When Project Extra Mile, a network of community partnerships working to prevent underage drinking, sought to have alcopops classified as distilled spirits, they knew opposing the alcohol industry would be challenging, so they enlisted the assistance of Vince Powers of Vincent M. Powers & Associates.
“Not one to shy away from controversy, Vince guided Project Extra Mile through the legal terrain around a highly contentious issue that some of the state’s highest officials were fighting to protect. Vince was committed and undeterred, walking side-by-side with us against a very powerful industry,” says Nicole Carritt, Executive Director of Project Extra Mile.
The sweet, fruity alcopop appeals to youth, but is also full of hard liquor. With alcopops not classified as liquor, the alcohol industry benefits by being able to have the price compete with that of beer instead of hard liquor and allowing them to be sold by a greater number of vendors across the state. This allows the industry to create greater access to the products and to market the drink to youth, a price-conscious group with less disposable income.
In March 2012, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Lancaster County District Court that classified alcopops as distilled spirits.
Classifying alcopops as distilled spirits requires the industry to pay higher taxes on the drinks, which will raise the price to the consumer. Statistics show that 26 percent of alcohol sold in Nebraska is consumed by underage persons. Project Extra Mile and Mr. Powers’ victory will limit this group’s access to alcopops. After the ruling, the Governor rushed legislation that restored the alcohol industry’s tax break. Many other states applauded the Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, and will use it as a model as they work to address alcopops.
Mr. Powers says he took this case pro bono because Project Extra Mile was “being treated shabbily by the Governor and some state senators when they tried to get the Legislature to tax alcopops according to Nebraska law and I was confident I could prevail. Unfortunately, the legislature and Governor undid the Supreme Court’s decision by changing the law to benefit the industry and harm the taxpayers.”
Mr. Powers handles pro bono cases to make sure “that folks get a fair shake.” In a recent pro bono case, he obtained a restraining order to stop a deed of trust sale for an elderly couple who had been cheated by the mortgage company, allowing the couple to remain in their home.
“I make a good living because of the law,” says Mr. Powers. “The taxpayers provide the courthouse, the judges, the juries, and the staff – so it’s important to repay the community.”
Ms. Carritt expresses the gratitude of Project Extra Mile, “Vince saw the injustice to Nebraska’s children clearly and fought ardently for the appropriate classification of the products. He will forever be remembered for his commitment to social justice.”