Originally published July 13, 2022 (here)
By Cameron Morsberger
The Lowell Sun
For 23 years, attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan has staked her career on “difficult yet critical legal battles” against large corporations as she sets out to defend regular, working-class people across the country.
Now, she hopes to continue that work as the next attorney general — “the people’s lawyer” — of Massachusetts.
Liss-Riordan, a Texas native, is one of three Democratic contenders in the running this year, but she prides herself on being the only candidate who practices law, has run a law firm and has won jury trials and appeals. Because of that, she is “far and away the most qualified candidate in this race,” she told The Sun’s editorial board on Tuesday.
As a lawyer, she is well regarded for her legal defense of gig economy workers and those at tech companies, including ride-hailing service providers Uber and Lyft and meal-delivery agencies such as DoorDash and GrubHub. When those companies threatened to take Massachusetts gig workers’ rights away through a potential ballot initiative, Liss-Riordan was part of the legal team that got the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to throw the effort out just last month.
She has also sued Starbucks, Amazon, FedEx, IBM and most recently Tesla in defense of its employees, even targeting her alma mater Harvard University “at least four times,” she said. It’s important for the next attorney general to have that background and continue the “crucial battle” against big companies, she said.
“Case by case, I have built the law here in Massachusetts and around the country to help working people,” Liss-Riordan said. “I’m very excited about this possibility now to step into the public sphere and use my skills and my experience and my passion to fight for all the people of Massachusetts and go up against corporations for taking advantage of us, go up against scammers who are trying to steal from us, steal our privacy.”
Liss-Riordan is most proud of her decade-long work protecting people from the predatory janitorial industry, in which companies scam majority-immigrant workers into paying thousands to own a cleaning franchise. The “culminating case” in the series was one where Liss-Riordan successfully defended Lowell resident and Ghanaian immigrant Pius Awuah in his case against Coverall in 2011.
And that ruling had an impact, Liss-Riordan said, as she later set out to change similar laws in other states as a result.
Liss-Riordan has no experience in politics, besides running for U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s seat in 2020, but has the support of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and nearly 50 other local unions across the state.
Notable, too, is Liss-Riordan’s commitment to a self-funded campaign: She has raised about $400,000 through grassroots fundraising efforts and refuses to accept corporate funding, because she said she feels it has no place in the race for attorney general.
“I signed the People’s Pledge because I think it is so important that corporate PACs not have an influence in this race,” Liss-Riordan said. “I fight corporations and I win and I beat them. I don’t take their support, and so I will never be beholden to corporations in my actions as attorney general.”
The position of attorney general, as well as other state leaders, is especially crucial now in the aftermath of several “bad Supreme Court decisions” regarding abortion and gun rights, Liss-Riordan said. A longtime feminist and women’s rights activist, Liss-Riordan said she supports making medicinal abortion and other reproductive services more accessible statewide.
Like current AG Maura Healey, who is running for governor, Liss-Riordan plans to protect out-of-state people seeking abortions from bans and restrictions in other states.
She said she admires Healey’s work in combating the opioid crisis and addressing climate change, adding that she plans to further that work if elected. The state needs “aggressive, knowledgeable enforcement” of those laws,” Liss-Riordan said, and she plans to target corporations profiting from fossil fuels and continue Healey’s work against Exxon.
Last week, Liss-Riordan visited Lowell’s Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which serves 60,000 people each month. It was there that she said she witnessed the impact rising costs and low-paying jobs have on local residents, who sometimes work two or three jobs to get by. Liss-Riordan called that “unacceptable.”
“There are a lot of bad actors who need to be held accountable for the devastation they’ve caused to our communities, to our families,” Liss-Riordan said. “I think we need creative and knowledgeable legal thinking leading the AG’s office to take on these issues.”
Liss-Riordan is running against former Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell and former Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Commerce Quentin Palfrey in the Democratic primary Sept. 6. If chosen, Liss-Riordan will face Republican trial attorney James McMahon.
While she isn’t a professional speech writer or politician, Liss-Riordan said she has the legal experience to fight for Massachusetts residents.
“ This job is 20 jobs, at least,” she said. “And luckily, I really like multitasking.”