Southern Legal Counsel, Inc. (SLC) is a Florida statewide not-for-profit public interest law firm that is committed to the ideal of equal justice for all and the attainment of basic human and civil rights. SLC primarily assists individuals and groups with public interest issues who otherwise would not have access to the justice system and whose cases may bring about systemic reform. SLC uses a range of strategies to achieve its goals, including litigation, policy advocacy, and training and technical assistance to lawyers, lay persons and organizations.
How We Work / What We Do
We use the power of the law to obtain positive social change, reform systems and institutions, strike down unjust laws and policies, and hold government accountable to the people. Our mission is to represent individuals with the goal of fixing the underlying problem not only for our clients but also for all other persons who have experienced similar injustices. In pursuit of justice, SLC has pioneered innovative legal strategies that have broadly impacted the people of this state.
Across SLC’s history, we have obtained precedential opinions in a variety of legal areas, including constitutional law, employment discrimination, special education, rights of homeless persons, and Sunshine laws. SLC influences the development of the law and paves the way for future civil rights plaintiffs.
History of SLC
SLC was created to fulfill a special role. While some low income people have access to legal aid or to free or pro bono lawyers, many do not. And many individuals come upon the same obstacles that they cannot fix so the resolution requires a systemic approach to end unlawful or discriminatory practices. SLC has focused on the people and issues that are in greatest need of civil legal assistance.
In 1977, Jon Mills was the director of the newly formed Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida College of Law, and was heading the school’s Executive Impoundment Project, working with Congress investigating then-President Nixon. Mills, Chesterfield Smith, then-law school Dean Joseph Julin, Michael McIntosh and Joseph Onek formed SLC as a separate entity to be able to litigate independent of the law school.
From the beginning, SLC made a positive impact on its service areas. Its efforts on behalf of the environment, for example, led to the creation of 1000 Friends of Florida, with SLC serving as its first general counsel. Grants from the Governor’s Commission on Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (now Disability Rights Florida) allowed SLC for many years to focus on significant issues impacting individuals with disabilities.
In 1996, when Congress passed restrictions on Legal Services Corporation (LSC) programs, The Florida Bar Foundation was a national leader in developing a “companion system” and funded programs like SLC to pursue the kind of work that LSC programs no longer could, e.g., class actions and claims for attorneys’ fees. As a state leader on special education issues, SLC began receiving a grant in 1999 from the Foundation’s newly established Children’s Legal Services program. The goal was to mentor legal aid lawyers to increase the number of lawyers and improve the representation of low income children with special education needs.
A hallmark of SLC has always been our independence; we receive no governmental funding, allowing us to work on improving local, state and federal systems without fear of repercussions. While we have developed areas of expertise, SLC’s unique mission is to fill the gaps of unmet legal needs and promote the general public interest.
Jodi Siegel - Executive Director Pronouns - She, her, hers
Ms. Siegel has been an attorney with Southern Legal Counsel since 1985, and became its Executive Director in July 2004. A predominant portion of Ms. Siegel’s responsibilities at SLC is in representing individuals with disabilities in a variety of forums. She has litigated class and individual actions involving federal constitutional and statutory actions under the Federal Civil Rights Act, the Federal Rehabilitation Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. She also has presented extensively to various groups on special education and other issues.
Ms. Siegel was an Adjunct Professor for Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center teaching a Masters Level program in Special Education Law from 2006-2018. She has been the Director of SLC’s Education Advocacy Project since 1999, which is funded by The Florida Bar Foundation to provide state support and train, support, mentor and co-counsel legal service/aid lawyers and advocates to increase and improve special education advocacy. She is a Past Chair of the Board of Directors and Past Treasurer of the national organization The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), whose mission is to improve the quality and quantity of legal assistance for parents of children with disabilities. She coordinated the 2003 and 2004 national conferences for COPAA, and has been active on the Conference Design team since then. She is a Past Chair of The Florida Bar Public Interest Law Section.
Ms. Siegel is a member of The Florida Bar, the U.S. Middle, Northern and Southern Districts of Florida, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. She received her B.A. in 1982 from New College (Honors College of University of South Florida), Sarasota, Florida; and a J.D. in 1985 from the University of Florida College of Law, Gainesville, Florida. She was the Senior Research Editor for one semester and Senior Student Works Editor for two semesters with the University of Florida Law Review.
