TJC Staff

Michele Johnson

Executive Director

Michele is co-founder and Executive Director of the Tennessee Justice Center. The focus of her nationally-recognized legal work has been children with special health care needs. In that role, she lobbied successfully to extend health care coverage to uninsured children in working families and participated in a landmark case establishing appeal rights for TennCare patients who are denied care by their HMO. As lead counsel, she negotiated a class action settlement requiring comprehensive reform of health care for 665,000 Tennessee children enrolled in TennCare.

Michele, a 4th generation Nashvillian, has been recognized by her alma mater, Father Ryan’s in their magazine, Irish Ayes, as one of five alumni “dedicated to improving life for the next generation of their family.”

She attended the University of Tennessee and graduated with Highest Honors 1990. Upon graduation from University of Tennessee College of Law, Michele received a grant from the Southern Community Partners, a project of the Lynhurst Foundation, to educate low income families about their children’s legal rights and to help them obtain the medical care the law and their doctors said they should have. In 1996, she left Legal Services to begin the Tennessee Justice Center with a grant from National Association of Public Interest Law (now Equal Justice Works). In 2014, Michele became Executive Director of TJC.

Michele is the winner of the 1999 Child Advocacy Award of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. She was the Lawyer’s Association for Women 2016 Nashville ATHENA Award nominee and Tennessee Alliance for Progress Long Haul award winner. Tennessee Voices for Children has also recognized her work by awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award for advocacy. In 2015, The Tennessee Bar Association recognized Michele as the Ashley Wiltshire Public Interest Attorney of the Year. Her work has been featured in Her magazine. Michele is a Nashville and Tennessee Bar Association Fellow. Nashville Medical News named Michele in their 2016 edition of InCharge HealthCare Middle Tennessee. The Tennessean named Michele a finalist for their Tennessean of the Year Recognition in 2015.

Michele serves on the Board of Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and is on the St. Thomas Mission and Advocacy Committee. She has previously served and led boards including Tennessee Voices for Children, Nashville Bar Association Board of Directors, Tennessee Hemophilia and Bleeding Disorders Foundation.  She is also the past chair of the Christ the King School Board and served on the Parish Pastoral Council at Christ the King Church. Michele coaches the Mock Trial team at Father Ryan High School.

Michele is married to Jeff Hill, an Oak Ridge native. They are parents to three boys. She is an avid runner and spends her free time with her large extended family.

You can reach Michele at mjohnson@tnjustice.org

Gordon Bonnyman, Jr.

Staff Attorney
Gordon low res“By making the plight of the least in society more visible, Bonnyman has raised the bar for all Tennesseans. The state is forced at least to look at how its fiscal and social actions affect the poorest among us before it makes a move.” – The Tennessean, naming Gordon Bonnyman Tennessean of the Year in 2003

Gordon Bonnyman grew up in a large Knoxville family. The family’s religious values and deep Tennessee roots have shaped his career.

Gordon has a BA from Princeton University and a law degree from the University of Tennessee. Since his admission to the bar in 1972, his entire career has been devoted to serving low-income clients.

As a Legal Services attorney for 23 years, Gordon represented thousands of low-income clients in a wide variety of civil matters. He earned a national reputation for his expertise in health policy. His advocacy work in housing, consumer, public benefits, disability rights, nursing home reform, juvenile procedure, civil rights, constitutional rights and health law not only changed the law in significant ways, but also changed lives throughout the nation.

In 1996, when Congress restricted the ability of Legal Services to handle class actions and other cases for the poor, Gordon joined Michele Johnson in co-founding TJC. He served as the executive director until 2014, when he stepped down to return to the full time practice of law as a TJC staff attorney.  At present, his advocacy is focused primarily on achieving access to health care for the poor and uninsured.

Gordon has written and lectured extensively, particularly on matters of health law and policy. He has served on numerous state and national boards, including Families USA, the National Juvenile Law Center, National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, the Nashville Bar Association, and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. He has served on advisory commissions on Medicaid and public health under several Tennessee Governors and has consulted with governors and legislators in other states. He was a member of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Commission on the Future of the Tennessee Judicial System. He currently serves on the Federal Civil Procedure Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

A nationally-recognized advocate for social justice, Gordon has received awards for public service and advocacy from numerous organizations. These include the John Minor Wisdom Award from the American Bar Association, the Reginald Heber Smith Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the War Horse Award from the Southern Trial Lawyers Association, the Morris Dees Justice Award from the University of Alabama and Skadden, Arps, and the Economic Justice Award from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. Gordon’s work has also been recognized by the American Cancer Society, the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare, the ACLU of Tennessee, the Tennessee Primary Care Association, Families USA Foundation, Tennessee Bar Association, the Tennessee Women’s Political Collaborative, the Tennessee Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Nashville Bar Association and the Metropolitan Nashville Human Relations Commission.

