I grew up on a dairy farm in rural south Alabama in the late 1950s and early 1960s. From my earliest memories, the world that started outside my backdoor was a source of fascination and great interest—fish, frogs, turtles, birds, butterflies, and a thousand other things all captured my imagination.
In high school, the civil rights movement and politics moved to the fore and became a focus of my attention. After graduation, I left the South for college. Following a couple of false starts, I arrived in Eugene, Oregon where I lived for ten years, eventually returned to and completed college, met my spouse, and went to law school.
I also developed an abiding attachment to the wild rivers and mountains of the Pacific Northwest—the wonder and silence of rafting a desert river canyon like the Owyhee in southeast Oregon, the serenity of a week-long winter ski trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, and the regular pleasure of a weekend hike or summer backpack in one of the myriad wild places of the Northwest. Enjoying these places inevitably led to a strong commitment to protecting them, and to a growing awareness of the tools that work best to achieve this protection.
By the time I started law school at the University of Oregon in 1978, I had already filed my first administrative appeals of Forest Service timber sales in roadless areas, challenged river management plans, and drafted comments on environmental impact statements. I’d also learned firsthand the power of the law to effect change and protect places and resources—and I had decided that if possible I would find a way to use my legal training for the environment.
I graduated from law school in 1981 and moved to Seattle with my wife, Amy, also a lawyer. I was extremely fortunate to start my legal career clerking for one of the nation's truly remarkable federal judges, Ninth Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher. After my clerkship, I joined a Seattle law firm and began to learn the trade from the ground up. In 1987, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) decided to open a Northwest Office in Seattle and I had the extraordinary good fortune to be hired as one of two staff attorneys for the new office.
I told myself and my family that I would try public interest environmental litigation for three or four years before I returned to a career in private practice. Today, 25 years later, I'm still here, Amy and I are still in the same Seattle house, and our two sons are grown. I'm here for one simple and overpowering reason: I love this work. It's an incredible privilege—a gift—to be able to employ all of my skills in work that I think makes a difference today, and may make even more of a difference for my children, grandchildren and many other people and communities in this region in the years to come.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in some landmark environmental cases, including a series of cases we pursued between 1988 and 1994 to protect the northern spotted owl and Northwest ancient forests. I have, of course, worked on other wonderful issues, including many other cases to protect the forests, rivers, and wildlife that define the Pacific Northwest. For the past several years, water and salmon have dominated my docket with a continuing set of cases to restore wild salmon to the Columbia and Snake Rivers. In many ways, I’m surprised by how long the list of cases I’ve worked on has become. Each one has been so fascinating and challenging that I’ve never noticed how many there are. But the measure of the work is not in the number of cases filed or the lawsuits won. It's in the rivers and forest and wildlife that are still there, the changes that have been made—and those that are still to come—and the opportunity to do even more.
Todd True is the managing attorney of Earthjustice's Northwest office. He joined Earthjustice in 1987 as one of two attorneys that opened the office. Todd has handled numerous cases under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and National Forest Management Act as well as the Washington State Shorelines Management Act, Forest Practices Act, and Water Resources Act. He has represented clients before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal and state appellate and trial courts.
Todd graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1981 where he was Order of the Coif and executive editor of the Oregon Law Review. He clerked for The Honorable Betty B. Fletcher, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, following graduation.
Todd is a past-president of the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Washington, served as a Lawyer Representative to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, was elected to serve on the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference Executive Committee, and has served as a member (since 2008) and Chair (since 2010) of the Ninth Circuit Lawyer Advisory Board. He is also a member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and an adjunct professor at the University of Washington School of Law. He has been named a SuperLawyer and one of Washington's Top 100 Lawyers by Washington Law & Politics magazine.