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DRC Staff

Rocky Nichols, M.P.A.

Executive Director
Rocky brings 25 years of experience in non-profit leadership and public policy advocacy (11 as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, two as legislative staff and 12 at DRC Kansas). Rocky is a veteran advocate for disability rights issues. Rocky is also a former member of the Next Generation Leadership Committee of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Rocky received his undergraduate degree from Washburn University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Kansas. Rocky has been the recipient of more than 20 awards for legislative leadership and advocacy, including many significant awards on behalf of persons with disabilities: Elizabeth M. Boggs Award for Outstanding Leadership in the area of Intellectual Disability, given by the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities; 1996 and 2002 Outstanding Public Official of the Year Award, given by the Kansas Association of Community Mental Health Centers; 1996 and 2002 Kansas NAMI Advocacy Award; 2001 Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Outstanding Advocate Award.

Debbie White, C.P.A.

Deputy Director Administrative Division
Debbie has worked in public accounting, state government and the nonprofit sector. She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant. For the past three years, Debbie was the Chief Financial Officer of Kansas Legal Services. As CFO of Kansas Legal Services, she managed a budget that is nearly eight times the size of DRC, with 27 cost centers and dozens of grant financial reporting requirements. Debbie is a native Kansan and received her undergraduate degree in accounting from Kansas State University.

Lane Williams, J.D.

Deputy Director, Legal Division
Lane received his law degree from the University of Kansas and his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Baker University. For two years during law school, Lane advised and represented inmates of Lansing State and Leavenworth Federal prisons as a member of the Defender Project. Lane is licensed to practice law in Kansas and Washington. He was a staff attorney for Kansas Legal Services in Pittsburg and Topeka for 11.5 years and was in private practice in Aberdeen, Washington, for 9 years before joining DRC. At Kansas Legal Services, Lane specialized in public and private housing law and Social Security and SSI disability law. His areas of emphasis in private practice were land use, consumer and construction law.

Mike Burgess

Director of Policy and Outreach
Mike brings a variety of policy and systems change experience to DRC Kansas. He served 10 years as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives where he chaired committees including the House Government Efficiency Committee and the House Elections and Governmental Organization committee. He also brings a background in information technology from both the private sector and state government. He serves as a member of the Kansas Partnership for Accessible Technology. Mike earned a B.A. in Journalism with a Minor in Economics from Kansas State University.

David Cohen, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
David Cohen earned his B.S. in Business Management and M.B.A. from Kansas State University and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law.  David has spent his career working in the public interest field.

Mary Curtis, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Mary Curtis has been practicing law for more than twenty years, as a public defender and advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence.  Mary grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1984. She began her career clerking for the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City, Missouri.  She then worked for the Missouri Public Defender system for eight years, the last two years exclusively representing persons facing the death penalty.   In 1995, Mary moved to Kansas to help establish the death penalty defense unit of the Kansas public defender system, in response to passage of the death penalty in Kansas.  Since that time, she has worked as an appellate attorney and also represented women facing domestic and sexual violence.

Kip Elliot, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Kip received his Bachelor of Arts degree in education and physiology from Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.  After teaching and running outdoor education programs, Kip went back to school and received his law degree from the University of Kansas.  Kip worked for the Kansas public defender system for nine years and was in private practice for four years.  Kip has state and federal experience in criminal trial practice, immigration, and civil rights.  Kip is the president of the board for the Jefferson County Humane Society.

James Jordan, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
James graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in History from Kansas State University in 2006 and a Law Degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 2009, and was granted admittance to the Kansas Bar in the summer of 2009.  While at KU, he was involved in various public interest law activities.  He worked in New Orleans at the Loyola Law School Katrina Clinic assisting hurricane survivors with related legal issues, helped indigent prisoners with Constitutional claims at the Defender Project, and interned for nearly a year at the Topeka and Lawrence Kansas Legal Services offices, specializing in Social Security Disability Claims and Family Law.

Ruslan Ivanov, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Ruslan graduated from the University of Kansas with B.A. in Philosophy. He then attended University of Kansas School of Law and earned a J.D. there. He worked as an Assistant Public Defender at the Sedgwick County Public Defender’s Office in Wichita and the Northeast Kansas Conflicts Office in Topeka doing felony criminal defense. He is a fluent Russian speaker.

