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KNOXVILLE — Gordon Bonnyman Jr., executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center and a graduate of the College of Law at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is the 2009 winner of the Morris Dees Justice Award.

The award is given by the international law firm of Skadden, Arps and the University of Alabama School of Law to a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought about positive change in the community, state or nation.

Bonnyman will receive the award in New York on Nov. 12.

Bonnyman has spent his entire career representing low-income clients, the elderly, prisoners, disabled persons and the uninsured. He has been the lead counsel in more than a dozen class action lawsuits, many of which have served as models for legal services organizations throughout the United States.

After graduating from the UT College of Law in 1972, Bonnyman began his career with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and The Cumberlands. In 1996, in response to new lobbying restrictions placed on legal services organizations, he founded the Tennessee Justice Center with Michele Johnson. He worked without a salary until additional funding could be secured.

A seasoned and successful litigator, he is also an accomplished legislative advocate and policy analyst. He lobbied for nursing home regulatory reform in Tennessee, which was adopted in 1987. Bonnyman is known as one of the top health law theoreticians and practitioners in the country.

“He and the Tennessee Justice Center have been personally attacked by state officials and other entrenched powers in Tennessee — the nursing home industry, the hospital industry and the health insurance industry,” said a news release announcing Bonnyman’s selection. “But he has never wavered in his commitment to Tennesseans who are poor, ill, disabled or imprisoned. In spite of the pressure and challenge of his work, Bonnyman never loses his sense of humor, even with adversaries. He remains witty and warm while advancing the interests of his clients. As one nominator put it, ‘Gordon encourages us to take ourselves much less seriously than we take our work.'”

The University of Alabama School of Law and the Skadden, Arps law firm established the Morris Dees Justice Award in 2006 to honor University of Alabama alumnus and civil rights attorney Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. The center is internationally known for tracking hate groups and extremist activity, conducting tolerance training education, and winning cases against white supremacists.

Previous winners of the Morris Dees Justice Award have included Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center; Arthur N. Read, general counsel of Friends of Farmworkers Inc.; and U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice, of the Eastern District of Texas.

More information regarding the 2009 Morris Dees Justice Award is available at

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034,