. She has served thousands of clients during her time at CGLA in all areas related to criminal records, including expungement and sealing, clemency petitions, waivers and certificates, discrimination claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act and administrative proceedings. She has worked successfully with other advocacy groups to improve systems changes in the courts, policies of employers and governmental agencies and expansions and clarifications to criminal records laws in the Illinois General Assembly. She partners with people directly impacted by the criminal system to identify appropriate systemic changes and work to change society’s views on the criminal justice system. She is actively engaged in the development and execution of community and employer outreach and education. She is a published author through the Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education (IICLE), “Expungement and Sealing: A Lawyer’s Guide” and has trained, mentored and supervised attorneys for the last ten years. Most recently, she was selected as a 2014 Chicago Community Trust Emerging Leader fellow, which focuses on growth in criminal justice advocacy and policy work. She is a 2005 graduate of DePaul University’s College of Law, receiving a Certificate in Public Interest Law. She was awarded a Sun-Times Fellowship for loan repayment through the Chicago Bar Foundation. She has been honored by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County as an Outstanding Woman in Nonprofit in 2012 and awarded the Safer Foundation Visionary Award in 2010.

Victoria Spires

Operations Manager

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Victoria Spires has always been connected to the work that she does. Before joining Cabrini Green Legal Aid in 2014, Victoria last served as the Chief Operating Officer at North Lawndale Employment Network where she worked for over 11 years. She has extensive hands on experience in administrative support services, human resources, bookkeeping, budget review and analysis, covering long and short-term goals. Not only does Victoria bring a depth of operation management experience, but makes use of her 5 years of Stage Management experience at the Black Ensemble Theater & Cultural Center to keep CGLA running smoothly. An intelligent and creative individual with strong leadership skills, Victoria was named the 1st Community Scholar for Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois and The Herman Conway Outstanding Student Leadership Award from Columbia College.