November 8, 2021
The Goldwater Institute founded the American Freedom Network (AFN), our network of pro bono attorneys across America, in 2017. Now, in less than five years, we’ve reached an amazing milestone: Our AFN attorneys have now worked on 100 cases and projects defending individual rights and expanding liberty around the country.
Here are just a few of the AFN projects that have helped Americans live freer, happier lives:
- In 2015, Massachusetts police officers took grandmother Malinda Harris’ car from her home, because they claimed her son had used the car in the commission of a crime. Malinda had no knowledge of such activity, yet the government held her car for more than half a decade before even filing the necessary paperwork to legalize the confiscation under the legal procedure known as civil forfeiture. That’s the mechanism that allows government to charge property with a crime—and take it and profit from it—without ever proving the owner guilty. AFN attorney Will Wray, of Allen & Overy LLP, joined forces with the Goldwater Institute in to defend Malinda’s property rights and secured the return of her vehicle earlier this year.
- Great gains were made for free speech this summer when the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Louisiana attorneys’ right to not be forced to associate with a private, mandatory bar association that advocates for issues with which they may disagree. That case came as part of our larger project against unconstitutional mandatory bar associations. A similar lawsuit brought by Goldwater attorneys and AFN members Anthony Dick, of Jones Day, and Charles Rogers, was allowed to proceed in the Tenth Circuit just months ago, and in the Ninth Circuit, our challenge to the Oregon State Bar’s mandatory membership continues, with help from AFN attorney Luke Miller.
- Arizona State University journalism student Rae’Lee Klein was removed from her post as student radio station manager and harassed by college staff and students, after she shared a factual news article on the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin in 2020. But AFN attorney Jack Wilenchik of Phoenix law firm Wilenchik & Bartness secured a victory protecting Rae’Lee’s right to free speech: The university settled the case, compensated Klein for lost wages, and publicly acknowledged its error in punishing Rae’Lee.
- Ross Township, Michigan, tried to shut down two families’ lake home rentals—falsely accusing them of violating the state’s law on short-term rentals. AFN attorney Nick Curcio stepped in and represented to defend the Credit and Lang families’ property rights—and won. As a result, these families will be able to continue their decades-long tradition of spending time with family at the lake and maintain the short-term rentals that bring in the income needed to maintain the homes for generations to come.
- The Goldwater Institute and AFN attorney Joseph Van De Bogart achieved victory on behalf of two Florida students whose First Amendment rights were violated: In September 2020, high school student Tyler Maxwell droved to school with a pro-Donald Trump sign painted on an elephant statue in his truck bed. His parking permit was revoked by the high school administration, which claimed that the sign violated school policies—except that the school allowed other vehicles in the parking to display political bumper stickers, and allowed students to wear political T-shirts. Goldwater and AFN successfully defended Tyler’s speech rights in court.
- And a few years before, we defended University of Central Florida student Donald De La Haye, whose football scholarship was revoked because he refused to take down his successful YouTube channel, which provided him a much-needed income. The university and the NCAA claimed he was not allowed to profit from or even share publicly about his experiences as a football player for UCF. Donald took a stand, won, and paved the way for legislative changes to protect college athletes’ free speech rights on college campuses around the country.
- Earlier this year, Fairfax County, Virginia, mom Debra Tisler made a public records request seeking information about her district’s school spending. After the board supplied 1,300 pages of documents, Debra shared them with fellow mom Callie Oettinger, who redacted them and posted some of them on her website. That’s when the school board—discovering how embarrassing some of those documents were—sued Callie and Debra, demanding that they take down the website and destroy the documents. That’s a direct violation of the First Amendment, and Goldwater is defending the moms’ constitutional rights in state court today, with assistance from AFN attorney Ketan Bhirud of Troutman Pepper.
- Rhode Island mother Nicole Solas sent a simple FOIA request to her local school district, asking what her kindergarten daughter’s curriculum would contain. After months of district stonewalling, the Goldwater Institute intervened on Nicole’s behalf to compel document production, with help from AFN attorney Giovanni Cicione of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights. Shortly after, the nation’s largest teacher union—the National Education Association—sued Nicole for daring to follow the laws that entitle her to information about what happens in her child’s classroom. When we filed a motion to dismiss that case, the NEA withdrew its spurious emergency motion—but the case still continues.
Thanks to all the AFN attorneys mentioned here and the many more who have contributed their time and efforts over the past four years. If you are an attorney who is interested in being involved in meaningful pro bono work, please visit this page to learn more about working with us.