Southern Poverty Law Center Announces Expansion of Legal Staff

The Southern Poverty Law Center is expanding its legal department, including the addition of three experienced attorneys and the appointment of a director of advocacy for its Florida office.

Attorneys Jody Owens II, Katie Schwartzmann and Christine P. Sun have joined the SPLC's legal staff. Veteran advocate Christine Henderson has been appointed director of advocacy for the SPLC's Florida office.

"Over the last several years we have grown tremendously in response to the important civil rights issues our work addresses," said Mary Bauer, SPLC legal director. "We are honored to have these talented individuals join the Southern Poverty Law Center's mission of seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society." 

Sun will serve as deputy legal director in the SPLC's Montgomery office.  She will lead the SPLC's work on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as work on an array of other constitutional issues. Sun is a prominent civil rights attorney with extensive experience in protecting the rights of LGBT clients. She has spoken nationally and internationally on civil rights issues, including most recently throughout the Philippines as part of a Speaker Specialist grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Previously, Sun was senior counsel for the ACLU's LGBT and AIDS Project. During her tenure at the ACLU, Sun served as lead counsel on a wide range of federal and state litigation involving the rights of LGBT people, including the successful challenge to Arkansas' statutory ban on unmarried and same-sex couples fostering and adopting children. She also served as lead counsel in the high-profile case of Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager whose school district cancelled her prom rather than allow her to attend with her girlfriend.  Sun is a graduate of New York University School of Law where she was an editor of the New York University Law Review.

Owens will lead the SPLC's Mississippi office, directing efforts to reform the state's juvenile justice system and representing children at risk of being swept out of school and into the juvenile justice system. Owens' work has exposed horrific and unconstitutional conditions forced upon children and youth in many for-profit and public juvenile detention facilities in Mississippi.

Previously, Owens was an attorney at a nationally recognized law firm in Jackson, Miss., where he successfully litigated a variety of cases, including civil rights and constitutional law cases. He also served as a Special Prosecutor for the District Attorney's office of Hinds County, Miss., where he prosecuted felony and misdemeanor cases. Owens is a graduate of Jackson State University and Howard University School of Law.

Schwartzmann will serve as the managing attorney for the SPLC's Louisiana office where she will guide efforts to reform education and juvenile justice in the state.  Before joining the SPLC, Schwartzmann was legal director for the ACLU of Louisiana where she litigated lawsuits involving various civil rights issues, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, police misconduct and prisoners' rights. She also represented low-income clients in middle Tennessee. She is a graduate of Tulane Law School.

Henderson, a long-time advocate with the SPLC, has been appointed director of advocacy for its Florida office. As director of advocacy, she will assist the SPLC's efforts to reform the state's education and juvenile justice systems.

As an SPLC advocate for Mississippi youths, Henderson helped expose inhumane living conditions and physical abuse in juvenile detention centers. She also assisted SPLC lawyers in their efforts to reduce the number of incarcerated youth throughout Mississippi. Previously, Henderson was an advocate for at-risk youths in Florida and served as case manager at a residential facility for juveniles. She has returned home to her native Florida to lead the SPLC's advocacy efforts to reform the state's education and juvenile justice systems.

"We are thrilled to welcome Jody and Katie to the SPLC team. Their wealth of knowledge and experience adds considerable firepower to our growing education and juvenile justice reform efforts in these key states," said Sheila Bedi, who leads SPLC's efforts in both Louisiana and Mississippi. "While we will miss Christine here in Mississippi, there is no doubt she will prove to be an amazing force for the youth in Florida."