FIRM: Natural Resources Defense Council
LAW SCHOOL: Columbia University
CLIENTS: Environmental, conservation organizations and community organizations
Joel Reynolds had been at the Natural Resources Defense Council for five years when he discovered that the Navy was testing a new form of low-frequency sonar off the coast of California.
"I investigated it and wrote the Navy a letter suggesting that they needed to comply with a number of environmental statutes," Reynolds said.
After contacting the Navy, Reynolds met with Pentagon officials to learn more about the technology.
But the meeting didn't satisfy the public-interest lawyer's concerns. Over the years, Reynolds and NRDC have filed seven lawsuits against the Navy over its low- and midfrequency sonar testing.
In its suits, the NRDC contends that the Navy's use of sonar for testing and training causes whales and other marine mammals severe injury, including hemorrhaging and beaching.
All but one of the suits have settled in a way that addresses the ecological issues. The last suit is scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
"This is a relatively new environmental issue ocean noise pollution that we have been spearheading," Reynolds said.
Reynolds has gained national attention for leading the charge against the Navy, and he said the cases are some of the most challenging he has tried during his legal career.
"Litigating against the Navy is always a challenge because the Navy plays a crucial function in our society securing our national defense and we all depend on the Navy to do that successfully," Reynolds said. "As a result, the courts tend to give considerable leeway to the Navy and other military services."
During his 28 years as a lawyer, Reynolds has always worked for public-interest organizations. He began his career in Los Angeles at the now-defunct Center for Law in the Public Interest before moving to the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
When the NRDC opened its Los Angeles office 18 years ago, Reynolds joined the staff and has been fighting for environmental causes ever since.
While Reynolds is passionate about the environment, he also has a second interest: music. He has been a violinist since he was a child.
"Music has been at the center of my family," said Reynolds, whose father was a professor of music at UC Riverside. "I really enjoy it, but I have always been very politically motivated, and I don't know that I would have had the discipline to become a professional musician."
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