Winter 2005

Former Section Chair Ronald L. Plesser Remembered

Ronald L. Plesser, former chair of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities from 1993-94, died of a heart attack on Nov. 18, 2004. He was 59. Mr. Plesser was a partner at the Washington office of Piper Rudnick, where he specialized in Internet law, privacy, marketers, telecommunications, and information and software providers and users. His work set standards for privacy in an era of computer databases, new communication technologies, and the Internet.

"Ron Plesser was a great Chair of IRR and a great leader in our profession," said current Section Chair Stephen F. Hanlon.

Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Chair of the IRR Privacy and Information Protection Committee, added, "He was without question one of the real pioneers in the privacy field."

At Piper Rudnick, Mr. Plesser represented trade associations and database publishing companies and testified numerous times before Congress and world regulatory organizations. He also litigated a number of cases under the Freedom of Information Act. He represented NBC reporter Carl Stern in a suit that uncovered the first evidence of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to disrupt the civil rights and antiwar movements. Mr. Plesser won a landmark appellate decision in Vaughn v. Rosen, which established procedures for lower courts to follow in deciding Freedom of Information Act cases.

Mr. Plesser also had a strong interest in international issues, particularly human rights issues. As Chair of the Section during the ABA’s examination of alleged abuses of the rule of law in Ireland, he was instrumental in bringing diplomats from Britain and the IRA to a Section council meeting to discuss what happened and what to do next. Mr. Plesser also developed joint membership initiatives with other ABA Sections such as Business Law and Litigation, which the Section hadn’t worked with in previous years. He was an active participant in the Section’s first retreat in 1992, and in the 1980’s, he was instrumental in developing the Section’s Soviet Lawyer Internship Program and the Eastern Europe Internship Program. He also was at the forefront of the ABA’s diversity initiatives.

Mr. Plesser began his career in 1972 when he joined the Center for Responsive Law where he worked on litigation and legislation related to the Freedom of Information Act. He also served as General Counsel to the U.S. Privacy Protection Study Commission in 1975. From 1982-1986 he was an adjunct professor of law at George Washington University. During the 1992 Clinton-Gore transition, Mr. Plesser served as the Deputy Director of the Science, Space and Technology Cluster.

Born in Queens, N.Y., Mr. Plesser graduated from GWU where he earned degrees in English literature and law. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his two children, Jeremy and Michelle; his mother, Eunice; his sister, Lori Brennen; and his brother, Andrew.

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