“They can’t see me, right?” I must have answered this question at least a dozen times for my four-year-old, who likes to sneak up on me in the evenings while I’m catching up on pre-recorded webinars (so far, he has only asked once during a live Zoom meeting…).
It’s true we don’t see each other the same these days. But we haven’t missed a beat. We’re accomplishing high-volume, high-value work through alternative channels to advance freedom and the rule of law. We invite you (and your sneaky preschoolers) to see!
— Carrie Ann Donnell, President & Founder of American Juris Link
Collaborating Against COVID Orders
Kansas Victory Against Invasive Order
Government orders in response to COVID-19 have touched every corner of the economy. They have also breached other fundamental rights, like privacy. This happened in Lynn County, Kansas, where the health director ordered businesses to report information about every customer entering the premises – name, phone number, arrival time, and departure time. Doctors were required to reveal their patients. Lawyers were required to reveal everyone seeking legal advice.
Kansas Justice Institute Litigation Director Sam MacRoberts immediately began preparing a lawsuit under the warrantless search clause. However, there were some novel pro-and-con strategy decisions to make. He brought those questions to American Juris Link to facilitate deliberation among allies. Sam presented the issues during our regularly scheduled COVID Litigation Roundtable, and a strategy consensus emerged. The next day, Sam executed it – with complete success. The county issued a new order that requires a warrant for searches, consistent with privacy guarantees under the constitution.
For months, salons have struggled to wait out shutdown orders and finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Then, Governor Lamont suddenly delayed them in Connecticut – but only some of them: hair salons were permitted to reopen as scheduled while nail salons were forced to wait even longer.
Attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation sprung into action to develop an equal protection lawsuit. Before they could file it, they needed help from a lawyer on the ground. PLF Attorney Daniel Ortner knew from experience it was difficult (and very costly) to identify a capable ally in Connecticut. There wasn’t much time – Daniel would be ready to file his case within days. Fortunately, that’s all it took American Juris Link to connect him with local counsel. Daniel filed on schedule, and with the pro bono arrangement we facilitated, PLF saved at least $10,000.
New State Litigators + Experienced National Partners
In our previous Journal, we celebrated the launch of the Pelican Center for Justice in Louisiana. General Counsel Sarah Harbison wasted no time in building strategic partnerships. With a background in politics and products liability, Sarah was eager to transition to litigation for liberty. As every public interest lawyer knows, the first hurdle is overcoming a motion to dismiss. We found her the perfect opportunity to partner with Pacific Legal Foundation, one of the nation’s most experienced conservative public interest firms.
PLF was litigating a dismissal on appeal against the City of San Francisco, which had forced property owners to offer a lifetime lease to their tenants. In a split decision, the Ninth Circuit dismissed PLF’s case. Attorney Jeff McCoy was looking for amicus support to ask the court for a rehearing en banc. Jeff’s need was the perfect opportunity for Sarah. She filed an amicus brief, and the Ninth Circuit will decide soon.
Most lawsuits in our community are offensive attacks against government abuse. But in Oklahoma, we’re playing defense against a billionaire. State policy ally Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs published a COVID article that accurately reported in two simple sentences that Chad Richison, CEO of Paycom Payroll and one of the top 400 richest individuals according to Forbes, is among those advocating in favor of shut-downs. Paycom sued OCPA for defamation.
(If you’re wondering how someone can sue for defamation involving an accurate statement of public knowledge, the answer is that anyone can sue for anything…) We expect the lawsuit will be swiftly dismissed. However, an unyielding defense is crucial to deter billionaires from using litigation to silence important speech. This is exactly why anti-SLAPP laws exist (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).
OCPA hired trusted local attorneys. However, they didn’t have experience with anti-SLAPP laws; few attorneys do. Fortunately, Jim Bopp, General Counsel of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, is an expert who is writing model anti-SLAPP legislation for the Uniform Law Commission. When we heard about the case against OCPA, we knew Jim had to join it. OCPA and their attorneys welcomed him, and they’re working together to defend the case.
