ACTIVIST LAWYER MAKES A CASE FOR HIS CAUSES
By Fred Dickey
April 14, 2014
A whole lot of people are gonna be a whole lot of mad over this column.
But that’s OK, because a society can’t really come to grips with prickly issues without somebody getting in an uproar. That’s the way democracy is wired.
And I can promise you, Bryan Pease is just the man to make the electricity crackle. Many would call him a radical, but he would say the reactionaries who try to undercut his “progressive” goals are the true radicals.
Though Pease is a downtown activist lawyer, he does not show up for the interview with hair looking like Donald Trump just climbing out of bed. He is a handsome bachelor, young (36) and soft-spoken, almost reticent. He is, however, dressed in uniform — open-collar plaid shirt and worn jeans. That’s as de rigueur to an activist as a black suit is to an undertaker.
Pease has many causes. He fights animal abuse, he’s a vegan and he promotes alternative energy.
He’s had a variety of ’60s-style dust-ups with police by doing the civil-disobedience things that get protesters put in the back seats of squad cars and their names entered on dockets.
He lives in Ocean Beach and has been in San Diego for 10 years from New York state. In becoming an activist and environmental lawyer, he had no “road to Damascus” experience. Nothing dramatic shaped his life choice. He says, “My motivation? It’s just compassion and empathy for animals, humans and the environment. I started as a teenage volunteer.”
Of Pease’s multiple causes, none is more important than fighting animal cruelty. He and his ex-wife, Kath Rogers, founded an organization called the Animal Protection Rescue League that campaigns against abuse and runs a thrift store in Clairemont.
Guys who point guns at animals, as you might expect, are his personal targets of opportunity. He points to hunters’ opposition to the new state ban on lead ammunition as a predictable empty-brainer; in keeping, he believes, with those groups’ reflexive opposition to improving the environment. Pease says hunters, above all, should favor the ban because of how lead pellets get into nature’s food supply and become a death sentence for scavenging wildlife.
He finds all sport hunting “extremely distasteful.” And since California has made bears unwelcome and mountain lions are too smart for us, deer are the remaining large game. Pease attempts to debunk a main justification for killing them — namely, that hunting thins the herds and reduces overpopulation.
“Hunters generally want to kill bucks because they want the big antlers, and nobody wants to go around shooting does and fawns. But killing Bambi is what would actually control the population, if that’s what they’re really interested in,” he says, making it clear that that’s not what he’s interested in. “By killing the bucks, what they do is upset the gender ratio of the herd, and then you end up with an imbalance of breeding females.”
His point is that the remaining bucks just have more work to do with a greater number of does, a challenge those ol’ boys undertake with relish.
Pease says that as the gender ratio is upset, the biology of the doe is tricked into believing that food has become more abundant, and its body becomes more fecund. The result is more little, spotted Bambis running around.
“When we go out and start killing the bucks alone, it causes this boom-and-bust cycle of population that leads to more deer-car collisions, which make people think, ‘Oh, there are too many deer. We need more hunting.’ ”
To make his point, he says, “If you actually wanted to control deer populations, you would send sharpshooters in to kill does and fawns.”
I don’t think he wants to do that, and since the main deer predator, the mountain lion, has become more scarce, hunters say what would be left for herd control is slow starvation.
Pease is less adamant about sport fishing, but only slightly less. He says sport fishers hurt the environment mainly because the monofilament line they use is often lost or discarded and can cause the death of turtles, seabirds and marine creatures by entangling or binding them.
Commercial fishing? He is unsparing in his scorn for the damage he says it causes. “It’s horrific. They are just pillaging the oceans. There will be no fish left in the oceans by 2050 if we keep up the (present) rate of commercial fishing. The fisheries are collapsing all over. We have these massive nets that just pull up everything that’s alive.”
Pease at first stops short of calling for an end to commercial fishing. But at one point, his ardor bubbles to the surface, and he says, “I think fishing should be banned. Yeah, just leave the ocean alone, just stop it already.”
