At the appellate level, the law gets a little heavier. Not only are attorneys advocating for their clients, but it is a place where there is a chance to change the law and bring real change.
“The interesting aspect of the appellate level is you have the opportunity to consider what the law is, and what the law should be,” attorney and Saint Louis University professor of law John Ammann said.
So it was for Ammann and his co-counsel, St. Louis attorney Deborah Greider, who have worked for more than a decade trying to recover money the state owed to recipients of Missouri’s Blind Pension Fund. A class action lawsuit filed in 2006 claimed the Missouri Department of Social Services had paid too little to the fund’s beneficiaries for decades.
As the result of an earlier iteration of the case, the state has already changed the formula it uses to fund the pension, Greider said.
“When you go up against the government … you’re going up against a pretty giant power. And for a couple of lawyers to do that, it’s a difficult task,” Greider said.
That is why, Greider said, Ammann’s position as supervisor of the litigation clinic at Saint Louis University was key. When there was research or extra work that needed to be done the third-year law students at the clinic could be called upon.
In the second go-round for the case, the Court of Appeals Western District ruled that a circuit judge miscalculated the amount and as a result, a damage award that had shrunk to just $76,000 will grow to nearly $11.5 million, plus correspondingly higher amounts of interest and attorneys’ fees.
The total judgment would be about $20 million, but Ammann was cautious to discuss that dollar amount, because it could still face a challenge before landing in his clients’ hands.
Ammann, who is the McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society, was honored last year for his work related to Ferguson. Greider said Ammann is an “excellent lawyer,” who helped immensely with the case.
Greider, who Ammann calls “relentless” in her pursuit to help the blind community in this case, has a solo practice focusing on various areas of the law including civil rights and general practice, and is an adjunct professor at SLU.