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Rich Lawyers Boosting Traffic Jams and Calling It Charity

By Matthew Yglesias

"Rich Lawyers Boosting Traffic Jams and Calling It Charity"

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One thing law firms do is take cases on a pro bono basis. You get some prestige for doing so, and it helps underscore the legal profession’s self-conception as serving the higher calling of the law. The general idea here, of course, is that you’re supposed to be helping out indigent clients or some kind of do-gooder causes.

Meanwhile, in DC’s Maryland suburbs we’re inching ever closer to actually starting work on the Purple Line light rail. This would connect several destinations that are already served by transit and walkable transit-oriented development, provide transit access to the University of Maryland’s main campus, and also create the possibility of new transit-oriented development at additional stops along the way. It’s a good idea that will help reduce congestion on the Beltway, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance the region’s ability to keep growing in a sustainable manner. Every environmental group in the city is for it. But a group of NIMBYs centered around the town of Chevy Chase, MD and the Columbia Country Club are trying to block it in order to keep the riffraff out and are offering some spurious environmental claims to try to block construction.

They’ve engaged the large DC firm of Sidley Austin to help them in their fight. And Sidley’s doing the work pro bono — for free — as charity. No doubt in part this is because Joseph Guerra is both a partner in the firm and the husband of the woman co-chairing the NIMBY effort. Perhaps some of the firms partners are members of the Country Club as well. Who knows? But this is certainly a strange definition of charitable work. They might want to ask some of the people working for the firm on the bottom rungs — the janitors and so forth — if they really appreciate these kind of “charitable” efforts to deny poor people any better commuting options than the bus?

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