The first and earlier of her two oral histories with CNEJL. Focuses on her work with LSC.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Jul 28, 1992|
|Where relates to:||Mississippi|
|Topics:||Civil legal aid: General|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with Martha Bergmark
Conducted by Harrison McIver
July 28, 1992
Harrison McIver: This is an oral history interview of Martha Bergmark. Today’s date is July 28, 1992 and the interview is being conducted at . . . Don Caesar, at St. Petersburg’s Beach, Florida. My name is Harrison McIver and I am conducting this interview. Hello Martha.
Martha Bergmark: Hi, Harrison.
Harrison McIver: Well tell us a little bit about you, Martha, tell us about your life in Mississippi somewhat and your involvement in legal services.
Martha Bergmark: Okay. Well those two things are closely linked. I’m from Mississippi, left Mississippi when I finished high school, thinking I would never be back, that was in 1966, which turns out is very close to the beginning of legal services in Mississippi, but went to college and then to law school and by about my first year of law school had decided that I was definitely going to go back to Mississippi. So I was beginning to follow legal services developments in Mississippi pretty closely. And then in the summer of 1971 was my first direct experience with legal services as a . . . . intern Law Students Civil Rights Research Council Intern in Oxford at North Mississippi Rural Legal Services.
Harrison McIver: So you are a product of Mississippi and we know from history that Mississippi has an interesting history in terms of civil rights and the like. You grew up during that period. Tell us a little bit about what you think gave rise to legal services in Mississippi.
Martha Bergmark: Well I feel really privileged to have grown up at that time. It was part of a world that was at war with itself, it was not directly a civil war going on but culturally I think and politically it was a period of enormous upheaval and I was part of that as a teenager and thought that I was going to find the promised land in the north and didn’t and realized that there was a lot to be done in Mississippi and I think a lot of other people felt that way as well, and we could sit here naming those people for the next hour if that is what we chose to do, but and there were others who of course who came into the state and saw that there were legal needs. The early history of legal services in Mississippi has to do with OEO grants for legal services but there was in addition to that there were civil rights groups that were coming in and legal arms of those movements that were coming in to do work as well. The Lawyers Committee, the Ink Fund and others all primarily based in Jackson but OEO gave a grant to a small Coahoma County Clarksdale operation some time before 1966 in fact this morning I was thinking I was going to call four or five people to get some of the early history down, got the numbers and made my first call which happened to be to Mike Trister, managed to get him and asked for ten minutes and an hour and ten minutes later we finally finished talking about the first three years of legal services history and
Harrison McIver: He didn’t bill you did he?
Martha Bergmark: He didn’t bill, I hope, I don’t know yet actually but he had a great time talking about it and was able to tell me that his involvement began in ’66 when the Ole Miss Law School got a grant from the OEO, that was the second OEO grant for legal services in Mississippi.
Harrison McIver: What was it called?
Martha Bergmark: It was called the Lafayette County Legal Services based in Oxford and he came as a law professor straight out of law school in 1966 and his wife was working in the Head Start program there and that was sort of the first connection that he had to what was going on in the community in that area and became very interested in what some of the legal problems were.
Harrison McIver: That flies in the face of what we know about Ole Miss
Martha Bergmark: Well it does, Josh Morris was the Dean of the law school at that time and had brought in a number of fairly progressive people and was attempting to do some fairly progressive things, although the beginning legal services program, the Lafayette County Legal Services, was simply really a law school clinic program, combination of law school clinic and . . . care. The law school professor who was director of it, Aaron Condon, would retain private attorneys to help supervise the law students who were doing clinical work. And some of the newer professors’ attitude about that was that there was a lot more opportunity for work that could be done there and Mike Trister, George Strickler and others began to get involved and in fact got permission from the Dean to spend part of their time, part of their teaching time or their obligation to the law school time working at the legal services office. So what then happened was this little OEO grant program began to do some more controversial things, they got an office opened in Holly Springs that was staffed by John Maxie and Stan Taylor, Stan was a Reggie and John was a recent Ole Miss Law School graduate. I didn’t know that either. I knew they were involved very early on but that was what Mike said. They proceeded to school a desegregation suit and Mike proceeded to file a welfare residence case. Well that didn’t sit too well with the board of you know of education what is it the board of higher education in Mississippi or with the law school, and that proceeded to generate some legislative hearings and some enormous pressure on the law school
Harrison McIver: Within the state or national?
