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Law Office of

Peter Henner

(518) 423-7799

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Peter Henner
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                                                        LAW PRACTICE TO FIGHT FOR JUSTICE


On September 29, 2016, Peter Henner died.  He had been ill with metastatic melanoma since mid-June 2016.  Existing matters are being managed by his friend and colleague, Fred Altman, 518-690-2828.  This page describes, in his own words, the essence of his recent law practice and his recent concerns and goals.


I am a veteran environmental, labor and civil rights lawyer, with extensive litigation experience, who has handled both civil and criminal trials in state and federal court, and with substantive knowledge in the fields of energy regulation, environmental impact analysis, labor unions, law enforcement misconduct, and correctional facility administration. I have also written a book about international human rights law. I am seeking opportunities to use this experience to confront and oppose powerful and corrupt institutions, in either the public or private sector. I am not seeking to grow a law practice; I have been there and done that, and fortunately no longer need to make money practicing law.  I also do not feel a need to do legal work for its own sake; my practice is limited to matters that promote social justice and/or are of particular interest to me.

Today, I only do legal work that I believe has some social or political importance, addresses an issue that I find intriguing, or assists a long-time client or good friend. I also must believe that I have a reasonable chance of success; I have tilted at too many windmills in my career. I only want to use law to continue the struggle against corporate and governmental entities that are abusing their power and/or who are determined to seek greater profits at the expense of humanity. I also want to help individuals and groups that are working for social justice or are fighting for employee rights, civil rights and to preserve the environment. 


From August 1984 until June 1, 2012, I maintained a full-time 50+ hour a week solo law practice, dedicated to the representation of individuals and organizations fighting for social justice, particularly when my clients were wronged by the actions of large corporations or governmental entities.  My practice was a direct extension of my political and social activism in the late 1960s and I never forgot why I became a lawyer. I wanted to use law to fight for democratic principles and human rights, including worker rights, civil liberties and a clean and healthy environment, and to protect those rights from powerful and greedy forces. The focus and principal accomplishments of my practice can be found on the Overview page of this website.

However, I must admit that, for most of my career, I subscribed to the notion that a lawyer could never have too many clients or too much work.  Like most lawyers in private practice, I took satisfaction from the fact that I was getting paid well for legal work that was neither socially useful nor intellectually interesting. Those days are over. I am no longer seeking cases or projects that will generate billable hours doing boring or useless things, or where I am representing people, organizations or institutions that I do not like.

Upon turning 60, in July 2012, I wanted to make sure that I took the time to pursue other interests, including competitive chess, a variety of outdoor activities, and several writing and scholarly projects. But it was never and still is not, my intention to retire; I simply needed to make sure that I made the time to do things that were important to me since I no longer needed to practice law for economic reasons, and, as described below, was disillusioned and disgusted with the American legal system.  

Since I closed my full-time office, I have learned that it is not so easy to stop being a lawyer. I still want to actively participate in the fight for a just, environmentally sustainable and peaceful world. Activists continue to ask for my help, and my legal skills and experience are still the best contribution that I can make to the struggle for justice. Unless I am willing to withdraw from all community and political activity, I will always be a lawyer, and will look to participate in issues as a lawyer. When I am asked to participate in a political or social issue, I ask the kinds of questions a lawyer asks,  approach the issue as a legal problem, and occasionally respond by getting involved as a lawyer. I am still doing cases and getting involved in political and legal struggles, and will continue to do so. 


In September 2013, the Altamont Enterprise published my article “Goodbye to all that, why I stopped practicing law to do more useful things.” In the 2000 word article, I explained why the legal system had become sclerotic, dysfunctional and corrupt, and why I wanted nothing more to do with it.  I am still in awe of the complex structure of the common-law system, appreciate its historical and social context, and love the fascinating intellectual challenges in the legal analysis of problems. However, the reality of the practice of law in the United States in the 21st century has little to do with the fair adjudication of disputes, the rational development of legal principles, and certainly little to with the concept of "justice." Instead, law practice is dominated by politicized judges, the bullying tactics of self-important big law firms, cumbersome and expensive procedures that price most people out of the market for legal services, and an inability to resolve cases in real time.

I have lost respect for the “legal profession.”  However, I identify with the samurai in the Japanese movie “Hara-Kiri. ” The samurai completely exposes the hypocrisy of the warlords who dominate the martial order and enforce the samurai code, just as I hope to expose the hypocrisy and self-righteous smugness of the American legal system. Nevertheless, in the last scene of the movie, he demonstrates his adherence to that code. Similarly, I continue to follow all of the ethical and legal requirements set forth in the Code of Professional Responsibility, take pride in the fact that I have never been disciplined, sanctioned or cautioned for ethical misconduct since my admission to the bar in 1980, continue to judge moot court competitions, produce scholarly publications and make legal presentations. 

