Mission

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.

Attorneys

2010-06-07 slc - Jodi Siegel IMG_0867_175x150.pngJodi 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.

 

 

2016-08 slc - Simone Chriss.pngSimone Chriss -  Staff Attorney       Pronouns: She, her, hers 

 

 

Simone Chriss is a civil rights attorney who began working for the non-profit public interest organization Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) after graduating from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she received her J.D. with honors. 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 assistance to the transgender community in areas such as access to name and gender marker changes, obtaining accurate IDs, representation in educational proceedings, protection from discriminatory policies, and more. She conducts LGBTQ+ cultural competency trainings and transgender rights trainings statewide and nationally, and presents transgender name and gender marker change workshops throughout Florida. She is currently lead counsel on a federal lawsuit challenging the discriminatory exclusion of gender-affirming healthcare coverage for all transgender state of Florida employees.

 

Chriss utilizes federal impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community education/training to bring about systemic reform in the areas of LGBTQ+ rights, child welfare, implementing trauma-informed services, ending the criminalization of homelessness, and special education. Chriss serves as an Attorney ad Litem for the Eighth Judicial Circuit's registry for dependent children with special needs. She is a member of The Florida Bar, and the bars of the U.S. Northern, Middle, and Southern District Courts of Florida. Chriss is a member of the National LGBTQ+ Bar, a member of the Executive Council of the Public Interest Law Section (PILS) of the Florida Bar, as well as the PILS Children's Rights Committee and the Advocacy Committee, and was appointed to the Florida Bar's Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. Chriss was awarded the 2021 “Voice for Equality Award” by statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida.

 

 

2018-07-10 slc - Chelsea Dunn IMG_4243 175x150.pngChelsea 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.

 

 

Headshot_Adkins_transparent (1).jpg 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

Brianna Chesteen

Health Education and Training Center, Gainesville

Dr. Karina Descartin

Jacksonville University, Jacksonville

Marta M. Estevez

Neave Family Law, 

Ft. Lauderdale

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

Dr. Harry Krop

Clinical Psychologist, Gainesville

Aeriel V. Lane

Teledyne FLIR, Gainesville

Marni Lennon

University of Miami School of Law, Miami

Barbara Bolton Litten

Gunster, West Palm Beach

Keith Maynard

Spohrer & Dodd, P.L., Jacksonville

Jeremy Nelson

Riverbed Technology, Tampa

Seth R. Nelson

Nelson Law Group, Tampa

Gabriela M. Ruiz

Kobre & Kim, Miami

Steven J. Sherman

         Merrill Lynch, Ponte Vedra

Ken Thomas

Ernst & Young, LLC, Panama City

Dr. Jethro Toomer

Consulting Psychologist, Miami

Barbara J. Walker

The Walker Firm, PLLC, Tallahassee

Nina Zollo

James K. Green, P.A., West Palm Beach

Staff

Carolyn M. Keene

Administrator

MaryEl Duncan

Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Kimber Tough, MSW

Homeless Outreach Advocate/Paralegal

Executive Directors

Jodi Siegel           (2004-present)

Alice K. Nelson        (1988-2004)

Albert J. Hadeed      (1977-1988)

 

 

Past Directors

1977 Founding Board                 
Joseph R. Julin (d.)
Michael McIntosh (d.)
Jon L. Mills
Joseph Onek
Chesterfield Smith, Sr. (d.)

 

Past Board Members
Jacqueline Allee
Francisco R. Angones

Elizabeth L. Bevington
Alan Bookman (d.)
Howard C. Coker
Hon. LeRoy Collins (d.)
Benjamin L. Crump
Hon. Raul Cuervo
F. Malcom Cunningham
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte (d.)
Jesse Diner

Karen Dyer
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
Marilyn Holifield
John D. Jopling

Philip N. Kabler
William Kalish

Tiffani G. Lee
Hon. K.H. "Buddy" MacKay
D. Ross McCloy, Jr.
Michael P. McMahon

Peg O'Connor
Roderick Petrey
David B. Rothman

Robert A. Rush

Tom Scarritt
Lansing C. Scriven
Hon. Mary S. Scriven

William Sheppard (d.)
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.)

Bill Wagner
Sylvia H. Walbolt
Stephen Zack

 


2005 - Demanding Equal Justice