Martha Bergmark: Within the state, within Mississippi and as you know from the Reagan controversy with California there was at that time a governor’s veto could put an OEO legal services program out of operation in a state. So you think well that’s going to be the end of OEO legal services grants in Mississippi
Harrison McIver: Was there in fact an attempt to veto . . .
Martha Bergmark: It turns out there was an exception to the governor’s veto provision if an institution of higher learning had the grant.
Harrison McIver: Oh.
Martha Bergmark: So the solution that Ole Miss and the legislature came up with was well we’ll just stop sponsoring the grant. But by that time they had it wired with Tex Wilson and Dave Rice who were at Mary Holmes Junior College to have the grant come through Mary Holmes Junior College
MM: Which is a private institution.
Martha Bergmark: It’s a private predominately African American institution of higher learning that fit the bill that made it not possible for the governor to veto the OEO legal services grant. And at the time they got the charter through Mary Holmes they got it for all 39 counties that North Mississippi Rural Legal Services currently has. They had the whole northern half of the state, didn’t of course have the funds to serve it all but did open offices in Batesville, . . . County, in Greenwood, in Holly Springs, they already had the Holly Springs office, and in West Point. And Jessie Pennington came in at that time and took over the West Point office and John Britton came about that time and was a leading school desegregation lawyer with the program. And that was the time I came arrived on the scene
Harrison McIver: Was it a very exciting time?
Martha Bergmark: It was a very exciting time to be there. It was I thought of legal services in the summer of 1971 as a well established institution and a great place to work but of course it was all brand new. I didn’t at the time have an appreciation for how really new and tenuous this whole enterprise was. But in my two summers at North Mississippi based in Oxford but traveling all over north Mississippi I did work on some of the cases that were typical at that time. The municipal equalization suits had been pioneered in Mississippi, Shaw v. Mississippi was the first municipal equalization recognition by the Fifth Circuit of a right to equal services in a municipality and I spent a portion of one summer putting fire plug locations on a map of the town of Sunflower. We chartered the fire plugs, the street lights, you know measured the drainage ditches, checked for how the roads were paved or not paved, whether there were gutters, sidewalks, all that and documented quite a clear case actually of denial of municipal equalization.
Harrison McIver: How large a staff was there?
Martha Bergmark: You know I don’t know. There were dozens of law student interns and general hangers-on like me, Wilhelm Joseph was around at that time, Johnny Walls, Robert Buck, John Radcliff, Ron Welsh, a number of non-law students Tom Ginger, Betsy Goldman who later I practiced with in Hattiesburg when we started out firm in Hattiesburg, so a whole crowd of folks. I suppose the staff must have been maybe 20 people.
Harrison McIver: Oh really. Was there service work being provided?
Martha Bergmark: Yes there was service work going on. I have no idea what the grant was at that time. I’m sure it was tiny. Everybody was working for pretty much peanuts at that point. Mike Trister was director, he became director of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services
Harrison McIver: He was the first director?
Martha Bergmark: Well I guess Aaron Condon I guess was the first director and a guy named Luther MacDougal was briefly the director after that and then Mike. Mike had an interesting sort of exit from the law school. The fall out from this controversy about the grant was that Mike and George Strickler were terminated from the law school. Were told that they could either teach full-time or they could leave and what they wanted was to keep doing what they were doing which was part-time at the legal services program and part-time teaching. So they filed suit, it was Judge Orma Smith’s very first case ever after he was sworn into the bench, Judge Keady assigned it to him even before he had been sworn in. He ruled against them. They went to the Fifth Circuit and won and then entered into some settlement negotiations with the law school and ultimately resolved it that Mike go to teach another course and then you know that was it. They had him back for a brief period of time. Said he conferred with Connie Slaughter and . . . Stewart and other about whether to accept a $25,000 offer to just go away and on principle they said no they hadn’t even sued for any money to begin with, you know that wasn’t what this was about it was about the principle of the thing so he got to go back and teach one course and that was it. By that time he was director of the program and then left it to Jim Lewis was the first director I worked for and after I was there Alexanders after my first summer there Alexanders took over and then Francis Stephens. We’re in the early 70s by now. We’ll never make it through this hour will we.
