The northwest is famous for political activism-- WTO protests, tree-sits, Occupy… When activists get arrested, there's a law firm in Eugene that might represent them for no little or no money. Lauren Regan's Civil Liberties Defense Center celebrates its tenth year at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference this weekend.
Lauren Regan's first experience on an environmental activist case was when she was in law school at the University of Oregon in the late 1990s.
She was clerking at the Western Environmental Law Center and worked on the Warner Creek litigation. Protestors blocked the logging road to the timber sale for nearly a year. At the same time lawyers were suing to prevent the sale on federal forest land that had been burned by arson.
Regan: "I had been one of the youngsters running up to Warner Creek on the weekends and helping the protest and bringing food and things like that. So, on the weekends I would go and hang out with the environmental activists and during the week, I'd be in the law office working on the lawsuit."
Regan says she knew she wanted to be an animal rights lawyer at age 10 growing up in upstate New York. She later developed interest in environmental and human rights issues. The Warner Creek case was the first time she was able to mesh activism and law.
Regan: "And to kind of come to the understanding very early in my law career, that I didn't have to separate myself from my activist background and that being tied to the movements that I wanted to support as a lawyer, was actually a strength and not a weakness."
The Warner Creek suit was successful. The area was not logged and is now a research site to study post-fire forest health.
Regan went on to found her own firm 10 years ago. The Civil Liberties Defense Center has represented hundreds of activists in some of the northwest's most famous cases… including defending members of the Earth Liberation Front from charges of "eco-terrorism".
Regan: "And so I literally became one of the sole resources to a lot of different communities that really needed help. I just couldn’t say no. and so, over time, the CLDC's work has really expanded. We jokingly say, anything left of center, for the most part, we will defend."
Recently Regan represented homeless activist Alley Valkyrie, who was arrested for trespass at the Lane County Free Speech Plaza. A municipal judge ruled the county had violated Valkyrie's 1st amendment rights. Regan is currently travelling the country working on tar sands litigation.
The CLDC is funded by community donations and some foundations. Regan says when the firm wins a federal case, its awarded attorney's fees. This allows her to defend activists for free. University of Oregon Law Professor Mary Wood says Regan has carved out an important place in environmental law-- especially when the laws themselves aren't always enough to prevent what acitivsts see as destruction of precious resources.
Wood: "Unless citizens are able to assert their rights in very visible ways, we will get nowhere and our future will be more and more threatened. And so her role is absolutely critical because she provides the defense of people who have put themselves on the line peaceably."
Regan often works 70-plus hour weeks and sometimes forgoes paychecks. A far cry from what some people might hope for in a lucrative law career. She says despite the hard work, she keeps her eye on her ideals.
Regan: "I always knew why I was going to law school and what I wanted to do with that law degree and my brain. And I have chosen to live simply, keep my expenses really low, so that money never became a motivating factor in the type of work that I had to do."
Regan has chosen not to have children for environmental and ethical reasons. She says that also reduces her living expenses. Regan's Civil Liberties Defense Center celebrates 10 years this weekend at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. Regan will deliver a keynote address Friday at noon.