IJ's Merry Band of Litigators

By John E. Kramer  

Columnist George F. Will described the Institute for Justice as a "merry band of libertarian litigators"—an observation that accurately captures the esprit de corps that pervades our office. Visitors invariably remark that we seem to have so much fun doing what we do . . . that we enjoy a camaraderie foreign to most workplaces.

Let me introduce you to our "merry band of litigators," each of whom embodies a strong sense of individuality and teamwork, a passion for liberty and good humor.

Hail to our never-say-die chief, Institute President Chip Mellor! Chip personifies the quintessential Westerner, and it's not just his rugged individualism, steady leadership or knee-slapping guffaw. His heart belongs in the open West, but his lifelong dream of opening the nation's first libertarian public interest law firm led him to the swamps of our nation's capital, where he and Clint Bolick opened the Institute for Justice in 1991. Chip's integrity, dogged persistence and commitment to principle mean he will "go to the mat" in the continuing fight against an ever-expanding government. (It helps to have a strong stomach, which Chip has cultivated through regular intake of exotic hot sauces.) Chip's passion for his work, whether in opening Denver's taxi market, fighting to topple New York's bus monopoly, or training the next generation of public interest advocates for freedom, serves as a catalyst and inspiration for us all.

Senior Attorney Scott Bullock typifies IJ's very low staff turnover—he has been with the Institute since its inception in 1991. Scott is known informally as IJ's Minister of Ideology: If you need a bright line drawn on an issue, he's your man. It's that purity of thought and his appreciation for such lines that make him one of the nation's legal stars defending property rights and free speech. Scott argued the now-infamous Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among Scott’s many victories were his successful defense of Mississippi homeowners who battled eminent domain abuse as well as web publishers whose victory set an early and important precedent extending First Amendment protection to the Internet.

It is with great trepidation I write about Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. It's not that I fear physical retaliation from she of the diminutive stature and million-dollar smile. But Dana is . . . how can I say this precisely . . . a wordsmith of the first order. She is as fastidious in her speech as she is in her (and everyone else's) writing. Thanks to her attention to such details, however, the Institute's legal briefs and other works display a high level of professionalism, and Dana's adversaries—ranging from Donald Trump and the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to other meddling bureaucrats who don’t respect private property—have to contend with a first-rate legal mind. In addition to her work saving the home of an elderly widow that Donald Trump had sought to take, among her other legal victories, Dana won an important First Amendment case allowing the street vending of books in New Orleans after the City banned the trade. Dana also compiled and wrote Public Power, Private Gain: the first-ever census of eminent domain abuse nationwide documenting more than 10,000 private-to-private takings. This opus, along with their legal advocacy, landed Dana and Scott Bullock an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.

If there were a black belt in litigation, Clark Neily would own one. This is one hard-charging, take-no-prisoners, lay-it-on-the-line kind of guy. If you are a would-be entrepreneur —such as the limousine drivers he represented in Las Vegas—being jerked around by The System, Clark is exactly the kind of smart, spirited and self-confident attorney you would want to take your case. After opening the Las Vegas limo market, Clark now litigates to advance school choice, economic liberty and the First Amendment. Among his most notable victories, Clark won a unanimous appeals court victory against the Michigan Education Association when it sought to silence its most effective free-market rival, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Every office should have a Dick Komer. Replete with a full sea captain's beard, this senior litigator guides much of IJ’s school choice litigation with a hand steady on the wheel.  His low-key demeanor and workmanlike persistence complement his no-nonsense approach to the toughest legal issues. Add to that one of the most knowledgeable minds around on civil rights and education law, and you will understand what makes Dick uniquely valuable.

IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall mixes a laid-back Southern manner with a Yankee’s competitive drive. (As a fan of the Bronx Bombers, I had to throw in that “Yankee” reference to tweak Bert—a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan.) Bert is a top-notch litigator who immediately began adding to IJ’s institutional lore by litigating school choice and property rights cases. Bert helped lead a team of IJ advocates and local homeowners and activists in Lakewood, Ohio, to defeat eminent domain abuse there. Today, homes and businesses in Lakewood are safe thanks in large part to Bert’s hard work.  Bert continues his work to protect individual rights by not only litigating, but by heading up IJ’s “Hands Off My Home” campaign that is protecting private property nationwide in the wake of the Kelo ruling.

Adding to the experience of our HQ litigators are those principled and pugnacious pros who head up our state chapters across the nation.

Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, demonstrates a Grand Canyon-sized appetite for cases representing culinary Davids who come up against government Goliaths (including protecting the free speech rights of a Mesa, Ariz., donut shop to advertise its wares in its windows), and he continues to play a vital role advancing school choice and protecting private property.  Tim helped IJ-AZ successfully defend Mesa brakeshop owner Randy Bailey when that City sought to kick Randy off his land to make way for an Ace Hardware store.

Bill Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, leaves behind his delightfully dry sense of humor when he walks into a courtroom determined to vindicate our clients’ rights. Bill successfully championed the cause of Redmond bagel shop owner Dennis Ballen, who merely wanted to attract customers to his out-of-the-way business using a portable sign, and Bill continues the fight on behalf of a local bed and breakfast as well as a construction waste hauler who are up against oppressive government regulation.

IJ Minnesota Chapter Executive Director Lee McGrath—that most-genial of fellows—has likewise succeeded in striking down regulations in the Land of 10,000 Lakes while uniting a remarkably diverse coalition working to curtail eminent domain abuse and expand economic liberty. Just as with similar victories by IJ’s chapters in Arizona and Washington, IJ-MN defeated the state-based cosmetology cartel, opening opportunities for would-be hairbraiders.  Lee also successfully fought Minnesota’s ban on the Internet advertisement and sale of wine.  Cheers to that!

Matt Miller , the executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, is yet another example of how IJ grows its own talent.  Like IJ Minnesota Chapter Executive Director Lee McGrath, Matt spent a summer at our headquarters clerking for the Institute for Justice and cutting his legal teeth.  (Matt and Lee even shared an office at the Institute that summer!)  Having lived in Texas nearly his whole life, Matt brings to the Texas Chapter an optimistic spirit and love for freedom as big as the Lone Star State.  Matt launched the chapter with a challenge to the mandate that computer technicians secure a government-issued private investigator’s license to repair a customer’s computer. 

When you say IJ attorneys conquer great heights to accomplish their goals, you have to put Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes in a category all his own:  in addition to being an excellent litigator, Jeff is also a rock climber, having scaled many of the most intimidating edifices in the country.  Likewise in court, Jeff regularly overcomes intimidating legal obstacles to defend the rights of our clients, like when he set an important free speech precedent on behalf of an Ohio car owner who was banned from putting a “for sale” sign in his car window.  His advocacy convinced the full 6th Circuit to reaffirm meaningful protection for commercial speech.  Jeff is currently litigating on behalf of entrepreneurs faced with arbitrary government barriers to entry and spearheading a path-breaking effort on behalf of cancer patients from across the United States who need lifesaving bone marrow transplants. 

Comprised of attorneys of this caliber, it is no wonder IJ continues to enjoy success in defending individual rights in courtrooms across the nation. At IJ, we change the world and we have fun doing it! 

John E. Kramer is the Institute for Justice's vice president for communications.

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