With Legal Firm, Pioneer Institute Aims To Fill Void In New England

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/03/01/with-legal-firm-pioneer-institute-aims-to-fill-void-in-new-england/

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

The Pioneer Institute, a public policy think tank known for its research and advocacy on issues like school choice, is launching a nonprofit law firm to be called PioneerLegal that will give the organization a new set of tools to further its mission.

Pioneer Institute executive director Jim Stergios described the new endeavor as the “first public interest law initiative of its kind in New England” that will allow Pioneer to move beyond its research activities and status as an “amicus briefing machine.”

“We wanted to take it up a level,” Stergios told State Hiuse News Service in an interview ahead of PioneerLegal’s launch Tuesday, March 1.

“I think it’s driven by a number of things but the principal one is the political discourse has gotten so ideological on both sides it’s hard to have a fact-driven conversation these days to do things Pioneer cares about,” Stergios said.

Stergios said PioneerLegal’s early work will focus on expanding educational opportunities, fighting for access to public information, and “protecting economic liberties, so if you want to open your own business or chart your own path you can do it without undue restrictions.”

While the formation of PioneerLegal will not be accompanied by an announcement of any major litigation to start, Stergios said the firm is active in the discovery phase on a number of issues related to special education, public information access, and economic growth in Massachusetts. He declined to be more specific.

“It’s going to be in those three areas we’re going to play hard for awhile,” Stergios said.

The effort will be led by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Frank Bailey, who upon his retirement from the federal bench on June 1 will become the first president of PioneerLegal. Its board of directors will be chaired by Pioneer Institute board member Brackett Denniston, senior counsel at Goodwin Procter who has worked as general counsel at the General Electric Company and as chief legal counsel for former Governor William Weld.

In a statement, Denniston said the goal is to create a “robust community of professionals committed to leveraging the law to advance equal opportunity and responsive, responsible government.” He added, “We will push back on government entities when they unreasonably limit the right of individuals to grow businesses and jobs in the New England region.”

The Pioneer Institute refers to itself as a “free-market think tank” and has become known in recent years for using its research to advocate for charter school expansion and against the proposed surtax on income above $1 million, which will be on the ballot in November 2022. It has also become involved in a number of legal cases around the country, including a 2015 school choice case in Montana argued before the Supreme Court, the landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME on the ability of unions to collect dues from non-members, and Anderson v. Healey, which knocked the “millionaires tax” off the Massachusetts ballot in 2018.

As an extension of the Pioneer Institute, the new law firm PioneerLegal will be involved in legal research, filing amicus briefs in ongoing litigation, and even pursuing its own litigation when warranted, Stergios said. The law firm will also offer educational programming.

Bailey announced earlier this month that he would retire from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in June, more than 13 years after he first joined the bench in 2009. Prior to his years as a judge, Bailey worked 22 years as a partner at Sherin and Lodgen where he was chairman of the litigation department.

A graduate of Georgetown University and Suffolk University Law School, Bailey has served on the American Bar Association Board of Governors and testified on issues, including diversity in the judiciary, before Congress.

Bailey will be supported in his role as president by a board of directors chaired by Denniston and including Jonathan Albano, of MorganLewis; former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy, who now practices at McDermott Will & Emery; R. Scott Henderson, from Bank of America; Frank Jimenez from GE Healthcare; Mark Matuschak, of WilmerHale; Lisa Rickard, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Elke Trilla of Sullivan & Worcester; and Stan Twardy from Day Pitney.

Stergios said PioneerLegal’s work will not be limited to Massachusetts, and the firm could get involved in policy debates in other New England states.

“The judiciary still cares about fact and precedent and it’s a good place for us to play more energetically on policy issues,” Stergios said.

PioneerLegal will start with a small staff of about three attorneys, as well as several fellowship and intern positions for which Pioneer has already begun recruiting. Stergios said he expects the firm to have an initial budget of about $500,000, and will seek out pro bono or other discounted legal services from firms and lawyers who have worked with Pioneer in the past, as necessary.

“We’re quite confident on the talent side we’ll have everything we need,” Stergios said.


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