Ask the Attorney: An Interview with Steven Lopez

Steve, could you describe your education and non-pro bono work?

I have an undergraduate degree in accounting and finance and an MBA in general management from the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business. I also have a law degree from Stanford University Law School. While in law school I decided, to the extent that I practiced law, I would focus on the building side of law rather than the purely adversarial side of law. As a result, since graduating from law school I have practiced as a transactional lawyer working in the areas of corporate law, estate planning, and asset protection planning. My corporate legal work has been primarily with start-up and emerging companies, which has led me recently to set up a venture capital fund dealing with information technology, biotech, communications, and energy companies. Fortunately, we had no dotcom investments! In addition, I have developed a parallel business in management consulting and strategic planning, helping organizations to define their mission, purpose, goals, and objectives. I use a proprietary system based upon a combination of Jacques Maritain’s Three Degrees of Knowledge, Thomism, and Pope John Paul II’s Christian Personalism. The system has been very successful for those organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, that seek to truly recognize, integrate, and utilize the full capacities and innate dignity of the human person. LLDF and a number of pro-life groups have been beneficiaries of this system.

How did you become involved in pro-life work?

Well, that is an interesting story. I have always been pro-life, but like with many people, it was an abstraction for me. I had never really considered that abortion is an abhorrent act of violence that kills a living innocent and totally helpless human being. Nor had I considered what that meant in a truly concrete way, such as we see from Holocaust pictures for example. In my second year of law school, a good friend, Anthony McCarthy, who was studying for his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford, kept asking me to go along with him to pray the Rosary in front of an abortion mill in San Jose. I always seemed to have something better to do, and couldn’t imagine myself praying with others in front of some building, but finally his friendship and his persistence paid off. I agreed to accompany him one Saturday morning while they were doing abortions. When I first arrived I felt very out of place. After 40 minutes or so it dawned on me in a very graphic way what was happening inside to the steady stream of young (and usually quite upset) women who were entering the abortion mill. At that moment I realized that this was going on in countless other towns and cities all across America and the world. It was almost surreal. I couldn’t believe that this could really be happening in a so-called civilized society. It was no longer an abstraction for me. I have never been the same since and as a result have dedicated myself and my efforts to the elimination of even the possibility of abortion from the laws of our country.

What was your role in the founding and the on-going work of LLDF?

The origin of LLDF is inseparably linked to Operation Rescue West Coast and the rescue movement that began in 1988. I was the San Francisco Bay Area Director of Operation Rescue at the time.

Another close friend, Ron Maxson, had recruited me, describing to me the concept of Rescue, non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of the civil rights movement, putting your body between the abortionist and the unborn child to stop the killing. With an incredible group of pro-lifers from the San Francisco Bay Area, over about a two-year time period, we planned and conducted about 12 large and small rescues.

As an aside, from the perspective of growing up in a conservative law-abiding family, I was extremely surprised to learn through firsthand experience that police brutality is very real. And, where the news media is concerned, out of thousands of arrests of rescuers, not one incident of assault or violence by a Rescuer was recorded, but the news media continually characterized the Rescue movement as violent.

In the beginning prior to the first rescue, I immediately understood that the legal requirements associated with the rescues would be substantial. And, in the preplanning and post-planning process for these rescues, many involving up to 300–400 people at a time, the O.R. leadership realized that there was a critical need for a coordinated legal effort, both to deal with the municipalities and to shepherd through the legal system with minimal consequences the rescuers who were arrested for trespass and illegal assembly.

We had a dedicated group of attorneys who assisted us. I will never forget asking Dan [Grimm] if he would be willing to represent O.R. and the rescuers. His immediate response was, “You can count on me 100% to do whatever is needed.” Dan was the first attorney recruited and he brought many of his pro-life attorney friends with him, one of them being Katie Short who is the very accomplished LLDF Legal Director to this day.

The founders of LLDF, in addition to myself, are really Ron Maxson and Mimi Streett. Ron, as part of the O.R. West Coast leadership, understood the need for a coordinated legal effort which would require a separate legal organization. Mimi was the first person he and I turned to, asking her to exercise her considerable energy and organizational skills. She coined the name “Life Legal Defense Foundation” and literally set up the beginnings of what we now know as LLDF. Mimi’s husband, John Streett, remains the Chairman of the Board of Life Legal.

I was the full-time and unpaid Executive Director of Life Legal for the first three years of its existence, setting up policies and procedures and recruiting talented people like Kelly Connelly, Rose Grimm, Mary Riley, and Anne Starr. I was responsible for such things as the format of Lifeline and, through my strategic planning process, the decisions to focus solely on life issues and to be a line of defense for any pro-lifer who is brought into the legal system, no matter how small the case. Once I felt the organization was established on a strong foundation, I pulled back in order to involve others in its mission and so that I could work more strategically. I continue to serve on the board in this capacity.

What do you see as LLDF’s contributions to the pro-life movement? How do you think it has changed over the years, and how do you see its future?

LLDF has gone way beyond its Operation Rescue origins to become truly a full-service pro-life legal organization, serving sidewalk counselors, prayers, and demonstrators, crisis pregnancy centers, those who exhibit graphic abortion pictures, post-abortive victims, both women and men, members of the medical profession, end of life situations, wrongful termination, pro-life free-speech issues in the workplace and on campus, and much more. LLDF exists as a line of defense for any pro-lifer who is brought into the legal system as a direct result of expressing pro-life views and/or carrying out pro-life actions. There are other legal organizations that assist in the pro-life area, but none as focused on beginning and end of life issues as Life Legal. Very early on we felt that other non-profit legal organizations were better suited to handle religious liberty cases for example. Our area was, and is, abortion and euthanasia, and in the future is expected to involve issues associated with embryo harvesting, destruction, and cloning. I think that without Life Legal, or an organization like Life Legal, our culture, our society, within the State of California, nationally, and internationally, would be an even darker place than it currently is. So long as LLDF is viable, pro-lifers can act according to their consciences knowing that, if needed, they will have a strong, trained, experienced defense that will not back down under any circumstance. It is my fervent hope that Life Legal will no longer be needed within the next generation or less.

Life Legal is just beginning to become more pro-active, not only defensive, seeking out funding, pro-life legal projects, and cases that can actually turn the tide of and challenge the pro-abortion laws of our nation. Imagine if every pro-life litigation attorney, backed up by a pro-life research transactional attorney, would make the decision to take on a minimum of one pro-life case per year, where LLDF assists with research, court costs, coordination, etc., a sort of pro-life ACLU if you will.

Overnight the pro-death forces would be put off balance and probably would never recover. But it would require that many pro-life attorneys no longer see just the abstraction and that they be willing to give of themselves and to act as they believe in defense of the innocent and helpless.