Joel Bander is enjoying twin careers in litigation and advocacy journalism
Attorney Joel Bander greets someone at an event. He humbly introduces himself as “Joel” without any fanfare of being an attorney or his association with this newspaper. And now, working with him over a year on our PinoyWatchDog.com inevitably someone chimes in and says “this is Attorney Bander.” The person just meeting Bander says “oh, I have heard so much about you, now I finally get to meet you.” Bander meekly smiles, understanding but perhaps not fully appreciating the high regard Filipinos have for ‘personalities.’
While Attorney Bander has been a litigator for over 25 years he has only been a journalist for about a year. I have wondered, how is he able to deal with both the legal and journalism worlds at the same time. An important part of the answer lies in Bander’s life before law school being a well paid political consultant right out of college.
“I went to school in Washington, D. C.,” Bander said, “because I wanted to be involved in politics.” In 1974, when Bander started college, was the end of a vibrant era in America. The Vietnam War had waned down and Richard Nixon just resigned the U.S. Presidency. Bander went on to become a American University College Democrats during the 1976 election campaign and graduated in 1977 with degrees in both political science and economics.
“How did you graduate with two degrees in three years?” I asked. Similar to my experiences with Bander, he was a man on the move, taking classes over two summers to be able to graduate a year early.
After graduation, Bander was a political consultant for the AFL-CIO, helping to defeat an anti-labor ballot referendum in Missouri. He was then immediately hired as legislative analyst by the United Mine Workers of America’s Legislative Department (1978-1981), being quickly promoted as a lobbyist because he was easily able to understand energy and environmental legislation. He also coordinated political events throughout the coal producing regions of America.
“If you want to learn politics in the life of rough and tumble,” Bander said, “then work for a labor union.”
Because Bander understood public policy development so well and made good verbal presentation he was often called upon to be a press spokesperson for the union when the union’s chief press officer was on the road. Bander recalls that once at a Labor/Energy conference he had organized the president of the union was fast asleep from drinking heavily the night before when he was supposed to be giving the keynote address that Bander had drafted. “Getting him out for the speech was a part of politics they cannot teach in school,” Bander laughed. “So handling issues of Filipino politics and media are not all that different.”
In 1985 Bander received his law degree from Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon (1985) where he won his school’s National Wagner Labor Law Moot Court Competition and represented the law school in the national competition in New York City. He passed the bar examination on his first take in 1985 and started his own law firm in 1987.
“I saw the law as a way to make some money and have more stability,” Bander said. But not before another political stint working against Proposition 51, an insurance initiative, in 1987. Although hired as a fundraiser, Bander quickly was being used as a radio spokesperson and in training elected officials how to debate the issues.
In 1997-1998 Bander came out of his ‘political retirement’ to organize the 300 day occupation of “Equity Villlage’ for Filipino World War II veterans. Bander was then called the ‘Mastermind of Equity Village’ advising veterans to chain themselves to the MacArthur statue, wrap themselves in the American Flag and pronounce they would not leave until Congress passed an Equity Bill. The Equity Cause was immediately on CNN and other networks after never being on the mainstream before. Bander also organized the Equity Caravan, where hundreds of veterans descended on the U.S. Capitol.
“We obtained about 120 sponsors in a week or so, if I remember correctly,” Bander remarked.
Bander says there are many parallels between law and public relations/politics. “You want to get as many facts as you can, and then present the sharpest, cleanest argument with fewest complications to convince either of your adversary, the judge, the jury or the public, that your cause is virtuous.”
In his 25 years of practicing law Bander has directed numerous class action lawsuits in the area of wage and hour litigation, and handled litigation as diverse as personal injury, legal malpractice, criminal defense, employment, civil rights and home mortgages. He has successfully handled numerous cases before Federal, State, Civil, and Criminal Judges and has participated in hundreds of arbitrations and trials. Bander has also handled thousands of immigration cases, but now limits his practice in that area to ‘difficult’ cases. “At this stage in life and my experience I want to be challenged. For instance, an immigrant accused of a crime. That is much different than doing a standard Labor Certification.”
The wage and hour litigation cases bring Bander to his working roots, representing working people. But he states, “I can litigate almost anything. It is really a matter if it is worth it to litigate.” Bander also enjoys defending criminals, particularly immigrants. “After handling so many immigration cases I know that area of law pretty darn well.”
Bander is married for 28 years and his only son is an electrical engineering student at U.C.L.A. –Rene Villaroman