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Peter Henner

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                                                                                LAW PRACTICE TO FIGHT FOR JUSTICE


WHO I AM AND WHAT I DO


I am a veteran environmental, labor and civil rights lawyer, with extensive litigation experience, including the handling of both civil and criminal trials in state and federal court, and substantive knowledge in the fields of energy regulation, environmental impact analysis, labor unions, law enforcement misconduct, and correctional facility administration. I am seeking opportunities to use this experience to confront and oppose powerful and corrupt institutions, in either the public or private sector. I do not want to do legal work for the sake of doing it; I am fortunate enough not to need the money, and I do not believe in “pro bono” work – especially pro bono cases that are boring, will not actually provide any social benefit and/or have very little chance of success.


Today, I only do legal work that I believe has some social or political importance, is of particular interest to me, or assists a client that I particularly care about. I only want to use law to continue the struggle against corporate and governmental entities that are determined to seek greater profits at the expense of humanity and to support individuals and groups that are fighting to establish basic civil rights and to preserve the environment. 


HOW I GOT HERE


From August 1984 until June 1, 2012, I maintained a full-time 50+ hour a week solo law practice, dedicated to the representation of individuals and organizations fighting for social justice, particularly when my clients were wronged by the actions of large corporations or governmental entities.  My practice was a direct extension of my political and social activism in the late 1960s and I never forgot that I became a lawyer to continue the fight for a world where the right to democratic principles and human rights, including worker rights, civil liberties and a clean and healthy environment would not be defeated by powerful and greedy forces. The focus and principal accomplishments of my practice can be found on the Overview page of this website.


However, I must admit that, for most of my career, I subscribed to the notion that a lawyer could never have too many clients or too much work.  Like most lawyers in private practice, I took satisfaction from the fact that I was getting paid well for legal work that was neither socially useful nor intellectually interesting. Those days are over. I am no longer seeking cases or projects that will generate billable hours doing boring or useless things, or where I am representing people, organizations or institutions that I do not like.


Upon turning 60, in July 2012, I wanted to make sure that I took the time to pursue other interests, including competitive chess, a variety of outdoor activities, and several writing and scholarly projects. But it was never and still is not, my intention to retire; I simply needed to make sure that I made the time to do things that were important to me since I no longer needed to practice law for economic reasons, and, as described below, was disillusioned and disgusted with the American legal system.  


Since June 2012, I have learned that it is not so easy to stop being a lawyer. I still want to actively participate in the fight for a just, environmentally sustainable and peaceful world, and my legal skills and experience are still the best contribution that I can make to that fight. When I am asked to participate in a political or social issue, I ask the kinds of questions a lawyer asks, and approach the issue as a legal problem, and occasionally respond by getting involved as a lawyer. I am still doing cases and getting involved in political and legal struggles, and will continue to do so. 


THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM


In September 2013, the Altamont Enterprise published my article “Goodbye to all that, why I stopped practicing law to do more useful things.” In the 2000 word article, I explained why the legal system had become sclerotic, dysfunctional and corrupt, and why I wanted nothing more to do with it. Although I am still in awe of the complex structure of the common-law system, appreciate its historical and social context, this fascinating intellectual and social history has little, if anything, to do with the reality of the practice of law in the United States in the 21st century; a practice dominated by politicized judges, cumbersome and expensive procedures that price most people out of the market for legal services, and an inability to resolve cases in real time.


I have lost respect for the “legal profession”.  Nevertheless,  like the samurai in the Japanese movie “Hara-Kiri”, who demonstrates his adherence to the samurai code in the last scene of the movie after he has completely exposed the hypocrisy of the system, I continue to follow all of the ethical and legal requirements set forth in the Code of Professional Responsibility. I take pride in the fact that I have never been disciplined, sanctioned or cautioned for ethical misconduct since my admission to the bar in 1980. I have kept up with my Continuing Legal Education requirements; I continue to judge moot court competitions, produce scholarly publications and make legal presentations. 
 

The American legal system is badly broken, dysfunctional and corrupt: but there are many lawyers in other countries that attempt to fight for justice against far worse legal systems, while facing personal risks that are inconceivable to an American lawyer. American lawyers, unlike lawyers in many countries, can pursue the fight for justice without fear of arbitrary arrest, assault or even murder by governmental agents. I am keenly aware that courageous lawyers stand up for human rights in repressive countries like China, at the risk of being sent to reeducation camps. Women lawyers in Saudi Arabia attempt to use their legal system to defend and expand the very limited rights given to women, even though the lawyers risk arrest, and as women, are denied the most basic personal civil rights by the legal system.


Since lawyers in China, Saudi Arabia and other countries can try to work for justice in their legal systems, I should be able to do the same, without complaining about the failures of the American legal system, and I am attempting to do so. 


WHAT ABOUT PRO BONO?


I occasionally handle cases without charging a fee or undertake public interest litigation pro se. However, because there are other demands upon my time besides law practice,  I am very selective as to what cases, paid or not, I am willing to handle. There are many matters that I will not handle even if I am paid for my time. I am certainly not willing to handle a case pro bono that I would not handle if on a paid basis.

I am emphatically not seeking "opportunities to do pro bono work."  Pro bono clients are not necessarily any more deserving than paying clients, their causes are frequently unlikely to succeed, and the legal issues raised are no more interesting than the issues raised in paying work. The only difference between pro bono work and paid work is the payment. Like Woody Guthrie, "I do not sing for bad causes"  and I expect to be paid when I work for good ones. 


Large "biglaw" firms that customarily represent powerful corporations perhaps derive some public relations benefit by doing "pro bono" work, but public interest lawyers simply get a reputation for being a soft touch. I usually represent plaintiffs suing large organizations, community and environmental organizations and individuals of limited means. My paying clients would have a legitimate complaint if I represented similar clients for free while charging them. Furthermore, too many pro bono clients, including community and environmental organizations, can and should do their own fund-raising, rather than look for a free lawyer. I have also learned that pro bono services are not always appreciated by clients, sometimes because the clients are not paying for them, and sometimes because the clients think that their pro bono lawyer is not as good as a paid lawyer. 

When I maintained a full-time practice, I did not distinguish between paying and pro bono clients, and will not do so today. My fee arrangements with my clients are private matters, and I will not stigmatize a client by referring to him or her as a "pro bono client."  The New York State Office of Court Administration requires lawyers to disclose the number of hours that a lawyer devotes to pro bono work on their bi-annual registration statements, with the apparent goal of encouraging lawyers to do pro bono work. I answer "zero."  I will not accept nor do I expect any recognition for pro bono work. I believe that the bar association's touting of pro bono work is hypocritical at best, especially since work for clients of limited means that is performed at a discounted rate, and contingency cases that are not justified as a business risk, but are undertaken because they are in the public interest, do not qualify as pro bono work.


My (partial) docket as of January 2016


1. Represent apprenticeship program of Local 355, United Service Workers, named as a respondent by rival union in an Article 78 proceeding against New York State.

2. Represent Local 175 of United Plant and Production Workers, a union that represents the majority of New York City asphalt pavers, in administrative and legal efforts to stop Con Edison from forcing construction contractors to recognize a rival union that has lost the right to represent the pavers in NLRB elections, and in efforts to force New York City agencies to let Local 175 participate in Project Labor Agreements.

3. Represent South Colonie Teachers Association in efforts to hold school district responsible for actions of administrator who has sexually harassed teachers.

4. Investigate possible actions to advocate for rural broadband access in New York State, including an appropriate response to the efforts of the Governor’s Office to hijack funds appropriated for rural broadband access for other purposes and possible intervention in Public Service Commission proceedings.





 




 

 

 


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