One of my first assignments after passing the bar in 1983 was to assist a RI ACLU cooperating attorney in a free speech case on behalf of a firefighter who was terminated for engaging in public expression critical of the fire department chief. It soon became apparent to me that the first amendment rights at issue in that case were far more important in the scheme of things than the corporate and commercial disputes I was litigating. I was hooked. I have worked as a cooperating attorney ever since.
Although my first case involved free speech, I initially earned notoriety litigating Fourth Amendment rights and became known in some circles as the “Strip Search King.” One of my first and most memorable such cases involved a young, single mother who was arrested on an invalid warrant for failure to appear at a review hearing regarding a traffic fine that had already been paid. As consequence of this one unlawful arrest, she was subsequently subjected to routine strip searches by two police departments and the ACI. That case set a precedent which subsequently led to further lawsuits and the end of the routine strip search of persons arrested for petty offenses in this state by local and state police and/or confined at the ACI intake center.
More recently, I have been involved in first amendment free speech cases, in particular, cases challenging duration, location and size restrictions on political signs. To date, we have successfully challenged such restrictions in four municipalities in this state and obtained permanent injunctions against unconstitutional limitations on political speech. Most noteworthy is a temporary restraining order obtained during the middle of the last election that permitted an independent candidate for Congress to continue to post political signs—which was his primary medium of campaign communication.
The legal matters clients entrust to us are important to them, and as attorneys we should treat them as such. However, when you are seeking to vindicate a civil right or civil liberty, the result you seek to achieve typically has far reaching consequences beyond the litigants involved—not just in the here and now but also for our posterity. It is both challenging and rewarding. Try it. You may also become hooked.