Our Friend, Attorney Chuck Michel, on Cover of California Lawyer
We are glad to have a friend who is such a strong, knowledgeable, and passionate patriot in the courts for the Second Amendment! Congratulations to Chuck Michel for making it on the cover of California Lawyer Magazine! (See article below)
Long Beach attorney Chuck Michel has built a successful career by challenging firearms regulations – and winning.
by Bill Blum |February 2015
C.D. “Chuck” Michel won big against what he calls the “gun grabbers” last February when a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial court ruling in one of the most significant Second Amendment cases of his career. Not only did the 2-1 majority invalidate San Diego County’s restrictive policy for obtaining a concealed-carry handgun permit, it went on to declare that the personal right to keep and bear arms extends outside the home.
Michel, a Long Beach-based contract attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) – the statewide affiliate of the National Rifle Association – has been the lead plaintiffs attorney in Peruta v. San Diego (742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014)) since April 2010. In 2011 former Solicitor General Paul D. Clement filed an amicus brief on behalf of the NRA, and he later argued the case for the appellants. “We got everything we asked for from the court,” says Michel, who drafted the pleadings.
In a 69-page opinion, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, one of the circuit’s most conservative members, crafted a meticulous analysis of the Second Amendment and pre-Civil War gun-ownership rights. He concluded that the county’s interpretation of “good cause” to obtain a concealed-carry permit – documenting circumstances showing that the applicant was uniquely in harm’s way – infringed the constitutional right to “bear Arms.” O’Scannlain wrote, “[T]he right is, and has always been, oriented to the end of self-defense. Any contrary interpretation of the right, whether propounded in 1791 or just last week, is error.” (Peruta, 742 F.3d at 1155 (emphasis by the court).)
One other federal circuit had explicitly issued such a holding before – Moore v. Madigan (702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012)) – but not in so detailed and definitive an opinion.
From Michel’s perspective, the broad sweep of O’Scannlain’s prose also vindicated the NRA’s steady and deliberate approach to litigation. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing an individual’s right to own firearms (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)), gun-rights groups had rushed to clarify the scope of permissible regulation. The NRA’s contentious rival – the Second Amendment Foundation in Washington state – had brought a similar challenge to concealed-carry policy in California’s Yolo County. Three weeks after the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Peruta, the same panel invalidated Yolo’s policy. But it did so in an unpublished three-page decision that cited Peruta as controlling precedent. (Richards v. Prieto, 560 Fed. Appx. 681 (9th Cir. 2014).)
When the sheriff of San Diego County declined to petition for rehearing of Peruta, others attempted to step into the breach. But in November the Ninth Circuit denied intervenor status to Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the California Police Chiefs and Peace Officers’ Associations. (Peruta v. County of San Diego, 771 F.3d 570 (9th Cir. 2014).) Still, Judge Sidney R. Thomas’s strong dissent in Peruta gave Michel cause for concern.
In December, two days after the Montana jurist began a seven-year term as Chief Judge, Michel’s worries were borne out: The Ninth Circuit called for briefing – due Christmas Eve – to determine whether Peruta should be reheard en banc. If review is granted, Thomas will lead a tribunal that includes ten other judges chosen at random.
No one knows, of course, how the en banc process will conclude. “The Circuit consists of roughly two-thirds Democratic appointees and one-third Republican,” says Michel. “But judges don’t always vote along political lines. And our position is very persuasive.”
Should the respondents lose an en banc ruling, Michel promises he won’t back down. He’ll appealPeruta all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – very likely joined by libertarians and other advocates of individual gun rights.
While most lawyers display diplomas and personal photos on their walls, Chuck Michel’s spacious, second-floor office facing Long Beach’s picturesque marina is decked with firearms collectibles and gun-related artwork. Hanging behind his big wooden desk is a rare, single-shot Liberator pistol, manufactured during World War II for Resistance fighters; a chopped-up Glock handgun; antique Texas Ranger badges; and vintage posters of Tom Mix, the legendary gunslinging cowboy of Hollywood’s silent era.
