David Blicker oral history, 1991

Was with Legal Services of Northern California as a staff attorney and then as a director.

Oral history details

Storyteller: David Blicker
Interviewer: Geminiani, Victor
Date of interview: Aug 23, 1991
Where relates to: California
Topics: Civil legal aid: General
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video): http://hdl.handle.net/10822/711791
Length: 0:52:29

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

INTERVIEWEE: David Blicker
INTERVIEWER: Victor Geminiani
INTERVIEW DATE: August 23, 1991
TRANSCRIBER: Carilyn Cipolla
NCRA, NCRF and the Library of Congress –
Partnering to Preserve the American Experience

Victor Geminiani:
The interview will be his memories and activities while he was associated with Legal Services of Northern California as a staff attorney and then as a director. The interviewer is Victor Geminiani. I want to thank you very much for making time available this afternoon to talk about your time with our program many years ago.

David Blicker:
Thank you.

Victor Geminiani:
Can you tell me a little about your background prior to becoming associated with Legal Services of Northern California then known as Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County?

David Blicker:
Graduated from Columbia in 1961. Came out to California to go to law school at Boalt Hall. While I was at Boalt, I spent the summer of 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama in Talladega and a few other places in Alabama working for the court attorney for the state of Alabama. I was down there for about three months, and I was his legal clerk. Made appearances in court with him. Worked, of course, with a lot of community people during that time. Involved in some very, very serious litigation arising out of demonstrations, primarily in Gadsden and some in Montgomery. That was where I first learned, through the words of the judge, that the Fourteenth Amendment had no standing in his court and therefore wouldn’t be enforced. That was — that was a rude awakening. And I think that’s what probably got me particularly interested in some of the work that I got into with legal aid after I settled in Sacramento. Prior to that, while I was at Columbia during three of the four years there, I had been actively involved with the National Student Association. And that had given me a rather broad spectrum of students and issues in the campuses on the university level. And, through National Student Association, I had been one of the committee — the national committee to enforce a boycott of the J.C. Penney stores, the five and dime stores, throughout the country in an effort to try and put some pressure on them to desegregate their lunch counters. And that sounds like an awfully fundamental issue. I mean, how in the world could you not have somebody sit down at your lunch counter? But it was — that’s the way it was. And we worked on that for over two years. That led to a big meeting in New York with all the representatives and the major chain stores in the United States. And we negotiated a termination of the boycott, which effectively was termination of the segregated lunch counters throughout the South. That was back in about 1960.

Victor Geminiani:
Can you tell me how you found yourself to come to California?

David Blicker:
Well, I came to California for couple of reasons. One was because, if I was going to go west, I was pretty well advised by (?Dick Newstaff?) to go to Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. Secondly, I was just a little burned out with the East Coast. And I had been out here in the summer of 1960 during the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles the year that Kennedy was nominated. And I’d worked for the platform committee that year. And, when my work there was done and the convention was over, I traveled up to San Francisco, stayed with some friends, and took a look around and went over to Stanford and Berkeley and places like that — got a little feel for it — and actually drove through Sacramento on my way back over the mountains. But that’s what brought me out, and it was really easy to stay once I got out here.

Victor Geminiani:
You graduated from Boalt in 1964?

David Blicker:
That’s right.

Victor Geminiani:
Could you tell me what brought you to Sacramento?

David Blicker:
One of the things that I did while I was finishing up my third year at law school was to look for something other than the immediate practice of law. I really wanted to go abroad and teach, but that was not working out. So I was fortunate enough to get a Ford Foundation Fellowship, which placed me as an intern with the California legislature. And I worked for the assembly committee on education for the following year.

Victor Geminiani:
What was your first position as a non-governmental lawyer in Sacramento?

David Blicker:
Well, I applied and was accepted to work at Downey Brand Seymour & Rohwer. Where I had the pleasure of meeting John Downey and Malcolm Weintraub and a number of other fine people.

Victor Geminiani:
And you later on in the mid 60’s became associate with Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County. Can you tell me how that occurred?

David Blicker:
Well, I was at Downey Brand for about a year and a half. And in that course of time, I continued to maintain my friendship with (?Clarence Brown?) who I had met while he was working for then Assemblyman Leroy Greene in the legislature. And Clarence and I had a social relationship that we continued for years. And, after being at Downey Brand for about a year and a half, Clarence called me one day and said, “It’s time to get out of there and have some fun.” So we went out and talked about what he had done in trying to get legal aid off the ground being its first executive director with the OEO money.

