Reilly serves as President and CEO of the Center. A third-generation Gulf Coast lawyer who began work at the Center just weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Morse has served as managing director of the Center starting in 2013 and policy director starting in 2011. As co-director of housing and community development campaigns, Morse led the Center's multi-year campaign to provide essential legal services to hurricane survivors and ensure fairness in the recovery process. He negotiated an agreement between Mississippi and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to extend $172 million in housing repairs to 6,000 families excluded from previous housing recovery programs. Prior to joining the Center in 2005, Morse spent 11 years in insurance and commercial litigation, followed by nine years as a solo and public interest attorney.
Morse is co-founder of the Steps Coalition and has served on the boards of Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation, Hope Community Development Agency and Moore Community House. Morse received the 2006 Edwin Wolf public interest lawyer award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the 2010 legal award from the Mississippi Conference NAACP. Morse is a magna cum laude graduate of Millsaps College and received his Juris Doctorate from University of Mississippi Law School. Morse is married with two daughters.
Denise serves as a legal assistant with the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since August 2006. In her capacity with the Center, Denise provides critical organizational support for clinic outreach, client in-take and processing and general case management. Denise has a long history of providing support to non-profit organizations, including experience with Back Bay Mission, South Mississippi Legal Services Corp., the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force and Moore Community House in Biloxi, Miss.
Prior to joining the Center, Denise also gained valuable legal experience working with Gillespie & Blessey Law Firm on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Denise is also an active volunteer with numerous organizations that promote healthy choices for teens and youth.
Martha serves as founder/senior counsel at the Center. Prior to founding the Center, she was a national advocate for equal justice under law in Washington DC, serving tenures as president and executive vice president of the Legal Services Corporation, which administers federal funding for legal aid programs, and as senior vice president for programs at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, where she directed the NLADA/Center for Law and Social Policy's Project for the Future of Equal Justice. For the first 14 years of her legal career, Martha practiced civil rights and poverty law in Hattiesburg, Miss., where she was the founding executive director of Southeast Mississippi Legal Services (now Mississippi Center for Legal Services).
Bergmark is a former Reginald Heber Smith Fellow and the 1990 recipient of the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her civil rights and legal aid work in her home state of Mississippi. In 2003, she was named the Stern Family Fund’s Public Interest Pioneer, an honor which came with a $200,000 grant to launch the Center. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Oberlin College, earned her law degree cum laude at the University of Michigan Law School and holds an honorary doctorate of public service from Millsaps College.
Angela D. Bowman
Angela serves as the Transition Navigator for SCUC in the Indianola office. Prior to becoming an asset to the MJC family, Angela has worked with the Head Start program in Sunflower County for about 16 years where she served as the Center Director for Cassie Pennington Head Start for the last 10 months and previously as a Family Service Coordinator for 13 years and a teacher for 3 years. Angela obtained her Bachelor and Master’s degree in Social Work from Mississippi Valley State University and preparing to take the licensure exam in the near future. Angela has been committed and dedicated to empowering children and families throughout the community and promoting the unchanging hands of growth. Her motto is “No one person is greater than the team: It not only takes a village to raise a child but to build a community as well.”
Michelle serves as a financial coach, working in the Center’s Jackson office. As one of 60 national financial coaches funded by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Michelle works with transitioning veterans and economically vulnerable families to help them meet their financial goals. A native of Mississippi, she holds two University of Southern Mississippi Bachelors of Science degrees in Business Administration, as well as an MBA from William Carey University in Biloxi. Prior to joining the Center, Michelle worked in the financial services industry for more than eight years assisting families and corporations through every step of the financial planning process. Through her tenure at Regions Mortgage and Hancock Holding Company, Michelle handled everything from opening checking accounts to retirement/rainy day planning. She currently resides in Ridgeland with her two beloved weimaraner dogs.
Jessica serves as staff attorney in the Center’s Jackson office where her work focuses on fair housing, consumer protection and leading legal workshops at local community colleges. Catchings is a summa cum laude graduate of Jackson State University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in History. She also holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Prior to completing law school, she interned with United States Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander of the Northern District of Mississippi and assisted Mississippi Innocence Project attorneys in petitioning the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn the convictions of wrongfully incarcerated prisoners.
Catchings’ experience also includes working for the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia, providing prison releases with legal support during their transition back into society. She is a member of the Mississippi Bar, Mississippi Women Lawyer’s Association, Magnolia Bar and Jackson Young Lawyers.
Cathryn serves as office manager in the Jackson headquarters. Costello brings 11 years of nonprofit experience with the Nature Conservancy, where she implemented technology solutions to help sustain healthy communities. At the Nature Conservancy she held multiple positions throughout her tenure, all aimed at building improved relationships with the group’s donors and stakeholders. Costello also served as a missionary to the hearing-impaired in Brazil where she worked as a teacher and translator.
