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There’s a certain frankness to Annette Lamoreaux, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union’s new legal director. Coming from Houston, where she was a regional director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas, Lamoreaux isn’t one to pull punches, even when the conversation takes a grim turn to her background representing defendants on death row in a state notorious for its executions. “I have 11 dead clients. I have one client who was found sufficiently crazy not to be executed,” she said bluntly in an interview last week when asked about her post-conviction successes as a former death penalty lawyer in Texas. “One has to have a high tolerance for failure and find one’s victories elsewhere,” Lamoreaux conceded. But “it’s some of the most rewarding work an attorney can do. It gives you a sense of what’s important. Also, it’s very humbling to be the last friendly person someone sees before they’re killed,” she added. “That’s one of those examples where, if something doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.” It’s that type of resolve that the CCLU needs right now, said Teresa Younger, its executive director. “This is a critical time [for the civil-rights organization]. We are confident that Annette brings the fortitude, experience and determination that we need,” Younger said. Growing concerns over the erosion of citizens’ constitutional rights has boosted the group’s membership to roughly 6,500, its highest level in state history. Lamoreaux, who joined the CCLU effective April 1, replaces Philip D. Tegeler, who left at the end of 2003 to become the executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council in Washington, D.C. The conservative legal climate in Texas, Lamoreaux said, helped prompt her to apply for the position. “It’s much nicer to be someplace where you feel you can have an impact and win,” she said. “Connecticut is relatively progressive by my standards, in that it’s a small enough state [where] you can have an impact.” A big difference between Connecticut and Texas, she noted, is the respect the civil liberties union is afforded. In Connecticut, the organization is “a player on the political playing field. In Texas, we’re considered the anti-Christ. It’s refreshing. I have spent more than my share of time in the trenches,” said Lamoreaux, 44. “I’m not just moving a beach with a teaspoon. [here] we’re taken very seriously. We’re considered part of the political mix.” In her new position, Lamoreaux said she hopes to diversify the CCLU’s caseload. She has a lot of experience representing the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities in Houston after Sept. 11, 2001, when the FBI started registering visitors from certain foreign countries. “We haven’t been involved in doing much legal representation with them [in Connecticut],” she noted. “Even though special registration is over, the FBI is under tremendous pressure to show something for the time and money they spent.” That pressure, Lamoreaux maintained, has led to corners being cut and people’s rights being trampled on. “We live in a political climate where political dissent is increasingly not tolerated,” she said. “In a time of a war is when those rights are most precious. The ACLU is the last line of defense against fascism. If not for us, this country would be very different. It puts us at odds with very powerful entities who are not used to being called on for their abuse of the Constitution.” Lamoreaux isn’t wasting any time getting involved in local legal battles. Last month, she was quick to act on behalf of war protestors in Litchfield, Conn., who were being forced away from the town green and its war memorial because they were violating local parade and procession ordinances. Lamoreaux fired off a letter threatening court action and got town officials to back down. “The public officials in Litchfield have now been educated on the First Amendment, of which they were ignorant before,” she proclaimed, adding: “One of the reasons I like working for the ACLU is most attorneys go their entire career without defending the Bill of Rights. That’s what I get to do every day.”

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