Mike, what is your educational and professional background?
I attended the University of Notre Dame as an undergraduate, then I went to law school at Santa Clara, where I received a JD-MBA. I taught legal research and writing for a year at Santa Clara law school, then went into private practice in San Jose. I do civil litigation and constitutional law, especially First Amendment cases, both within the pro-life field and outside it.
What would be an example of the latter?
I represent a group of Christian missionaries who feel called to support themselves by standing in places open to the public and asking for donations; landlords and others don’t always welcome them.
I have heard that you never say no to Life Legal. How did you get involved with pro-life work?
In 1991 I went to a meeting of the Christian Legal Society where I met David Llewellyn and Mick Imfeld; that led to work with the missionaries just mentioned. From there I met an attorney who was defending a pro-life activist in San Jose, and he put me in contact with LLDF. I believe the first direct involvement I had with LLDF’s work was in the spring of 1992, when another attorney and I attempted to counter the city of San Jose’s “bubble zone” ordinance.
What kinds of things has Life Legal gotten you into?
The first lawsuit I defended was for a rather colorful pro-life activist in Redwood City, whom I had defended in a prior criminal case stemming from his picketing. Unfortunately, the threat of having to pay the clinic’s attorneys’ fees dissuaded him from pursuing the litigation past the preliminary injunction stage.
I also represented Bob Powers when two doctors tried to enjoin him from distributing leaflets exposing abortion. The case was so weak that the pro-abortion forces dropped it after five or six months; we are now trying to get legal fees from them. During the summer of 1993, I assisted with the enforcement of an injunction LLDF attorneys won against BACORR. This pro-abortion group had threatened to disrupt several pro-life rallies held in San Jose. During that time I also worked with lawyers from the American Anti-Persecution League who were present to monitor the rallies and other pro-life activities to ensure that the police were even-handed in their enforcement of the law. Out of that came the federal civil rights lawsuit I filed against the city of San Jose based on their residential picketing ordinance.
The ordinance was clearly aimed at anti-abortion activity, and resulted in the arrest of sixteen pro-lifers in July of 1993. I am presently awaiting an appeal in the criminal case, which is before the sixth district Court of Appeals. Judge Manoukian struck down the ordinance, which prohibited any targeted picketing within 300 feet of a residence. My clients were walking around the block carrying signs to let the residents know how their neighbor earned his living. There was no threat of violence or intimidation; the point was to convey a factual message in a peaceful way to the neighbors.
No one would mind if people carried signs saying “Your neighbor is a heart doctor.”
No, and the superior court agreed with us that my clients were within their First Amendment rights. The ruling put an end to other criminal prosecutions, and the city is trying to get it reversed on appeal. However, I am optimistic, because the U.S. Supreme Court heard a similar case this summer, the Madsen case, which also dealt with abortion protesters near someone’s house; the Court’s ruling supported our position.
Do you think that the recent killing of an abortionist and his escort will have a bad effect on such cases?
That is certainly what the California Medical Association was counting on when it filed an amicus brief in the residential picketing case. The brief consisted almost entirely of citations to newspaper and magazine articles reporting on violence allegedly engaged in by prolifers. The appendix included a 69 page manual by some anonymous group, on tactics for damaging and destroying abortion facilities.
The mainstream pro-life movement does not engage in violence against people and property. And level headed judges know that. Pro-abortion forces cloud the free speech issues involved by trying to link the recently publicized violence to the majority of pro-lifers. This “guilt by association” is wrong, and I believe the courts can see the extreme weakness of the argument.
What do you do when you’re not practicing law?
I am involved in my church, where I have started teaching Sunday School to first through third graders. Last summer I travelled to Russia for four weeks with a group of Christians. We distributed Bibles and Bible study guides in small Siberian cities near Novosibirsk.
Is there anything you would like to say to other attorneys considering pro-life work?
At points in their lives, attorneys have different amounts of time available for pro bono work. God arranges that time, and it is nothing short of a divine gift for them to wisely use. No one should feel that he or she will have to do this forever, but every attorney should ask himself whether he has the time right now. It may not be there in the future.