To hear her boss tell it, Deanna Weiss summons the “righteous fury of a Biblical prophet” as an attorney and child advocate for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.
“I think she takes an almost maternal interest in her child wards,” said Tom Cannon, the society’s executive director.
Weiss, 46, has sued local officials who failed to provide court-ordered services for the children she represents. She also has given teddy bears to those often neglected and impoverished boys and girls.
“That’s who she is — a passionate advocate for the vulnerable,” Cannon said. “She represents a lot of abused, neglected and battered children, and she feels strongly that they have a right to be protected, they have a right to be safe and secure.
“And she’s going to hold people accountable if they don’t provide for them.”
It’s a description that makes Weiss, an unassuming mother of three who said she thought she’d spend her life in immigration law, catch her breath.
“Representing the interests of children,” she said, “is both rewarding and incredibly sad and frustrating at times.”
The Legal Aid Society each year represents about 8,000 people, often adults working their way through bankruptcy, foreclosures, employment problems and disability. Most cannot afford to pay for an attorney.
Weiss represents their children, often younger than 12, in cases of abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, guardianship, injunctions and other child custody actions.
“Her children come from substandard homes, substandard neighborhoods, substandard schools,” Cannon said. “They get substandard health care.
“But, in Deanna, they get a first-class lawyer.”
It’s not an easy job.
Weiss sees heartbreak and the wreckage of bad decisions every day. But she takes it one case at a time, one person at a time. And even when she’s overwhelmed by the adversity facing the children and their families, she keeps it simple.
“You can’t solve a problem for people unless you listen to what they have to say,” Weiss said. “My primary goal always is to get a child back with the family because a child’s identify is where they came from.
“If I can’t do that, I find another family.”
That’s the approach even if it takes years, as was the case for a 15-year-old girl Weiss began representing when the child was 9 months old. The girl recently was adopted.
“It’s a wonderful thing to help,” Weiss said.