Harrison McIver: This is very interesting. I’m learning . . .obviously I’ve had history in Mississippi and this is a learning experience for me too, this is gold.
Martha Bergmark: So that was the early OEO grant for North Mississippi which was the first major one and at some point they wound up merging I think with Coahoma County grant. Once Mary Holmes Junior College took over the grant it was covered the northern 39 counties. In ’69 I guess we aren’t in the 70s yet, in ’69 John Maxie left to go to Jackson and start the Jackson program. And started what was then Hinds County Legal Services and began that program. That program had its own history and controversy. In fact you and I were at the Senate hearings recently where Thad Corcoran talked about his early war in the bar, Mississippi bar legal services. That began a matter of controversy in the Jackson area because there were two OEO grants that were actually competing OEO grants in Hinds County for a period of time. I come into that one too because then I became a Reggie at what was then Community Legal Services for John Maxie in ’73.
Harrison McIver: Let’s clear that up a little bit. Was Maxie at the bar program or
Martha Bergmark: He was at Community Legal Services, I guess it was Hinds County Legal Services and then Community Legal Services and what was deemed to be a model for an aggressive staff attorney program that would do some ass-kicking.
Harrison McIver: Do you feel that the history or the unfolding history of the northern program had a bearing on the antagonism or the negative feelings in Jackson about a legal services program?
Martha Bergmark: I’m sure it did and in fact Mike mentioned to me the fact that it was somewhat controversial that Stan Taylor and John Maxie both local Mississippi boys you known born and bred, white, were right in the middle of this thing so for John Maxie to leave the North Mississippi program in order to set up the Jackson program can’t have been very well received in the Jackson area but I didn’t get to make my other calls because by the time I was done with Mike . . .
Harrison McIver: It would be interesting to relay a little bit about what Thad Corcoran said in terms of bar meetings, do you recall that
Martha Bergmark: Yes what Senator Corcoran said was talked about the fact that there were some young lawyers in Jackson who were committed to the notion that there ought to be legal services for people who couldn’t afford it and he related just assuming that people would think that that was necessary but came to find out at a bar meeting when he I guess stood up to vote for continuing an effort of this kind that he was in the minority on that question and it was not going to be as well received as he thought it ought to be.
Harrison McIver: Did Trister or does your recall does it tell you a little bit about how the merger took place and the controversy around the merger?
Martha Bergmark: The merger of the two, what happened during that period was this, the two programs went along being funded separately, while I was a Reggie we were monitored by OEO in fact by Bucky Askew and I remember this was in 1973 Bucky talking about I guess going to visit both programs while he was in town and sort of joking about the fact that yes they did have to fund both of these programs but it made for an interesting contrast of styles in terms of what was done. Our view of the bar program that was it sort of a divorce mill routine whereas the legal services program was involved in challenging the justice court system in Mississippi. Charles Ramberg and Barry Powell I guess were primarily working on that which did result in a major reform of the justice court system. It was a fee system and they basically succeeded ultimately in making sure there was legislative reform of that system. And Karen Price who worked as a paralegal at that time with Barry and Charles on the justice court case then became as you a justice court administrator under the new system. And that represents I think a continuing thing. We could name again dozens of people who started in legal services and work on particular cases and efforts and then have gone on to be players in how those things played out. Charles Lawrence who worked in my program in Southeast we’re jumping ahead just a minute we worked on the change in the form of government for the city of Hattiesburg and then he now is a city council member in Hattiesburg as one of the first two African American members of
Harrison McIver: I imagine Louis Armstrong
Martha Bergmark: Is similarly . . .yes so we could go on and on naming the Hall of Fame people here.
