Nikki Donnelley is a zealous advocate for individuals coping with the impact of their criminal records, as well as those who are still behind bars. Her passion for working with people impacted by the criminal legal system began while studying public policy at DePaul University, where she studied the implications of local laws on Chicago’s residents. Since this time,Nikki has continued to fight against systemic injustice in her role as a staff attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA). At CGLA, she represented hundreds of clients in successfully mitigating their criminal records through sealing and expungement, executive clemency, healthcare waivers, certificates of good conduct, and at hearings in front of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Notably, in 2017, Nikki successfully argued and won a petition to seal her client’s conviction for murder- one of the first of such convictions to be sealed in Illinois history. While at CGLA, Nikki co-launched a project assisting over twenty-five incarcerated survivors of domestic violence file motions to reduce their sentences after there was a change in sentencing laws, allowing domestic battery to be considered by Judges in sentencing. In addition to directly representing clients, Nikki has trained and supervised hundreds of pro bono attorneys representing clients in their petitions for executive clemency.
Beyond her work at CGLA, Nikki has also worked as a contract attorney at civil rights firm Loevy & Loevy, and has volunteered at First Defense Legal Aid and Legal Aid Society. She continues to volunteer at John Howard Association and CGLA.
Nikki earned her Juris Doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she worked as Vice President of the Pitt Law Human Rights Coalition. In this role she worked to address human rights violations occurring in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, specifically regarding their use of prolonged solitary confinement. While working for a federal magistrate in the District Court of Western Pennsylvania, she helped create mediation pilot program for pro se incarcerated litigants.