Through Justice in Action, our litigation program, the Civil Liberties Defense Center provides free legal representation or referrals to frontline environmental & social justice activists.

Through Justice in Action, our litigation program, the Civil Liberties Defense Center provides free legal representation or referrals to frontline environmental & social justice activists.

Activist Defense

The CLDC represents activists that, in the course of fighting for a better world, are arrested and criminally charged. We believe their courage deserves the best possible defense that can incorporate the political, social, and philosophical motivations of these activists. Because we believe that many of these activists are acting out of necessity, we do not charge fees for the privilege of representing these activists.

Civil Cases

The CLDC engages in civil litigation to hold the powerful accountable and to protect the rights of activists and marginalized communities. Our civil litigation is aimed at holding governments, corporations, and the powerful accountable when they violate the constitutional rights of others. The civil practice of the CLDC is shaped and driven by a desire to create a lasting impact. We generally take cases that have the potential to change or reinterpret unfavorable laws and policies.

Valve Turners

Valve TurnersOn October 11, 2016, five brave climate activists closed valves on the 5 pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States from Canada.

This direct action shut down 15% of US crude oil imports for nearly a day – a display of the sorts of shifts that are necessary to avoid complete climate collapse. The five valve-turners filmed their actions and are standing by them, saying that they are not only necessary, but morally and legally justified to avoid the catastrophic harm caused to humanity by unprecedented climactic disruption.

Standing Rock

noDAPL Protest March For more than 6 months we provided on the ground legal support at Standing Rock while the camp was up.  Since then we have provided free legal representation to many water protectors who were charged with felonies.

We continue the fight in court by representing water protectors in several civil cases.

Fricano v. Lane County, et. al.

The CLDC filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Angelo J. Fricano against Lane County, Corizon Health, Inc., and one individual for violating Mr. Fricano’s right to receive adequate medical and mental health care while incarcerated at the Lane County Adult Corrections Center. Mr. Fricano was arrested and jailed in the midst of a severe psychosis. He had no history of mental health issues. Mr. Fricano was held for 16 days in solitary confinement and the charges related to his arrest were ultimately dismissed. The lawsuit suit centers around the apparent unconstitutional policies, practices, and procedures of the County and Corizon that prevented Mr. Fricano from receiving adequate treatment. The case illustrates the perverse incentives for corporations like Corizon to cut costs and services in pursuit of profit. We hope Lane County and other municipalities will hesitate before inviting private corporations to perform a task that is properly reserved to an entity without a profit motive. Read more about that case here.



SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” SLAPP suits typically charge the defendant-activist or organization with defamation or some other form of tortious misconduct, framing the lawsuit as legitimate when the actual goal is to intimidate and silence activists and target the right to free speech.

CLDC is a national expert in defending activists and their campaigns from the threat of unconstitutional SLAPP suits. CLDC has a large brief bank and legal resources available for lawyers. If you are an attorney representing environmental or social change activists, please contact us. Read about our current SLAPP suits here.

Activist Defense

  • Represented over 2,500 environmental, animal and social justice activists.
  • Member of the Water Protector Legal Collective. We are one of the firms of record in the suit against North Dakota police for their countless acts of brutality against water protectors at Standing Rock. We are also involved in representing several water protectors facing criminal charges for their role in resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Coordinated legal defense team representing the 52 individuals arrested in Anacortes, WA for their part in the “BreakFree from Fossil Fuels” protest
  • Defended “valve-turner” Ken Ward for his part in the “Shut it Down” actions targeting tar-sands oil production and transportation
  • Coordinated the successful defense of Shell No! Activists, who used civil disobedience to challenge Shell’s Arctic oil refinery operations, against a military tribunal — winning 4 of 5 cases outright and settling the fifth
  • Since 2010, successfully defended six citizen journalists facing empty charges for observing government conduct in public, including one where all charges were dropped against an individual who filmed a roundup of wild buffalo outside Yellowstone National Park
  • Successfully represented local activist Perry Patterson, a mother of two draft-age sons, who was arrested for shouting “No!” at a Cheney rally after the Vice–President stated that an escalation of the war in Iraq was necessary

Civil Rights Litigation

  • Successfully aided the Winnemem Wintu tribe in gaining back their right to perform a traditional coming of age ceremony in peace, and continued to provide legal support for the tribe’s fight for sacred spaces and water rights
  • Won a major precedent-setting victory in civil courts, upholding the rights of Occupy Eugene activists to assemble on federal property for the purpose of peaceful protest
  • Assisted Tar Sands Blockade activists in obtaining documents exposing the FBI’s close relationship with Transcanada (the corporation responsible for the Keystone Pipeline), in using government spies to infiltrate and subsequently undermine the activist organization
  • Won a civil rights lawsuit against the Eugene Police Department for their use of excessive force against an environmental activist who attempted to lawfully film an officer during a confrontation
  • Fought against the Green Scare — the government’s unconstitutional attack on environmental and animal rights activists — by conducting research, participating in public outreach and education, and assisting with the legal defense of non-cooperating defendants; CLDC also provided attorney referrals for various individuals and assisted their attorneys with various legal issues
  • Secured the right of Oregon prisoners to practice the Rastafarian religion by allowing them to wear dreadlocks while incarcerated
  • Represented a Portland–area Mosque in a successful block of the FBI’s first–ever attempt to subpoena religious records
  • Won a major victory in the Oregon Court of Appeals by defending the constitutional right to protest, arguing that a state law was unconstitutional under the federal constitution; Court struck down the “Interfering with Agricultural Operations” statute in its entirety and then exonerated over sixty forest activists that the CLDC represented in the courts!
  • Successfully settled a case against the Klamath County (OR) Jail demanding better policy, as well as obtaining a fair settlement for the family of a Native American man murdered while in custody