Champions of Justice

From Trial Magazine, November 1992

I want to tell you about the Civil Justice Foundation, which is both close to my heart and close to the essence of what we are about as trial lawyers.

We know how much remains undone after our clients have had their day in court and, we hope, received adequate compensation for their injuries. For many of them, there remains the lifelong challenge of living with vastly altered circumstances. For some, there remains a personal commitment to defend the jury system to protect people from the harm that has befallen them or their loved ones. Still others are concerned about reaching out to those with similar injuries to provide information and emotional support.

In each case, they can turn to the Civil Justice Foundation for help. It is the only national foundation devoted solely to protecting the individual rights, health, and well being of injured people. It provides modest grants to organizations working to help injured people rebuild their lives or to prevent injuries from occurring.

The foundation exists only because ATLA lawyers contribute regularly and generously. The association itself makes an annual contribution, which pays the foundation's administrative expenses. Virtually every cent individuals contribute goes directly, in the form of grants, to the most forward-looking and effective grass-roots organizations across the country.

And what a difference a grant makes. Just $8,000 enabled Sue Greer to form PAHLS-People Against Hazardous Landfill Sites-to organize a challenge to hazardous landfill sites in her area of Indiana. Equally important in the eyes of the foundation trustees making the grant, she would use the money to help train others to take up the fight in other parts of the country.

Just $12,000 enabled Nadina Rigsbee and the Drowning Prevention Foundation to work to enact local laws requiring fencing to make swimming pools safer. She wanted to see to it that what happened to her children-one toddler drowned and one was permanently and severely brain injured-would not happen to others.

Just $4,000 enabled the New England Assistance Dog Service to train and provide a service dog to Michael East, who had survived a diving accident. With the help of that dog, East was able to move out of his parents' home and, for the first time since he was injured, to hold down a job.

The Civil Justice Foundation is only six years old. In that time it has distributed nearly a half million dollars to 52 organizations in 23 states and the District of Columbia. It all began in 1985 when Peter Perlman was president of ATLA. He and I, and many others, worked to establish the Consumer and Victims Coalition Committee to make and maintain contacts with consumer groups and people injured through the fault of others.

We quickly learned how close to the margin of existence many of these groups were. We learned that our appreciation and advice, while welcome, were not nearly enough. If these groups were to continue to help injured people and work to prevent injuries, they needed money. We realized that by helping these groups, we could continue to contribute to our clients' well being even after the courtroom door had closed. We were determined to try. That we succeeded should be a source of pride for all of us.

Distinguished consumer advocates such as Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen and Charles Inlander of the People's Medical Society helped begin the foundation and served on the foundation board along with ATLA leaders. At regular meetings, the board reviews the many proposals that flood our offices, choosing-with great difficulty-among many excellent projects and deserving organizations.

For example, at the last meeting of the trustees, in July, we reviewed 10 proposals that had been carefully culled from the 30 proposals we had received requesting more than $307,000. At the end, with limited resources, we could only fund seven organizations for a total of $52,500. As contributions rise, so too will the foundation's grants, but not its administrative costs.

I urge you to join me in supporting this effective and noble organization, which does so much with so little.

At the very beginning, we decided that the logo for the Civil Justice Foundation should be a tree, fruitful and flourishing, offering shelter and protection to all. This symbol evokes the best in us as trial lawyers who know that our responsibility for helping others does not end when the case does.

Defending the civil justice system, which provides compensation to our clients, is a sacred trust. We understand the deterrent effect of individual lawsuits, but we know that, as trial lawyers, we usually are called upon after the harm has occurred. For us, injury prevention is not abstract. We know the victims of torts. We know their names; we hear their voices; we see their faces; we share their pain. We truly do care.

The Civil Justice Foundation gives us the opportunity to express our commitment to injury prevention in a real way. Be a champion of justice both in and out of the courtroom. Join the Civil Justice Foundation.