Ask the Attorney: Jim Rouse

What’s your current project for Life Legal Defense Foundation?
It is the Mason case. I am representing the pro-life position in a lawsuit against the Auraria campus, a three-college system in the Denver metro area. The campus is on the west side of downtown Denver, an urban campus that gets all kinds of public use. People use the school parking lots for Bronco games, walk through campus to catch the light rail, walk across campus on their way to buy a deli sandwich. It’s open to everybody—except pro-life protesters.

Our client, a member of the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, applied to the college for permission to hand out flyers in a high foot traffic area. The college normally permits free speech activity in the flagpole area, a common area with broad sidewalks and broad grassy areas on all sides. Students can use this flagpole area for any free speech purposes. Off-campus groups, like my client’s group, can also use the area. Some groups do not ask for permission and simply use the space but my client’s group did ask. They were granted permission, but instead of being allowed near the flagpole, where foot traffic is heavy, the Survivors were assigned to a stairway area at least 150 feet away from the flagpole. This stairway area had previously been designated by the college as a place for problematic free speech; they had had some problems with another unrelated group of pro-life demonstrators, tarred Mr. Mason’s group with the same brush because of his pro-life viewpoint, and permitted them to be active only in this low foot traffic area. They were told they could not go on the sidewalks.

The result was that the only people they could approach were those who had to use the steps. The effect was that they were ignored because so few people did use the steps. Meanwhile, a group seeking to free Tibet was at the flagpole.

Are there frustrations involved in working on a case like this?
It is frustrating because a double standard is being applied to the speakers. The pro-life group gets stuck over on the steps and groups for reproductive rights, or whatever else, get the flagpole area.

How did you get involved in this case?
Life Legal Defense Foundation was asked by Mr. Mason to represent him. The Life Legal office called me.

How many hours have you given to the case?
Lots. Roughly 350 hours.

Did you realize you had given so much time?
Well, we plan on winning and having the government pay us.

The case is not decided—but has it had any effects yet?
After my client’s experience, another non-student group came to campus to put on a pro-life demonstration. An anti-abortion group from Kansas stayed three days, used 20-foot signs and did generate disruption, including yelling, and darned if the attorney for the school didn’t advise the college that those people had a First Amendment right. It was an outside group with the same message (as the Mason case). Maybe the Attorney General’s office will realize that they ought to just settle the Mason case. Frankly, the Mason lawsuit has had an effect. How do you see this case proceeding? We have a long, tough fight ahead of us but my opinion is that eventually our side will prevail. I have this optimistic attitude that right eventually prevails.

Why do you do take a certain number of cases without compensation?
I have a real love for defending the constitutional rights of Christian groups and individuals.

What inspires you to do this kind of work?
Faith got me started in the first place. As cases involving Christians came up, I was continually looking at the courts and seeing that in some cases, nobody was showing up to represent the Christian point of view. I have done some work for the Rutherford Institute, the Alliance Defense Fund and other Christian organizations. In addition to the Mason case for Life Legal, we also currently are representing a single adoptive mother who has left the lesbian lifestyle and is trying to raise her young daughter as a Christian without the involvement of her former partner, who did not adopt and is not related to the child.

Do you encourage other attorneys to do pro bono work in the pro-life area of the law?
Yes, with one caveat. It takes more than a desire to do it. It takes commitment and sacrifice. The cases have to be done right. You have to be willing to get the education and training that will allow you to defend or prosecute the case. You must treat it like any other case—like any paying case—and that can be a sacrifice.

[Mr. Rouse has been practicing law since 1978. His law firm focuses on commercial law, real estate and domestic relations plus some work on corporate law, wills and trusts for clients. He is experienced at general trial law as well as appeals at the state and federal court levels. Mr. Rouse has a law degree from the University of Oklahoma and a degree in geologic engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He and his wife are the parents of three grown children and the owners of four dogs “who are still at home and show no sign of leaving.” He is an avid hiker and mountain climber.]