Harrison McIver: Why don’t you talk a little bit about talk as long as you want about expansion, the expansions years.
Martha Bergmark: All right the 70s on the national level what was happening in the 70s was the Legal Services Corporation Act was passed in ’74 and the Legal Services Corporation got started really in ’75. And that was a happy conclusion to some very hard years in the early 70s with the cutbacks in OEO funding. OEO was under the aegis of Howard Phillips and company whose intention it was to destroy legal services. So Mississippi experienced that too, the cutbacks, and I left legal services for a period of time after I was a Reggie but know that there were cutbacks going on, there were a difficult period of time, it was not a period of growth. Then in the late 70s or after ’75 ’76, ’77 the Mississippi Council on Human Relations under the directorship of Michael Raft became the organization that took on how we are going to use this expansion money in Mississippi and knew there was going to be additional money coming in and saw to it undertook as their program priority to make sure that happened in a way that was constructive and progressive. So he and others traveled the state the southern part of the state talking to community leaders, to attorneys, to figure out how we are going to fund the rest of the state. At that point 39 counties in North Mississippi were under North Mississippi Rural Legal Services jurisdiction. Hinds and Rankin Counties only were under Community Legal Services and the whole rest of the state was that’s 41 counties so the other 41 counties had no legal services. So the issue was how do we get legal services for those parts of the state. And there were different models that were considered. I at that point was in private practice in a civil rights firm in Hattiesburg and I can remember a long meeting conversation meeting in our firm’s library talking about the pros and cons of well should there be a counterpart for North Mississippi that is South Mississippi, one big program to cover those 41 counties, should it be balkanized was the term we used for it in case some one or more programs was picked off there would be others left to pick up the slack and the decision was for balkanization, that it was just too risky to set up one giant program that if it couldn’t make it or got sort of taken over by forces that weren’t really for legal services that this would be a problem. So we came up with a four-program division that includes South Mississippi, it’s so original our naming, Southeast Mississippi, Southwest Mississippi and East Mississippi. And at that point or somewhere in there Community Legal Services became Central Mississippi and got an additional eight counties. Two counties and went to ten, nine. Southwest has 10. The others have nine and then South Mississippi has . . .
Harrison McIver: And the administrative offices would you just list them in terms of the new
Martha Bergmark: Oh where the headquarters were. We had headquarters in McComb was the headquarters for Southwest Mississippi, Biloxi is the headquarters for South Mississippi, Hattiesburg for Southeast Mississippi and well really Forest and that was because Connie Slaughter was there, was going to be director and that was her home.
Harrison McIver: How many people who became directors were at this meeting? We know that you became director of Southeast.
Martha Bergmark: You know I don’t remember, it was not a big meeting and Clint Lyons may have been there. There were different meetings that happened and Mike was sort of going around the states interviewing people. Clint was over from time to time because he was the deputy director under Bucky at the Atlanta regional office at that point.
Harrison McIver: Did he have a driver, he doesn’t drive.
Martha Bergmark: Well he doesn’t driver, he must have had a driver. He clearly wasn’t driving but I don’t even know that.
Harrison McIver: Tell us a little bit about your reason or your thinking why you decided to become director of Southeast.
Martha Bergmark: Well we had been in Hattiesburg by that time, our firm, there were four lawyers had been there since the end of ’73 and we had been there long enough to know that the private bar there was not monolithic, that yes there were people who strongly opposed the notion of federal funding for legal services but there were others who were sympathetic to it. But that it was going to require someone locally to know the ropes well enough to be able to work with that non-monolithic but in part fairly negative force that was the private bar at that point. So it seemed important for some one of us, at that point Percy Watkins and Kenny Middleton were on our initial board, the folks in my firm, Mike Adelman, Elliott Andalman, my husband, Alison Steiner all of us were interested in this project and working on it but it seemed to make sense and there was again some meeting at which it was decided I seemed a likely candidate to do this for a couple of years and that was really my commitment to it. I was willing to do this briefly and long enough to sort of get it up and running but it was not what I envisioned would become my niche in life and yet that is what happened. So I did become the first, I was picked by the board to become the first director of Southeast Mississippi and was there for the next nine years.
