Ask the Attorney: An Interview with Chuck Koller

Rose Grimm

Could you tell me about your legal education and background?
I went to law school at the University of Denver. I went to law as a second career, after being a city planner and re-development director for eight years.My wife and I both felt that God was calling me to go into law. I graduated in June 1990 as a member of the Order of St. Ives, which meant I was in the top five percent of my class, and was offered a job with a large firm here in the desert. I was admitted to the California bar in 1991.

Did you feel that God was calling you to any specific area of the law?
Yes—to this one, to pro-life.

Aside from your pro-life work what do you do?
I have a very general practice. Because I do a lot of pro-bono work I was involved in confrontations with the firm I worked for: they wanted to use the firm facilities to hold a meeting for the National Organization of Women. I said that was fine but that I wanted to hold my Birthright of the Desert meetings there too. They canceled the National Organization of Women meeting but working for a large firm made it very hard for me to do pro-bono work. I opened my own practice which caters to the small business person here.

How did you become involved with Life Legal Defense?
My former partner and I had started Birthright in the Desert; we received a circular and as a result we both volunteered to do pro-life work.

What kind of cases have you done for Life Legal?
I successfully defeated an attempt to impose a temporary restraining order sought to stop protestors from protesting at a clinic here. The judge vacated the order at the preliminary injunction hearing.With that same group of protestors I’ve had a variety of cases. One protestor was charged with three counts of disturbing the peace, when in each case he had been assaulted.We got those charges dismissed.We instituted some actions against the people who had assaulted the protestors, without success because, as the judge said, “If you’re going to protest you have to learn to have a thick skin, and put up with things that normal people wouldn’t put up with.”

Did you consider that judge unusually pro-abortion?
No, he was just like other judges. They are very pro-choice especially when it comes to protestors. What they want them to do, and they have said this both in chambers and in the open court, is to just quietly pray that things will change. Don’t bother anybody, don’t make a ruckus.

What successes—or failures—have you felt the best about in your pro-life work?
I think my most important success was in prevailing in the matter of the restraining order. We made a first amendment argument, and we had some good facts on our side. The protestors had been coming for nine years, and the opposite side couldn’t produce any declarations that showed anything but protected speech. The place where the clinic is located is so small that if there had been even a twenty-five foot bubble zone the protestors would have been ineffective. The victory allowed the protestors to keep interacting with the doctors and patients. That place is now about to be closed down. One of the doctors has had his license suspended for three months and is also facing criminal charges, and that combined with the protesting has pretty much shut the place down.

Is there anything you would like to say in this forum?
Every time I go into court I go against high-powered, high dollar, lawyers from Los Angeles who are well financed, with expert witnesses and fancy charts. I would like to put the challenge to the pro-life community that we have to start thinking about being as armed as the opposition. I have seen pro abortion attorney’s fees requests for ten and twelve million dollars that they have spent to fight for the right to kill babies, and we have a hard time raising enough funds to pay a lawyer anything. I would like to find a way for those of us who want to do pro-life work to do it on more than just a part-time, pro bono basis. Down here in the valley we have a hundred churches; if each church would chip in a thousand dollars we could send off a lawyer and a secretary who could travel the whole of southern California. I don’t think Roe v. Wade will be overturned in my lifetime; therefore these little legal battles are going to make the difference. We are not getting very much sympathy with the courts. I had one case where a clinic employee said, “I am going to have you’re a– killed.” The judge dismissed the case saying that wasn’t strong enough language to rise to the level of assault or intentional infliction of emotional distress because anti-abortion protestors needed to have thicker skin. If you put the shoe on the other foot my client would be in jail for twenty years for attempted murder. That’s worth fighting against. We have to take whatever victories we can get.