Many Earthjustice attorneys knew they wanted to be public interest environmental lawyers from an early age. I'm not one of them. Although my experiences in nature, as a child and an adult, were always among my most treasured, I initially set them aside in my professional life. It was only after years of litigating at private firms in Los Angeles and Honolulu on behalf of any private interest willing to pay the fee that it finally became clear to me that protecting the flora, fauna, and culture of Hawaiʻi and its environs in the Pacific was to be my life's mission. It wasn't until I'd defended some indicted Clean Water Act violators, and then an energy developer whose activities had harmed dozens of surrounding residents, that I finally felt compelled to put my legal skills to better use and take up the defense of the environment, instead of defending those who were despoiling it. I like to think that that decision has yielded some benefits for Hawaiʻi, but I know it profoundly changed my own life for the better.
Over the past nine years, I have worked to restore streams, long diverted for sugar cane irrigation, so that they may again support native stream life, traditional farming, and estuary productivity. I have helped to give some respite to some of the most endangered marine species, such as the Hawaiian monk seal and leatherback sea turtle, from being starved and hooked by commercial fisheries. I'm proud of Earthjustice's successes in these and other areas, but litigation success aside, I'm grateful that my work has allowed me to experience the land and people of Hawaiʻi in a way that had been completely closed to me during my years here as a defense attorney. Only after making the transition from working for my former clients' and my personal gain to working on behalf of the public interest have I been privileged to meet many who live on, and for, the land, whose lives are devoted to protecting and nurturing the culture and the natural environment from which it is inseparable.
One such person this transition enabled me to meet is my partner Kimberly Clark, a guiding light of the local organic farming community whose commitment to her principles has inspired me, and many others, to try to keep up.
This has all helped show me how our experience is shaped by what is in our hearts, and how our hearts are, in turn, fed by our experience. Thus, of the many reasons I do what I do, the most fundamental is my belief that we are all called upon to be grateful for the gratuitous gift of our existence in this marvelous world, and that experience of nature is all but indispensable for us to come to that essential understanding.
I know of no Earthjustice attorney who does this work for himself or herself. As with so many others, my work is permeated with my desire that my children, Jake and Sky, and their children's children, will be able to see what I have been allowed to see. I'm optimistic.
Paul Achitoff graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received his J.D. from Columbia Law School. He practiced business and environmental litigation in private practice in Los Angeles and Honolulu for eleven years before joining Earthjustice in 1994, where he is the managing attorney of the Hawaiʻi office. Paul handles a wide variety of public interest environmental litigation, including matters arising under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Hawaiʻi’s Water Code. He represented a coalition of family farmers, Native Hawaiians, and other community members in their contested case before the State of Hawaiʻi Commission on Water Resource Management to restore windward Oʻahu stream flows from the Waiahole Ditch, and in their appeals to the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. Paul has also obtained injunctions enjoining swordfish longlining, which caused the deaths of critically endangered turtles; lobster fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which threatened the endangered monk seal; and Navy bombing of migratory bird nesting colonies in the western Pacific.