In naming him the Tennessean of the Year in 2003, The Tennessean said of Gordon: “By making the plight of the least in society more visible, Bonnyman has raised the bar for all Tennesseans. The state now is forced at least to look at how its fiscal and social actions affect the poorest among us before it makes a move.”

During a 1978-1979 sabbatical, Gordon and his wife, Claudia, who is a state court judge, served as Volunteers in Mission for the United Presbyterian Church, working for a human rights organization in the Middle East. During a 1994 sabbatical, they worked under the auspices of the American Volunteers in Democracy program helping to staff a human rights organization that combats hate crimes and racial discrimination in Eastern Europe. They have one son, Houston, who is a family physician and palliative care specialist. Continuing a family tradition, Houston and Gordon get away whenever they can to hike the mountains of East Tennessee.

Gordon is thankful for his family, whose sacrifices and support have sustained him and his work. He is also grateful to his colleagues and to TJC’s inspiring clients. “I get to work each day with colleagues of exceptional compassion, dedication and skill,” Gordon says of his work. “We serve families who, in the midst of poverty, misfortune and injustice, inspire us with their courage and generosity of spirit. Working through the law, we have a chance to make a huge difference in their lives. And by ‘speaking truth to power’ on their behalf — compelling powerful government and corporate institutions to respect the legal rights of the powerless and the poor — TJC is working to fulfill our nation’s pledge of Equal Justice for All. To get to work for such people and ideals is a privilege.”

You can reach Gordon at gbonnyman@tnjustice.org

Chris Coleman

Staff Attorney
Chris low resChris graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University in 1993. He then attended the University of Virginia where he received a master’s degree in English literature. In 1997-98, Chris served as a VISTA volunteer at the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center in Montgomery, where he conducted research on housing discrimination and organized community education programs on fair housing issues. This experience sparked Chris’s interest in the history of social justice movements in the South, a topic he went on to specialize in as a graduate student in history at Northwestern University. He received his master’s degree in history in 2000.

While attending law school at Northwestern, Chris worked in the Children and Family Justice Center and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic and was associate editor of the Northwestern University Law Review. He was awarded the John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship, the Leonard S. Rubinowitz Fellowship and the Joan Marie Corboy Scholarship. He also studied International Human Rights at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. He graduated cum laude and was inducted into the Order of the Coif. Following law school, Chris clerked for the Honorable Joan Humphrey Lefkow on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

After returning to Nashville, Chris joined the firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, where he represented plaintiffs in antitrust and mass torts litigation. He has participated in the Harry Phillips American Inn of Court and the Young Leaders’ Council and has served on the Board of Directors of the Young Lawyers’ Division of the Nashville Bar Association, the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, and the Nashville Chapter of the American Constitution Society, for which he served as chapter President in 2008-09. He is co-author of “Social Movements and Social Change Litigation: Synergy in the Montgomery Bus Protest,” published in Law & Social Inquiry in 2005. He is also the author several publications on the Affordable Care Act, including “Ongoing Barriers to Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act,” published in Clearinghouse Review, and “NFIB v. Sebelius: An Uncertain Victory for the Affordable Care Act” and “The Affordable Care Act in 2014: Are You Ready?”, both published in the Nashville Bar Journal. Chris is an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School, where he teaches Poverty Law.

Chris is married to JuLeigh Petty, a Senior Lecturer at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society. They have two children, Sam and Lucy.

You can reach Chris at ccoleman@tnjustice.org

Rob Watkins

Staff Attorney
Rob low resRob was born and raised in central Illinois. He received his BA in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his JD from St. Louis University School of Law. He is currently licensed to practice law in Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee.

Rob began his legal career as a prosecutor in Decatur, Illinois prior to becoming Assistant Counsel to the Illinois Secretary of State. In addition to being an attorney, Rob has twenty years of business operations experience and has been actively involved in the entrepreneur community in Nashville.

