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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. � The longtime executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum and its spinoff, International Rights Advocates, has had enough of nonprofit work and fundraising and is taking his 14 international human rights cases into private practice. But it’s with whom Terry Collingsworth has launched a Washington office that is raising eyebrows in the nonprofit world. Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Scherer, a prominent Republican fundraiser and lead recount lawyer for President George W. Bush in the 2000 election, announced recently that Collingsworth would open a Washington office for his firm, Conrad & Scherer. “We’ve moved from appellate arguments to getting ready to put a bunch of cases on trial before juries,” Collingsworth said. “I needed someone to join me who had that as his primary focus. I feel personally good with Bill Scherer; he’s an excellent trial lawyer. We have an unstated agreement not to argue about politics.” Collingsworth started with Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) in 1989 as general counsel and has been executive director since 1996. Collingsworth was one of a handful of lawyers who pioneered the use of the federal Alien Tort Claims Act, a centuries-old federal law, in the 1990s to sue U.S. corporations in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations in foreign countries. In 2005, a suit was brought against Bridgestone-Firestone for allegedly forcing workers in Liberia to meet impossible quotas and using child labor. Roe v. Bridgestone, No. 1:06-cv-00627 (S.D. Ind.). In 2007, a suit was brought against Chiquita Brands International Inc. on behalf of families of 173 workers murdered by paramilitaries, alleging that Chiquita was complicit in the murders by forcing the workers to turn to paramilitaries as “protection.” Doe v. Chiquita Brands, No. 07-CV-10300 (S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 14, 2007). Suits have also been filed against Chrysler LLC, Del Monte Foods Co., Drummond Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., among others. The cases, expensive and complex, are all winding their way through the courts. Most are at the appellate level or remanded back to trial courts for new trials. Only two have settled so far. One involves Unocal Corp. (now part of Chevron Corp.) for a reported $30 million. John Doe I v. Unocal Corp., 110 F. Supp. 2d 1294 (C.D. Calif. 2000). The other involves allegations that Yahoo! Inc. provided information on users to the Chinese government. Xiaoning v. Yahoo! Inc., No. 07-CV-2151 (N.D. Calif.). Fourteen cases are left to be tried. Collingsworth spun off the International Rights Advocates (IRAdvocates) in Washington last year after foundations that donated funds to the ILRF balked at giving money to a group involved in litigation. The plan was for the ILRF to focus on human rights policy and research, and for the IRAdvocates to do litigation. But without a funding arm, and with fundraising drying up for human rights causes, Collingsworth decided to move all of the cases he launched through ILRF to a private law firm. He and Scherer have collaborated on cases in the past and are jointly trying a case against Exxon Mobil Corp. in Washington federal court this June for alleged human rights abuses in Indonesia. John Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., No. 1:01-CV-1357-LFO (D.D.C.). “I’ve been doing these human rights cases for three or four years,” said Scherer, who also opened an office in Ecuador last year and is hoping to open others in Latin America. “It’s kind of a niche for us . . . .But first we have to swallow what we’ve already bit off.”

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