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Sarah Gelsomino

Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein - Cleveland
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Sarah Gelsomino
Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein - Cleveland

After graduating cum laude from DePaul University Law School in Chicago, she practiced for many years at People’s Law Office, one of the nation’s top civil rights firms. There she worked with some of the most experienced and successful civil rights lawyers in the country. She also spent significant time with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a progressive bar association, and worked extensively with the Chicago Chapter’s Mass Defense Committee. 

Gelsomino’s start at People’s Law Office was baptism by fire. She immediately began working around the clock on a class action case on behalf of people detained and arrested at a 2003 anti-war protest in Chicago. Many of these people were also prosecuted and forced to defend themselves against bogus criminal charges. After nearly a decade of intensive ligation, the case settled for $10 million.  

Gelsomino has consistently worked to defend those who dissent. Among her most influential work was coordinating the criminal defense of more than 100 Occupy Chicago activists arrested in Chicago’s Grant Park and, along with other National Lawyers Guild and People’s Law Office lawyers, successfully defeating terrorism charges at a jury trial against the “NATO 3” activists during the 2012 NATO summit.

She shared her passion for civil rights law as an adjunct professor in the Civil Rights Clinic at the DePaul University College of Law. There she taught future lawyers the fundamentals of the law and the nuances of how to effectively advocate for people injured by police and prisons. Under her guidance and instruction, her students successfully litigated many cases, securing settlements and other relief, including safer prison conditions, for their clients.  

This broad base of experience positioned her to come home to Cleveland and join the influential civil rights firm of Friedman and Gilbert as a partner in 2016.

During her many years practicing civil rights law, Gelsomino has witnessed a system designed to harm and oppress people, especially people of color. Her knowledge of the law and her passion for creating a more just society allows her to use the constitution to empower people who are victimized and challenge power structures to more equitably redistribute power.

 One of her most memorable and rewarding moments came when she helped free a wrongly convicted man, Michael Tillman, from prison in 2010. Tillman was imprisoned for 23 years after Chicago police detectives tortured him into confessing to a rape and murder he did not commit. After working on Tillman’s exoneration, she was part of his civil rights legal team to secure a $5,975,000 settlement. Tillman was one of many survivors of Chicago police torture whom Sarah represented both in post-conviction and civil rights actions.

Gelsomino also worked on a series of illegal strip and body cavity searches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A group of Milwaukee Police Officers regularly and illegally stopped and searched Black men, searching for drugs. Her clients were among a group of people who challenged the searches through civil rights lawsuits. The City of Milwaukee settled these cases for $5 million.

She has appeared in many national and international media outlets, including CNN, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and The Independent (London). She appears regularly alongside her clients in local media outlets.  

She is also a Board Member on the Northeast Coalition for Homeless and Global Ambassador Language Academy. Sarah speaks fluent Spanish, which she learned while conducting an oral history project of a small, rural community’s experience during the civil war in El Salvador.

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