This year LLDF is celebrating its twentieth year of operations on behalf of the right to life. It is bittersweet to reminisce about events that led to two decades of the pursuit of the sanctity of human life. One the one hand, it saddens LLDF Founders and other LLDF Principals that the need for LLDF still exists; on the other hand we are honored to have had the privilege to serve so many who have needed our services over the past twenty years.
I’ve worked with LLDF since 1997 and relatively speaking, I am still the “new kid on the block.” For those of you newer to LLDF than myself, let me name names among long-time LLDF staff and board members—Mary Riley, our administrative director, and Katie Short, our legal director, both of whom were part of founding LLDF, as were their families.
John Streett, the Chairman of LLDF’s Board of Directors, and his wife Mimi, also were key to founding LLDF. It is the sacrifice of these individuals’ time and talents that have kept LLDF flourishing over the years. Each of these individuals still holds the position originally accepted, with the exception of Mimi Streett. She was LLDF’s first Executive Director and even though she no longer serves in that capacity she continues to be a key part of LLDF. Although LLDF wasn’t established until 1989, the need for such an organization became apparent about 1987, which was the point in time when Operation Rescue, then an activist organization whose members engaged in acts of civil disobedience on quite a large scale, needed legal assistance. The sheer numbers of arrests obviated the need for competent and dedicated attorneys who could represent members of Operation Rescue. It was in that context that the mission of LLDF was conceived—to give innocent and helpless human beings of any age, and particularly to the unborn, a trained and committed defense against threat of death, and to support their advocates in the courtrooms of our nation. (1)
Former board member Steve Lopez anticipated the need for an organization like LLDF because initially he was responsible for enlisting the services of a number of attorneys, either directly or through others, in order to handle the resulting caseload. These attorneys merit an honorable mention: Daniel Grimm, Michael Imfeld, Richard Murphy, John Streett, Joseph Tomsic, Judith Tomsic, Mary Wynne, Cyrus Zal, Andy Zepeda, and Rich Katerndahl, all of whom were experienced with pro-life activism of their own. When the demand for attorney recruitment became a full-time job, Mary Riley, then Mary Maxson, was recruited to coordinate attorney networking full-time.
It was Mary’s father, Ron Maxson, along with Steve Lopez, who had the vision that led to the formal establishment of the organization now known as Life Legal Defense Foundation.
LLDF was officially incorporated in 1989. It was in 1997, after 8 years of the IRS refusing LLDF tax-exempt status, that I was hired as Executive Director. My first task was to complete the process to obtain LLDF’s 501(c)(3) status. What immediately was impressive about LLDF was that despite what many of us considered to be harassment by the most powerful governmental organization in existence, the LLDF Board of Directors, staff and volunteers were unwavering in their mission. Even though LLDF faced a giant in the IRS, they were unwavering in their service to those in need of legal assistance. Everyone at LLDF understood that their work translated into lives saved because advocates for the unborn were still able to speak on behalf of the unborn with assurance that if they needed legal help it was there for the asking.
Now, after twenty years, the assurance that abortion opponents are able to speak their beliefs without being intimidated by the legal process continues to be a considerable source of motivation for LLDF staff. Many of these cases are considered legally insignificant because legal precedent will not be set by litigating them. Even so, LLDF staff and volunteers keep their focus on the mission. Although virtually no one else is willing to litigate these types of cases, LLDF does because a person whose liberty and/or civil rights are threatened does not have in mind the precedent-setting nature of their case. What they do have in mind is the lives lost to abortion because they cannot advocate for the unborn. It is that precise reason that LLDF continues to work to see that every pro-life individual who needs a legal defense will get one.
LLDF has evolved to include in its mission the legal defense of all innocent life, from conception to natural death. It would be remiss not to remember individuals like Robert Wendland and Terri Schindler Schiavo, casualties of our death culture. It was Robert’s case that initially prompted LLDF to include in its mission cases where individuals’ deaths were being hastened by removal of life-sustaining treatment. While LLDF was privileged to help fund the Wendland and Schiavo cases rather than to litigate them, since Wendland, LLDF has been involved in both litigating and funding many other similar cases with life-saving results.
At any one time, the organization’s average caseload of twenty or more cases includes life-related cases that challenge unconstitutional laws, protect the sick and disabled from euthanasia and ill-treatment, protect sidewalk counselors from harassment, preserve free-speech access at government schools and college campuses, protect pregnancy care centers, fight oppressive lawsuits, and prevent unlawful arrests. LLDF has also been involved with trying to stop state-funded human embryonic stem cell and cloning research. (2)
Over the years, 4,097 attorneys, from all 50 states, Australia, Canada, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Colombia have joined LLDF efforts, which represent millions of dollars in donated attorney hours. While attorney-donated hours continue to be key to LLDF’s mission, LLDF reached a milestone this year when they were able to hire staff attorney Allison Aranda to handle criminal cases. No matter who is working on behalf of LLDF, these cases are taken from the trial court all the way through the appeal process, if necessary. LLDF attorneys are unrelenting in their defense of the right to life. It is those who continue to support us who have made this all possible.
On behalf of our Board of Directors, staff and volunteers, we thank you for your trust and confidence in LLDF. It is LLDF’s partnership with you that is reason to celebrate. We look forward to the day when LLDF can celebrate because our organization is no longer needed.
1. Operation Rescue members were convinced that their duty as Christians was to peacefully, prayerfully, and non-violently intervene between those who would abort their unborn children and the abortionist’s knife. Despite unjust and harsh treatment, in direct contradiction to established law, and despite media assertions to the contrary, there was not a single documented instance of a rescuer committing a violent act of any kind toward a police officer or a pro-abortion protestor.
2. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer was the method used to clone Dolly the Sheep and this methodology is funded pursuant to Proposition 71, which created California’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
[The editor wishes to acknowledge Steve Lopez for his contribution in documenting the chronology of events described herein.—ed.]