NLADA Mourns the Passing of Anita Santos-Singh, Founding Executive Director of Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA) 

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Release Date: 
Wednesday, March 13, 2024


Washington (March 13, 2024) – The National Legal Aid & Defender Association joins the legal community in mourning the loss of Anita Santos-Singh, founding executive director of Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA) and legal services advocate for 34 years. Ms. Santos-Singh died Jan. 13.  A memorial service to celebrate Anita's extraordinary life and contributions was held on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Philadelphia, PA.   

“For more than 25 years, Anita shaped Philadelphia Legal Assistance to be on the front lines of confronting oppressive race and income disparities, protecting individuals and families, and striving for the greatest community impact possible,” noted Lou Rulli, Ms. Santos-Singh’s longtime mentor, colleague and law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, in her obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

In its statement on Ms. Santos-Singh’s passing, PLA noted she was “one of the brightest lights of the Philadelphia legal community” and noted her many achievements in the community, including launching the Save Your Home Philly Hotline to help Philadelphia homeowners facing the loss of their homes during the 2008 financial crisis; staffing the Eviction Diversion Program Tenant Hotline, which provides a vital safety net for tenants facing eviction; and building a highly successful Medical Legal Community Partnership. Santos-Singh was known for her collaboration, with her colleagues in civil legal aid, and with everyone fighting for a better world. On Jan. 31, US Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) honored her legacy on the House floor. 

Santos-Singh’s light reached beyond the bounds of Philadelphia. She was a beacon for her legal aid colleagues across the country, and her commitment, passion, and joy for this community will be greatly missed. “Anita generously contributed her time, knowledge, and support to the NLADA community, and her impact will be felt for many years to come,” said April Frazier Camara, President and CEO of NLADA.  Active in the national civil legal aid community, Santos-Singh served on NLADA’s Civil Council and as chair of the Council’s Regulations and Policy Committee. Members of the Council recalled her work and commitment, known throughout the legal services community, and her service to the client community.  

“She exuded positivity, warmth, and an unending belief that legal aid can bring about a more just world. She was singularly focused on working with clients to improve their lives,” noted Clarissa Gaff, executive director of Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, and Civil Council Chair. “She mentored many of us or kindly answered our questions or delivered her opinion (when solicited) in no-nonsense fashion with her big smile,” Gaff recalled. 

Santos-Singh always guided others to the front. Jonathan Pyle and Julia Simon-Mishel, both advocates under Santos-Singh’s leadership at PLA, have been honored on the national stage, with NLADA’s Innovations in Equal Justice Award (now the Nan Heald Innovations in Equal Justice Award) and New Leaders in Advocacy Award, respectively in 2016 and 2021. Maureen Olives, Interim Executive Director of PLA shared: “Anita will be especially remembered by her colleagues as a collaborative and dynamic leader who curated, mentored, and led a team of talented professionals who were likewise deeply committed to the mission of legal services to the indigent and promoted a culture of serious work blended with humility and humor.” 


“Anita was very passionate about providing quality advocacy in the legal justice space and providing helpful insight in advancing our mission. It was a pleasure working with her,” said Maria Thomas Jones Chief Executive Officer of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and Vice-Chair of NLADA’s Board of Directors.  Anita mentored and trained so many equal justice advocates in our community. Claudia Colindres Johnson, of Pro Bono Net, recalls meeting Anita in 1996 as a 2L in Penn Law. She became someone who I looked up to, and admired, and respected. Anita's leadership was not your typical extroverted leadership model. She was a great listener, asked insightful questions, and then made her decisions after listening to all points of view, and then she executed.” 

Radhika Singh, NLADA’s vice president for civil legal services and strategic policy initiatives, also recalled Santos-Singh’s guiding light, “Anita had this way of always making you feel special and safe. I remember speaking with her of her interest in joining the Civil Council, she’d already been on the Regulations Committee for a number of years, ‘If you think I’d be good’ she said. She was often the smartest person in the room, but she’d never say it. She would pull you in under her arm, with a smile and warmth that was unmatched, and just being near her, being allowed to learn from her, you knew something special was happening in that moment.”  

NLADA sends its deepest sympathies to Ms. Santos-Singh’s family, and to Maureen Olives and her PLA family. Anita Santos-Singh truly has left the world better than she found it. 


The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), founded in 1911, is America's oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA has pioneered access to justice at the national, state, and local levels, playing a leadership role in the creation of public defender systems and other important institutions from The Sentencing Project to the Legal Services Corporation. A leader in the development of national standards for civil legal aid and public defense, NLADA also provides advocacy, training, and technical assistance for equal justice advocates across the country.