Victor Geminiani:
He became the director in 1966.

David Blicker:
That’s right. And what the projects were and what the money situation was like and where they were going. And specifically that they had just opened an office in Yolo County that had been funded for two attorneys. Tom Frankl, a recent graduate I think of Davis at that time, started over there. And he offered me the opportunity to be the lead attorney, if you will, in the office. And we negotiated that a little bit. And I took the job.

Victor Geminiani:
Does “lead attorney” translate into “managing attorney”?

David Blicker:
Yes.

Victor Geminiani:
Can you tell me what you saw in Yolo County when you first came to the office?

David Blicker:
Well, Yolo was really remarkable. Yolo was probably up and down the valley one of the great examples of a very close-knit, largely comfortable, Anglo community that ran things the way maybe they’d run it for 100 years. When I went into that office, I had to learn very quickly that there was a huge population, particularly of Spanish-speaking people, that supported whatever went on in that community in that it was on their backs that the economy of that community flourished. And those people turned out to be the largest number of our clientele once we were able to really make contact with them, which was very difficult, because they were farm workers. They were in the camps. And I mean “the camps” at that time. These were very, very bad places. And they were on the move. And so, it was hard sometimes to even work with them once you’d even established contact. But we did well. We had a good investigator — Sue Zaragosa — who was Spanish-speaking. Snapped to things real quick. She learned fast and did a good job for us.

Victor Geminiani:
Do you remember the name of the other staff attorney?

David Blicker:
Tom Frankl.

Victor Geminiani:
What kind of cases did you deal with during that period of time in Yolo County?

David Blicker:
Well, you have to remember that at this time — and we’re talking about 1967 into early 1968 — the Legal Aid Society, as it was then called, was conceived of and operated in such a way as to really satisfy the fears of the local bar associations that somehow or other we were going to be taking away business from them. So we had very strict eligibility standards. We had to go through a lot of screening process. And we had to really limit our cases to very low-level service work. So we had a high volume of low-level service work cases. This was not something that I think Clarence was satisfied with, but the political reality at the time was you had to establish your credibility in that community. You had to gain respect of bar leadership and other community leaders. And, if that meant biting your tongue sometimes and taking not the preferable choice of cases or the ways and means of solving problems, that’s what you did. So we did divorces, and we did lots of low-level consumer problems. Slowly, we began to get into things like juvenile hall. I mean, I remember the first juvenile case that I took in Yolo County. And I challenged the petition. I challenged the jurisdiction. I challenged everything in sight. And the judge looked up from the bench, and he said, “Well, counsel, you’re right,” and he threw it all out. And then he said, “Counsel,” and he talked to me, and he talked to the juvenile hall representative and said, “Come into chambers. I want to talk to you.” We came back into the chambers, and the judge said to the representative from the juvenile services, “You people don’t know how to fill out a petition. You don’t understand what jurisdiction is about. For the first time somebody has come into court and said that. The man is absolutely right, and I had to do what I did.” And then he looked at me, and he said, “You know what you’re talking about. I want you to schedule a series of meetings with their representatives to educate them on how to file a petition and what to do with them.” Well, that was good and it was bad, but it was making some kind of an impression to let them know. The other thing I did over there that I recall with great fondness was the filing of the first In Pro Per case where we requested that all filing fees be waived. And we came in, we represented this individual, and had all the proper declarations filled out asking for the court to waive — or asking that the filing fees be waived. And the clerk said, “Well, we can’t accept this.” “What do you mean you can’t accept this?” I had the statute, all I had all the references and the forms filled out properly. And the head clerk came out. Lawrence Hennigan. He was probably about 60 at that time. And he came out, and he said, “We can’t take that. Who’s going to pay the fee?” And I said, “County’s going to pay the fee. That’s how it works.” And he said, “Oh, no — no, no, no, no.” And he called the judge. Trot on down to the judge’s chambers. Judge read over everything. Signed the order. Hennigan picked up and said, “You signed it! You signed it!” That was it. From then on, whenever we had a proper fee waiver case, we did it.

Victor Geminiani:
What were the relationships with the local bar association — the Yolo County Bar Association — back during that period of time?

