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Alexander J. Pires Jr. (born 1947) is an American lawyer and entrepreneur. He is Portuguese; both sides of his family came from the village of Madalena do Mar (population 515) on the island of Madeira.

Early life

Pires attended the University of Miami and then Boston University, graduating in 1969. Pires attended George Washington University Law School on a full scholarship, receiving his Juris Doctor (JD) degree with honors in 1972. In 1978 he received a master's degree (LLM) in taxation, also from GWU Law.

Pires was drafted during the Vietnam War and entered the ROTC program at Georgetown. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1972. In 1980, Pires was honorably discharged. His final rank was Major.

Career

United States Department of Justice and government service

Upon graduating from GWU Law in 1972, Pires was accepted into the Attorney General’s Honors Program at the United States Department of Justice. In 1977 he received the Attorney General’s Special Commendation Award for work on complex litigation. Pires then became a senior trial attorney in the DOJ Antitrust Division where he took a lead role on the trial team responsible for the breakup of AT&T. Pires served eight years on the Board of Directors of the Federal Justice Credit Union, four years as its president.

In 1980 Pires was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Private practice

Pires joined Barnett & Alagia in 1981, representing farmers while specializing in agricultural law. Pires formed the firm of Scott, Harrison & McLeod, which evolved into McLeod & Pires. In 1991, Pires joined the firm of Conlon Frantz Phelan & Pires, where he remained for 12 years. Today, Pires has a law practice with his wife, Diane Cooley, in the firm Pires Cooley.

Pires has been lead counsel in four class actions that have recovered over $4 billion, for five different groups of farmers.

In 1997, Pires and attorney Phil Fraas agreed to take on the case of 11 black farmers who had been discriminated against by the USDA for years. These farmers had been traveling the country trying to find lawyers to listen to their story. As described by John Boyd, President of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), “We visited with 14 lawyers, including Johnnie Cochran—all of them turned down the case. Pires and Fraas were the only ones willing to do it.” Pires told the farmers he believed their claims could only succeed if they could get several hundred other farmers with similar claims to join them in a class action. The claims were years and often, decades old, which means that the statute of limitations had long since expired.

Pires theorized that if they could show that USDA’s discriminatory practices regarding black farmers was pervasive and longstanding, the case would have wide appeal and the statute of limitations problem could be solved somehow. Pires, Fraas, and the farmers began touring the South, holding meetings to discuss and explain the case. Within a year they exceeded the goal. In September 1997 Pires and Frass filed Pigford v. Glickman in US District Court for the District of Columbia, naming hundreds of plaintiffs and asking the court to certify a class. Within a few months, noted civil rights leader and attorney J.L. Chestnut of Selma, Alabama joined Pires and Fraas. Battling the Government, Pires succeeded in getting class certification.

In 1999 Pires, Fraas, Chestnut, and their colleagues entered into a consent decree that offered two tracks of relief for class members. Under "Track A," farmers could obtain a cash payment of $50,000 along with debt relief if they could show that they tried and failed to borrow money from the USDA and that similarly situated white farmers had been approved at the same time they were denied. "Track B" allowed class members to secure additional relief if they could meet a higher standard of proof. More than 98% of class members chose Track A after Pires explicitly assured the district court that it had access to the data necessary for practically every farmer to meet the requisite standards. When tens of thousands of farmers filed claims, Pires and his fellow attorneys began missing deadlines, leading the judge to observe that their conduct "border[ed] on legal malpractice." At one point in the litigation, Pires stated that he had never intended to meet the district court's filing deadlines, and the judge solicited pro bono assistance from law firms in the District of Columbia.

Ultimately, over 22,000 people filed claims. By the end of the claims process, over 15,000 claimants had been compensated (an average of $50,000 plus $12,500 to pay taxes on the award) for a total payout of $1.1 billion —making it one of the largest civil rights cases in history. In part because of decisions made by Pires and his co-counsel, thousands of farmers were also denied relief despite Pires's assurance that there was "certainty" in their success.

In 1999 Pires and Fraas filed a Pigford-style case against USDA on behalf of Native American farmers. Joseph Sellers of Cohen Millstein and other lawyers took over the lead in the case, which settled it in 2010 for $760 million.

In 2000 Pires filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 435,000 tobacco farmers against the tobacco industry alleging the defendants violated antitrust laws by bid rigging at tobacco auctions. Due to the heavy demands of the Pigford case, Pires brought in the Washington, DC law firm of Howrey Simon to litigate DeLoach. In 2003 a settlement was reached with all defendants except Reynolds, who settled in 2004. The combined value of the settlement to the plaintiff class was over $1 billion.

In addition to Keepseagle, Pires filed Pigford-style cases on behalf of women (Love v. Vilsack) and Hispanic (Garcia v. Vilsack) farmers against USDA in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

In the summer of 2012, the USDA announced a voluntary administrative process through which women farmers and Hispanic farmers could apply to receive compensation for discrimination by USDA dating back to 1981—in essence validating the claims of the plaintiff in those lawsuits. The total amount of funds available to pay these claims was $1.25 billion.

The Highway One Group

In 1989, Pires formed the Highway One Group, which owns music venues, bars, restaurants and hotels in Delaware. As of 2019, the company employed 475 full and part-time employees.

Mayor Cupcake

In 2009, Pires co-wrote, produced and directed the film Mayor Cupcake, with a personal investment of $400,000. The film was shot entirely in Delaware and tells the story of an uneducated cupcake baker who becomes the mayor of a small town. The film, featuring Lea Thompson, Judd Nelson, Frankie Faison, and Dorian Harewood, was selected by various film festivals and is available on demand at Netflix, Comcast, Amazon Prime, and Showtime.

Teaching

Pires served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center from 1998-2000 where he co-taught a course in Civil Discovery with Diane Cooley. Pires also taught real estate and business law at the University of Maryland.

2012 Senate campaign

Pires ran as the Independent Party of Delaware candidate in the United States Senate election in Delaware, 2012. He lost to incumbent Senator Tom Carper.

Personal life

Pires is married to Diane Cooley, a lawyer, and has two children.

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