Our History

Since our founding in 1972, the Moran Center has been a champion for thousands of disinvested youth in need of an advocate. As the challenges and needs of our clients have evolved over time, so have our programs and services. Below is a timeline of how our organization has responded to the needs of our clients and of our community.

⇒ 1970: Death of John E. Cox

Nineteen-year-old John E. Cox was arrested on October 24, 1970, related to the death of his two-year-old son. In his local jail cell, Cox attempted suicide. Cox was then transported to three different hospitals, while in a coma, leading him to succumb to his injuries and die in police custody. The untimely death of John E. Cox prompted the Evanston City Council to call for a local study, which revealed the inadequate legal representation of low-income residents in Evanston.

⇒ 1972: Evanston Defender Project

The findings compelled Alderman James B. Moran to establish the Evanston Defender Project in 1972, under the leadership of William Parks, to provide high-quality, community-based legal representation to youth who came into contact with the criminal justice system. In 1976, the Evanston Defender Project became a neighborhood Office of the Criminal Defense Consortium of Cook County. The Consortium, however, only lasted a few years, a victim of political infighting between Cook County and the federal government.

      Read more about John E. Cox’s story here.

      View additional articles here.

⇒ 1981: Incorporation

Continuing to see the value of the Evanston Defender Project, Judge Moran along with Edward Beis, William Parks, Nancy Goldberg, Charles A. Brady, and Roosevelt “Bru” Alexander formally incorporated the agency as the Evanston Community Defender Office, Inc. (“ECDO”) in 1981 under the leadership of Rob Roy with the goal of providing integrated legal and social work services.

⇒ 2009: Started Expungement & Sealing Help Desk

In 2009, ECDO established the Expungement & Sealing Help Desk at the Skokie Courthouse to address an unmet legal need by our clients’ families – criminal record relief. ECDO started the Help Desk to increase educational, employment, and housing opportunities for adults, thereby creating more stable homes for children in our community. 

⇒ 2010: Renamed The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy

After the passing of Judge Moran on April 21, 2009, the Board of Directors voted unanimously and enthusiastically on June 14, 2010 to rename the Evanston Community Defender Office as The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy.

⇒ 2010: Launched effort to stem the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”

The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, renamed in 2010 following the passing of Judge Moran, began to assist our youth clients in exercising their educational rights by launching the Special Education Legal Advocacy (SELA) Project with the goal of further stemming the school-to-prison pipeline. Today, the SELA Project, renamed the Education Advocacy Program, serves all low-income families in Evanston struggling to access educational services – supporting children transitioning from pre-school to kindergarten, children with autism struggling to make yearly progress in middle school, or youth already caught in the criminal justice system.

⇒ 2011: Created off-ramps to the criminal justice system and school exclusion

Seeing too many youths referred to court for possession of small amounts of cannabis, the Moran Center advocated in 2011 for decriminalizing possession of cannabis under 10 grams in Evanston.  Upon passage of the local ordinance, the Moran Center stepped up to coordinate community service hours and provide counseling for youth diverted from the courts.

In representing children with special needs in the schools, the Moran Center saw up close our local schools’ over-reliance on exclusion as a consequence of misbehavior. In 2011, the Moran Center started the first alternative-to-suspension program at Evanston Township High School to keep kids in school and off the streets.  Our “Voices, Ideas, and Perspectives” (“VIP”) Program used a holistic approach to teach anger-management skills, conflict resolution, and prevention strategies with the goal of reducing suspension days. In the 2015-16 school year, fifteen 4th and 5th-grade students at Oakton Elementary School were introduced to the age-adjusted skill-based programming.       

⇒ 2013: Established Certificate of Rehabilitation Initiative

After starting the Expungement & Sealing Help Desk in 2009, the Moran Center discovered that many Evanston residents did not qualify to expunge and/or seal their criminal records. In response, the Moran Center started the Certificate of Rehabilitation Initiative (CRI) in 2013 to support residents applying for grants of clemency, as well as certificates that expand their opportunities for employment in the healthcare field and other occupations that require a professional license.

⇒ 2017: Rolled out Project Bridge with the Evanston Police Department

With growing distrust between law enforcement and youth of color, the Moran Center, in partnership with the Evanston Police Department, launched Project Bridge in 2017 to repair and foster healthy relationships. Project Bridge brings teenagers and officers together in social and community building activities in an effort to (1) break down stereotypes, (2) foster communication between these groups, and (3) develop relationships of trust.

⇒ 2018: Opened School-Based Civil Legal Clinic

On April 4, 2018, the Moran Center launched its School-Based Civil Legal Clinic at Evanston’s Chute Middle School. The clinic provides free information and legal assistance on a wide variety of non-criminal topics including: adoption/guardianship, family law, housing, public benefits, immigration, and consumer protection. The goal of the clinic is to “go deeper” in meeting the legal needs of families so that their children are more successful in school – stemming the school-to-prison, poverty-to-institutionalization pipelines.

⇒ 2018: Raised the age of criminal representation

In July 2018, the Moran Center’s Board of Directors raised the age of our criminal defense services from 22 to 26 years old to comport with emerging brain science, finding that young men’s prefrontal cortex does not fully form until the age of 25.

⇒ 2019: Launched the Roger Pascal Restorative Justice Initiative

In September 2019, resolved to “put ourselves out-of-business” the Moran Center launched the Roger Pascal Restorative Justice Initiative with the goal of promoting restorative practices and policies that work in concert across government, schools, nonprofits, and businesses – ensuring a racially equitable, just, and peaceful community.