David Blicker:
With few exceptions, very rocky. It was a very small bar, mind you — couple of dozen attorneys there. And in the beginning quite hostile. I had to spend a great deal of time working with bar members to persuade them of our credibility and that we were here to represent people to do the best job for them as attorneys that we could do, but we were not here to take away their livelihood. And, about six months later, they accused us of taking cases that we shouldn’t have taken. That led to a hearing in front of the assembled Yolo County bar at night in one of the old hotels. And we chose as our — and because he volunteered as our bar representative to speak for us — Harry Ackley then the district attorney of Yolo County. He agreed to represent us. And they had all these files that they said they were going to challenge. When all the files came in with — we did some redacting to protect some of the client’s matters. And we went through it all, and we walked out of there with a clean bill of health. And everybody was really embarrassed that they had put us through that. And after that things got a little better.

Victor Geminiani:
In 1968, Clarence Brown resigned as executive director and you applied and you were appointed that position. Can you tell me what motivated you to apply for the position of executive director?

David Blicker:
I guess a couple of things. First of all, I was having fun, and I enjoyed what I was doing. I thought that it was good legal work. I was getting some real good experience. I was expanding my opportunity to work with people. And I saw a program that — the underpinnings for which were becoming more solid. And that I thought that I could give some leadership to and try and expand it. Mold it somewhat in the ways that I thought that it needed to be molded and take the next step. Clarence had built the foundation; I wanted to build the house on top.

Victor Geminiani:
Can you describe the program that existed when you first became the executive director — how many staff, how many offices, what the size of the _____ ?

David Blicker:
Yeah, I’ll try. There were really two offices outside of Yolo County. So that made a third office. There were two attorneys in Yolo County. There was the executive office and the downtown office all combined in one. We had two attorneys in the downtown office. We had one attorney in the Del Paso Heights office. A secretary in each office. An investigator. And the executive director with his secretary. It was very small operation. We also had at that time a relationship with the lawyer referral service. They were packed into the downtown office as well. And there were about one and a half people working in LRS at that time. I think maybe one and a half. It was small. It was pretty close-knit. And we were overwhelmed. There was a volume that was beginning to develop that was beyond the capacity of the people that were working there. John Moulds was there. As you know he’s now a magistrate. Clyde Black, criminal attorney here in town. He was there for a while. But we were also experiencing some turnover, and the people were overwhelmed; they couldn’t keep up with it. And I couldn’t really blame them that, for the money, they wanted to go somewhere else and they did.

Victor Geminiani:
Do you recall some of the issues that you had to deal with in the program during that period of time?

David Blicker:
Well, there were a number of them scattered across a broad range. There was first of all political issues. Clarence had laid a good foundation with the bar. I felt that it was incumbent on me to be sure to keep that fostered and develop it even further. Because, without bar support at that time, you weren’t going to get anywhere. The — the negative attitudes that prevailed were so strong that you needed strong leadership in the bar that favored you that could bring people along. There was also another political side, which was with the OEO organizations in Sacramento under the umbrella of SAEOC. And those were very delicate, because there was a lot of in-fighting among those organizations for the poverty dollars. And within that, there was a lot of fight for power and control. And legal aid couldn’t help but get caught up in some of that as well. So that kept us pretty busy. One of the things that we hadn’t established when I came in as executive director was any kind of real strong ties with the activist groups in the various communities. Whether it be the Oak Park Neighborhood Council, or the Welfare Rights Organization. Any number of organizations that were forming, that were gaining some credibility and were beginning to be very active. I felt that what we had to do was really touch base with those people, come into a relationship with them where we would be their counsel — an attorney-client relationship. So that looking on to larger issues we would have an organization as a client, not 15 individual cases, but we would have essentially the same case but an organization of 1500 members that was seeking to have something done that hired us in effect as their counsel and we represented them through the course of whatever the issue was. So that was another something that I felt we had to look into. We needed more money desperately. We needed to expand. I couldn’t have attorneys coming in and six months later saying, “You know, I got 150 cases going. I can’t keep up with this. I got to move on.” So that I worked on a great deal. And 1968 and 1969 were the years in which I really tried to get that budget to grow. And it was — it was difficult. We had a lot of difficulty with OEO, because things were changing there too. And it took a lot of time. But we did — I think our budget almost doubled, not quite.

Victor Geminiani:
You were also very much concerned with the location of offices and the movement into communities where we —

David Blicker:
Exactly.

Victor Geminiani:
— had not up until that time had a local presence. Could you tell me what was behind your goals and what you actually did to achieve those goals?

David Blicker:
Well, again — in order to maintain a credibility with our community clientele, I felt that we had to be in their neighborhood. For a lot of our clientele, it was difficult to get to certain places. If you have an office in Del Paso in downtown, it may be difficult for some people to get there and get there in a comfortable fashion, in a timely fashion. And I felt that a presence in key neighborhoods was important. So one of the things we did in Del Paso is, we expanded the office, brought it up to two full-time attorneys. And by then we were getting Reginald Heber Smith fellows. And so, we had an office that might have had at one time four attorneys in the office. But we needed space. And so, we made those arrangements, negotiated for new space and we made moves. And we got new equipment. And we put a good office in Del Paso. In downtown what I wanted to do was get the executive office out of downtown and put it into the Oak Park community, because I felt that we had to have a stronger presence in Oak Park. And, as it turned out, we located right next to McGeorge and had the advantage of a relationship with McGeorge, which allowed us to use some of their facilities, including their library and some meeting rooms. Plus the ease with which we could work with students and developing a student volunteer group that could assist us in a broad range of ways.

Victor Geminiani:
Was that the beginning of the — what is now known as Community Legal Services over at McGeorge — the clinical program they operated?

David Blicker:
Oh yeah — it goes all the way back, yes. Yes. Because we started with the first groups of students, and they build on that. I think McGeorge found the — you know, it was a symbiotic relationship, and everybody was getting something out of the deal.

Victor Geminiani:
During that period of time there was also some discussion about expansion of the program. At that point the program was located in two counties — primarily in Sacramento County but an office in Yolo County that you mentioned before. There were beginnings of discussions about expanding into Placer County and possibly El Dorado. And there was the discussion of the creation of an entity called Valley Legal Services Program. Do you remember any of the discussions that took place around that period of time?

David Blicker:
Yes. Came from two directions. Both El Dorado and Placer County came to us and said, “We need some help up here.” And that was generated out of their small poverty organizations that existed in those communities — the OEO-funded group. And they knew that they didn’t have — well, they didn’t have a full-time legal aid program at all. They had some volunteer programs and nothing that would be servicing a clientele on a regular basis. So they came to us, and we talked about it. And I was perfectly willing to move in that direction. But the problem as usual was money. The other direction from which that came was OEO regional office in San Francisco, which had expressed dissatisfaction with what had occurred up in Redding. They’d had some real problems with the Redding office and Shasta County office. And they came to me when I was down there doing all my fight for money and trying to argue why we had to have this and have that. That the one hand they’re saying, “Well, we don’t have any money to give you.” On the other hand, they’re telling me, “Now, you ought to go up, and you ought to expand your program in the valley. You ought to fill all these holes in here.” And I’m looking at them, saying, “Fine,” you know? “Give me about quarter million, half a million dollars, and we can do a hell of a job for you.” But that never came to pass. There was some resistance also locally to doing that. I think at that time — again, the politics were such that people felt we would be too diluted in Sacramento and that, if we spread ourselves out into all these areas, Sacramento, the mother program, would not get the full dollar value.

Victor Geminiani:
You’re aware that after OEO was eliminated and Legal Services Corporation came into being and from the regional office of the Legal Services Corporation in San Francisco —

David Blicker:
Yeah.

Victor Geminiani:
— the same request was made around five years later on.

David Blicker:
Uh-huh.

Victor Geminiani:
And, of course, the program did at that point expand up —

David Blicker:
Right.

Victor Geminiani:
— to Shasta County and eastwards towards Nevada and the foothills. Can you tell me a little about the relationships with the bar association in Sacramento County during those periods of time? We were at that point doing the LRS program for the county bar.

David Blicker:
Mm-hmm.

Victor Geminiani:
Were the relationships good with the county bar?

David Blicker:
By and large it was good. I think that — I went to practically every single county bar association meeting and many of its committee meetings. My objective was to be a presence there to let them know that we cared about what their business was and we definitely were looking for their support. And I wanted them to always feel that there was someone that they knew personally that they could communicate with if there was any kind of problem raised. And in the ’68, ’69 period while I was executive director, there were lots of little problems that would come up — challenges to eligibility. And it was important for me to be the focal point to bring those problems to. I did not want my staff attorneys being browbeaten by some bar representative over why they took a case. That should come to me. Let me take the heat. Let me deal with it. And, if we had a problem internally in having taken a client, then let me work that out and then report back to the bar — that kind of thing. But by and large the relationships were pretty good, and there were definitely some members on that bar counsel who were strong supporters of our program. And when I went to them every year — as I had to for resolution to approve our budget, which entailed explaining to them what we were doing and giving them all the data that our own board had — it was always favorable.

Victor Geminiani:
The bar association in those days had the right to approve the budget of the program on a yearly basis?

David Blicker:
It was a requirement of OEO that you provide a resolution from the county bar association approving your submission of your budget. Well, that put them in a position, of course, of approving damn near everything you did and what you said you were going to do. That’s why the connection with the bar was so important. And, if I couldn’t maintain good relations and credibility with them, turn off the faucet.

Victor Geminiani:
During that period of time, you were not only expanding on the types of offices you had and the numbers of staff members you had, but you were also expanding in the types of cases that the program was bringing.

David Blicker:
Yes.

Victor Geminiani:
Could you tell me a little about the types of cases the program was bringing and maybe mention a few of the more remarkable ones from your own perspective?

David Blicker:
Sure. In the beginning when I first came there — and it continued throughout — the emphasis of our Sacramento County Bar and the Yolo Bar was “individual service.” And that meant dealing with the myriad of legal problems of individuals. The opposite extreme was the very rapid and very public growth of California Rural Legal Assistance taking on these enormous cases, big issues, class actions, overthrow of government regulations, one thing and another. I mean, you have to remember there was a dismantling going on at that time by Governor Reagan and some of his people. They wanted to undo any number of the social programs that had come out through the late Senior Brown year and were offended by much of the federal money that was flowing into the communities. CRLA at the same time was taking advantage of that and pushing them and trying to keep — fend off the attack of government. So, on the one hand, you had impact cases, law reform cases — and on the other you had grind it out, day in and day out small individual service cases. We were at the individual service end for the most part slowly trying to move into a relationship with our clientele that would allow us to maybe do some impact work. And the way we chose to do that — or at least the way I chose to do that — was to work with community leaders. Because I felt that that was the most likely place that we would pick up both the political support and find the cases. So I tried to balance that, and there were a few attorneys in the program that worked looking for those kinds of things. And worked on their own time with many of these groups. You know, nighttime meetings and weekend this and that so that their ties with the organizations in the community in which they had their offices would be very close, and it would be the kind of thing where the leader of a community organization wouldn’t hesitate to call that legal aid attorney in Del Paso Heights at 9:00 at night or 7:00 in the morning and say, “We have a problem and want to get together.” And in that fashion we got ourselves towards some of the cases. Roger Warren, by the way in particular, when he came in as a Reggie, he was not a member of the California Bar. And I thought to myself, “Here’s the first Reggie I’ve got.” He’s not a member of the bar. He’s brilliant, but what can I use him for, you know? So Roger and I hit it off pretty well at the very beginning. I said, “All right, Roger — I want you to be the man in the community. You study for the bar at night or study in the morning, but I want you to be the guy that every community organizer knows.” And that’s what he did. He got a little tiny apartment over in Del Paso Heights and lived there for most of the next year. And there wasn’t a welfare rights advocate or a homeless advocate who didn’t know Roger and use Roger as a way to get in the door to legal aid. And it was great.

Victor Geminiani:
Cases.

David Blicker:
We did a lot of little cases, and we did a few big cases. Ones that come to mind that I remember in particular because they led to big things was the case we brought against a collection agency here in Sacramento for violating the collection practices laws. We had put someone in a collection agency where they worked for two months and then reported to us on how things went. And that kind of information and declarations and affidavits. We went, we got an injunction. The industry — California Association of Collectors — or whatever they were called at the time — was really taken aback by this. The response to it was ultimately — and Guy (?Pido?) was the attorney who ran this show — was to bring together representatives in the collection industry for meetings in Sacramento that went over about a six or seven month period of time to rewrite the rules, to eliminate some of the abuses that we had learned in representing our poor consumer clients. And, in that context, we developed relationships with other major legal service programs around the state, so that we were reporting to them on the progress of these negotiations. Some of those people actually sat down at the table in Sacramento with the collection agency people. And we worked through these things. We came up with a document. The association agreed to it. It was disseminated to all of its membership, and it was basically described as, “These are the new rules.” That was a foundation for Guy to begin to develop a legislative advocacy program. And then he began following important legislation in Sacramento, putting out a periodic newsletter to various legal services programs that were interested in it. People would come to Sacramento and testify. Guy would go over to the legislature and testify. We’d bring in clients to testify. It was — it was pretty innovative at the time and very useful. It certainly gave the program some exposure that it hadn’t had before. And Guy and everybody benefited the way we handled that.

Victor Geminiani:
That was the first coordinated legislative activity by legal aid programs in the state, do you know?

David Blicker:
Pretty much. I’m trying to remember. I think Western Center was on board at that time, and they did that as well. Our primary focus, I think, was in consumer area at the time. And at that same time, we had a program going with Sacramento County. I mean, to this day I’m not sure how I sold this, but I think it was right and I’m glad I did, but I went to the Board of Supervisors and said, “We want you to fund a consumer advocate for poor people. We will supervise it. It will come through legal aid. It will go into our budget. We will employ the person. We will supervise what that person does, but that person will be permitted to stand up there as a lay advocate for our clients on consumer issues — whether they be in an administrative process or in front of this Board of Supervisors or just one-to-one with Macy’s collection department.” And they said, “Fine,” and they paid for it. During that same period — ’69 and ’70 — I also went to the Board of Supervisors to get funding for a social welfare advocate. And, if you’ll recall back in those days, there was a sort of a split in the social welfare education field. One was the activist track, and the other was more the administrative, bureaucratic track. What I wanted to do, because we had so many people with social welfare problems — denials of eligibility. There were so many things going on at that time with the way grants were calculated. People didn’t understand, couldn’t make sense out of it, and things were happening to them that they didn’t know how to deal with. And, of course, the system — the bureaucracy and the paperwork involved — was enormous. And we were constantly trying to deal with those. And it didn’t make a lot of sense to have attorneys dealing with that level of a problem. It would be better to have an attorney trying to knock out a regulation that was illegal or unconstitutional than trying to figure out why somebody’s grant was cut $37.00. So I came up with a program, went to the Board of Supervisors, and said, “You give us from your social welfare staff. We choose, but you give us — a full-time social worker to work for us. The benefit to you will be that you will have somebody trained in your own proceedings, your own procedures, familiar with your forms, da da, da da, da da — who will deal with your staff in solving this level of problem. Smooth out a lot of things. Take care of things much quicker. The benefit to us will be — is that I can free up an attorney’s time to do other things. And I can’t afford to hire my social worker, all right? You pay for it.” And they did. And that program continued on after I left. It was still going for a number of years. And Ron Peters here in town, he was the first one. He was a law student as well at the time, at night at McGeorge, who’s now a lawyer. And gosh, I can’t remember the names of the others, but that was a wonderful adjunct to our program. It was just great.

Victor Geminiani:
You also — under your leadership, the program also brought the first case before the California Supreme Court, the Randone case.

David Blicker:
That’s right.

Victor Geminiani:
Could you tell me a little bit about that?

David Blicker:
Mr. and Mrs. Randone had $89.00 in their checking account, which was attached prior to judgment. As a matter of fact, it was attached the day lawsuit was filed. Because in those days you just went in, signed a piece of paper in front of the judge that basically said, “We got a good case, judge. Let’s lock up the money while we decide who wins.” And that’s what happened. So for $89.00, we challenged the constitutionality of the California process for pre-judgment attachment. We had some authority from an earlier ruling by the United States Supreme Court that said that these processes were subject to the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, and they needed to be tested in that fashion. And, if they didn’t immediate standards of due process, then they weren’t constitutional. So Jim King and I started that case. We argued it on a motion to quash the writ of attachment. It was denied. We appealed it to the superior court, the appellate department of the Sacramento County Superior Court. Three-zip, the judges denied us again. And then we faced the quandary of “How do you get from an appellate department anywhere else?” And we filed an original writ in the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court said to the third DCA, “Take a look at this.” And the third DCA sent us a postcard back that said, “We took a look at it, you know? Your writ is denied.” We went right back to California Supreme Court. They took the case. And I think it was about seven or eight months later decided it. And they threw out all of the pre-judgment attachment statutes in the state of California. It took the legislature four years to figure out a new set of laws. It was a wonderful case. And that was appealed to the United States Supreme Court by the way. The collection agency people, again, came in on that case. In fact, they were part of the parties arguing the case on an amicus brief in front of the California Supreme Court, and they took it to the United States Supreme Court on a writ of certiorari which was denied.

