Small business deserves its day in court. So thinks San Francisco lawyer Timothy H. Fine, founder of the Small Business Legal Defense Committee, a new organization set up to defend the rights of small companies.

The group's mission, explains Fine, is to make sure the government follows the Small Business Economic Policy Act of 1980. That law says all federal agencies must "foster the economic interests of small businesses... assure that adequate capital and other resources at competitive prices are available to small businesses; reduce the concentration of economic resources and expand competition; and provide an opportunity for entrepreneurship, inventiveness, and the creation and growth of small business." Granted that's a tall order -- but it's the law.

Fine, who has spent his career representing small firms, says he founded his committee to defend small businesses before legislative, judicial, and executive bodies and also keep the 1980 act in the federal limelight. Fine expects to sign up 5,000 members over the next two years, at membership fees ranging from $100 to $300.

For now, Fine's attention is focused on the Justice Department. "Attorney General William French Smith and William F. Baxter, assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division, have declared open war upon the small businesspersons of the United States," Fine says. "They have brought down the curtain on antitrust enforcement and indicated that monopoly is a virtue."

In its first legal action, the committee filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in the antitrust case of United States of America vs. Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. In 1979 the Justice Department had filed suit against the company for forcing auto dealers who carry Mercedes cars to also buy Mercedes-Benz replacement parts. But last March, Baxter decided to drop the case, arguing that the tie-in arrangement did not harm competition, because it did not give Mercedes any additional market power.

In opposing Baxter's action, the Small Business Legal Defense Committee told the court: "The specific harm to the small businesses precluded from competing with Mercedes-Benz... is obviously of no concern to Mr. Baxter's department... There is no indication here that Mr. Baxter's division has paid the slightest attention to [the Small Business Economic Policy Act]."