Grace: Up-and-coming attorney donates his time to help Omaha's Latinos -
Published Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:54 pm
Grace: Up-and-coming attorney donates his time to help Omaha's Latinos

The first client was a victim of theft.

The second client was injured in a car accident and couldn't read his medical bills, printed in English.

A third client was seeking a divorce, a fourth had bad credit, and a fifth — the one with a heartbreaker of a story — just wanted to become a legal citizen.

The five clients were some of the Latinos who filled a church hallway in South Omaha on a rainy Monday night. They were there to see Ross Pesek, a young lawyer with a blond buzz cut and good-enough Spanish, who sets up shop at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church every week to try to help.

Pesek, 29, is a budding associate in the law firm of former Douglas County Attorney Stu Dornan and a rising star among Nebraska attorneys. This month, the Nebraska State Bar Association gave Pesek its Outstanding Young Lawyer award.

He also has created a college scholarship fund for high schoolers who, because of their immigration status, are hard-pressed to afford college. They can't receive federal or state financial aid or scholarships that have public funds.

Pesek is obsessively fair and pragmatic and filled with can-do vigor. He decided 2 years ago to give up his Monday nights.

He asked his church if he could use its upstairs offices. He hung a piece of paper that says “CLINICA LEGAL” in the hallway and he gives the free initial consultation, often in Spanish.

Pesek says his Monday nights are not completely unselfish.

The clinic offers good experience, he says, for an associate trying to build a practice.

But it seems like a hard way to grow clients. The problems are thorny, and clients don't have much money.

Here's the injured man drowning in hospital bills that he can't seem to keep straight, let alone read.

Here's a couple who say someone stole $1,500 from them. The alleged thief is threatening to report the couple to immigration officials if they go to the police.

Here's a teary woman who brings her adolescent son. Their landlord made expensive repairs to their building and charged her for it — a $2,000-plus tab she can't afford.

Facing them is Pesek, who seems like a character in a Grisham novel. He was a basketball standout at Millard South who could have gone to Princeton and racked up a ton of college debt.

Instead, he went to Central Community College in Columbus, Neb., where basketball paid his way.

Pesek did so well academically in community college that he received full-ride scholarships to Wayne State College, where he earned a bachelor's degree, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he got his law degree.

Partway through law school, Pesek took a 10-month break to study in Mexico, where his wife, Karen, is from. There, he learned Spanish and experienced firsthand what it's like to be a foreigner who can't speak the language.

He left Mexico determined to help, but how?

Pesek knew he could do nothing about the immigration system.

But here's what he could do. He could hang a sign at church and stay late on Mondays and listen to the travails of people whose problems range from a kid with cancer to a client whose beloved Chihuahua was mauled to death by the neighbor's dog.

He could help them iron out wrinkles, sign them up as official clients or refer them onward.

He could set up a college scholarship fund and get others to pitch in.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

And he could recruit a couple of bright college students from a parish family to help clerk: Roxana Cortes is now in law school at Pesek's alma mater, UNL. Luis Cortes, her brother, is an accounting major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Their folks are meatpackers with grade-school educations.

Luis, 21, said he followed Pesek's lead and fulfilled his basic requirements at Metropolitan Community College before transferring to the more expensive UNO. Cortes said he couldn't speak much English when he landed at Bellevue West as a freshman in 2006.

Clients' needs vary. One construction worker is here for help with his citizenship application. A bakery worker, who was injured on the job and got workers' comp, thanks to Pesek, is here for help with her son's child custody case.

Paraphrasing an old Seinfeld joke, Pesek said the difference between lawyers and everyone else is that lawyers are the ones who read the rules on the Monopoly box.

“They're not looking for me to solve their problems,” Pesek said. “They just want to know what the rules are on the back of the box.”

Sometimes the rules on the back of the box make no sense.

Take the woman with the sick son. Her husband is dead. She has no other family in the United States. She has come to ask Pesek what her options are to become a legal citizen.

Here's an option: Turn herself in and hope the immigration court shows mercy.

Here's another option: Return to Mexico and wait 15 years to reapply for entry. Wait two more years to hear an answer from the U.S. government. The answer would be no, because of her prior illegal entry. The answer would include this admonishment: Don't ask us again for 10 years.

She could appeal the 10-year penalty, but it's a roll of the dice.

The third option: Tell her to pray for immigration reform?

Options like those, Pesek says, just make him dig in and want to keep helping.

“I don't think about what I can't do,” he said. “I think about what I can do.”

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
< >
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »