Last year, Mark F. Pomerantz and Carey R. Dunne were leading the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into Donald J. Trump’s business practices.
Now they have turned their attention to the broader phenomenon they say the former president represents: threats to democracy in the United States.
Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Dunne, who resigned last year after the district attorney’s decision not to press charges against Mr. Trump, said they had set up a freelance law firm aimed at stopping the proliferating wave of anti-Democratic policies around the world. country. The Free and Fair Litigation Group, which opened its doors this week, is led by Michele A. Roberts, the former president of the association, which also represents professional basketball players.
The three co-founders said in an interview that all three co-founders have extensive experience as plaintiffs and plan to defend policies they deem fair and litigate against those they believe are undemocratic. His work will initially focus on voting rights, gun control and freedom of expression.
“As I see it, we are no longer facing just a politician, but a national movement that seeks to reclaim decades of rights and constitutional principles. ”said Mr Dunne.
In the two years since Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen led to a violent riot in the Capitol, election rejection has only increased within the Republican Party. Mr. Trump is once again the leading candidate for the presidency, and the House is in the hands of Republicans, many of whom voted against confirming President Biden’s electoral victory.
Against this backdrop of profound political polarization, we’ll see how much of the new firm’s ambitious agenda can be accomplished, especially if their case reaches a Supreme Court that has taken a sharp right turn.
The three founders will not receive a salary and the firm will do all their work for free. They hope to hire a small staff of attorneys with no more than eight employees, including one who has recently served as federal prosecutor, and partner with several large law firms. A not-for-profit firm will raise outside donations from both foundations and small donors.
The new firm differs from larger groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice, which do lobbying and research in addition to their work in court, in that they focus on the case.
The venture was the product of a fortuitous timing: three busy lawyers who discovered in the spring of last year that there was nothing in their account.
Ms. Roberts, a veteran attorney, had just retired as executive director of the NBA Players Association. Mr. Pomerantz, a prominent defense attorney who also served as chief of the criminal division for the US attorney general’s office in Manhattan, retired in early 2021 to lead the district attorney’s investigation into Mr Trump. Dunne, another prominent plaintiff, who oversaw the Trump investigation and has twice successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court over a subpoena for Mr Trump’s tax returns, resigned in February of last year.
Although Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Dunne began presenting evidence to the grand jury about the former president’s business practices earlier last year, new district attorney Alvin L. Bragg developed concerns about proving the case and decided not to investigate the case. blaming Mr Trump at the time, leading to resignations. Former district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The investigation, which began under Mr. Bragg, is now continuing under Mr. Bragg, who recently had Mr. Trump’s company convicted.
While the new law firm currently has no plans to take on Mr Trump directly, its mission was in a sense inspired by his influence on the Republican Party and the Supreme Court, where it appointed three conservative judges.
“Trump is clearly the poster child for growing authoritarianism. ”“It personifies the problem but is far from the only manifestation of the problem,” said Mr Pomerantz.
Mr. Trump, for his part, publicly criticized Mr. Pomerantz, calling him a “despicable lawyer” who was “never a ‘Trumper'” and Hillary Clinton was a sycophant.
The firm’s first case involves gun control policies under attack, following the Supreme Court’s decision last year that expanded the right to carry firearms outside the home. The firm defends four Colorado towns that have been sued by a gun rights group following the court order, each with bans on carrying assault weapons in public. The case is scheduled to appear in court this fall.
Measures such as Florida’s “Stop Waking” law, which limits race, gender and nationality issues in schools and workplaces, also concern the new firm. He began examining the possibility of filing a First Amendment lawsuit, which focused on similar laws banning diversity training in the workplace in other states.
The company is also developing plans to appeal Florida arrests of some people with a criminal record who are able to register to vote in the 2020 election, even though their past convictions should have prevented them from doing so. While the charges against some of these individuals have been dismissed, the firm is exploring the possibility of suing the state for violating the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the arrests prevent criminally convicted people from voting legally.
“It’s just embarrassing,” said Ms. Roberts, adding that the case was good for her as someone who deals with voting rights and “legislative changes to electoral laws in various states.”
To litigate cases, the firm will receive support from a list of leading law firms and advocacy groups.
In the Colorado gun control lawsuit, the firm is teaming up with Everytown for Gun Safety, which was founded by former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Dunne’s former firm Davis Polk. In the Florida voting rights case, Obama spoke to a group called Protect Democracy, a nonprofit founded by lawyers from the White House, and Paul Weiss, a longtime associate of Mr. Pomerantz.
External firms provide their resources for free. The new firm’s board of directors will include a host of brave figures from the criminal justice world, including Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the former chief counsel of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, who was the Democratic nominee for Manhattan district attorney’s office in 2021.
Free and Fair’s executive director will be attorney Danny Frost, who serves as senior counsel and spokesperson in the district attorney’s office under Mr. Vance while Mr. Dunne and Mr. Pomerantz work on the Trump investigation.
So far the firm has mostly accepted donations from friends and professional acquaintances, but will ramp up its fundraising efforts in the coming months as the IRS has approved the firm as a nonprofit.
Initially, directors estimated that it would take six months to qualify for tax exempt status. They later learned that they could file an urgent application with the IRS, “but only if the country needs what you provide so desperately that they can claim emergency treatment status,” said Mr Dunne.
They submitted their applications in October. They got the emergency clearance within 14 days.