has at least one job-related tale to tell, but Thomas
Wetterer ’87, general counsel for Greenpeace, has dozens.
Ask him about his job, and he’ll tell you about the time he
was defending 17 activists on felony charges for a 2002
protest of a missile defense test at Vandenberg Air Force
Base in California. Ten of the activists were foreign
nationals who could not leave Los Angeles before the trial
and would be put in jail unless a place was found for them
all to stay by the next day.
Wetterer drove around Los Angeles armed with his cell
phone and some classified ads; he signed a lease for a small
ranch house later that same night. After months of trial
prep and negotiations with federal prosecutors, the case was
ultimately resolved by a plea bargain on the eve of trial,
which reduced the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor,
meaning that no one served any jail time. Just another day
in the life of Greenpeace’s top lawyer.
Wetterer started working for Greenpeace in August 1998 as
a staff attorney and has been its general counsel since
2002. Before that he was a lawyer in Hagerstown, Md., where
his practice included criminal defense, workers’
compensation, and personal injury, among other areas. But
after eight years of private practice, Wetterer had a strong
desire to use his experience in a way that would make more
of a difference in the world. “The most rewarding part for
me is that even at the end of a rough day, I’ve made some
contribution to an organization that does so much for the
environment,” stated Wetterer.
As general counsel for Greenpeace, Wetterer is
responsible for handling all matters that have legal
implications for the organization, from the environmental
lawsuits Greenpeace files to the criminal defense of
activists who are arrested during a protest. Wetterer also
advises Greenpeace’s board of directors and the senior
management team on governance and liability issues, keeps
them updated on the progress of all current lawsuits, and
provides counsel on employment law.
Wetterer is very careful not to cross any lines in his
function as general counsel. “As a lawyer, my obligation is
to inform people about the possible legal ramifications of
their actions and that’s what I do,” says Wetterer.
While Wetterer veered from the path he started out on at
Smith (which was corporate finance), he does believe that
the great education he received at the school helped him
develop analytical and communication skills, both of which
are critically important in the legal profession. “I’ve used
the knowledge I gained at Smith to assist clients with
business planning, both while in private practice and in my
management duties at Greenpeace,” says Wetterer.---PB