DRC Staff

Rocky Nichols, M.P.A.

Executive Director
Rocky brings over 30+ 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 the remainder at DRC Kansas).  Rocky was hired as DRC’s Executive Director in 2003. 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. Before joining DRC in 2003, she was the Chief Financial Officer of Kansas Legal Services for three years, where 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 Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Baker University in 1972 and his law degree from the University of Kansas in 1981. 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. 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 as a staff attorney in 2004. He became legal director in 2009.

Paul Shipp, J.D.

Managing Attorney — Disability & Aging Crime Victims Unit

Paul attended Radford University in his home state of Virginia, where he obtained dual Bachelor of Science degrees in History & Social Science. He graduated from Washburn University School of Law in 2001 and then worked for a small law firm in Topeka before joining Kansas Legal Services, Inc. in 2003.  His work at KLS was varied; however, his focus was helping low-income individuals with civil legal problems that threatened their social and economic stability. Paul takes pride in his work as a civil litigator and is not afraid to make changes via the court system.  Paul has successfully argued several cases before the Kansas Court of Appeals and has had two significant wins in the Kansas Supreme Court. In 2008, Paul made state and national news with the landmark decision of In Re L.M., 286 Kan. 460, 186 P.3d 164 (2008), where the Kansas Supreme Court extended constitutional rights to children that they did not have prior. He was awarded the Elizabeth Ferguson Excellence Award that same year. United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, recognized Paul as a national leader for his legal work for children and invited him to Washington DC to speak at a National Conference held for legislators across the country. In 2021, Paul had another significant case out of the Kansas Supreme Court that protected the paychecks of working people from illegal garnishment, Stormont v. Sievers, 314 Kan. 355, 498 P.3d 1217 (2021). Paul is a proud supporter and board member of True Colors Flint Hills, Inc.; there, he advocates for direct services for LGBTQAI+ youth and educates the community about the need to support queer and trans youth. He has a love of local history and a passion for researching his own family’s history. Paul joined DRC in November 2022. His goal is to use his experience to bring equality and access to justice to the client communities served by DRC

Mike Burgess

Director of Policy & 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.

Phil Cauthon, M.S.

Director of Communication & Outreach
Phil's professional experience includes 25 years in journalism, brand and identity management, education and event coordination, and corporate communications. He joined the DRC team in 2023. Before that, Phil worked five years at the Kansas Healthcare Collaborative and concurrently at its co-founding organization, the Kansas Medical Society, as each organization's Director of Communications. Before that, he worked four years at Sunflower Foundation in Topeka as the health philanthropy’s Director of Communications and five years at the Kansas Health Institute, as Reporter, Digital Editor, & Communications Coordinator. Before that, he worked as a reporter, editor, and manager at several newspapers over 10 years: the Lawrence Journal-World, the Topeka Capital-Journal, and the Houston Chronicle’s Washington D.C. Bureau. Phil holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas as well as Bachelor of Arts degrees in Spanish and in International Studies from the same university.

Ben Cohen, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Ben completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Kansas in 2013, and in 2017 completed his Juris Doctorate at Washburn University and passed the Kansas bar that summer.  Ben has worked on numerous social justice projects going back to his college days.  Ben spent a year doing document review at Shook, Hardy, & Bacon in Kansas City, MO.  Following that, he worked for a year at Kansas Legal Services in their Emporia office, practicing a mixture of criminal defense and domestic/family law.

Bryant Barton, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Bryant is an attorney under DRC’s VOCA program. He received his law degree from Washburn University and his Bachelor of Science in History from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. He worked for the Kansas Human Rights Commission, and has spent the majority of his career as a prosecutor mainly in Riley and Douglas County. Bryant brings experience from both sides of the criminal justice system, having spent time working in the North Central Regional Public Defenders Office, as well. Bryant has been part of the DRC team since February of 2020.

Emily Leiker, J.D. 

Disability Rights Attorney

Emily graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Tourism and Hospitality Management from Fort Hays State University in 2017 and graduated with her Juris Doctorate from the University of Kansas School of Law in May 2020. At KU Law, Emily was on the Kansas Law Review for two years and served on the Editorial Board as a Comment Editor. She was published in the Kansas Law Review for her Legal Comment, When Will It End? Whether the Right-to-Sue Letter Effectively Limits the EEOC’s Investigative Authority, 68 U. Kan. L. Rev. 167 (2019). Emily began working for the Disability Rights Center in May 2019 as a legal intern and is now at attorney for DRC’s Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Division. Before coming to DRC, Emily served as a legal intern for a private law firm that specialized in a wide range of civil law practices.

Florence Cornish, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Florence graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in Education from Savannah State University in 2005. In 2008, Florence graduated with a Law Degree from the Vermont Law School and was granted admittance to the Georgia Bar that summer.  While at Vermont Law School, she was involved in various public interest law such as being selected as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow where she focused on domestic violence in rural areas, interning with the Barton Child Law/Policy Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and serving as the Vice-President for the Northeast Black Law Students Association.  After law school, she commissioned as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the United States Army where she served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting cases in Federal Court, a Trial Counsel prosecuting sexual assault crimes against children, trial defense counsel/attorney, Administrative Law Attorney, and Operational Law Attorney advising Generals on rules of engagement. After retiring from the United States Army in 2017, Florence was granted admittance into the Kansas and Missouri Bars. Florence went on to sign a contract with Geary County, Kansas in 2018 representing clients in Child in Need of Care Cases, Criminal Law, Juvenile Law, and Traffic Law. She served on that contract until joining the Disability Rights Center.

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.

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.

Liz Hueben, J.D.

Disability Rights Attorney
Liz received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas and her law degree from the University Of Missouri Kansas City School Of Law. Before starting at DRC, she worked as an Assistant Public Defender in the Kansas City Trial Office of the Missouri State Public Defender System. Liz came to DRC as a Disability Rights Attorney in 2019.

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.

Delaney Bird

Disability Rights Advocate
Delaney is an advocate under DRC’s VOCA program. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas. Prior to joining DRC, Delaney worked as a student advocate for mental health services at KU, and spent over 5 years as a volunteer with Best Buddies International, an organization focused on ending the social isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Delaney joined DRC’s Disability and Aging Crime Victims Unit in August of 2020.

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.

Jacque Anderson

Disability Rights Advocate
Jacque comes to DRC with a 30-year diverse background in the legal field. She began her career as a legal assistant in a law firm, with the last 15 years as an investigator. Having the opportunity to be able to do investigative work in criminal and civil litigations has allowed her to be a voice and advocate for many during her time at the Indigent Defense, Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Service and the Board of Healing Arts. Jacque has been part of the DRC team since 2018 as an advocate and reviewer for DRC’s rep payee program. In her spare time, she loves being the voice on the court or field as a youth sports official and girl’s fast pitch umpire.

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 senior 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.

Tracie Furman

Disability Rights Advocate
Tracie is an advocate under DRC’s VOCA program. She received her Bachelor of Science in Sociology from South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. Tracie joined DRC’s Disability and Aging Crime Victims Unit in January of 2020. Before coming to DRC, she spent 12 years as a social worker working with seniors at a skilled nursing facility and rehab center in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Tracie loves horses and dogs, and used to barrel race in rodeos.

Tricia McConnell

Disability Rights Advocate
Tricia comes to DRC with 20 years of dedicated experience working with and advocating for families and children with disabilities.  Along with her son, Tricia volunteered at a hospice house and embraced the experience of working with the patients and their families.  Tricia was born and raised in Kansas.  She  joined the DRC team in April of 2020.

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.”

DRC Staff