As managing attorney for the Earthjustice office in Tallahassee, I have savored waging litigation wars with big corporations and their friends in government agencies. In courtrooms around Florida I have tried environmental cases for almost 30 years. In one way or another, they have been mostly about water. Before development, half of Florida was under water during the wet season and its 1,500 miles of coastline were teeming with life. But its beauty invited its consumption. Millions of acres were drained and converted into agricultural, industrial, and urban developments. As a result, rivers and lakes are being polluted and closed off to the public, ground waters are being depleted by uncontrolled withdrawals from aquifers, and the ecosystems that depend on water are threatened.
Most of my career has focused on going to court to fight for everything that can still be saved. Protecting rivers and lakes has not just required many weeks of bitterly contested trials against big corporations in their hometowns. It has also meant late nights poring over ancient maps, military records, and 150-year-old handwritten diaries. It has meant interviewing hundreds of witnesses in dingy restaurants and motels. (One interview was interrupted while the witness removed a 4-foot Black snake from the living room and chased it out the screen door with a broom.) And it has meant many hot days wading waist-deep in alligator infested rivers, marshes, and swamps, finding relief only with the driving rain of the late afternoon.
In the course of my work for Earthjustice, I have moved to the cities of the phosphate mining district of Southwest Florida for trials long and short. I once moved my whole office to a town of 3,000 on the shore of Lake Okeechobee for a six-week jury trial. And I have spent weeks at a time living out of motel rooms in small coastal towns while trying cases to protect manatees from speeding motor boats, estuary sea life from marina development, and sea turtles from the destruction of their nesting beaches.
My earlier water pollution cases were against the EPA, pulp mills and sugar companies. Now, I have come to realize that water contamination is an increasingly serious public health threat to disempowered people. My new cases are trying to halt the growing number of algae outbreaks in Florida lakes, streams and estuaries that kill wildlife and sicken humans.
Solving the hardest environmental problems by taking on the worst actors head-to-head can change people's attitudes about what is possible. That’s why I’m with Earthjustice.
David Guest has been the managing attorney of Earthjustice's Florida regional office in Tallahassee since 1990. In 1978, he graduated from the University of Chicago Law School where he was a member of the law review. He has a B.Sc. in Government and Economics from Florida State University.
Since 1984, he has tried scores of environmental cases and has won several landmark decisions protecting navigable waters, establishing minimum flows and levels to protect aquatic ecosystems against excessive water withdrawal, preventing the sale and depredation of public lands, abating water pollution, and stopping the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
In his spare time, he takes friends out on his 1968 hand-built pontoon boat to watch birds, manatees and other wildlife. He also maintains a small fleet of ancient cars, trailers and boats, as well as one 19 year-old golf cart.