Douglas M. Bregman (L’74): Making a Difference
August 6, 2018
Douglas M. Bregman (L’74) entered Georgetown Law in 1971, right before the formal dedication of McDonough Hall. He skipped Chief Justice Warren Burger’s keynote address, opting for the “counter-dedication” on the front steps featuring radical lawyer William Kunstler.
Burger’s legal philosophy — rejecting the use of the courts as instruments of social reform — was at odds with that of a number of law student activists who wanted to make their voices heard. Thus, there were two dedication ceremonies of McDonough Hall.
“It wasn’t even a choice,” says Bregman, who had spent his teen and college years as a social activist, going to “all the demonstrations in Washington. … I was trying to help the country move in the right direction.”
So the news of May 16, 2017, hit close to home for Bregman, now a Georgetown Law adjunct professor and a partner at Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday in Bethesda.
Black-suited, combat-booted security guards and other supporters of visiting Turkish President Recep Erdogan had kicked and beaten a small group of demonstrators in Sheridan Circle, across the street from the Turkish Residence on Embassy Row, sending nine of them to the hospital.
“I had to do something,” Bregman says. “I didn’t quite know what to do, but I knew I had to help those folks.”
A business and real estate attorney with “negligible” international experience, he called another lawyer in his firm, Andreas Akaras, who has a strong background in Greek and Turkish affairs. Next, he enlisted the help of Steve Perles, a colleague who has used the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to sue Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya.
They filed suit in U.S. District Court on May 15, 2018.
“Lusik Usoyan et al v. The Republic of Turkey,” Bregman says. “It sends a chill down my spine to say it. To think that with a law degree, you can take on an entire government.”
Growing up in Philadelphia and attending Colgate University, Bregman “was leaning toward Divinity School” until he landed a consumer-affairs job in the Nixon Administration. His supervisor – the future Sen. Elizabeth Hanford Dole – “told me that if I really wanted to change the world, I should go to law school,” he says.
At Georgetown, he was fascinated by Professor Sam Dash’s behind-the-scenes Watergate stories and inspired by Professor Sherman Cohn’s focus on using civil procedure “as a process for good.” Professor Richard Gordon fed his appetite for philosophy. He found a “kindred soul” in classmate Joe Basta (L’74), now a mediator in Ann Arbor.
After law school, he clerked for Judge J. Dudley Digges of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, who “always looked out for the little guy.”
Bregman has nurtured that attitude alongside his real estate and business practice. His “proudest moment,” he said, was when he helped Maryland Legal Aid successfully sue the state’s governor in 2005 to restore medical benefits to resident legal immigrant children and pregnant women.
“Proudest, so far,” he says. “This lawsuit could top it.”
His five clients are suing for assault, battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and other counts. Under the FSIA, they must convince the court that the beatings were an act of terror that “transcends national boundaries.” Bregman says he is optimistic.
About a dozen other plaintiffs have also filed suit, represented by Agnieszka Fryszman (L’96) of Cohen Milstein and Michael Tigar of American University’s Washington College of Law. Bregman says the teams have met to “brainstorm,” but for now, the cases remain separate.
In the tradition of his favorite law professors, Bregman has discussed the lawsuit with the students in his Georgetown Law course, “Drafting and Negotiating Commercial Real Estate Documents.”
“War stories are very important for law students,” he says – especially stories that show transactional lawyers can be litigators and human-rights lawyers.
“You don’t have to get pigeonholed,” Bregman says. “That’s the greatness of a law degree. You can spread your wings.”