A Mississippi native, she holds a Belhaven University Bachelors of Arts Psychology degree with a Biblical and Family Studies minor. In her spare time, she serves the community as a master naturalist by promoting conservation and management of Mississippi’s natural resources through education and outreach. Costello has three dogs, three cats, an African grey parrot named Chico, and is a member of Brandon Presbyterian Church.
Phylicia serves as the Center’s accountant. She is a native of Madison, Mississippi, recently graduated with a bachelors degree in accounting from Jackson State University and plans to return to school to obtain a masters in business administration. Prior to working at the Center, Cotten worked as a teller at Regions Bank and at Physicians Hospice Care. In her spare time, she umpires softball and officiates football. She is the mother of one daughter, Jamyiyah.
Jeremy serves as the Center’s senior education staff attorney. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After graduating law school Eisler worked in Georgia for the Brown Lung Association, organizing textile workers around occupational health issues, which resulted in Georgia's listing of Byssinosis as an occupational disease. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 1982, and worked for Southeast Mississippi Legal Services in Hattiesburg until 1987. During this time, he was also an Adjunct Professor with the Social Work Department at University of Southern Mississippi and a member of Health Systems Advisory Board.
In 1985, he was named to the Governor's Commission on Child Support and assisted in drafting Mississippi's Paternity Testing statute. Beginning in 1989, he worked with South Mississippi Legal Services in Biloxi and in 1998 was named Legal Services Lawyer of the Year by the Mississippi Bar Association. From 2004 to 2012, he worked as Statewide Director of Litigation for both Mississippi Legal Services programs, Mississippi Center For Legal Services and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services Corporation.
Monica serves as operations director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since the Center’s founding in 2002. Monica oversees the Center’s financial, administrative and operations functions. Monica is a native of Jackson and graduate of Jackson State University’s School of Business. Following graduation, Monica was hired by Atlantic Richfield Corporation's Dallas-based oil and gas division. During her career with ARCO she lived in Texas, Colorado, and California working in various corporate divisions in the areas finance, business process engineering and system implementations. She also worked on various projects in Australia and Mexico. Monica is the proud mother of one daughter, Paige.
Yumekia serves as a legal assistant in the Center’s Indianola office. Prior to joining us, Jones worked as an employment interviewer and MS STEPS representative with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security at the Indianola WIN Job Center. In this role, she negotiated contracts with businesses to place unemployed persons back in the workforce. Jones also worked as the fiscal officer for the Delta Housing Development Corporation, an organization dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing to low-income families.
Jones gained experience in office management through years of implementing administrative operations for various organizations. Jones obtained a Bachelor of Arts in General Business Administration from Delta State University on scholarship from Phi Theta Kappa and recently obtained a Master of Business Administration at Delta State University. Jones spends her spare time with her children, Sakita, V’Deshion, and Yujaira, and volunteers for several Delta area organizations whose aim is to foster healthier communities.
John serves as the managing attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice office in Biloxi, Miss. and also serves as housing law director. John is a 1983 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is a founding staff member of the Center’s Katrina Recovery office, which opened its doors in October 2005 to provide legal advocacy to tens of thousands of residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, he received the President’s Award from the Mississippi Bar young Lawyers Division for his legal work on behalf of renters in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
John’s pre-Katrina solo practice in Ocean Springs focused on consumer housing, employment discrimination and personal injury law. John previously served on the pro bono panel of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and was project manager of the Fair Housing Education Outreach Project funded by HUD at South Mississippi Legal Services. During his 10 years with Southeast Mississippi Legal Services in Hattiesburg, John was a housing and consumer law specialist and served as litigation director. From 1994-95, John was a clinical professor in the University of Mississippi School of Law Housing Law Clinic. John began his legal career as a law clerk to Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Lenore Prather. John is the author of “Two Years After The Storm: The State Of Katrina Housing Recovery On The Mississippi Gulf Coast,” 77 Miss. L. J. 873 (2008). John is a graduate of Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law.
Charles O. Lee
Charles leads the economic justice work as consumer protection director. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Rust College in 1995, and received his Juris Doctorate in 1998 from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Prior to joining the Center, Charles practiced commercial litigation, insurance defense and personal injury litigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Georgia.
