Mark Freel, a litigation partner in Edwards Wildman’s Providence office, was recently named a recipient of the William G. McLoughlin First Amendment Award, which will be presented by the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union in November. The award is named for a former chair of the Rhode Island ACLU who was also a historian and faculty member at Brown University. Freel holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of New Hampshire, and received his law degree from the University of Connecticut.
PBN: Can you tell us a little about why you won this award?
FREEL: The Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU can only defend and vindicate the civil rights of people in this state if local lawyers who practice in the courts of this state will agree to contribute their time, handle those cases and represent those individuals. I am one of many cooperating attorneys in Rhode Island who often accepts ACLU referrals and handle those cases. I have been doing that for more than 15 years.
PBN: Was there a person or an experience in your past that may have demonstrated the importance of protecting First Amendment rights?
FREEL: Journalism was my first career. I worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for several years before attending law school. I have a master’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire. So, I have always felt strongly about the importance of the unique rights embodied in the First Amendment, and in the role that free speech plays in our politics and our society. Since I began handling ACLU cases in Rhode Island, I have also handled cases involving election-law issues, and the extent to which the First Amendment protects the rights of people to express themselves at the ballot box.
PBN: What do you enjoy about civil-rights practice?
FREEL: There will always be people whose civil or constitutional rights are threatened who cannot afford to defend those rights in a legal system that is increasingly costly and challenging. Without organizations like the ACLU behind them, most of those people would be without recourse. Complex litigation today is far too costly for most people, even those of middle class means, let alone those who are less fortunate. •