Victor Geminiani:
In 1969, Richard Nixon was sworn in as the president of the United States. And shortly thereafter announced his intention to — that would eliminate Office of Economic Opportunity.

David Blicker:
Yes, he did.

Victor Geminiani:
He also had as his vice president, Spiro Agnew, who had a specific interest in eliminating legal aid. That was then, of course, run by OEO legal services. You were the director during that period of time of Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County. Can you tell me what that change in federal policy, in federal funding, meant for this program and for your leadership?

David Blicker:
Well, we knew that it was going to be a hard time ahead — that, although it wouldn’t happen immediately, it wouldn’t take long before they got a handle on all of this legal services funding and start to develop ways and means of cutting that back, or otherwise developing policies that made it extremely difficult for legal services programs to engage in law reform type matters. And there is no question in my mind that in those years the law reform cases were the most important. If CRLA had not been successful in its several lawsuits to stop the dismantling of the MediCal program here in California, I have no doubt there would be a lot of people that would have been severely harmed. But they were successful. And that was a law — what you call “law reform case.” Nixon and some of his advisors had a clear agenda. One even which — some of which I’m sure they got from Reagan. I mean, you have to remember — I think it was ’69, ’70 when Reagan went after CRLA and they had a major lawsuit — I don’t know — six weeks of trial — while Reagan tried to shut them down. And, of course, we were all involved in that in one way or another. I know I did declarations. I was drawn in, because I worked with Jim Lorenz and Bob Gnaizda and a number of other people on some cases. J. B. Henry and I took a case together — wasn’t successful, but it was a good try. Went all the way to the third DCA where we lost it. But we tried to close down some of the — the growers that were hiring illegal aliens, because that was putting local people out of work in Yolo County. The illegals would work for less, and the locals would suffer severely. They couldn’t afford their housing then. They couldn’t afford to feed their kids. They couldn’t buy clothes. So we thought we had a real good theory there. And the third DCA disagreed. But we gave it a good try. We did get a preliminary injunction, but it was overturned.

Victor Geminiani:
The funding from the Feds at that point flattened out considerably —

David Blicker:
Yes.

Victor Geminiani:
— while Nixon went about the business of attempting to eliminate legal aid. Did that create particular pressures on you as the director?

David Blicker:
Well, yes — glancing over some of the minutes that you provided me just brought back some memory about how difficult it did become. We’d gotten to a certain level where we had about 13 staff attorneys. We had three good offices. We were reasonably well-staffed with secretarial assistance. We had at least one full-time investigator at that point, maybe two. And we were consolidating in a way that I was very optimistic about. When this development came about — and you’re right; it flattened out — what I was afraid of was, this would come tumbling down. And, by the way, during that time we had about three Reggies as well. So we’re up to almost 15 attorneys.

Victor Geminiani:
Free Reggies were termed attorneys. They were free to the program for a 2-year period of time. When that expired, they were gone.

David Blicker:
Right. Right.

Victor Geminiani:
On the political side, there was a movement in Washington to remove the authority of the then-director of legal services. I think it was Terry Lenzner.

David Blicker:
Lenzner.

Victor Geminiani:
And Donald Rumsfeld came in, and they shortly thereafter announced a plan to try to regionalize control of legal aid.

David Blicker:
Yes. Yes.

Victor Geminiani:
Can you tell me a little bit about that — your memories of what was occurring then?

David Blicker:
Well, it was really kind of an effort to take it back to pre-OEO. And basically let the local bar associations — or whatever combination of bar and political organizations existed — have the day-in and day-out control over these programs. Which really would have meant that all the things that we had gotten ourselves to be able to do by 1970 would have largely been undone. I think even at that time there was still a significant sentiment within the bar association to back off of this law reform stuff. And even though I think that I maintained a good relationship with the bar and they understood the importance of some of these cases that we were involved in, if they had full control over it, and assumed that full control the way Nixon and Rumsfeld imagined it would happen, it might have happened here. And there are certainly other communities — either in California or in the other parts of the United States — where those bar associations would have probably put it back to a volunteer program.

Victor Geminiani:
Do you have any sense why that is a major issue with the bars — the taking part in impact litigation? They must have intellectually understood the importance of defending, regardless of the abilities of a person to hire a lawyer, the right to defend their inherent rights that the law gives them.