Charles was the founding board president of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center in Gulfport, Miss. and also served as interim executive director immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Charles lives in Jackson and is an active member of Epiphany Lutheran Church
Jacorius Liner serves as the Advocacy Coordinator for the Systems Change Collaborative Project in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This collaborative is funded by the W.K. Kellogg foundation to address the disparities and disproportionality of Young Men and Boys of Color (YMBOC) around school discipline and youth court referrals. Jacorius received his undergraduate education at the Mississippi University for Women, where he majored in political science. Upon completion of his baccalaureate, he enrolled at Mississippi State University in 2012 in the public policy and administration program. He was also awarded a graduate research assistantship at the Stennis Institute of Government where he worked alongside Senior Researcher, Judith Phillips. While working with Judith Philips, he delved heavily into the practicality of community and economic development literature—economic impact studies, feasibility studies, and other applied research paradigms. One of the major community development projects he worked on at Stennis was the Appalachian Community Learning Project (ACLP), where communities in the Appalachian region of the state received mini-investments of five-thousand dollars to establish community-led programs to address a variety of areas—obesity, reading deficiencies of low-income youth, access to fresh food, and diversity inclusion. Upon receipt of his master’s degree, he was chosen as the Graduate Student of the Year. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Mississippi State University and his expected completion date is May 2017.
Jacorius Liner is a native of the Rosedale, Mississippi, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. When he is not working and/or involved in his other business interests, he enjoys attending Mississippi State University football games.
LaShay serves a community organizer in the Center’s Jackson office. Melton is a native of Okolona, Mississippi, and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from Tougaloo College and an Associates of Science in Paralegal Technology from Holmes Community College. Prior to joining the Center, she was employed at Hinds County Chancery Court as a deputy clerk. Following Hurricane Katrina, she worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a grants specialist, conducting the review and compliance of approved grant projects. Melton is a member of the Holmes Association of Legal Students and resides in Madison, Miss. with her two children and spouse.
Kimberly serves as the managing attorney for the new Delta Office and as education law director. She attended the University of Southern Mississippi where she graduated with a Bachelor of English degree in 1994, and received her Juris Doctorate degree in 1997 from the University of Mississippi School of Law. After graduation, she moved to Mississippi Delta and began her law career in civil litigation with McTeer & Associates, where she worked for nine years. She then moved her focus to the criminal sector serving as assistant district attorney in Washington County, where she served for five years and was honored with the “Spirit of Giving” Award for her passionate involvement with the rights of domestic violence victims.
Merchant also serves on the Greenville Public School District Board of Trustees, which allows for a unique opportunity to provide a quality education for more Mississippi children.She is married to Michael Merchant, who serves as chief investigator with the Greenville Police Department She has two dogs, JD and Ziggy.
Beth L. Orlansky
Beth serves as advocacy director with the Mississippi Center for Justice. In this capacity, Beth manages the Center’s policy campaigns and oversees the work of the staff attorneys. Beth also assists families in cleaning up title to family property in heirship situations. She holds a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Tennessee.Prior to joining the Center, Beth practiced law with Butler Snow, Ott & Purdy, and McGlinchey Stafford law firms in Jackson, and she has been involved as a volunteer with a wide variety of organizations. She and her husband Steve, also an attorney, have raised three sons, Abram, Jonathan, and Benjamin.
Melanie serves as Sunflower County United for Children capacity building program director in the Center’s Indianola office. A native of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, she holds a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice from Mississippi Valley State University and a Masters of Science in Nonprofit Organization from Case Western Reserve University. Prior to joining the Center, Melanie worked for the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, Ohio, serving as Tremont Neighborhood Opportunity Center coordinator. In this capacity she helped low-income families become more self-sufficient. She also played an active role as a volunteer in several community initiatives, which support education and mental health awareness. Melanie is the proud parent of one adult son, Demetrius.
Linda Dixon Rigsby
Linda serves as the health law director at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since November 2008. Prior to joining the Center, she was the assistant secretary of state for elections for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, where she previously held the position of senior attorney and director of elections training and education. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Southern University at New Orleans and her law degree from Mississippi College School of Law. is a member of the Mississippi Bar and the Magnolia Bar Association. She serves on the Southern AIDS Coalition Board of Directors, the steering committee of the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative, Board of Common Cause Mississippi and Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation Board.
Theodora serves as the financial manager for the Mississippi Center for Justice. She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). She holds an undergraduate degree in accounting from Florida A&M University, and a master’s degree in business administration from Alcorn State University. Theodora is a member of the American Institute of CPA’s, the Mississippi Society of CPA’s, the National Association of Black Accountants, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Theodora has more than 20 years of accounting experience. She has been employed in the areas of state government, public accounting, nonprofit and higher education. Prior to coming to the Center she was employed as the Comptroller of Alcorn State University.
