Who We Are
Amy Armstrong, Executive Director and General Counsel, started working for SCELP in September, 2002, after receiving a competitive two year fellowship from Equal Justice Works, formerly the National Association of Public Interest Law. Once her fellowship ended, she become a staff attorney at SCELP, a position she held for over eight years until the untimely death of SCELP's founder, Jimmy Chandler. Amy graduated from University of South Carolina in May, 2002, with a Juris Doctor and Master´s in Earth and Environmental Resource Management. She currently serves on the Coastal Community Foundation and Bunnelle Foundation boards. She has also been accepted into the Liberty Fellowship program.
Amy received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Michigan in 1992. Before attending law school, she worked with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, managing a population of federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. She grew up in Columbia and now lives in Pawleys Island with her dog, Rufus. She enjoys kayaking, painting, birding, playing the piano, cooking, and reading on the beach.
Michael Corley began working as a staff attorney for SCELP in August 2010. Since graduating magna cum laude from USC School of Law in 2007, he has completed a two-year clerkship with United States District Judge Terry Wooten in Florence and has worked one year at Simmons Law Firm in Columbia. Michael first worked for SCELP in 2006 as a summer associate following his second year of law school.
Michael is from Clinton, South Carolina and a 2004 graduate of Clemson University with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering. These days, he can often be found paddling around local creeks and rivers.
Jessie White recently started working as a staff attorney for SCELP in April 2013. Prior to graduation from USC School of Law in 2012, she interned with the Coastal Conservation League, the Conservation Voters of SC, and the Department of Natural Resources. She moved to Georgetown from Columbia where she had been working at the Law Offices of Brian L. Boger.
Jessie is from Charlottesville, Virginia and a 2009 graduate of the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Environmental Thought & Practice and a B.A. in Psychology. She enjoys cooking, photography, traveling, and spending time outdoors.
Phyllis Anne Nisoff, Office Manager and Paralegal, started working for SCELP in July, 2011. She moved from Atlanta, Georgia and has been in the legal industry for over 25 years to include not only legal expertise, but also marketing, recruiting and business development. She obtained her Associates Degree in Paralegal studies in 1999 from NCPT in Atlanta, Georgia. She served on many charities in Atlanta to include Shepherds Spinal Auxiliary, Atlanta Heart Association, Pulse of Atlanta, Atlanta Symphony, Hands on Atlanta and Juvenile Diabetes Association. She enjoys spending time with her children, Christopher and Anna, cooking, tennis, friends and enjoying the beach.
Frances Close, Chair of the SCELP Board, lives in Columbia. Francie was the Board Chair of Energy Research Foundation, the major player in the effort to force the U.S. Department of Energy to clean up environmental problems at the Savannah River Nuclear Weapons facility, and the organization which helped create SCELP.
John Mark Dean is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Marine Science and Biological Sciences and Senior Fellow in Science and Ocean Policy at the University of South Carolina. John’s research focused on Age and Growth of Fishes, Estuarine Ecology and Fisheries Management. He has taught numerous graduate and undergraduate courses and has more than 100 publications in the scientific literature. John received his MS and PhD in Aquatic Ecology from Purdue University and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Cornell College of Iowa, where he also received his BA.
John’s service on numerous advisory committees dealing with natural resource issues, and the role of science in the development and implementation of natural resources policies at the domestic and international level enables him to bring a unique perspective to students, policy makers and SCELP. John was a critical expert witness in our Captain Sam’s Spit case. His company performed an exhaustive environmental inventory of the natural resources on Kiawah Island entitled “Environmental Inventory of Kiawah Island,” which recommended that the Spit remain undeveloped because of its instability as a land formation. That document continues to be nationally and internationally recognized as a background document for sustainable environmental planning in the coastal zone and it specifically
John helped form and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of the South Carolina Sustainable Seafood Initiative. He lives in Columbia with his wife Robin, and we are very excited to welcome both John and Leon to SCELP’s Board of Directors.
Margaret Fabri is an attorney in private practice in Charleston. She has been a long time advocate for environmental protection and served on the Coastal Council (now the Appellate Panel of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management) from 1993 to 1997.
Paula Feldman holds the C. Wallace Martin chair in English and the Louise Fry Scudder chair in Liberal Arts at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She is the author, editor, or co-editor of eleven books, and teaches British literature, environmental literature, and writing on the graduate and undergraduate levels. For many years, she served on the Board and as education chair for the Columbia Audubon Society. Her photographs and articles concerning human interaction with the environment have appeared in South Carolina Wildlife Magazine and other publications. In recent years, she has been active in environmental advocacy in the Lowcountry.
David J. Harmon lives in Charleston and is an attorney with Carlock, Copeland, Semlar & Stair. David has long been interested in environmental issues. David was born in New Albany, Indiana, and received his B.S. from the University of South Carolina in 1999. He went on to receive his master's degree in oceanography with a concentration in wetland science and management and received his J.D. there in 2004. David has practiced law in Charleston since graduating with honors and has been successful in both jury trials and appellate work.
David has also authored and contributed to several published articles and a book in the field of environmental law, detailing the role and tax incentives of conservation easements in South Carolina.
Gary W. Poliakoff is an attorney in Spartanburg, S.C., who, in environmental cases, represents only victims of toxic exposure and property contamination. He has also represented a number of citizens groups and environmental groups, and has handled many cases Pro Bono for such groups. He has served on the Boards of numerous environmental groups.
