activism Economy Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: “Public Justice” — Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power

In the ensuing forty years, TLPJ renamed Public Justice (PJ) in 2007 has shown that there are opportunities for widespread justice successes so long as the peoples’ advocates are on the field of action.

By Ralph Nader / Nader.org

It is not often that one speech urging the creation of a national public interest law firm, driven by seasoned trial lawyers, would move from words to deeds, from oratory to action.

That is just what happened following my address in June 1980 to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. I spoke of a gap in trial practice which needed to be filled. There was a pressing need to bring cases against the many corporate abuses, which included non-enforcement of regulatory laws. Without the prospect of a contingent fee after a successful outcome, trial lawyers were unlikely to take on these uncertain cases or structural reform cases on behalf of tenants, farm workers, or cruel prison conditions.

I noted the assault of corporations on “the biosphere, personal injury law from trauma to toxics.” The corporate lobby was blocking legislative proposals to strengthen consumer class action rights, digging deeper for unconscionable corporate welfare payments and funding corporatist politicians. To challenge these damaging corporate power plays, I suggested a full-time core of public interest attorneys supported by a sabbatical program for trial lawyers who wanted to take a year off from their regular practice and come to Washington, D.C. to advance justice and refresh themselves.

It turned out that there were some leading trial lawyers – Scottie Baldwin, J.D. Lee, Bill Colson and Dean Robb – who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), then controlled by a small clique of smug members. They took this proposal to the ATLA convention and convened a meeting of like-minded attorneys. With the determined assistance of Joan B. Claybrook, who was with Public Citizen, the nonprofit Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) was born.

In the ensuing forty years, TLPJ renamed Public Justice (PJ) in 2007 has shown that there are opportunities for widespread justice successes so long as the peoples’ advocates are on the field of action.

Public Justice has taken on a wide range of cases from going up against mountain-top removal and the coal industry’s poisoning of fresh water in West Virginia, to industrial agricultures’ toxic contaminations, to making sure Title IX is enforced to open wide the doors for women participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Today, led by Paul Bland, Public Justice is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. The firm has a $7 million annual budget (which is about three and a half weeks’ pay for the miserly Tim Cook, CEO of Apple), 23 staff on its legal team and a total staff size of 46.

Look at Public Justice’s docket of lawsuits (See: https://www.publicjustice.net/what-we-do/access-to-justice/). They have challenged court secrecy, fought compulsory arbitration and federal pre-emption of good state laws and the weakening of class actions. Students subjected to harassment and discrimination have found a champion in Public Justice, as have consumers cheated in so many ways by devious commercial thieves.

Special is Public Justice’s stand against what it calls the “Debtor’s Prison Project.” Here governments try to cash in by imposing fees on charged defendants trapping them in cycles of poverty, with PJ arguing that “no one should lose their freedom because they lack the means to pay a fine.”

A large vacuum is filled by Public Justice in its Worker Justice Project. Giant agri-business, Public Justice asserts with abundant evidence, “has always capitalized on the exploitation of workers, since its origins in plantation agriculture that relied on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. Today, meatpacking workers are subject to some of the most brutal working conditions in the labor market.”

When Covid-19 viruses came to America, Public Justice went to the defense of food-system workers who were not given protection and care and therefore their industry facilities “quickly became epicenters of outbreaks.”

Paul Bland and his colleagues teamed up with other public interest groups on some cases, including Toward Justice and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom.

Within today’s right-wing, corporatist judicial system, Public Justice still wins cases, deters wrongdoing because companies know it is on watch, and even raises the visibility of issues when they lose.

Like any forty-year-old institution, it must remain alert to becoming too settled, too risk-averse and instead continue to be a pioneering organization and break new ground with bold causes of action as if there is no tomorrow. Hear that younger attorneys? Your burden is to keep your unique law firm as fresh as a cool mountain breeze caressing a gushing mountain brook. For more information visit the Public Justice website: https://www.publicjustice.net/.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a politician, activist and the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel. In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a monthly magazine).

6 comments

  1. Oh Ralph.

    Bigger than all of these public advocacy groups put together.

    Goldman Sachs Says Its Dark Pools Are Under Investigation Along with About Everything Else the Firm Does

    https://wallstreetonparade.com/2022/05/goldman-sachs-says-its-dark-pools-are-under-investigation-along-with-about-everything-else-the-firm-does/

    As I wrote previously.

    The evolution of thievery

    In the old days thieves wore a bandana over their face with a six shooter in their hand when they robbed you. Then over time the better thieves used an ink pen in their hand when they robbed you, usually they were of the financial, real estate and insurance branch of thieves . But the best thieves now days rob you digitally, they are usually corporations or governments and they do it with fine print and regulations.

    If Klaus Schwab has his way they will rob you before you’re born. They’ll do it with AI and digital implants.

    I kinda long for the old days of thievery. It seemed much more straight forward and you understood the terms of the thievery better

  2. It saddens me to think how much could have been accomplished if Mr. Nader had made it to the Presidency. His lifetime achievements are astounding. If only us small people could promote so much. Our lives have been made better from his efforts, but it seems that the more we fight these giant monsters the larger and worse they become.

    1. Kathy H:
      We have good people in this country, men and women of integrity and talent. Henry Wallace was such a man in 1940. There’re others including Mr. Nader. But these men are spiked by the political machinery of this country and men of lesser qualities who toe the mark are elected. It’s sad. One can chalk this up to our DNA of slavery and genocide as part of the problem.

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