Kiara serves as the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, working to remove re-entry barriers to employment and housing through expungements, pardons, and license reinstatements throughout the state. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Master of Science in Sociology from Mississippi State University. While working as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Melvin Ray at the MSU Office of Research and Economic Development, Kiara’s research was heavily focused on the socio-economic issues affecting poor and minority children and families in Mississippi, which caused her to realize the need for lawyers committed to social and economic justice in her home state. She received her Juris Doctorate and Graduate Degree of Comparative Law from Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University. While in law school, she devoted her spare time to public interest law, serving as the Pro Bono Co-Chair of the school’s Public Interest Law Society and volunteering at the Baton Rouge Family Court Pro Se Help Desk. During her summer and winter breaks, she interned at the Mississippi Center for Justice, conducting legal research and helping with the Fair Housing Campaign. Kiara was also selected to participate in a first-of-its-kind law school clinic, where she and three other students were trained to assess the special legal needs of and authorized to provide legal representation for survivors of sexual assault under the supervision of Baton Rouge STAR Legal Director, Morgan Lamandre. Kiara plans to focus most of her career on civil rights and social/economic justice in the South.
Tanya serves as a paralegal in the Center’s Biloxi office. Talley-Chorba has a background in disaster recovery as an oversight analyst and paralegal at the Mississippi Recovery Office where she provided document management services for the Hurricane Katrina public assistance program. Talley-Chorba also worked for Baird Holm LLP as a litigation paralegal on cases involving educational funding. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Paralegal Studies at Tulane University and, subsequently, an MBA from American InterContinental University.
Talley-Chorba also served in the U.S. Navy for over 8 years, performing administrative and security operations as a second-class petty officer and served in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Now that she is back at home in Mississippi, she spends her time with her family and their dog.
Dana serves as the communications director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, where she is primarily responsible for developing communications goals and strategies, and overseeing the implementation of comprehensive communications plans for advocacy, development and visibility of the Center. Dana has 11 years of experience in communications, marketing and public relations. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communications from Dillard University in New Orleans and a masters degree in communications from Mississippi College. Dana is a member of the Junior League of Jackson and the Public Relations Association of Mississippi. She is also a graduate of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership’s Leadership Greater Jackson Program and was recognized as one of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 40 under 40.
Olger Twyner serves as development director in the Center’s Jackson office, managing fund development activities and implementing initiatives to broaden MCJ’s nationwide presence and to cultivate existing and new donor relationships. Twyner also works closely with staff to execute annual fundraising events. He holds a B.A. in History from Jackson State University, a J.D. from Ohio State University College of Law, and an MBA in Public and Non-Profit Management from Columbia University. Twyner served as a judicial clerk with the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi, and practiced public interest law for six years with Southeast Mississippi Legal Services. Twyner resided in New York for twenty years, serving as a Ford Foundation consultant and founding coordinator of the New York University Public Interest Law Center, managing a variety of initiatives for NYU Law School students and alumni interested in public service careers. Additionally, at Columbia Business School, Twyner served as Community Collaboration Project director and later as executive director of Double Discovery Center at Columbia College. In those roles, he developed projects created to stimulate economic and educational progress in Harlem and managed a variety of programs designed to promote post-secondary school enrollment for more than 1,000 low-income and first-generation college-bound students annually.
A native of Laurel, Mississippi, Twyner moved to New Orleans in 2008 to serve as Xavier University of Louisiana’s associate vice president for sponsored programs. Twyner has served on several boards and has volunteered with a variety of organizations whose goals include increasing educational attainment for youth and promoting community engagement.
Lauren Welford Childers
Lauren serves as the donor relations manager for the Mississippi Center for Justice. Lauren holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Mississippi and is a graduate of the Croft Institute for International Studies where she completed a thesis concerning gender and contemporary slavery. In 2006, Lauren interned with the special events department at The Carter Center, former President Jimmy Carter's nongovernmental organization.
Sandra Williams, Consultant
Sandra serves as BP oil claims intake consultant in the Center’s Biloxi office, managing data to expedite recovery for Deepwater Horizon victims. Williams holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi and is a Biblical Literature Master of Arts candidate at Oral Roberts University. A native of Mississippi’s Covington County, she has a solid history of helping underserved communities develop affordable services, such as childcare and nutrition programs. Williams also serves on the board of directors for Redeeming Love Prison Ministry, Inc., an organization which provides outreach programs, development classes, counseling and mentoring to inmates in 13 incarceration facilities throughout Oklahoma. Williams is an active member of United Methodist Women and a Saint James United Methodist Church lay servant leader, heading up weekly Bible study. She spends her spare time with her three children and seven grandchildren.
Norman Rosenberg, Consultant
Norman is based in Washington, DC and serves as the Center's senior development consultant. The centerpiece of his practice is organizational and fund development, with primary emphasis on creating or strengthening major donor programs for progressive non-profits. For 25 years before beginning his consulting practice, Rosenberg was the CEO of three national public interest organizations: the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Parents’ Action for Children, and the New Israel Fund (NIF), an Israeli-American philanthropy that promotes equality, peace and tolerance in Israel.
Prior to embarking on his public interest law career, Rosenberg was an Assistant Professor of Law at the State University of New York at Buffalo.