Harrison McIver: Based on my memory I don’t think the McComb amendment was
Martha Bergmark: No the McComb amendment was not in place at that time.
Harrison McIver: So what was the composition of your board?
Martha Bergmark: But we did have requirements for percentages of attorneys it needed to be 60 percent attorneys and one-third clients, that was the NALSCA and that is what we did. We had some wonderful community people as existed throughout the southern part of the state. All those boards were put together and staffs were hired at about the same time. And our board consisted of client members of the community, people we had worked with on cases that we had filed and so forth. So it was an interesting period and the directors at that point included Connie Slaughter, Barry Powell, Wilhelm Joseph, by that time was director of North Mississippi.
Harrison McIver: And Barry was at Central right.
Martha Bergmark: And not initially but pretty soon thereafter Stan Taylor who you know you heard me mention opened the Holly Springs office became director of South Mississippi Legal Services and is still there today. Solomon Osborne . . . first director in Southwest. So those early project director meetings were interesting. Meanwhile there was a services coalition, Mississippi Services Coalition was funded as the state support center and Michael Raft and Robert Walker were the first and Velma Jackson now Velma Ewing were the first staff of the coalition. And they were took a lead role in seeing to it that the project directors got together, that we planned strategy for our legislative work, we got involved very early on in the 80s, I was personally very much involved with the utility right regulations work that we did phone and electricity that led to again some substantial legislative reform of the way public utilities work in Mississippi. So that was an interesting thing that spanned the 80s in fact just recently I was last week at the substantive law conference in Berkeley John Jopling who is still at Southeast Mississippi Legal Services was a member of the faculty for the utilities training that happened in Berkeley because of his continuing work on legal services. So that was something. Jessie Pennington and Al Chiplan and I and many others helped sort of . . .
Harrison McIver: So you carry on the legacy. What other substantive areas or impact areas do you recall during that period?
Martha Bergmark: Certainly the municipal equalization that was as I said pioneered in the very early 70s is something that kept on going into the 80s. After the 1980 census there was the redistricting of counties that took place and we were very actively involved in the Voting Rights Act implications of that districting and were involved in some suits and settlements and other things that happened around the ’80 census, as well as some shifting from in forms of city government. As I mentioned Charles Lawrence going on the city council, there were a number of cases that legal services programs worked on to change forms of city government to district voting rather than at large voting. We worked on for years we tried to get a warranty of habitability from the Mississippi state legislature. That was on ongoing crusade of Louis Armstrong and lots of clients who worked on that but to my knowledge it still has not
Harrison McIver: There was one passed but it doesn’t have any enforcement provisions. It’s on the books but it’s just there it really was a compromise but in talking to Louis he indicated that that’s the start and hopefully this year or next year . . .
Martha Bergmark: Yeah for years it was just an ongoing struggle. Jails and prison conditions again that was something I worked on in 1971, worked on prison conditions at Parchmen and that turned into a number of jail conditions suits. We filed both in Forest and Jones counties in Mississippi and settled both of those cases.
Harrison McIver: I do recall at Central every county’s jail was sued and successfully.
Martha Bergmark: It was an ongoing effort.
Harrison McIver: Why don’t you tell us about the relationship with the private bar and more established bar because I would imagine that because of the nature of the representation and the aggressive legal services being provided to clients that there must have been a thorn in the side of the bar in the establishment.