Brandi L. Studer, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Brandi is DRC’s Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Attorney/Coordinator.  She attended law school at Washburn University School of Law and received her Bachelor of Social Work from Kansas State University and a Master of Social Work from Tulane University. Brandi supervises the VOCA staff and is responsible for all of the clients we serve under the VOCA grant.  Brandi’s career has been dedicated to nonprofit work with diverse and at-risk populations.  She began her legal career working for people with disabilities and advocated for them before the Social Security Administration.  Prior to her work at the DRC, Brandi defended death penalty cases and was public defender in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Diane Woodard

Disability Rights Advocate
Diane has a BA from Wichita State University with graduate work at Kansas University and at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. Prior to coming to DRC she worked at Communityworks Inc. in Overland Park, as an advocate for people with disabilities. She had a 36 year career in education as a national consultant, teacher trainer, key note speaker, author, and Director of several child development and intergenerational programs. She was on the administrative leadership team of two 700+ resident retirement communities in the Kansas City Metro area.  She has advocated for the persons with disabilities for over 28 years as a mother of a daughter with a disability. Diane is also a Commissioner on the Kansas Commission for Disability Concerns.

Dallas Hathaway

Disability Rights Advocate
Dallas Hathaway received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from Washburn University in 2016. He has previously worked with several disability-oriented organizations in the past. Some of these include the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center (TILRC), the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy (KYEA), and ADAPT, a national grassroots disability rights organization. Dallas is a person with a physical disability who uses a power wheelchair. He has previous experience with self-advocacy and has worked with people who have disabilities of all kinds.  Dallas has been a member of the DRC team since 2016.

Laura Lawler

Disability Rights Advocate
Laura earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Fort Hays State University and earned her Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies from Washburn University.  She has been working in the legal field for nearly 30 years with an extensive background in investigations and negotiation.  Laura is passionate about advocating for people with disabilities and has personal experience advocating for her own child with a disability and assisting friends with self-advocacy.  Laura has been a member of the DRC staff since March 2017.

Jessica Graff, M.L.S.

Disability Rights Advocate
Jessica earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut in 2005.  She moved to Kansas in 2005 where she began working in the legal field, earning her paralegal certification in 2009.  In 2018 she completed her Masters in Political Science through Fort Hays State University.  She brings with her to DRC many years of experience working in the legal field, mainly practicing in the areas of Social Security Disability, Bankruptcy, Civil and Criminal Law. In addition, Jessica has volunteered with American Brittany Rescue for over 10 years, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Lawrence Community Nursery School.

Michelle Holmer

Disability Rights Advocate
Michelle is the Advocate under DRC’s VOCA program. Michelle received both her Bachelor’s degree in English and her Legal Assistant Associate degree from Washburn University. Michelle brings to DRC a 20-year legal background working as a paralegal for both non-for-profit and corporate law firms including advocating for victims of domestic violence. She also completes annual training to stay up to date on the latest resources and service needs of crime victims and people with disabilities.

Stephanie West-Potter

Director of Communications and Outreach
Stephanie came to DRC as an already seasoned advocate.  She regularly presents on her personal experiences and passion for fighting the stigma around mental illness. In addition to her mental health advocacy, Stephanie has coordinated educational and motivational events surrounding female empowerment. She previously served on the Board of Directors for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Kansas and the Youth Trust Project which focuses on support and empowerment for victims of human trafficking.

Nick Cobos

Office Assistant
Nick is a lifelong Topekan and has received office experience with companies such as Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds and Palmer. He is chairman of the Shawnee County Council of Community Members and had served in the past on the Board of Directors for DRC. Nick is a volunteer at TARC, where he once received services, and has volunteered at the Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy. Nick enjoys playing golf, watching sports, listening to music and working on the computer. He has also written his autobiography about being a self advocate and a person with a developmental disability, “Dreamer’s Don’t Quit.”

Bev Masters

Administrative Assistant
Bev provides a wealth of experience and expertise as she joins the staff at DRC.  Having received training as a Legal Office Assistant from Topeka Technical College, Bev has since worked at multiple law firms, including Frieden, Haynes & Forbes, Rost & Rost and Parker & Hay.  Bev is also a dedicated entrepreneur, owning and operating several filling stations in the Topeka area with her husband.