For three years, attorney Richard J. Vattuone has been fighting for justice for pro-life sidewalk counselors and picketers in the southernmost part of California. Underneath his tenacious litigation style and Teamster-trained approach to opposition lies the heart of a spiritual son of Saint Francis of Assisi. His unusual background and battling spirit are a major bulwark for pro-life efforts in his area.
Rick, you started your legal studies as a second career. What made you decide to become a lawyer?
When I first began to think about becoming a lawyer, I was working as a truck driver and furniture mover. I was a steward for the Teamsters and handled many grievance procedures. I worked closely with attorneys and became intrigued with the whole process of protecting the rights of working people, of putting together the evidence to win the case, of holding people to standards of right conduct. I decided I would like to do that. With a wife and kids, I attended night school, first at t junior college and then at the University of Redlands, to complete my undergraduate degree. Then I went to law school in the evenings at the University of San Diego. Now, my regular legal practice is about eighty percent employment-related.
How did you start doing pro-life legal work?
I had been praying the Rosary occasionally at abortion clinics. As I followed the cases on sidewalk counseling and prayer, it became clear to me that pro-lifers were being deprived of their constitutional rights.
A double standard was being enforced in our courts: a restricted degree of protection for the free speech rights of pro-lifers, and broad protection for everyone else. It also became clear to me that prolifers needed protection from malicious people in our society. For example, a peaceful picketer was sued by a pro-abortion fanatic: although this fanatic had been arrested at the clinic for making murder threats and assaulting pro-lifers, she brought a civil lawsuit against one of the picketers under an anti-stalking statute. We were able to expose her during the trial as a drug-crazed liar, but this was only at the end of lengthy litigation.
You feel strongly that violence is out of place in the pro-life battle?
Yes. The pro-choice movement was born of lies and violence against life. We can’t respond with like for like. God calls us to respond with truth and love: Resist not evil with evil, but rather with truth and love. The only violence I have witnessed in pro-life work has been perpetrated by pro-choice fanatics. On one occasion when I was working as a legal observer at a picket-line, a bloody knife was thrown at me: another time, a car filled with cussing passengers swerved at me. So the threat to pro-lifers is real.
What connection do you see between your pro-life work and your religious beliefs?
When I first began doing pro-life defense work, I had long conversations with Fr. Bevilacqua, an Augustinian teacher from my high school. We discussed St. Thomas Aquinas, what is the binding force of just and unjust laws, and when civil disobedience of unjust laws is justified. Also, my wife Michele and I are planning on entering the Franciscan Third Order. St. Francis had a deep love and respect for all life, and as Franciscans, we are called to live that same spirit.
[To contact Rick Vattuone or other LLDF attorneys for your personal legal needs, call Mary Riley at the LLDF office.]