New Hampshire retiree Richard Polonsky was recovering from long-term surgery when the Town of Bedford demanded he catch up on missed property tax payments. Mr. Polonsky, struggling with medical bills, offered to pay the taxes and interest he owed. Instead, the town refused to clear his debt and insisted he pay penalties too. The town proceeded to seize his entire property, worth $300,000, to cover the $90,000 debt.
Mr. Polonsky sued the town and lost. He was appealing to the state Supreme Court when Pacific Legal Foundation found out. Fearing a negative precedent, Senior Attorney Christina Martin developed an amicus brief to explain that by keeping $210,000 in property value, the town had violated the takings clause. But Christina couldn’t present her arguments to the court without an attorney licensed in New Hampshire. So she asked American Juris Link for help.
With only a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday, we identified a distinguished partner at least as passionate about protecting property rights as pumpkin pie. The next week, the attorney signed PLF’s amicus brief, and this spring the court agreed with Christina’s arguments and ruled in favor of property rights. PLF has invited the Michigan Supreme Court to follow New Hampshire’s favorable precedent in a similar case, which is still pending.
The right to a fair hearing means judges should not lean toward siding with the government in a lawsuit. Yet judicial deference – rather than independence – has been the norm for decades. Fortunately, there are attorneys like Jessica Lee Thompson at New Civil Liberties Alliance, who demand an end to deference. When the Arkansas Department of Finance asked the state Supreme Court to defer to the Department’s opinion of the law, Jessica had to oppose it. But she needed to partner with an Arkansas attorney. Jessica turned to American Juris Link for help, and we introduced her to an experienced appellate attorney in the state. The amicus brief was successfully filed and is being considered by the court.
The National Taxpayers Union, the Voice of America’s Taxpayers since 1969, launched the Taxpayer Defense Center to litigate state and federal cases. We’re pleased to welcome the Center’s Vice President, Joe Bishop-Henchman, to the community of public interest litigators advancing freedom and the rule of law.
Supplemental Legal Support
Legal Resources for Allies
Americans for Fair Treatment helps public sector workers who want to exercise their Janus rights to opt out of their unions. AFFT doesn’t offer legal advice, but that’s the benefit workers are most afraid to lose if they leave their union. That’s why Elisabeth Kines, AFFT’s National Executive Director, called us. We introduced Elisabeth to a freedom-minded lawyer at a large regional firm with a passion for enforcing Janus rights. A partnership immediately followed, and Elisabeth now has a talented lawyer on call to help her fulfill AFFT’s mission empowering workers to leave their union.
The California Freelance Writers United opposes a new state law limiting the number of submissions freelance journalists and photographers can publish. Under the law, writers can publish more if they are hired as employees, but many prefer to freelance due to medical or family circumstances. Pacific Legal Foundation sued to end the law’s censorship.
The freelance writers filled pages with words supporting PLF’s case. But words weren’t enough for them to be heard in court – they needed a lawyer. They had no budget for legal services because their income had been slashed by the law. So we connected them with partners at an international law firm, who rarely have an opportunity to wax eloquent in free speech cases. The lawyers filed an amicus brief pro bono, and the case is still pending.
Despite recently expanding its legal team (welcome to the public interest community, Meggan DeWitt!), the Beacon Center of Tennessee is outnumbered in the fight for freedom. With only two litigators in Beacon’s office, a busy docket means there isn’t much room for overflow. When Vice President Braden Boucek told us he was slammed with deadlines, we introduced him to a big law Federalist Society lawyer who was looking for a conservative outlet to contribute pro bono service.
So far, the FedSoc lawyer has donated half a week’s billable hours (valued at over $500 per hour) to Beacon’s legal team – and the clock is still running. The work included pulling together evidence for Braden’s argument that barbers should be allowed to cut hair without a high school degree in Tennessee. Braden will prepare another brief in the case using the extra pro bono help before the court issues a ruling.