NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union announced the creation of the Trone Center for Criminal Justice Reform. The Center, located at the ACLU national headquarters, will focus on reducing the US prison population and recidivism through sentencing reform, thanks to the vision and generosity of David and June Trone, long-time supporters of the ACLU.
The creation of the Trone Center is made possible by a landmark $15 million gift from the Trones to the ACLU Foundation. The Trone gift is the second largest donation in the organization’s history dedicated to criminal justice work, after the 2014 gift of $50 million made by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
In announcing the Center, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said, “This should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the ACLU or David Trone. David and June have supported the ACLU for over 20 years, and two of their four children, Michelle and Robert, have worked in our Washington, D.C., office. David has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the ACLU in helping to reform our nation’s criminal laws. He and June know firsthand how the judicial system can run roughshod over the rights of law-abiding Americans.”
“The Trone Center for Criminal Justice will see that these reforms become a reality. And as one of America’s most successful leaders, David has unique credibility with business leaders and the private sector,” added Romero. “The private sector is key to unlocking the potential for true and long-lasting reform on criminal justice, and David will be the driving force in the ACLU’s private sector national initiative.”
Trone’s initial involvement with the ACLU was born of personal experience. While working on his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Trone came up with a new idea – a retail beer superstore that would provide customers with lower prices, broader selection, and great customer service. David knew this was a threat to established retailers in the market, but he had no idea the lengths to which they would go to stop him. They initially persuaded local officials to bring a criminal indictment against David for negotiating volume discounts from distributors, the basis for offering lower prices to consumers.
The local prosecutor refused to prosecute the case, saying it had no legal merit. But this did not stop David’s competitors. They convinced the Pennsylvania Attorney General to pursue other similarly frivolous criminal charges against David and June. The competitors also successfully lobbied the legislature to pass a law to prohibit advertising beer prices in the newspaper making it more difficult for consumers to know that Trone’s prices were substantially lower than theirs.
The case pursued by the Attorney General was also dismissed. Every single action against the Trone family – in appellate court, state court, and with state liquor boards – was thrown out. After a corruption investigation on another issue, the Attorney General served a sentence in federal prison.
Through his persistence, Trone got a measure of justice. He initiated and won a counter-suit against the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for illegally revealing personal financial information. And the Supreme Court struck down the advertising ban after finding it to be unconstitutional.
Through this arduous process, David learned that the judicial system can easily violate the rights of people. Trone knew that he had a responsibility to change our criminal justice system, and thus began two decades of his support for the preeminent organization safeguarding liberty. He also learned that even thoroughly and completely defeating an injustice does not necessarily end the damage, as competitors still use these dismissed charges in their attempts to defeat him in regulatory hearings.
“I was lucky. I had the resources and the representation to fight an injustice and win. Too many Americans are unable to do that and, as a result, suffer life-altering consequences. The Trone Center for Criminal Justice Reform is part of my effort to try to ensure that others will not face the injustices we faced. The Center will address one of our society’s most egregious ills – the failure of our criminal justice system to protect its citizens’ rights,” said David Trone. “The current system severely reduces the chances for those who’ve served their time to start a new life after their release. I am grateful for the opportunity to do whatever I can to support this important cause. I know the Center will contribute to large-scale change. I am extremely proud to be an ACLU supporter for more than twenty years and look forward to many more years helping them fulfill their mission.”
“David Trone confronted a true miscarriage of justice, and I was proud to be his legal counsel and ensure that he and his family did not become victims of our broken system,” said Roslyn Litman, a member of the ACLU National Board of Directors. “I can think of no legacy more fitting for this man than to have a lasting impact: to help repair the lives of so many that are needlessly destroyed by our broken criminal justice system.”
“We will use David’s resources to build support for change in states and at the federal level, helping to move needed reforms along to fruition. David also understands that communities of color are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment when our criminal justice system and prison system do not live up to the ideals of our Bill of Rights,” said Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director at the ACLU who oversees the newly-renamed Trone Center for Criminal Justice. “We at the ACLU and David know that as a country, we cannot arrest our way out of problems. This support means we can begin to pioneer solutions everywhere.”
George Soros, chairman of the Open Society Institute, added, “I would like to congratulate and thank David Trone for his important response to the challenge I issued to the ACLU to mount the largest effort in history to end over-incarceration.”
In addition to his landmark gift, David Trone has agreed to chair an advisory board of private sector and education leaders to build support for criminal justice reform. The board will focus on the need to provide reintegration assistance and job opportunities for individuals recently released from prison and jail. Trone and other advisory board members will provide recommendations to employers and businesses for training and hiring of individuals who have served their time and wish to make a fresh start in society. Other members of the advisory board include Mark Holden, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Koch Industries; Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund; and Paul Sagan, former CEO, Akamai Technologies, Inc.
The private sector and education leader advisory board will explore a full range of reintegration strategies to build private sector support for criminal justice reform. Trone’s company, Total Wine & More, which currently employs over 4000 individuals nationwide, has been a leader in this area. Total Wine was one of the first major retailers to “ban the box” on employment applications and is in the process of a full-scale employment practices review at Total Wine to ensure past criminal history does not block deserving applicants from employment or career advancement. Trone added, “Our application process will allow us to hire, train, and advance deserving applicants who have made a mistake, paid the price, and now want to build a better life.”
The ACLU is the nation’s leading criminal justice reform advocacy group, having brought about sweeping change for over 50 years, by litigating cases that resulted in the Miranda rule and the Gideon decision. The organization, in the lead up to its centennial in 2020, is building nationwide advocacy campaigns across the country.