Self-Represented

Self-RepresentedSelf-RepresentedSelf-Represented

“BRAIN DAMAGE CASES,” blares the front of the hood, prowling the streets of New Haven in search of injustice—or more to the point, injury. Over the top of the windshield, stenciled spray paint tells you who’s looking: “PINSKY LAW.”

Maybe you’ve seen it: a black van topped with LED lights formed into words and motorcycles. A quick web search for the van’s owner, personal injury lawyer Irving J. Pinsky, reveals more words—mostly others’, and mostly revved-up. “This guy’s name is next to ‘scum’ in the dictionary.” “An amoral savage that only cares about money and nothing else.” “This lowlife should sue God for making him a grade-A scumbag!” A lonely five-star rating reads, “Excellent example of a turd.”

These statements likely have little to do with Pinsky generally, and a lot to do with one action specifically. In December 2012, on behalf of the family of a 6-year-old who survived the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Pinsky filed a notice of claim to sue the state for $100,000,000, on the grounds that “the State Board of Education, Connecticut Department of Education and State Commissioner of Education failed to take steps to protect said minor from foreseeable harm.” The move was roundly criticized in both the press and online forums, where Pinsky was accused of trying to profit from the massacre. He received multiple death threats, he says, and believes a bullet that sailed through a back window of his office building was a message.

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A couple weeks after submitting the claim, Pinsky withdrew it, telling CNN he planned to strengthen his case with new evidence. A revised petition was never submitted.

Nearly three years later, I visited Pinsky’s law office on Sherman Avenue. A stuffed gorilla sat in the main stairwell, plastic tarps hung over the front windows and a stained-glass fixture was held together by Scotch tape. Pinsky greeted me wearing a neon-green windbreaker, swim trunks, slippers and a wide smile shining brightly through his beard. Following him up the stairs and through a paper-strewn hallway, I took a seat next to an exercise machine in his office.

Our conversation meandered, touching on bike safety in New Haven and his father’s career as a plumber, as well as his public-access television show on CTV. When the discussion turned to Newtown, he seemed unfazed.

“No, I don’t think I’ve changed my stance,” he says, standing by what he told the Yale Daily News at the time. Pinsky maintains the lawsuit was intended to make a point—and a change—regarding what he believes is lax security in public schools. Corrective measures he suggested at the time of the controversy include installing strategically placed bulletproof glass; arming teachers with mace and stun guns; and, as he proposed in an interview with Bloomberg Law, deploying remotely controlled drones equipped with knockout gas.

The planned lawsuit wasn’t really about money, he insists, pointing to the ways he conducts himself and his business more generally. He speaks passionately about the “class war” between rich and poor and laments the inaccessibility of good legal advice to low-income individuals. He says he often provides free preliminary legal counsel over the phone and refers people to other lawyers when he doesn’t think he’s the right one for the job. In 2011, when the economic protest movement Occupy Wall Street spread to New Haven, he got involved early, providing free legal counsel in an attempt to ensure that the protestors and their rights were being protected. (He views his time with Occupy a success because “nobody got killed.”) Meanwhile, he says that conspicuous flashing van was originally created to be a free mobile diabetes testing clinic, though it’s ended up being just a mobile advertisement for his firm.

Despite the backlash over the Newtown suit—and despite some very rocky moments with Connecticut’s Statewide Grievance Committee, including a formal reprimand issued against him in 1989, which was later rescinded on appeal—Pinsky’s still got the law bug, 34 years in. Asked if there are any cases he’s particularly proud to have worked on, he says, somewhat grandiosely, that cases like Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore remind him to be humble about his own. “At the end of the day, I’m nothing but a plumber like my old man.”

Pinsky Law
114 Sherman Ave #1, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm
(203) 288-6763

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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