However, he knows that would never fly, but obviously he would support much tougher international regulation. And you can bet if his wishes were law, there would be a lot of fishing vessels tied up to docks.
He also comes to the defense of wild creatures that preceded us to America’s finest city. Rather than snare (and kill) coyotes, for example, we should appreciate that many rats and mice probably don’t leave home after dark for fear of them. Coyotes are rodent vacuum cleaners. That they have been known to — rarely — dine on fillet of poodle is, well, just the way it goes.
Letting coyotes be coyotes means we could reduce (or end) the use of poisons by local governments, Pease says. Though a lot of rats and ground squirrels go toes-up because of them, so also do the raptors and desirable scavengers that eat rodents.
Question: On animal cruelty in general, you basically have public support, so why do you start to lose them politically?
“You’re right. Most people are against animal cruelty, and most people support protecting animals. However, the message gets twisted or propagandized (by special interests); then it’s easy to convince the public to vote against their own benefit.”
He says the most flagrant example of politicians bending to the will of special interests is the way major pharmaceuticals used their lobbying power to gain passage of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
Pease says the 2006 law makes it a crime to cause economic damage — no matter how trivial — to any business using animals, ranging from circuses to experimental laboratories. He says the obvious goal was to end protesting.
I ask, because Democrats are seen as more friendly to your causes, why didn’t they rescind the law when they had total control of government?
“Because there are a lot of corporate Democrats who want to support corporate interests.”
Big Pharma rules, you’re saying.
In the most lively environmental dust-up of recent times, the La Jolla Children’s Pool battle, Pease has been in court on and off for the past seven years defending the “right” of seals and their pups to lounge on that sand. So far, the seals are still soaking up the rays.
He earned notoriety for his protests over foie gras, a paté made from the livers of ducks or geese that have been fattened through force-feeding. He also had a hand in the San Diego ordinance prohibiting pet shop sales of non-rescue pets.
His protection of animals extends to pit bulls and defending them in court, which would be about the same as a lawyer defending a child predator in terms of jury sympathy. Recently, in a Temecula trial, he sued police for shooting a pit bull that was said to be threatening an officer. “Cops love to shoot pit bulls,” he says. Guess what? He lost.
Though it is overshadowed by his activism, Pease also has a general law practice. As a test, I ask if he would take a driving under the influence case.
“Would I take a DUI case? Sure. DUI cases are great, great money.”
Compared with other San Diego lawyers doing the work lawyers do generally, does your income suffer because of your commitments?
“It depends. There are a lot of unemployed lawyers out there, too. I make money doing public-interest cases, because in California we have a doctrine that if you bring a case that secures a large public benefit, then you can get attorney fees from the other side.”
When that happens, he’s allowed to charge fees of $350 per hour. That usually means tapping the deep pockets of government or corporations.
Also, in California, there is a law that awards fees to lawyers defending lawsuits (mainly from corporations) that have the purpose of intimidating opponents. It’s called the anti-SLAPP law (strategic law against public participation). It’s meant to stop the practice of suing people to shut them up.
Pease celebrates it like Christmas.
Under that law, he turned the tables on a Fashion Valley lawsuit against him for organizing a 2006 protest against department stores selling fur merchandise. He ended up with an award of over $30,000.
The same thing happened in a protest against a Brea shopping center. Result? $50,000 award for Pease.
Doing well by doing good.
You might agree with Bryan Pease altogether, in part, or not at all. That is unimportant to the point I want to make: This guy in his worn jeans is a welcome respite from the briefcase brigade of lawyers who patrol the courthouse halls with their writs and whereases. He’s a man who believes in something that goes beyond making the Lexus payment. He pushes his lawyerly well-being into the center of the table like a stack of chips.
Given how our system is designed to work, the contribution of the activist — conservative or liberal — is not to be absolutely correct, but to stimulate debate and enliven the forum where consensus can be reached. At least, we can hope.
So, if what Pease believes either stimulates or agitates you, maybe you should thank him — grudgingly, if necessary.
Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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