After attending a TJC training on TennCare and the Affordable Care Act in 2013, Rob saw a need to automate the complicated eligibility screening process for the uninsured in Tennessee. After a year of hard work, Rob created AskJane! to fill in the gap. Named after long-time TJC paralegal, Jane Beasley, AskJane! makes navigating the maze of public health benefits more reliable. Utilizing a series of questions, the tool systematically categorizes applicants and identifies potential coverage and calculates eligibility. AskJane! screens not only for TennCare eligibility, but also Medicare savings plans, premium tax credits and cost sharing reductions.

At TJC, Rob is the staff attorney responsible for business development and technology initiatives. In addition to serving as the administrator of AskJane!, he actively promotes provider-focused services including eligibility screening process reviews, difficult case troubleshooting, education and trainings.

Rob is an active member of the Brentwood United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Michelle, have two children, Brandon and Brittney, and reside in Williamson County.

You can reach Rob at rwatkins@tnjustice.org

John Orzechowski

Deputy Director
John low resAs a college student, John had the privilege of taking three trips to Swaziland to volunteer at an orphanage for AIDS-affected children. In Swaziland, John saw the tragic effects that poverty and the lack of access to medical care can have on people’s health, dignity, and quality of life. This experience led John to consider health care issues and the need to increase access to health care—not just in Swaziland.

In 2008, John graduated with honors and received a B.A. in English and Religion from Southeastern University. He received the Southeastern University Award for excellence in community service and scholarship. After graduation, John moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

John has worked at the Tennessee Justice Center since 2011, first as a Client Advocate, helping families navigate the public health insurance system to get health care for their loved ones. John has special experience with CHOICES, a program for the elderly and people with disabilities who need nursing home or home-based care. In 2015, John took on a new role as Deputy Director, handling grant applications and reporting, financials, and technology infrastructure. John is grateful to be part of the TJC team and to have a job that is both intellectually challenging and emotionally fulfilling.

Outside of work, John enjoys playing guitar and spending time with his wife and slightly neurotic beagle.

You can reach John at jorzechowski@tnjustice.org 

Katie Alexander

Insure TN Field Director
Katie low resKatie is from a small town in the beautiful Hudson Valley in New York. She moved to Nashville from Washington, D.C., where she studied Literature and the African Diaspora at American University.

During her time in D.C., Katie had the chance to intern at various organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Day Network, and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Katie is thrilled to be a part of the TJC team, and to help Tennesseans receive the health care they need. In her free time, Katie likes to ride her bike around Nashville, read, make pottery, and cook.

You can reach Katie at kalexander@tnjustice.org

Jana Hall

Senior Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator

Jana was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Kissimmee, Florida. Her parents are from the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and St. Vincent & The Grenadines. She earned her B.S. in Public Relations at the University of Florida in 2011 and relocated to Nashville a year later. She recently matriculated from Vanderbilt University Divinity School with a Master of Divinity.

During her time at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Jana’s passion for social justice flourished, particularly during a summer visit to South Africa in a course studying faith, politics and global collective violence. She began to learn American Sign Language and earned honors distinctions in her field work studying the impact of faith in the lives of people with disabilities at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. She wrote her Master’s thesis on developing liberative theologies and inclusive practices in the Black Church for people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Jana also received the distinction of serving as a life-long trainee for the country wide network of University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) founded by former president John F. Kennedy.  In 2014 she married Lee Perkins, an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ. Together they enjoy preaching the Good News, spending time with family, traveling and sightseeing, watching movies and staying active in the community’s quest for social justice.

You can reach Jana at jhall@tnjustice.org.

Emily Quinlan

CHOICES Client Advocate

Emily has lived in Nashville for two years. Prior to calling Tennessee home, Emily lived in New York, Vermont, Georgia, New Jersey, Washington, DC, and Florida. Emily has an undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Georgia and a Juris Doctor from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and is a member of the Tennessee Bar. Emily has advocated for a variety of civil rights and social justice issues, including the use of class actions to vindicate civil rights in South Africa, public education in Tennessee, access to lead-free drinking water in environmental justice communities, and justice for the families of victims of racially-motivated homicides during the Civil Rights Era. Her legal practice focused primarily on LGBT family law.

Emily is a member of the Women’s Political Collaborative, American Constitution Society, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. Emily spends almost all of her free time outdoors—either on her bike or in the woods—or printmaking.

You can reach Emily at equinlan@tnjustice.org.

