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Farmworker Activist Wins 2007 Morris Dees Justice Award

An activist lawyer who for 30 years has provided courageous and effective representation to farmworkers and immigrants has been selected as the winner of the 2007 Morris Dees Justice Award, which is named for the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Arthur N. Read, general counsel for Friends of Farmworkers Inc., a legal services provider in Philadelphia, will be presented the award at a November 15 ceremony in New York City.

The renowned international law firm Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom partnered with the University of Alabama School of Law in 2006 to create the award in honor of Dees, an Alabama graduate, for his lifelong dedication to public service. It is given annually to a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought positive change in the community, state or nation. Last year's winner was U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice of the Eastern District of Texas.

Read was nominated by more than 20 organizations and individuals. As Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes noted in his supporting letter, "It is fitting that he be considered in the company of Morris Dees. … In a like manner, Mr. Read has dedicated his career and life to providing a voice for the disadvantaged and advocating on behalf of the underprivileged." Read graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 and from New York University School of Law in 1976. He worked at Eisner, Levy, Steel and Bellman, P.C., and at Camden Regional Legal Services prior to joining Friends of Farmworkers in 1982.

A frequent lecturer and author on workers' rights, Read is well known for his representation of workers. In Vlasic Farms, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (2001), he won for workers in Pennsylvania's mushroom industry the right to organize. His collective bargaining agreements for the Kaolin Workers Union are the only such contracts in the mushroom industry.

In El Concilia v. DER (1984), Read brought a class action lawsuit arguing that Pennsylvania had failed to inspect camp housing for workers. As a result of the litigation, camp housing was largely brought into compliance with state and federal law.

His lawsuits under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Relations Act resulted in injunctive relief that has served as a model for compliance. His work also established one of the first alternative dispute resolution systems with Pennsylvania's vegetable producers.

Read has also been an advocate for those with limited English proficiency. His work on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias contributed to a law mandating certified court interpreters.

Those who nominated Read described him as a tireless, productive, creative, ethical and client-centered advocate. He is also widely respected for his professional relationships with opposing counsel.

His personal and professional courage were highlighted in a 2002 profile in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which wrote:

"Arthur Read was an idealistic 27-year-old lawyer in the summer of 1979 when the short-fused, 300-pound foreman of a migrant farm labor crew came after him with a knife. It took 220 stitches to repair the gash in Read's face. Forty more to close the wound in his stomach. Today, he is an idealistic 50-year-old lawyer, with a gentle paunch and a scar that runs from the edge of his jaw to the side of his nose."

Thomas Cook, who worked with Read during those years, wrote in his supporting letter: "Most people would have decided not to continue visiting labor camps, but not Art. I don't think it even slowed him down."

The selection committee that selected the 2007 Morris Dees Justice Award included Mary Bauer, director of the SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project.

Skadden is known for its premier corporate practice in New York and around the globe as well as its support of public interest law and service.

Dees is a 1960 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. He co-founded the SPLC in 1971 with Joe Levin, also an Alabama graduate. Dees serves as the SPLC's chief trial counsel.

More information about the award is available at morris dees award.