Gary graduated from Washington and Lee University and the University of South Carolina School of Law, has been practicing law since 1977 and has received many awards and honors during his career including the Public Citizen Award from the south Carolina Trial Lawyers Association in 1996 and the Victims Voice Award from the South Carolina Jury Trial Foundation in 1995. He was the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in 1988. Currently, Gary serves as a Commissioner for the South Carolina Forestry Commission as appointed by the governor.
Gary has also served on the board of the Citizens Local Environmental Action Network, the chairman of the Spartanburg County Democratic Party; and the boards of the Sertoma Club, Piedmont Conservancy Inc. and Safe Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition.
Leon Rice was born in Winston-Salem, NC, and practiced law in Atlanta, Georgia, for 30 years, dealing mainly in real estate law and transactions. Ten years ago he retired to Murrells Inlet, SC, where his family has owned a creek house for the last 90 years. He was a board member of Murrells Inlet 2007 (now Murrells Inlet 2020), and he is now a director and secretary of Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc., a group dedicated to preservation of the creek, and to preserving the low density use of the water shed on the Waccamaw Neck. He is a member of Bike the Neck, a cycling advocacy group, and a member of Belin United Methodist Church. Leon is married to Jan, and they have 3 children and 3 grandchildren who live in Charleston.
Leon enjoys all outdoor activity, including fishing, hunting, golf, biking and boats of all types. He is a graduate of Duke University and Emory University Law School, and is a former arbitrator American Arbitration Administration. Leon says he is passionate about the goals of SCELP, and the conservation of our wonderful natural resources
Bob Schofield is a returning SCELP Board member who worked with Jimmy Chandler since the 2004. He has assisted with conservation efforts and coastal policy issues as a board member of the Coastal Conservation League. Bob's passion for environmental preservation stems from his ownership of Hasty Point, a plantation on the Pee Dee River.
Nancy Vinson is retired from the Coastal Conservation League where she had worked on coastal policy issues since 1994. Her work focused mainly on protecting the clean waters and wildlife habitat of the Lowcountry’s tidal creeks, marshes, and beaches by ensuring the adoption and enforcement of state law and regulation. As Program Director for Air, Water, and Public Health, she often enjoyed working with Jimmy Chandler on legal strategy, in court, and on state policy. A few accomplishments include: the passage of state law/regulations to protect air and water quality from factory hog operations and the prevention of thousands of private bridges to small marsh islands; significantly reducing air pollution emanating from state port facilities; stopping a stock car track from locating next to Audubon’s Beidler Forest Wildlife Sanctuary.
Before joining the staff at CCL, Nancy was Director of the SC chapter of the Sierra Club and prior to that, a cardiac research specialist at the USC Medical School. She lives in Charleston and enjoys biking, boating and working part-time for her church.
Wendy Zara lives in Sheldon and works in Beaufort for A. G. Edwards & Sons. Wendy is active in local environmental and land use planning issues and a leader of the Northern Beaufort County Committee, the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce, and other community committees and task forces.
December 4, 1949 - August 7, 2010
James S. (Jimmy) Chandler, Jr., (December 4, 1949 - August 7, 2010) former President and General Counsel, founded SCELP in 1987. For over 15 years, he was SCELP's sole staff attorney. Jimmy represented national, state, and local organizations in environmental cases before state and federal courts and agencies. His cases involved a variety of issues, including wetlands, coastal management, water quality, air quality, solid and hazardous waste landfills and incinerators, and mining. Prior to forming SCELP, Jimmy practiced law in Columbia for 10 years. His environmental work has been recognized by several state and national awards, including the Sierra Club's William O. Douglas Award, the South Carolina General Assembly's Environmental Awareness Award, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation's Conservationist of the Year Award.
Jimmy grew up in Georgetown and resided in Pawleys Island. He received a B.A. in Economics from Davidson College in 1972, a Masters in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina in 1973, and a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1977.
Jimmy was married to Rebecca McCarthy Chandler and had one daughter, Leigh, who was born in 1994. When not working, Jimmy spent his time watching his daughter play softball and enjoyed getting out on the water and playing rhythm guitar for Three Way, an oldies rock & roll, blues and party band.
Sadly, Jimmy lost his battle with cancer on August 7, 2010. His death represents a tremendous loss to South Carolina and those that knew him, yet gives cause for reflection on a life and career well lived. The impact he made on our state's environment is immeasurable. He was the trailblazer in environmental law in South Carolina and he left an amazing legacy that SCELP is proud and determined to carry on, in his honor.
Some of Jimmy's most significant cases included:
Jim Smiley vs. DHEC - This case was significant because it ensured that citizens have the right to challenge environmental permitting decisions through the administrative and legal systems;
Dewey Wise - Because this was the first case establishing that citizens can bring enforcement actions for violations of the Coastal Zone Management Act;
Debidue Dredging & Beach Nourishment Project -
Because this case set the precedent that is still utilized today in dredging permits - you must stay 10 feet away from marsh grass and oyster beds to prevent sloughing of the marsh and damage to the oyster beds;
Willbrook Dredging Case - The SC Supreme Court ruled in this case that economic benefits alone were not enough to establish an overriding public interest necessary for dredging. The court denied a permit for the dredging of a canal and the creation of waterfront lots;
Project DP (Spectre) -
This was an extremely significant case because it removed the cloud over isolated freshwater wetlands in the coastal zone and affirming that the Coastal Management Program is a binding and enforceable law.