Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Whither a League of American Bicyclists Legal Defense Fund?

...I'm the innocent bystander
But somehow I got stuck
Between a rock and a hard place
And I'm down on my luck
Yes, I'm down on my luck
Well, I'm down on my luck...

From "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" by the late
Warren Zevon (1947-2003)
Once again, we are lucky we live in Los Alamos where cyclists are treated fairly by the Police and county government. And by most people, too. You could be stuck in Black Hawk, Colorado. They just banned bikes. Really.

But in response to some highly visible (on the Internet) prosecutions of a few cyclists occurring elsewhere (Reed Bates in TX and Eli Damon in MA) and the resulting discussion of these on the Internet, I made the suggestion to the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) that it establish a Legal Defense Fund (the late and great Warren Zevon said it best) in conjunction with the bicycling industry. Why the bicycling industry? Well, it has deeper pockets than LAB and has a lot to lose if cyclists are subjected to hostile legal actions for riding our bikes in what we would assume is a legal, law-abiding fashion. Or, when cyclists are facing harsh and discriminatory laws. The LAB LDF could back up local and state bicycling organizations in critical cases. Selz vs. Trotwood, OH, was an example.

Having said that, not all cyclists actions are defensible and not all worthy cases are winnable. For example, I am not taking a stand on the TX or MA cases I mentioned above but merely supplying them as examples. Carefully considered opinions on those cases should be offered by those with legal expertise and "boots on the ground" in those states. Indeed, some strict guidelines and oversight of a LAB-LDF would have to apply before resources are committed. Obviously, some people would feel they were not represented but this is the real world we live in; checkbooks are not infinite and hard decisions have to be made.

Should the League establish a LDF, I would write a check. Here are some guidelines we used, assuming I remember them correctly, when I belonged to a labor union and was a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA):

We paid our law firm an annual retainer out of union dues.

When a faculty member got behind the 8 ball at work and filed a formal grievance, a grievance committee would meet and taking advice from our legal counsel if needed, vote on whether it was a valid case that we wanted to pursue.

If our lawyer's services were needed for further work, the hired guns would be called in, I think by our Executive Director.

Our lawyers were experts in labor and contract law and how that applied at Hawaii public universities.

Getting grievance committee and ED approval, a case involving a major commitment of the law firm would go to the full Board for a vote on whether to support it since a legal battle involves substantial union resources. We did not want to spend scarce resources on foolish cases when people voluntarily and willfully screwed up. I recall voting on at least one of these cases--in support of a faculty member whose work I detested but who had been legally screwed by the administration.

I imagine most organizations have some sort of vetting protocols in place.

That is my member suggestion to our LAB Executive Board. Perhaps the League and BikesBelong could convince a prominent person such as Bob Mionske to join our Executive Board as Chief Legal Counsel.

As it happened, our UHPA lead attorney, Tony Gill, was also the captain of my USCF racing team. Small world.

Support the League. Join and get involved even if it means being a PITA.


ALBERT said...

Speaking of being treated fairly, is there any progress with Kent Sasser's case?

Khal said...

I asked Carol Clark of the Monitor what happened and she said the paper was going to print a final story on what happened to the driver and the outcome of the investigation.

Cycling community needs to send some letters in to prod the local paper. If the driver plead guilty, it should be a public record. We all need to learn from this crash, not cover it up.

Jon said...

I'm seriously disappointed that I found out about the MA cases here. I knew there were rumblings out west (Bostonian definition, i.e. outside of 495) but thought it was limited to design/construction issues, not police as well.

John said...

Was there ever any followup from the League on the LDF idea?

Khal said...

Not so far, at least that I know of. I should ping Andy Clarke on this.