Alex Kent

Communications Associate

Alex received his B.A. in psychology from the University of Tennessee. Since then he has worked in multi-media, non-profit communications for clients such as The Dan Marino Foundation, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and Vanderbilt. He also has experience in non-profit fundraising, assisting with campaigns for Harvard’s Mass Eye and Ear and Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, TN.

A Nashville native, Alex enjoys exploring the city, film photography, all things fried and poorly made horror films. He is thrilled to be a member of the TJC and their mission.

You can reach Alex at akent@tnjustice.org.

Keila Franks

Client Advocate/ Training Coordinator

Keila was born and raised in Nashville. As an undergraduate at The George Washington University (GW), she developed a passion for social justice and human rights through internships at the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, Human Rights First, and the U.S. Campaign for Burma. She also volunteered at the Beijing LGBT Center while studying abroad in China, and she conducted research on the Thai-Burmese border in preparation for her senior thesis on Karen refugees’ concerns about repatriation.

In 2014, she graduated summa cum laude from GW with a B.A. in International Affairs. Upon graduation, she worked at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants as a Pro Bono Coordinator in the Immigrant Children’s Legal Program. She also temporarily ran the small non-profit Sunday Suppers in Washington, DC. In 2015, Keila served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in a small town in Malaysia. She initiated and taught social and financial empowerment workshops at her school in Malaysia, and she volunteered at a local Islamic orphanage for girls.

In her free time, Keila enjoys being with her friends and family, meditating, reading, and playing with her chubby, cross-eyed cat.

You can reach Keila at kfranks@tnjustice.org.

Andy Hofer

Client Advocate/ Intake Coordinator

Andy is a pending graduate of Mitchell-Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While in law school, he clerked for the Honorable Edward F. Vlack of Saint Croix County, Wisconsin. As a student attorney, he spent hundreds of hours defending parents going through the Minnesota child protection system, as well as being involved in criminal proceedings as both a prosecutor and public defender. Having moved to Nashville with his partner, Andy looks forward to building a life and a career in this beautiful city.

You can reach Andy at ahofer@tnjustice.org.

De Vann Sago

King Child Health Fellow

De Vann is from Lake Helen, Florida. She earned her A.B. in Public and International Affairs with a focus on education policy from Princeton University. During her junior year she studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. As an undergraduate, De Vann volunteered with a number of organizations related to children and education, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County, the Petey Green Prisoner Assistance Program, and Princeton Young Achievers, a program that provides after-school care to low-income students. She interned as a history teacher in Miami, FL and a math teacher in Nansana, Uganda. Last summer she worked as the PICS intern at Tennessee Justice Center. De Vann is very excited to return to TJC to work on issues related to children and children’s health. In her free time, De Vann likes to read, hang out with her family, and travel.

You can reach De Vann at dsago@tnjustice.org.

Jimmy Winslow

Outreach Coordinator

Jimmy is from Issaquah, WA which is a suburb of the beautiful city of Seattle. He is a proud graduate of Gonzaga University where he studied Mathematics and Biology. Currently, Jimmy is serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Nashville alongside six other volunteers who are also working in the area. He enjoys hiking, running, reading, and exploring new places. Jimmy is looking forward to spending the year working hard with Tennessee Justice Center to become a person committed to social justice.

You can reach Jimmy at jwinslow@tnjustice.org.

Jake Lorber

Client Advocate and Volunteer Coordinator

A native Nashvillian, Jake earned a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College, focusing on modern political philosophy and theory.  As an undergraduate, Jake was an office assistant for the Kenyon College Office of Student Accessibility and Support Services, where he prepared class materials for students with learning and sight disabilities.  Following graduation, Jake moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a research intern with The National Security Archive, assisting on projects related to U.S. – Soviet Cold War diplomacy, and performing independent research on CoIntelPro, an F.B.I.-initiated domestic surveillance program meant to undermine the efforts of the Civil Rights and New Left movements.  Following the completion of his research internship, he became a legal assistant for a national disability law practice.  Jake recently moved back to Nashville, and is excited to begin working with the TJC to better the lives of Tennessee’s most disenfranchised residents.

Jake enjoys studying history and foreign policy, live music, cooking, and hanging out with his two young nephews.

You can reach Jake at jlorber@tnjustice.org.

Kyla Wonder

Client Advocate

Kyla was raised in Pennsylvania but now happily calls Nashville home. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. In the summers preceding and following her senior year, Kyla was a mental health worker in a children’s psychiatric partial hospital. The experience sparked her interest in healthcare regulations and insurance policies.

