By Madeline Black and Cynthia Williams
This article appeared in the January/February 2016 edition of Public Citizen News.
Long Island-born Paul Alan Levy has worked in the Public Citizen Litigation Group since 1977. As a child, he noticed that most of the politically active people in his community were lawyers, and he set his sights on the profession, attending Reed College and the University of Chicago Law School. In addition to his legal interests, Levy watches and plays soccer, cooks and eats good food, travels and blogs about his adventures. Reed College remains a part of his life, and he is passionately involved in alumni activities.
Q: Tell us about the start of your career.
LEVY: I clerked for a judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who became solicitor general during my clerkship. I accompanied him to Washington as a special assistant. Just as I was looking for my next job, the Litigation Group had an opening for a lawyer who would work on union democracy cases, an area that had interested me in law school.
Q: Is there a particular case of which you are most proud?
LEVY: Back in 2001, in a case involving an unhappy investor who posted online anonymous criticisms of company pronouncements that misled investors, we persuaded an appellate court in New Jersey that the company should have to give evidence of wrongdoing and show that its right to proceed with litigation outweighed the investor’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The court adopted an approach to dealing with such cases that we at Public Citizen invented. More than a dozen states have adopted some version of our approach, and we are always looking for new states in which to get our approach adopted.
Q: What is your favorite part about working at Public Citizen?
LEVY: My wonderful colleagues, the tremendous collegiality with which we work, the chance to do important legal work through which I can pursue my policy interests and the freedom to pick my cases. As I tell law students when I talk about public interest careers, I get to spend all my time doing pro bono work and no time doing pro malo work.
Q: You’ve been known to dress up like Cupid on Valentine’s Day. How did this tradition start, and why do you do it?
LEVY: It helps me show playful affection for my colleagues. I don’t recall how it started (too long ago!), but it’s something different, and it expresses my ’60s spirit. Most of my colleagues take it in the right spirit, and it’s good to be quirky, uninhibited and not serious all the time.
Q: What else should people know about you?
LEVY: I revel both in having been called “The Web Bully’s Worst Enemy” by a recent, very kind magazine profile, and in having been called a “free-speech hitman” on a “Paul Levy gripe site” created by a lawyer whom I bested in a free speech case.
— Compiled by Madeline Black and Cynthia Williams