Longtime American Association for Justice Board member and former President of the Washington State Association for Justice Leonard Schroeter—a man of great vision who was a crusader for his clients and a lifelong advocate for constitutional rights—died April 28, 2014.
Leonard’s roots in the law and his quest for equality and justice formed early. By the 1940s, when he was in the Army and stationed in South Carolina, he was organizing groups of Caucasians to sit in the back of buses. He was arrested for his civil rights work, but persisted, protesting at lunch counters, and helping to found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
His extraordinary legal career began after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1951. Leonard prepared the school segregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, then headed by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Leonard joined the American Association for Justice in the early 1970s after his return from Israel, where he had served as principal legal assistant to the Attorney General of Israel. One of his assignments was representing underground writers and human rights advocates in the former Soviet Union.
As a member of AAJ, Leonard led with purpose and vision. Not only was Leonard a long-standing Board member, but he also served on a number of committees, including Amicus Curiae Committee; Legal Affairs Committee; Section on Toxic, Environmental & Pharmaceutical Torts (Chair); and Civil Rights Committee (Chair).
More than 30 years ago when the anti-civil justice group called the Manhattan Institute was founded, Leonard proposed that AAJ start a “Brooklyn Institute” to develop research in support of the civil justice system. His ideas for a plaintiff-oriented think tank led to the transformation of the Roscoe Pound Foundation, such that it started doing substantive research and tackling topics at its Annual Judges Forum which drew crowds.
Leonard was a leading voice prompting AAJ to develop a constitutional challenge program to combat tort “reform.” That program was AAJ’s Legal Affairs department, which grew and eventually became what is now the Center for Constitutional Litigation (CCL).
For his work as a fighter for access to justice and the American jury system, Leonard received many awards throughout his career, including in 1994, AAJ’s Harry M. Philo Award. Other awards include Trial Lawyer of the Year, Washington State Association for Justice; President’s Public Interest Award, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (which he helped found); and Public Justice Achievement Award, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
Lawyers like Leonard Schroeter are rare. We are honored and lucky to have benefitted from his leadership and his perseverance in fighting for the rights of individuals and families across this nation. He will be remembered and missed by so many.