Spokane attorney Jim Sheehan founded the Center for Justice in 1999, fulfilling a long desire to do more for his hometown and its most vulnerable citizens. As Sheehan saw it, the courts too often favored the strong, while the powerless often couldn’t afford representation or were tripped up by technicalities. An unexpected inheritance gave Jim the opportunity to even those odds. The “Justice” in our name stems from our belief that law and justice are too often opposing terms, with law usually taking precedence over justice, when it should be the other way around. While law is usually about keeping order, it too often serves those at the top of the order. Justice is about fairness, protecting the wider community from abuse by the moneyed few. Growing from beginnings in poverty law, the Center gradually expanded to include regional ecosystem health, human and civil rights, and government accountability. The Spokane Riverkeeper program became an environmental centerpiece in 2006, as part of the Center’s work to restore and protect the fragile watershed that sustains our community, because, as we see it, justice includes protecting the right to a healthy local environment for everyone here and for generations to come. Since it’s beginning, the Center has played an instrumental role in several high profile civil cases such as the 2006 fatal beating of Otto Zehm by members of the Spokane Police force.
In 2001, the Center moved into offices in Spokane’s newly restored Community Building – another Sheehan project that now hosts many businesses and non-profit organizations, anchoring the ongoing revitalization of its Main Street neighborhood.