Simone Chriss - Staff Attorney Pronouns: She, her, hers
Simone Chriss joined Southern Legal Counsel in August of 2016 after graduating from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she received her J.D. with honors in May 2016. Ms. Chriss is the director of the organization's Transgender Rights Initiative, developed by SLC to fill a gap in access to justice by systemically providing legal name change and identification document amendment assistance to the transgender community statewide. She utilizes policy advocacy, impact litigation, and community education/training to bring about systemic reform in the areas of LGBT rights, child welfare, implementing trauma-informed services, and special education.
Ms. Chriss is a member of The Florida Bar, and the bars of the U.S. Middle and Northern District Courts of Florida. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Public Interest Law Section of the Florida Bar, and serves as Chair-Elect of the section’s Children’s Rights Committee. Ms. Chriss serves as an Attorney ad Litem for the Eighth Judicial Circuit’s registry for dependent children with special needs.
Ms. Chriss focuses primarily on childhood trauma and LGBT advocacy, and has presented at numerous statewide and national conferences on these two topics, including at the 2018 Council of Parent and Attorney Advocates (COPAA), the 2017 National Legal Aid and Defenders Association (NLADA), the 2017 Guardian ad Litem Disabilities Conference, the 2018 Equal Justice Conference (EJC), and the 2017 Supportive Housing Summit, among others. She has published two articles, one titled "After Obergefell v. Hodges: the Continuing Battle Over Equal Rights for Sexual Minorities in the United States" and the other titled "The Case for Trauma-Informed, Gender-Specific Prevention & Early Intervention Programming in Reducing Female Juvenile Delinquency in Florida."
Chelsea Dunn - Staff Attorney Pronouns: She, her, hers
Chelsea Dunn joined Southern Legal Counsel as a Staff Attorney in July 2018. She is the director of the Healthy Kids Medical-Legal Partnership, seeking to resolve the health-harming legal needs of some of Florida’s underserved children. She also contributes to SLC’s efforts to prevent discrimination against vulnerable populations.
She came to SLC from the Child and Family Law Division of Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), the Massachusetts Public Defender’s office, where she worked as a Supervising Staff Attorney, representing indigent parents and children in dependency cases. During her seven years with CPCS, Ms. Dunn was frequent presenter in a number of trainings, including trainings to certify Massachusetts practitioners in dependency and termination of parental rights cases. She co-authored a model memorandum distributed to child welfare practitioners statewide regarding the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) provision of services under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an update on the “Privilege and Confidentiality” chapter of the Massachusetts Child Welfare Practice Manual, as well as two letter commentaries on new DCF regulations related to family assessments and service planning.
Ms. Dunn is a member of The Florida Bar, as well as a member of both the Massachusetts and Virginia State Bars. She obtained her J.D. from the University of Richmond School of Law in 2009, where she graduated magna cum laude and received the Nina R. Kestin Service Award for contributions to the school, community, and legal profession. She served as an editor for the Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest, in which she had two comments published. After graduating from law school, she spent two years clerking for Senior Justice Harry L. Carrico of the Virginia Supreme Court. Chelsea received a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Sociology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
Samantha Howell - Pro Bono Director Pronouns: She, her, hers
Ms. Howell joined Southern Legal Counsel in 2019 as its Pro Bono Director. Prior to joining SLC, Ms. Howell served as Executive Director of the NYS Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and, before that, as the Pro Bono Director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLSNY), where she developed the nation’s only pro bono program tasked specifically with handling civil legal cases involving conditions of confinement for incarcerated New Yorkers.
Ms. Howell is a member of the Florida State Bar, the New York State Bar, and the federal bar of the Southern District of New York. Over the last decade, she has been an active member of the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals since 2011 and National Lawyers Guild. Ms. Howell has also served on the New York State Bar Association’s President’s Committee on Access to Justice and Pro Bono Coordinators Network, the Capital Region Immigration Collaborative, Capital Region Pro Bono Committee, Re-entry Subcommittee of the Mass Incarceration Task Force of the New York City Bar Association, the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the state board of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Ms. Howell is also the co-founder and board member of a non-profit organization that provides poverty simulations nationwide.