Martha Bergmark: Well you know that was an interesting history that took place all over the state and one thing we haven’t talked about yet actually sort of leads up to this in an ironic kind of way is the work that Wilhelm was doing his staff were doing in North Mississippi with the United League, it was the community work that they were carrying on in those areas and that was I think the most well known example of that and probably in some ways the most successful example of that but it was happening in other ways in other parts of the state that was not activity that you know that endeared us to the power structure in Mississippi. One interesting thing that happened to us at least in Southeast and I think happened in other places as well, was that judges were quick to realize that this was really a service that was worthwhile and useful and admittedly there was sort of a distinction between yeah we want you to handle the divorces and the service work that is there but we would just as soon you stayed out of you know jail conditions suits or whatever. Even fairly on among the more progressive lawyers there seemed to be you know an acceptance of the need for some of the more the bigger more impact sort of cases that were filed. When Reagan was elected president and there was an immediate threat to legal services funding we saw at least in our part of the state an immediate getting on that band wagon by certain members of the bar, you know letters went to Trent Lott and others to say well halleluiah let’s get on with the president’s agenda here but on the other hand that was not universally the case and we very early on entered into some negotiations with the bar that the excuse for which was that there was a new requirement by LSC that ten percent of our money be expended on private attorney involvement, involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of our services. So we had some very rocky initial contacts with the state bar officials
Harrison McIver: Wasn’t there a meeting on Dove coast, at which Wilhelm was there, you were there, who were the players there?
Martha Bergmark: Well all the project directors I think were there, Curtis Coker was excuse me it wasn’t Curtis Coker, Curtis Coker was president elect, Melvin was there and Curtis was there but they were elect, they were coming in and the bar president who was going out at that very meeting I don’t remember his name but that was an extremely hostile encounter. It was kind of none of us want to be here talking to each other about this. And that was followed up by another not very constructive meeting. LSC went around the country having these get-together sort of sessions and the ABA strongly encouraged state bar people to come and LSC had us there and I went to a meeting in Atlanta, again I’m trying to remember if Wilhelm was there, I know Ben Cole was at that meeting. One of them may not have been, it may have been Ben which may explain why the meeting went a little bit more smoothly. Larry Hatchins was there from the bar and at that meeting Curtis Coker was definitely there and sort of taking the lead. Again another fairly hostile meeting but one which was better than the first one and seemed to be headed towards the notion that the bar was going to make some effort on this. One thing that was really helpful in the moving forward was that I had made an overture to Bill Bosch before that about using the state bar referral service and he chaired that committee as part of our referral system and for me it was sort of a way to see what possibilities there were there for working with the bar recognizing that this PAI requirement was going to be coming down the pike. And he was very open to it and to this day chairs the Mississippi Pro Bono Project board. He was a key person in the very early efforts to smooth the way towards some sort of relationship with the state bar. And that was in his capacity as chair of the state lawyer referral service committee. So what then happened was Ben Cole who was at that time litigation director of North Mississippi and I as legal services representatives two legal services representatives and Ben Piazza and Bill Bosch as the bar representatives became the negotiating committee to try to come up with a pro bono project for the state bar and did that. That became the Mississippi Pro Bono Project and that project has had a role ever since, this was ’82 because by ’83 this tiny little program won the ABA’s NLADA’s Harrison Tweed award as a you know as a recognition of all this great stuff right so but the Pro Bono Project has continued to play a role as a unifying force not only for the bar and legal services but within the legal services community in Mississippi I think.
Harrison McIver: The Reagan years were very devastating in terms of funding and you were in Mississippi during that period. Tell us about that period in terms of impact on legal services.
Martha Bergmark: That was a real rollercoaster of a time period because from the late 70s when the expansion money was coming in you know in truck loads we went from that to a 25 percent cut in funding in the beginning of 1982, we peaked out in ’81, Reagan called for an elimination of legal services. We experienced the same 25 percent cut that he got, he didn’t get elimination but he got the cut and so we were able to buffer that downhill side of the rollercoaster with the carry-over money that we had from the expansion years. That had to be done very carefully and in compliance with some fairly restrictive LSC provisions on you know what you can use that for and plans for how you were going to use it up and you couldn’t exceed certain amounts and it was all quite technical and a big pain. But we peaked out in Southeast Mississippi at a staff about 10 attorneys and slowly we didn’t have to wind up having to write people off although I know that happened in other parts of the state, we were able to buffer the cuts with the money that we had socked away at that point. But the period of the early 80s was one of a lot of focus on the political difficulties that the community was in and adjusting to this very new environment that we were having to cope with. I’ve always been a amazed though at how possible it’s been for local programs to go about their business. We deal with the funding vicissitudes of the national scene but we were able to proceed ahead and continue to provide services and continue to sort of solidify ourselves as institutions in the state and I think is reflected today, that these are programs that had very tenuous beginnings you know very difficult political sorts of controversy that they grew up in and yet are there and recognized as institutions in their communities today. There is now the IOLTA funding in Mississippi has not been nearly what it has been in some other states. It remains a voluntary program, has not gone to comprehensive or even op-out or comprehensive status so the amounts of money in Mississippi coming in through IOLTA are really quite small. Mississippi remains very dependent on LSC money. Some programs do get the Title III Older Americans Act money and some other sources of funds. Mississippi remains a state that relies very heavily on the LSC money and therefore is subject to you know whatever ups and downs there are in the LSC money.