In any other law firm, the motif might seem over the top. But at Michel & Associates, home to more than a dozen attorneys, the décor couldn’t be more appropriate: Though its general practice ranges from criminal defense to environmental, business, and labor and employment cases, the firm’s specialty is firearms litigation, accounting for a quarter to one-third of its billings.
Michel, 56, is a self-described “true believer” in what he terms the “civil rights self-defense movement.” He even named his Labrador retriever “Heston” to honor Charlton Heston, the actor and former standard-bearer of the NRA.
Tall and powerfully built, Michel’s unassuming affect belies his encyclopedic knowledge of gun-control history and firearms litigation. He is the author of the authoritative California Gun Laws and has helped shape – as either attorney of record or an amicus – many of the biggest gun-rights cases of the past two decades.
Michel traces his fondness for firearms to his days growing up in the northern New Jersey township of Bridgewater. “My father had been in the Army,” he says. “He was a hunter and a volunteer safety-and-skills instructor for the NRA, and he taught me and my two brothers how to shoot.” Back then, Michel recalls, their heavily wooded subdivision bordered a YMCA campground. “You could literally walk off the rear porch and hunt for squirrels or rabbits.”Michel’s father, who held a marketing job at Johnson & Johnson, was also a competitive marksman. “He had a lot of low-caliber, high-accuracy rifles and different shotguns at the house that he used for birds, deer, and small game,” Michel says. “You need a different type of gun for every kind of shot you’re going to take.”
Describing himself as a “fair” student, Michel says he was fortunate to be admitted to Rutgers University, where he graduated with a major in psychology and communications. At school, he says, “I became a little more focused, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.”
Certain, however, that he wanted to escape the cold Northeast winters, he headed for Southern California, where he took a management-training position marketing Select and OnTV, early forerunners of cable television. Over the next five years Michel did everything from stocking TV decoder boxes to installing the devices himself, eventually becoming a regional supervisor. To make extra money, he tended bar. But he felt he was just drifting. “If you reach thirty and you’re still wearing a name tag,” he says, “then you’re not as successful as I wanted to be.”
Michel applied for work at local law enforcement agencies but was turned down because of poor eyesight. And though the FBI called him back for a second round of interviews, the bureau’s application and screening process seemed interminably slow. So Michel enrolled in law school at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. He interned for both the Los Angeles federal public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office, then graduated in 1989 and clerked for U.S. District Judge William Rea – an experience that enabled him “to see the practice of law from the bench.” It also landed him a position in civil litigation at O’Melveny & Myers.
Like most first-year associates, Michel found himself analyzing documents, putting in long hours on discovery motions, and praying to be assigned to take a deposition on his own. His most vivid recollections aren’t the cases he was assigned but rather discussions with his colleagues in the lunchroom – specifically, about O’Melveny’s pro bono work supporting the City of Los Angeles’s gun-control regulations. “Of those who voiced an opinion on the subject, we were nearly evenly divided,” he says.
Michel’s own feelings about the ineffectiveness of gun control deepened after he volunteered for the firm’s trial advocacy program, trying misdemeanors in city attorneys’ offices in Los Angeles County. “Nothing gets your blood pumping and your enthusiasm for the law going than a jury trial at that stage of your career,” he says. “There’s a big difference between being a litigator and being a trial attorney.”
Along with learning how to win convictions, Michel came to sympathize with some defendants who faced gun-possession charges that he felt didn’t warrant prosecution. “The average Joe Six-Pack with a gun collection doesn’t know what’s legal and what isn’t,” he says. “I’d see defendants coming through court who had been stopped by police coming back from the firing range and hadn’t locked their gun in the right kind of hard case, or they couldn’t get a concealed-carry permit. I began to think that the gun-control laws were being misapplied.”
While still an O’Melveny associate, Michel wrote NRA general counsel Robert J. Dowlut to offer his services. Dowlut suggested he approach the organization’s statewide affiliate, the CRPA, which operates as a separate legal entity.
Michel took that advice when he left O’Melveny to go solo in 1993. “I soon realized there was a niche group of people out there who owned guns and needed legal help,” he says. “I started going out to gun clubs and fund-raising dinners, giving talks and advice. My practice took off.” His primary focus: criminal defense.