Throughout the summer, the ACLU of Southern California hosted a series of ‘Brown Bag’ lunch lectures led by attorneys, scholars, organizers and civic actors. This week, we are sharing highlights from these sessions in blog, video and Q&A format.
Anne K. Richardson is a partner at Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, where she covers a wide variety of legal issues: employment discrimination, constitutional violations, whistleblower retaliation, consumer class action suits and international human rights law. Ms. Richardson spoke to attendees about litigating civil rights at a private firm as well as some of her cases: from representing a Guantanamo detainee to serving as co-counsel to the ACLU/SC's Boudlal v. Disney lawsuit. We sat down with her after her 'Brown Bag' talk:
How would you characterize private civil rights litigation, as opposed to public civil rights litigation?
Anne K. Richardson (AR): Litigating civil rights privately is different in the sense that you have much more flexibility in what you want to do. There is no mission statement that requires you to stay within those confines. So you can change your vision or move beyond your vision. On the downside, it does mean you do have to be thinking about the bottom line. You’re not getting grants; in a way that’s positive because you don’t have to fundraise, but you do have to be thinking about ways in which the firm will continue to make enough money [in order to] keep doing the work that you want to do.
How do the cases differ?
AR: As far as typical cases, the difference is that we do a variety. The ACLU doesn’t do a lot of employment cases for example, though they do have some. There are wage and hour or slum-housing cases that we might share in common with legal aid, but they don’t do anything like what we do at Guantanamo […]. We share the subject matters of our caseload with a wider variety of nonprofits because we probably do a bigger variety than those nonprofits do.
Have you seen any noteworthy shifts in your field during your 20+ years?
AR: There have definitely been shifts in employment law. When it first started, it took off: It was new, and it took the defense community by surprise with just how much the juries sympathized with employees. And that’s kind of changed. I think people don’t believe there’s as much discrimination in the workplace going on. It’s not as much as a burgeoning field as it was before.
The other major change is arbitrations and class actions. The defense has really been trying to capitalize on ways to minimize the impact that plaintiffs can have: They’ve worked on passing the Class Action Fairness Act and requiring that class actions go in to federal court, which they think will be more conservative venues for them. Also, they’ve been pushing arbitration clauses and class action waivers in arbitration clauses.
What are some of the greatest legal challenges for you in private civil rights litigation?
AR: Outside of the class action issues I just mentioned – those are really a challenge – some of these legal areas, like the Guantanamo cases, are examples of where the legal world has just shut down to receptivity. There are things that are classified that we [lawyers] are not allowed to know about. It’s been a struggle to make sure the public is as concerned as we are about the loss of freedoms and loss of transparency that’s happening. This has been getting a lot of publicity with recent leaks and revelations of confidential data. Nonetheless, there’s a tremendous amount of legal rights that we are in serious danger of losing. The first step is to take someone who you can make sound like they’re not a human being, like a Guantanamo detainee, and paint them as these horrible terrorists. Most of the men that are there are not accused of really engaging in any terrorist acts; they are people who got picked up on the battlefield after we invaded Afghanistan.
My concern is that we’re losing the rights to trials at all for different categories of people, and well, what’s next? Also, privacy invasions that are happening. So, it’s been a frustration to try and get the public to be concerned about that. We’ve got small incremental changes that are happening. I think they could have big effects.
What was the formative moment – if there was one – on your path to become the private civil rights litigator that you are today?
AR: That’s a hard question. For me, it was realizing that there was an alternative to nonprofits. When I was working for the ACLU, one of the cases I was working on for Mark Rosenbaum [Chief Counsel, ACLU/SC] involved a co-counseled case with Dan Stormer. It was the Palestinian deportation case, the seven Palestinians and one Kenyan, who were being deported because they were allegedly part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. So, I met Dan during that time, and it was the first time I realized that there was a different path besides working for a nonprofit. There were other lawyers that had firms that still managed to take really interesting public interest cases.
Anne K. Richardson is a partner at Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, a private plaintiffs' side law firm located in Pasadena. She received the Pro Bono Award from the ACLU/SC in 2006 for her work on Doe v. Unocal; Interview by John Washington, Strategic Partnerships Intern, ACLU/SC.