History and Purpose

USD School of Law faculty created the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) in the fall of 1980 in order to address issues within the governmental decision making process within the realm of regulatory agencies. In its founder, Professor Robert C. Fellmeth’s words, “The interests of the poor, the very young, and the very old, and the highly diffuse stake of the consumer, the environment, and future generations, are relatively unorganized and unrepresented. The legal system mirrors our political system in its representation of those organized around a profit stake in public policy” (1979 proposal to create CPIL). Professor Fellmeth has been CPIL’s director since its inception. Today, CPIL is an academic center of research, teaching, learning, and advocacy in public interest and administrative law.

Over the years, CPIL has initiated a number of successful advocacy and education projects that have evolved into separate entities:

  • In 1989, the Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to CPIL to create the Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI). CAI quickly became one of the state's leading child advocacy organizations, representing children in the state legislature, in the courts, before administrative agencies, and through public education programs. CAI's achievements include legislation to overhaul the regulation of child care facilities and to create "Kids' Plates," a personalized vehicle license plates program whose proceeds are earmarked for child care and safety programs; legislation to require children under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle; litigation to compel a state agency to adopt public playground safety regulations to prevent child injury; research and evaluation of a pilot project substituting a single, interdisciplinary interview of a child abuse victim for repeated interrogations by multiple interviewers; creation of the Child Advocacy Clinic, which provides law students with the skills and knowledge necessary to represent the interests of children in all fora; and publication of the California Children's Budget, California Legislative Report Card, and Children's Regulatory Law Reporter.
  • With a grant from the Public Utilities Commission's Telecommunications Education Trust, CPIL established the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in July 1992. At the time, the PRC was the first and only consumer education project in the United States to focus solely on personal privacy protection — a cutting-edge legal issue that has since emerged as a national concern. Through a toll-free hotline, its distribution of fact sheets on various informational privacy issues, and an Internet website, the PRC has educated consumers and policymakers throughout the nation on the importance of informational privacy in this era of the "information superhighway." The PRC separated from CPIL in 1996 but continues its important consumer education mission as an independent organization.
  • Using cy pres settlement funds from a lawsuit against Duke Energy, the University of San Diego School of Law established the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC) as part of CPIL. EPIC is a non-profit academic and research center of the University of San Diego School of Law that studies energy policy issues affecting the San Diego region and California. EPIC integrates research and analysis, law school study, and public education, and serves as a source of legal and policy expertise and information in the development of sustainable solutions that meet our future energy needs.

In 1990, San Diego philanthropists Sol and Helen Price contributed $1.5 million to USD to establish the Price Chair in Public Interest Law, an endowed faculty chair held by CPIL founder Robert C. Fellmeth.

Robert Fellmeth, Executive Director Robert Fellmeth, Executive Director