David Blicker:
I think probably because many of these impact cases were in very politically-charged areas. If you have, as a particular CRLA or western center did in those days, you have a group of extremely bright young lawyers who know their way around bringing very clever lawsuits against the government for the benefit of social welfare programs that cost the taxpayers a lot of money. There is a certain segment of the population that say, “Why should we pay for this? Why should we pay these lawyers to cost us more money and undo what we elected this governor to do?” And I think that that sentiment was very much there. The other sentiment, which still hung around, but I don’t think was as strong by 1970 was that we’re taking away their business. I think people started to get over that by then, because the realization was “it wasn’t.” In fact, for some people, it was making them more money.

Victor Geminiani:
During that period of time that you were associated with Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County between 1966 and 1971, are there particular individuals that stick out in your mind, people that you remember very, very clearly — their contributions to the program?

David Blicker:
Well, there are an awful lot of people. And, if I take a moment, I can probably think how to character — or categorize some of them. You start with some of the people that got me involved. First of all, I happened to be at that time in a law firm where Jack Downey and Malcolm Weintraub were, and I was a volunteer at legal aid. And I could talk legal aid volunteerism with Malcolm and Jack. And they were, of course, very supportive of this. And, as it was being developed by Clarence Brown, they were equally supportive. They wanted to see something get off the ground here that would take a giant step beyond what they had brought it to in earlier years. Clarence, of course, because he fed my sort of natural inclination to get involved in something like this. I remember very well Warren Thornton, who was the head of the probation department. And, even though we fought all the time over there in juvenile hall, Warren was very supportive of the program. He’s one of those people that could rise above the battle that has to go on to say, “But they deserve good representation. And, if we do a good job, then the system is a better system.” Ken Wells, who sat on our board for years from the public defender’s office, always very supportive. And then later (?Ferris Salman?), who was on the board also very supportive. There were a number of community people over the years that I recall. I mean, Anne Wiltse — she was the leader of the welfare rights organization. And she was large woman and a sweaty woman and tough and hard as nails and surprisingly articulate at getting right to the nub of the welfare rights issue. She was great. We did a lot of work with Anne over the years. Roger did work with her too. Abel Chacon for some period of time, who was the leader of what today we refer to as the ‘homeless’, but in his day were the single men who had no place to live. Some of the staff attorneys that I worked with — Gary Gallery, who was incredibly dedicated and spent years out in Del Paso Heights and then was acting executive director for six or eight months, I guess. Gary carried that office just by sheer force of being there day and night. He was very dedicated. Jerry Scribner who worked out there. Jim King who argued the Randone case, as he well should have, in front of the California Supreme Court — who’s now superior court judge. Jim was wonderful. I mean, his mind was just out there finding the law and finding the cases. Ken Roy, who just raised a lot of hell — he was good. And then a number of people. My old executive secretary, Eileen Fisher, who was all the way on I think until Roger or some time while Roger was executive director. And then she went to work for Senator Roberti. I don’t know. You know, there’s just an awful lot of wonderful people that I met. And that was part of what kept me there — the work with the people.

Victor Geminiani:
What finally made you decide to leave?

David Blicker:
I guess a belief that no one person is that significant to the program that there shouldn’t be some new blood at the top. I’ll admit I was tired. I’d had four years with legal aid. They’d been great years. I’ve been a staff attorney. I’ve been the director. Gone through all this budgetary stuff. All the fights, all the trips to OEO. Some of the hassling with SAEOC. But I’d seen it grow. It was in a — aside from the Nixon politics at the time to undo legal services, the program was about as stable as I thought I could make it. And I thought, “Hey, it’s time for some younger people perhaps with fresher ideas to come in and do the job.” And it was time for me perhaps to go out and practice law on a day-in and day-out basis with no guarantee of making any money and no salary. And that’s what I did.

Victor Geminiani:
As you look back on those years with the legal aid society, do you have any words of wisdom for those that are practicing in legal services today?

David Blicker:
Oh. Well, maybe a couple. Don’t forget your obligation as a lawyer to your client. Always keep that uppermost in your mind. You are their advocate. You may be the only person who will ever speak for them. So don’t forget it and do it right. The second is, if it’s trying at times, just think on the side of the good people that you get to represent — the community organization people that may become friends of yours and, that have that experience — will always be something that will be with you and put up with however tough it is for a while. In the end it’s really enjoyable.

Victor Geminiani:
On behalf of the staff and the board and most importantly the clients in Northern California, I want to thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. You were a leader at a most critical period of our program’s development and we very much appreciate it.

David Blicker:
Thank you. I appreciate it.


END