ACLU Legal Panel calls for cases
January 1998

Paul Donnelly, chair of the legal panel of the Alachua County American Civil Liberties Union, called on the community to help the ACLU find civil liberties violations to take on. "We really have to rely on you and everyone else in the community to bring these issues to us," Donnelly said at the ACLU's annual meeting in December.

But Donnelly noted that many civil rights claims in this area have fallen on deaf ears. "We're hampered locally by the federal judge that we have, Maurice Paul. What it means is we really are prohibited from pursuing several federal civil rights claims." He said that Paul has a history of ruling against people who are claiming violations of their rights, and he also will award attorneys fees and costs against you.

Donnelly explained to the meeting that Judge Paul has said he's going to take senior judge status. "That leaves a slot opened up for a judge in Gainesville. Judge Stephan Mickle has been nominated by President Clinton to be our next district judge. If that happens, we will have a judge who will be fair minded, who will be predictable, who will apply the law evenly."

He urged ACLU members and all members of the community to take action to make sure that Mickle is appointed. "We've got to write--and I'm not a big believer in this, as many of you know, writing politicians--we've got to write letters to Sen. Graham, Orrin Hatch, chair of the judiciary committee, Connie Mack, and Patrick Leahy who is the minority member of the judiciary committee in the Senate."

"The Republican senate has engaged in an unprecedented effort that's really risen to a level of constitutional proportions" Donnelly stated. "You know that the President has the power and the duty to appoint members of the federal judiciary. Currently one out of three federal judge positions are open, they're vacant. Many of the president's nominations have not been acted on in over a year, which means they have to be renominated. Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch ...are trying to establish a litmus test and chill the president and the Democrats from being able to appoint [judges]...

"You have to remember the framework of the courts. Really the law is what the judge says it is. So if you know what type of judge you have, you know what type of law you're going to get. Reagan and Bush left a terrible legacy on the federal courts, with all kinds of terrible decisions which make pursuing civil liberties very difficult in the United States. They appointed something like two-thirds of the federal judiciary, and these are people who serve for life. So if you're going to write your senators, also write them about taking action on the president's nominees."

Donnelly first became involved in the ACLU in 1981 when he was a highschool student. "Back then we didn't have much of an alternative press at all Gainesville, and my brother and sister and about a dozen students at P.K. Yonge and I started an underground radical newspaper which was very critical of the administration. The administration didn't like that, and they tried to suspend us, they did everything they could to prevent us from getting the word out. This was not a school-sponsored paper, it's something we did on our own. And the local ACLU became involved and was instrumental in helping us beat away that giant and succeed with our school newspaper." He joined the chapter and became a board member.

Donnelly, who practices labor law for working people and the union movement with his spouse, Laura Gross, reflected that "I really thought it was time, now that I've got my practice under control, to come back and contribute something to the legal panel of the ACLU, see if there's a case we can take, to be there to prevent violations of civil liberties."

Write to the ACLU at P.O. Box 1534, Gainesville, FL 32602.

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