Kyla graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in May 2016. While in law school, Kyla worked for an insurance litigation firm where she furthered her interests in insurance and agency regulations affecting coverage. She also volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt University Hospitals’ ACE unit during law school.

Kyla reads, cooks, and hikes with her dog in her free time.

You can reach Kyla at kwonder@tnjustice.org

Sarah Connette

CHOICES Client Advocate

Sarah Connette hails from Charlottesville, VA. While at Davidson College, Sarah worked at her local community center as an Emergency Assistance Interviewer, interned with the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Bolivia, created a documentary about permanent supportive housing on The Homeless Cycle, and studied in Jaipur, India with the School for International Training. She graduated magna cum laude in 2011 with a B.A. in Political Science. 

After graduating from Davidson, Sarah returned to India as a W.J. Clinton Fellow for Service in India, working with Jagori Grameen to develop a social enterprise with local farmers. Interested in the ways theology and ethics inform social change, Sarah studied at Vanderbilt Divinity School, where she graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2016. She worked as a hospital chaplain for a summer and interned with The Nashville Food Project. Her senior thesis explored PC(USA) advocacy for state level non-discrimination legislation. She is excited to join the TJC team as a CHOICES Client Advocate. 

Sarah enjoys hiking, biking, and traveling with her partner Marybeth. Together with friends, they run Misadventures Magazine, an outdoor and adventure magazine for women.

You can reach Sarah at sconnette@tnjustice.org

Shelby Dodson

Equal Justice Works Fellow Elder Justice AmeriCorps Program

After graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science from Harding University in Searcy, AR, Shelby came straight back home to Nashville and began law school at Belmont University College of Law. She received her J.D. cum laude from Belmont in 2016.

At Belmont, Shelby was a notes editor on the Belmont Law Review and an executive board member of the Belmont Legal Aid Society.  During summers, Shelby clerked for The Honorable Mark Fishburn, Nashville Criminal Court Judge, and The Honorable Gale Robinson, Nashville General Sessions Judge, and interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee.

During her final year of law school, Shelby spent a semester interning at the Nashville Office of Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, where her irrepressible love for public interest law was born and fostered. At Legal Aid, Shelby worked in the Housing and Consumer Law practice group, serving clients enduring the aftermath of unfair business practices and suffering from housing insecurity.

In her free time, you can find Shelby passionately cheering on the Nashville Predators, wandering around the Nashville Farmers’ Market, or relaxing with her little dog, Seamus.

You can reach Shelby at sdodson@tnjustice.org

Keith Barnes

Nutrition Advocate

Keith may have spent his first few years just across the state line in Kentucky, but he grew up in Portland and proudly calls Tennessee home.  In his childhood, he experienced firsthand the struggles of poverty.  Those experiences are what drives him in his work to ensure that everyone has access to real opportunities to move out of poverty and that no one goes hungry.

 Keith earned his undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University and was a Peabody Honors Scholar at Vanderbilt University earning his Master’s in Community Development and Action.

 Keith began his career of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Penobscot Nation, serving their tribal elders.  He got hooked and served a second year as a VISTA Leader for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, overseeing a team of nearly twenty VISTAs across Ohio working on a variety of anti-poverty projects.  Upon returning home for graduate school, he worked for the grassroots food security non-profit Community Food Advocates before joining the Tennessee Commission on Aging Disability (TCAD), a state agency focused on ensuring that older adults and persons with disabilities are able to maintain the highest possible quality of life and independence.

While at TCAD, Keith worked with a variety of local, state, and national stakeholders to seek solutions for Tennessee’s very high rate of older adult hunger.  He also administered a $13,000,000 program that funded a statewide network of meals on wheels providers, making policy improvements that significantly improved quality of service and helped increase meals served by 10% without additional funding.  He is excited to bring his broad array of experiences to the Tennessee Justice Center’s efforts to protect and improve Tennessee’s nutrition safety net.

Keith attends Nashville Friends Meeting (Quaker).  In his spare time, Keith’s usually involved in other causes to promote equality and opportunity, but also finds time for biking, hiking, kayaking, and spending time with his niece.

You can reach Keith at kbarnes@tnjustice.org

Some photos courtesy of Mattie Callahan, http://mattiecallahan.zenfolio.com/