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Women of the Year: YWCA director of legal services Sally Winn strives to help women in domestic violence and supports local communities

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Sally Winn has made being a lawyer her life, to the point of requesting a cell phone number that was easy to remember when she visited her criminal defense clients in jail.

These days she’s working as director of legal services for the YWCA, representing and helping women fleeing domestic violence or needing family law services.

Winn loves her new mission in life, for which she was nominated as a Woman of the Year. “I love being a Y woman,” she said. “I love what the Y does. This is just a great place to be. I get to support women and build them up. You can’t beat that.”

She is someone who inspires others to follow in her footsteps, said Anita Sather, who works with Winn.

“Sally defines her life with service to others,” Sather wrote in her nomination letter supporting Winn. “Sally encompasses the values of humanitarianism in her work and in her personal life, reflecting on those around her. She encourages and ignites passion with the people she works with, including myself, to commit to lofty goals, personal development and dedication to justice for all.”

Winn, who grew up in Indianapolis, didn’t start out to be a lawyer. She started college, but as she married, had two daughters and then divorced, school took a back seat. She did eventually earn a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, one class at a time.

“It took me about 18 years to get my bachelor’s,” she said. “It was an ongoing thing.”

She began working for Feminists for Life in Washington, D.C., eventually rising to the position of vice president. That was during a time when the organization focused on educating people about feminism and offered services for pregnant students, Winn said. “That’s what I fought for,” she said.

As the group’s mission began to change, Winn left in 2015. That was not long after both her daughters had graduated from high school and selected colleges in Montana. She thought about attending law school on the east coast, but then decided to pick a school closer to her daughters, the Gonzaga University School of Law.

“I wanted more tools in my tool box,” Winn said of her decision to attend law school. “I’m a servant leader and activist by practice.”

She got an internship with Jeffry Finer at the Center for Justice and later was a partner in Finer’s firm after he left the Center. She then worked as a felony public defender for Spokane County for three years before being headhunted to be CEO of Safe Passage in Coeur d’Alene, which helps survivors of domestic and sexual violence with shelters, counseling, and court advocacy. She took the job with the YWCA in June after several people suggested she apply.

At the YWCA, Winn oversees legal advocacy and civil legal divisions. The attorneys she oversees work closely with the Spokane Police Department, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and local prosecutors. They serve as victim advocates in district and municipal court. There is an employee dedicated to ensuring that any firearms owned by domestic violence perpetrators are surrendered to law enforcement. The attorneys also help people with family law issues such as divorce, protection orders and parenting plans.

“I like being surrounded by people who are mission driven,” Winn said. “You’re leading and supporting at the same time. It’s very gratifying.”

Winn said she enjoys being able to help give a voice to people when their power and control has been taken away. She said often the abuser has a lawyer while the domestic violence victim, struggling just to feed and house themselves, does not. She and the other attorneys at the YWCA can level that playing field.

“We get to walk in there with them,” she said. “We get to empower them. It’s been more rewarding than any paycheck that comes in the mail.”

Sather said Winn’s activism and strength remind her of her own mother. “Growing up, my mother was a complete social activist,” she said. “I always admired her because she was a giver.”

Sather said she sees that in Winn. Though their work is hard, she wouldn’t change anything.

“I have never met someone who sparked such enthusiasm to work for others,” Sather said. “Wherever she wants to go, that’s where I want to go. She makes us feel like we can do anything.”