Harrison McIver: What impact did the Reagan years from your perspective have on substantive work?
Martha Bergmark: Well probably more impact than they should have. I think there was a response that was one of some degree of timidity about continuing to provide a full range of advocacy in every possible forum. The dependence on strictly the LSC money has influenced that to some extent. Other states have been able to use other sources of funds to pursue for example policy advocacy state level legislative and administrative advocacy with greater amounts of resources devoted to it. Mississippi has a strong history at its state support level of doing legislative advocacy which is not true of the whole country. I mean our involvement there was a staff attorney on my program who drafted and got passed the domestic violence legislation in Mississippi the state support, the Legal Services Coalition worked on utilities, worked on habitability, worked on AFDC funding a whole range of legislative issues and has continued to do some of that but the resources devoted to it are really quite limited and others. I’ve been gone from the state now for five years. I went to work for PAG and then for NLADA beginning in 1987
Harrison McIver: I want to make sure you get that in. Recently there is a case that is probably 15 years old that culminated in a victory before the Supreme Court and
Martha Bergmark: Yes Ayres v. Fortise the latest government and Ayres versus a lot of people. Yeah it was filed in 1975 challenging how the state of Mississippi has dealt with its institutions of higher learning and maintenance of a segregated university and college system and that was just resulted just in March in handing down of an 8-1 decision finding that the state of Mississippi had not done what needed to be done to wipe out the vestiges of segregation and to comply with Brown v. Board of Education. That was a case filed originally in North Mississippi and worked on by a whole range of people culminating with Avon Chambliss at North Mississippi and Bob Pressman at the Center for Education Law.
Harrison McIver: Is there anything else you want to add to this. I think we’ve been going on for about an hour
Martha Bergmark: I think we’ve covered quite a bit of the history. My sense from talking just to Mike Trister this morning was that there is just a wealth of information there that should be gotten from the sources who made that history themselves but I for one am constantly harking back to my experience in Mississippi legal services work to inform what I do now and it certainly
Harrison McIver: Why has that impacted created your perspective about you are now operating on a national level with a national responsibility to programs.
Martha Bergmark: Well a couple of things about that. One is that I think the local control piece of the structure of legal services has been critical to our success, that we are that as I said before programs have been able to simply go about their business providing service and doing it in ways that are responsive to their clients. We have had freedom to do and we therefore had that obligation to do so that really sort of informs my work in the training programs that we provide, on the projects that we come up with, is providing support for that basic concept, that these programs are out there and empowered to so what needs to be done and be responsive to the legal needs of their clients and therefore they’ve got an obligation to do it. So that’s a lesson that I learned over and over again that we did have that authority and we had that opportunity and therefore that responsibility.
Harrison McIver: Okay. I think that probably covers the gambit and I guess I should say that I am not only Harrison McIver but I currently work at a PAG on the project advisory group so I can be on the record. But thank you Martha for really an education to me, having worked in Mississippi for some 13 years I didn’t know that much or know as much as I thought I knew but your talking with Mike Trister and searching your mind I think would be very helpful in terms of this project and you definitely told a history in a way that I think would be beneficial to current Mississippians who are involved in legal services to have a perspective.
Martha Bergmark: It’s been fun to do.
Harrison McIver: All right thank you.