2013 Access to Justice Awards

On Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at the 2013 Equal Justice University conference, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services presented the 2013 Access to Justice Awards. The Access to Justice Awards Dinner is a hallmark of each Equal Justice University and at this year's dinner, Mayor AC Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, addressed the gathering of equal justice community members. The awards ceremony also featured a special treat when Riney Green, for whom the B. Riney Green Award is named, presented the awards to the 2013 B. Riney Green Award winners.

(Pictured at right, Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services Executive Director Ann Pruitt, B. Riney Green Award Winner Harrison McIver III,  2013 New Advocates of the Year Emily O'Donnell and Charity Miles Williams, Mayor AC Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee and B. Riney Green Award Winner Gordon Bonnyman.)

B. Riney Green Award                                                                                                                                           Honoring Statewide Collaboration

The 2013 B. Riney Green Award Winners, as selected by the awards committe, are Gordon Bonnyman, founding Executive Director of the Tennessee Justice Center, who was honored for his exceptional leadership in forging collaborations to help low income people receive legal assistance, particularly in accessing healthcare.  Harrison McIver, III., Executive Director of Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc., was feted for fostering unity and coordination among Tennessee’s legal service providers and for his advocacy for the civil justice community as a whole.

In the late 1990s B. Riney Green, a Nashville attorney, relentlessly led Tennessee’s effort to prevent the U.S. House and Senate from adopting provisions that would reduce funding to legal services and increase restrictions on legal aid programs.

As a corporate lawyer and a Republican, he was a new and credible voice in this effort. He successfully engaged others in his effort and had access to representatives from across the party and ideological spectrum. His efforts in this state not only improved relations with the Congressional delegation, but were essential to the successful national effort to resist these legislative attacks. This award is named to honor his contribution at a critical time in the history of legal services in Tennessee and the nation.

It is important to recognize that the Green Award is not just a “good person” award, or a way to recognize outstanding advocacy. There are many outstanding advocates in Tennessee, and many of them have outstanding accomplishments every year. This award is a way to recognize and emphasize the value the access to justice community has for a particular kind of accomplishment – one that promotes inter-program cooperation and strengthens access to justice across the state.

New Advocate of the Year                                                                                                                           Honoring Creative, Effective Advocacy by new Attorneys or Paralegals

The 2013 New Advocate of the Year Award will be presented to Charity Miles Williams and Emily O'Donnell, both from Legal Aid of East Tennessee.  Ms. Williams is being honored for her tenacity in representing low income clients facing eviction or foreclosure proceedings. Ms. O’Donnell was selected for the award for her work with displaced tenants in Chattanooga following a fire, educating them about their rights and helping them secure critical services.

Like the Riney Green Award, which recognizes someone who promotes statewide collaboration, this is not just a “good person” award, but recognizes a specific kind of accomplishment: affirmative, creative, effective advocacy (litigation or other activities). It seeks to recognize those who use their legal skills in an active, creative way that produces outstanding benefits for individual clients and the communities in which they live. Eligible nominees have been with their program for five years or less.