Ms. Howell received her J.D. from Albany Law School in 2010 and her B.A. in Political Sociology from Whitman College in 2004. In 2010, she received the Edward M. Cameron, Jr. Memorial Prize for Public Interest Law from Albany Law School for her work on revitalizing and redeveloping the school’s pro bono program. In 2014, she received the Supervising Attorney award from Albany Law School for her work with law interns. In 2017, Ms. Howell received the NASW-NYS Chapter's Public Citizen of the Year, for her efforts to integrate social welfare students into civil legal service offices.
Ms. Howell regularly presents on a variety of topics – such as on pro bono program development and growth, prisoners’ rights, the criminalization of poverty, and professional development – and has been invited to present at the Equal Justice Conference for several years. She has also contributed to numerous newsletters and articles, including “The Nexus Between Domestic Violence and Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Sexploitation” in the Lawyers Manual on Human Trafficking, and “Mending the Patchwork,” a report from the Empire Justice Center on the administration of New York’s child care subsidy system.
Abigail Adkins - Equal Justice Works Fellow Pronouns - She, her, hers
Abigail Adkins joined Southern Legal Counsel in September of 2019, as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by McDermott Will & Emery and Darden Restaurants, Inc. Ms. Adkins graduated from the Florida A&M University College of Law, where she received her J.D. with honors in May of 2019. As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Ms. Adkins serves students with mental and behavioral health needs by advocating for the provision necessary of special education and community-based mental health services. Her fellowship seeks to protect students with disabilities from undue disciplinary measures, involuntary psychiatric evaluations, and privacy violations. Abigail Adkins is a member of The Florida Bar.
Board of Directors
Clifford C. Higby, Chair
Bryant & Higby Chartered, Panama City
Bennett H. Brummer
Former Miami-Dade Public Defender, 11th Judicial Circuit, Gainesville
Health Education and Training Center, Gainesville
Dr. Karina Descartin
Jacksonville University, Jacksonville
William S. Graessle
William S. Graessle, P.A., Jacksonville
Adria K. Green
Exceptional Elder Care & Consulting, Gainesville
E. Andrus Healy
Healy Foundation, Jacksonville
Berta E. Hernández-Truyol
University of Florida Levin College of Law, Gainesville
Philip N. Kabler
Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A., Gainesville
Dr. Harry Krop
Clinical Psychologist, Gainesville
University of Miami School of Law, Miami
Barbara Bolton Litten
Gunster, West Palm Beach
Spohrer & Dodd, P.L., Jacksonville
Riverbed Technology, Tampa
Seth R. Nelson
Nelson Law Group, Tampa
Gabriela M. Ruiz
Kobre & Kim, Miami
Steven J. Sherman
Merrill Lynch, Ponte Vedra
Ernst & Young, LLC, Panama City
Dr. Jethro Toomer
Consulting Psychologist, Miami
Barbara J. Walker
The Walker Firm, PLLC, Tallahassee
James K. Green, P.A., West Palm Beach
Carolyn M. Keene
Kimber Tough, MSW
Homeless Outreach Advocate/Paralegal
Jodi Siegel (2004-present)
Alice K. Nelson (1988-2004)
Albert J. Hadeed (1977-1988)
1977 Founding Board
Joseph R. Julin (d.)
Michael McIntosh (d.)
Jon L. Mills
Chesterfield Smith, Sr. (d.)
Past Board Members
Francisco R. Angones
Elizabeth L. Bevington
Howard C. Coker
Hon. LeRoy Collins (d.)
Benjamin L. Crump
F. Malcom Cunningham
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte (d.)
Hon. Raymond Ehrlich (d.)
Stephen H. Echsner
Richard A. Gilbert
Christopher L. Griffin
Albert J. Hadeed
Timothy D. Haines
Lois Cowles Harrison (d.)
Hon. Joseph W. Hatchett (d.)
John H. (Jack) Hickey
Dr. Vivian Hobbs
John D. Jopling
Tiffani G. Lee
Hon. K.H. "Buddy" MacKay
D. Ross McCloy, Jr.
Michael P. McMahon
David B. Rothman
Robert A. Rush
Lansing C. Scriven
Hon. Mary S. Scriven
Harry L. Shorstein
William Reece Smith, Jr. (d.)
Robert F. Spohrer
Eli H. Subin
Hon. Alan C. Sundberg (d.)
Randolph W. Thrower (d.)
Hon. William A. Van Nortwick, Jr. (d.)
Sylvia H. Walbolt