Letter: One Lawyer’s Answer to Councilor Ryan’s Question, “Is a Lawsuit Worth It?”


Photo: Nick Youngson / Pix4free (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council, the Clerk of Council and the Town Manager on March 31, 2024.

Councilor Ryan was quoted as follows in the March 30, 2024, Daily Hampshire Gazette article entitled “Amherst councilor mulls restrictions on public comment“:

     “The risk of a lawsuit is worth it, Ryan said. ‘What’s wrong with being sued?'” 

The answer to Councilor Ryan’s question is that in any litigation, the only sure winners are the lawyers representing the respective litigants.

Is the Town of Amherst so flush with taxpayer funds that it can afford to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars getting itself sued over allegations of civil rights violations?  In such a lawsuit the Town may have to pay not only its own lawyers, but also may have to pay an award of attorney fees to the citizen(s) claiming civil rights violation(s). 

Sadly, there are lawyers who provoke needless litigation, then keep it going because that is where big money is made in the law business. Not every lawyer honors the moral obligation to strive to prevent litigation or if it happens, try to resolve it as quickly and inexpensively as possible. 

If the Councilor Ryan was my client, I would offer the following advice:

Tolerating “hate speech” is the price of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states in relevant part that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech ….” 

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 states categorically (Declaration of Rights, Article 16) that “The right of free speech shall not be abridged.”

As the grandson of Jewish immigrants who fled the living nightmare that was the Czarist Russian Empire, I did not like growing up hearing the word “Jew” as a verb (i.e., “An honest person won’t ‘Jew’ you.”), or our congregation having to scrub painted Nazi swastikas off the walls of our synagogue, nor do I like hearing anti-Semitic stereotypes from people here in the Pioneer Valley who did know my faith. I have been complimented for being “a smart Jew lawyer.” 

Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other religious prejudice — all the ways we divide ourselves from one another — are like layers of an onion. We suffer from a legacy of ancient tribalism dating back to the Ice Ages, conditioning us to hate or fear whoever is different. Peeling away layers of the bigotry onion is a task that confronts each of us daily.  All we can do is keep trying ourselves and try to help each other (in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have
a Dream” speech at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington) evaluate people solely, “by the content of their character.” 

Michael Pill

Michael Pill is a former resident of Amherst, and a current resident of Shutesbury. His law practice is based in Northampton.

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1 thought on “Letter: One Lawyer’s Answer to Councilor Ryan’s Question, “Is a Lawsuit Worth It?”

  1. What is wrong with being sued for deliberately infringing Americans’ and Massachusetts residents’ constitutional rights? Attorney Pill has, pro bono, given Councilor Ryan — and the Town — sterling advice.

    I would add only how very shocking I find Councilor Ryan’s question. To be sworn in as former Governor Deval Patrick’s appointee for law to the Legislature’s Registry of Deeds Reform Commission, I had to swear to support both the U.S. and Massachusetts Constitutions. I took the oath proudly, and with every intention of living up to it.

    When he became an Amherst Town Councilor, didn’t Councilor Ryan swear the same? And if Amherst Town Councilors swear no such oath, shouldn’t the to-be-revised Town Charter require it?

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