Friday, November 02, 2007

What’s a private attorney general?

I didn’t know a person could be a private attorney general until I read W. R. Chambers’ comment on the thread of In Time, The Feds Will Come To Durham :

In the context of civil matters, there are some instances where the law recognizes the right of "private attorneys general" to play a role similar to that of an attorney general.

Does anyone know if the lawyers for the plaintiffs could act as private attorneys general?
Chambers' comment sent me to this Wikipedia entry where I read:
A private attorney general is a private party in the United States who brings a lawsuit that is considered to be in the public interest, i.e. benefiting the general public and not just the plaintiff.

The private attorney general is entitled to recover attorney's fees if he or she prevails. The purpose of this principle is to provide extra incentive to private citizens to pursue suits that may be of benefit to society at large.
That’s followed by a section titled:
Examples of application
Here’s the section’s first sentence:
Most civil rights statutes rely on private attorneys general for their enforcement.
Right now all I can say is “ always be cautious using a Wikipedia entry” and “thank you” W. R. Chambers.

I’m sure some of you can say more.


Jack said...

Regarding your reference the other day, I can only hope that you are right and I am wrong.

By the way, I've often wondered: how much worse could it be if, overnight, all our elected officials were replaced by a random selection from the phone book?

Anonymous said...


There is an old saying that "when you go to kill the King, you better kill the King."

The Duke three were left for dead. Barely a flicker of hope. Deserted by those who were supposed to protect. Dealing with what surely was a madman.

And then, fate took a hand. Or perhaps God, in some delicious manner, decided to even the odds a bit. A once in a lifetime chance discovery occurs. A miracle? Who's to say?

And now, from somewhere deep in the darkness of the Internet, a poster describes a Private Attorney General. A term that 99.999% have never heard before.

The mere thought of a private attorney by-passing the state and the federal officers sends shivers up my spine. It would be a wonderful and fearful thing. A Private Attorney General.........I like the sound of it. I wonder if his name will be Gabriel.

Perhaps it was all meant to be this way.


Anonymous said...

Joseph B. Cheshire V. for Private Attoney General.

My vote.

mac said...

Is "private attorney general" anything like a "private dancer?" If that's the case, CGM could be put her...uh, hat...into the ring. Just kidding.

I second 11:31's nomination, but add Brad Bannon to the list: every Woodward needs a Bernstein.

W. R. Chambers said...

Much of the lawsuit against Durham et al is based on 42 USC 1983. I have not been able to find any 1983 cases in which the Private Attorney General Doctrine was employed. The reason may be that plaintiffs who prevail in a 1983 action are entitled to attorney's fees. Please note I have no experience with the Private Attorney General doctrine and no meaningful experience with cases brought under 42 USC 1983. So this post is very much in the "for what it's worth category."

Here is an explanation of that doctrine from a Stanford Law Review article entitled
"Disarming The Private Attorney General," by Pamala Karlan

The idea behind the “private attorney general” can be stated relatively simply: Congress can vindicate important public policy goals by empowering private individuals to bring suit. While one can imagine a regime
in which Congress simply delegates the government’s own right to enforce its laws to private bounty hunters—that is essentially what qui tam lawsuits envision19—the current reliance on private attorneys general is more modest.
It consists essentially of providing a cause of action for individuals who have been injured by the conduct Congress wishes to proscribe, usually with the additional incentive of attorney’s fees for a prevailing plaintiff.
Virtually all modern civil rights statutes rely heavily on private attorneys general. As the Court explained in Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises20— one of the earliest cases construing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids various kinds of discrimination in public accommodations, federally funded programs, and employment—Congress recognized that it could not achieve compliance solely through lawsuits initiated by the Attorney
General: “A [public acommodations] suit is thus private in form
only. When a plaintiff brings an action . . . he cannot recover damages. If he obtains an injunction, he does so not for himself alone but also as a ‘private attorney general,’ vindicating a policy that Congress considered of the highest priority.”21 Thus, Piggie Park recognized the piggybacking function of the Act: Congress harnessed private plaintiffs to pursue a broader purpose of obtaining equal treatment for the public at large. Later, the Court explained that this public function exists even when a civil rights plaintiff asks for compensatory damages rather than injunctive relief. “Unlike most private tort litigants,” the civil rights plaintiff “seeks to indicate
important civil and constitutional rights that cannot be valued solely
in monetary terms . . . . Regardless of the form of relief he actually obtains, a successful civil rights plaintiff often secures important social benefits.”
22 Thus, when “his day in court is denied him,” the congressional policy which a civil rights plaintiff “seeks to assert and vindicate goes unvindicated; and the entire Nation, not just the individual citizen, suffers.

(citations omitted)

Anonymous said...

I would also like to address the DOJ who I know for a fact watches this site and DIW. What are you waiting for? I have proof you have been watching for months, and DEMAND that you come out of the closet and intervene on behalf of mine, and countless other families who have yet to have our cases and voices heard!

We have waited long enough, If there is any serious journalist out here who wishes to hear what I have to say, PLEASE contact me ASAP, as I am through waiting, and am more than happy to squeal like a pig about the complete corruption, and dis-concern for JUSTICE!
Rhonda Fleming
Cleveland Ohio