The American legal system is badly broken. However, there are many lawyers that attempt to fight for justice in countries whose legal systems are far worse. These lawyers may face personal risks that are inconceivable to an American lawyer. American lawyers, unlike lawyers in many countries, do not fear  arbitrary arrest, assault or even murder by governmental agents. I am keenly aware that courageous lawyers stand up for human rights in repressive countries like China, at the risk of being sent to reeducation camps. Women lawyers in Saudi Arabia attempt to use their legal system to defend and expand the very limited rights given to women, even though the lawyers risk arrest, and as women, are denied the most basic personal civil rights by their legal system.

Since lawyers in China, Saudi Arabia and other countries can try to work for justice in their legal systems, I should be able to do the same, without complaining about the failures of the American legal system, and I am attempting to do so. 


I am emphatically not seeking "opportunities to do pro bono work."  Pro bono clients are not necessarily any more deserving than paying clients, their causes are frequently unlikely to succeed, and the legal issues raised are no more interesting than the issues raised in paying work. The only difference between pro bono work and paid work is the payment. Like Woody Guthrie, "I do not sing for bad causes"  and I expect to be paid when I work for good ones. 

Large "biglaw" firms that customarily represent powerful corporations perhaps derive some public relations benefit by doing "pro bono" work, but public interest lawyers simply get a reputation for being a soft touch. I usually represent plaintiffs suing large organizations, community and environmental organizations and individuals of limited means. My paying clients would have a legitimate complaint if I represented similar clients for free. Furthermore, too many pro bono clients, including community and environmental organizations, can and should do their own fund-raising, rather than look for a free lawyer. I have also learned that pro bono services are not always appreciated by clients, sometimes because the clients are not paying for them, and sometimes because the clients think that their pro bono lawyer is not as good as a paid lawyer. 

When I maintained a full-time practice, I did not distinguish between paying and pro bono clients, and will not do so today. My fee arrangements with my clients are private matters, and I will not stigmatize a client by referring to him or her as a "pro bono client."  The New York State Office of Court Administration requires lawyers to disclose the number of hours that a lawyer devotes to pro bono work on their bi-annual registration statements, with the apparent goal of encouraging lawyers to do pro bono work. I answer "zero."  I will not accept nor do I expect any recognition for pro bono work. I believe that the bar association's touting of pro bono work is hypocritical at best, especially since work for clients of limited means that is performed at a discounted rate, and contingency cases that are not justified as a business risk, but are undertaken because they are in the public interest, do not qualify as pro bono work.

 Partial Docket as of April  2016

1) Broadband access in New York State.  More than 1 million New Yorkers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate access to broadband. Without such access, they are effectively precluded from participating in 21st century society; businesses cannot operate effectively, children cannot do their homework, and people are effectively cut off from political social and cultural activities. This is a matter of  concern to me; my office is located in a rural area with a slow, sometimes completely dysfunctional connection. I took personal offense when Governor Cuomo announced a "Broadband for All" campaign, while simultaneously taking action to ensure that legislatively appropriated monies would not be used to provide broadband for people who need it most. In the last year, I have become increasingly involved in the struggle for broadband equity; filing comments, legislative testimony, litigating Freedom of Information Law issues, contacting state and local officials, and other forms of advocacy. On May 5, 2016, I filed a lawsuit against Empire State Development, seeking to enjoin the Governor's  Broadband Program Office from misspending the legislative appropriation.

2) Freedom of Information Law From 1996 through 1998, I published and edited the Sunshine Newsletter, a monthly publication dedicated to governmental access issues, and have always been involved in such issues. I am working with another attorney to develop a program to vigorously enforce the Freedom of Information Law in New York State, particularly with respect to New York State agencies that systematically stonewall information requests by excessive delay.

3) Chess Promoter. I am the president of the Albany Area Chess Club, and have been active in promoting chess activities in the capital district. I played a crucial role in arranging for the Siena College Chess Club to bring the Continental Chess Association to the campus to  conduct the first Bill Little Memorial tournament on April 1-3, 2016, the first Grand Prix chess event in the Capital District in many years, and in arranging for a series of chess tournaments to be held at Proctor's, a major entertainment venue in Schenectady.

4) Novel Writer. I am working on an autobiographical novel, based upon my experiences as a young lawyer working as the General Counsel of a statewide union representing New York State Correction Officers in the early 1980s.   

5) Miscellaneous matters. I am handling a few matters for labor unions, individual employees, and provide advice and guidance to environmental and community organizations. 





© 2016 Law office of Peter Henner