The public interest movement has lost a great champion. Joan Mulhern, consumer and environmental advocate, succumbed to liver disease at the age of 51 this past week. Joan worked for Earth Justice as Senior Counsel for the past decade, but I first met her when she worked as counsel for Public Citizen and while I was at Consumers Union. These were the days when there were a plethora of bills introduced to “reform” the medical malpractice system. It was almost a full-time job to track them. Reform, unfortunately, meant putting caps on damages, limiting attorneys fees and placing statute of limitations on claims, no matter how serious the injury. All of these tactics were intended to limit access to justice for injured patients. We were visiting a Senator’s office and Joan had a bill in front of her for the first time. In no time flat, she had analyzed the proposal and found its flaws. Joan was whip smart and indefatigable.
Last February, Joan reached out to me to ask whether the National Consumers League would join in lobbying for full access to the civil justice system. Several odious bills had made their way through the House Judiciary Committee. I said yes, of course, because it was very hard to say no to Joan, and we visited members together to explain our concerns. After a series of visits arranged by Joan and her colleagues, the bills died.
I will miss Joan’s warm smile and friendship . More importantly, the environmental movement will surely miss Joan Mulhern’s fine legal mind and passion for her work. We all owe Joan a debt of gratitude for devoting her legal career to the cause of public justice. May she rest in peace.