After 16 years as Co-Director, Steve Ronfeldt hands the PILP Director reins to Co-Director Michael Rawson, but fortunately will remain as a part time senior attorney.
In 1995, Steve was the Litigation Director at Alameda County Legal Aid, one of the local legal services programs that merged to become Bay Area Legal Aid. He was effectively advocating then, as he is now, to establish and preserve the rights of poor people to food, housing and health care – those same basic rights that the 47% depend upon, and Mitt Romney dismisses. Then, as John O’Toole, Director of National Center for Youth Law and a former law clerk of Steve’s remembers, “in 1995, Congress prohibited legal services programs from bringing class actions, representing migrant workers, challenging welfare “reform” or lobbying. Steve, along with Mike, had the shared vision to found the Public Interest Law Project, thereby preserving the capacity to do impact litigation and advocacy on behalf of poor people.”
For the past 16 years, PILP has been spearheading major litigation and advocacy for legal services programs throughout California which they could not otherwise undertake. “PILP would not be what it is today without Steve’s boldness and foresight — as well as his strong back,” Mike recalls. “Together, we carried our conference table up the three flights of stairs to our new office. We are so lucky that Steve will continue to play a major role in PILP’s work.”
Most recently, Steve led a successful challenge to many procedural and substantive barriers to aid in the Orange County General Relief Program. The result is a comprehensive class action settlement with the County, reforming almost every aspect of the GR program, including a 14% retroactive grant increase. For more information on the Orange County GR settlement, click here.
According to PILP attorney Judy Gold, “Steve isn’t scared to take on the hard cases. He’s willing to stick his neck out.” That was certainly true when earlier in his career Steve sued a West Oakland slumlord for failing to fix up his neglected apartments. Steve persisted despite the landlord’s threats to drop the suit “or else.” He arrived at work one morning to find a bullet hole in his office window. He’ll never know if this was a coincidence. Years after the case settled, the landlord personally visited Steve and they made amends.
As Co-Director, the organization grew from two attorneys, to a nationally recognized impact litigation and advocacy program with seven attorneys, an impressive record of court victories, settlements and legislation, and a plan for future work. According to Deb Collins, “Steve has long been an excellent litigation strategist and an inspiration to litigators in the public interest world.” His work has improved the lives of tens of thousands of low-income people and their communities.
In addition to his own work, Steve has been generous with his time, mentoring a generation of public interest lawyers, including Eva Patterson, Evelyn Frank, John O’Toole, Ken Zimmerman and many others. Steve also has fostered the creation of many successful, progressive organizations that continue to partner with PILP, including the California Reinvestment Coalition and the East Bay Community Law Center.
Steve is looking forward to working a stepped down schedule (what is 60% of working non-stop?) so that he can devote more time to perfecting his crack tennis game, and relaxing with his family, including six grandchildren.