Dennis Bricking oral history 1991

Discusses the history of the Legal Aid Society program in Kentucky.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Dennis Bricking
Interviewer: Pritchard, Michael
Date of interview: Oct 31, 1991
Where relates to: Kentucky
Topics: Civil legal aid: General
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video): http://hdl.handle.net/10822/711790
Length: 0:49:00

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library Oral History
Interview of Dennis Bricking
Interviewer: Michael Pritchard
Interview Date: October 31, 1991

Michael Pritchard:
He was the director of the Legal Aid Society of Louisville. The interviewer is Michael Pritchard, executive director of Palmetto Legal Services. We’re interviewing on October 31, Halloween 1991. And we’re doing it at the — in LA (indecipherable) Portland. Dennis, I’d like to first get you to outline a little bit of your early family background, what brought you to the interning and to come to legal services.

Dennis Bricking:
Okay. I grew up in a community of — in Kentucky right across the river from Cincinnati, a small area called South Gate. I did my early undergraduate work _______ University and University of Kentucky. Went to law school at University of Kentucky. And upon graduation from law school, didn’t know anything about this area of law and was looking for jobs in Ohio and Kentucky and didn’t have a big law firm to plug into. Done some work with the Kentucky Highway Department. Came to Louisville and met a guy who was — been the director — John O’Mara of the Legal Aid Society in Louisville who was looking for — I think that they were just in the beginnings of getting the money from then the community action agency through OEO to begin an legal services program. Still battling over who should be on the board and who should control the program, whether the bar association should control it, the local community action agency or clients or both. And they hired me in 1968, August. And I didn’t know what I was getting into literally except that I knew I could practice law full-time. And almost immediately I was thrust into a section of the program that was the juvenile defender program. And did nothing but a wide variety of work in delinquency and dependency and neglect cases in juvenile courts. And for about two years had extensive trial experience and train other people and ran that program for about two years. And in that time, it was — it was everybody I suspect was going through an enormous amount of change at that time not just because of the Vietnam War, but because of our relationship with government in general. Our program, as small as it was — and it was very small then; I suspect only about about five or six attorneys — most of whom were retired attorneys in the Louisville community that were put to work after they retired to give them something to do, to do intake and to run through as much intake as possible. My early months was an eye opener trying to figure out “What are you people doing?” I wasn’t aware of anything in terms of priorities or quality or anything. So I got into the situation of learning about power and struggle real early, because our program filed a lawsuit to desegregate — in 1971, I believe — to desegregate the local public school system. And it was a lawsuit that was eventually to win four years later in 1975, paving the way for what became systemwide busing and transportation for desegregation. Our board members were so enraged by that that basically they fired our director in a meeting where I just couldn’t believe what was going on. And then our clients came forward and filed a lawsuit in federal court against our lawyer board members saying they were violating OEO regs and federal regs and all kinds of manner of things. And prevailed in a settlement in federal court — quickly done in a few weeks time — prevailed so that the board was then composed of an equal number of clients and local attorneys with a couple of independent people. And essentially the client’s vote held the day. And, instead of just putting a local crony or supporter on the bar association in this director, they made a national search. In 1972, I became a staff attorney under a fellow who’s now in Ann Arbor by the name of (?Kurt Burgen?). And (?Burgen?) stayed on in that role for four years — three and a half years. And finally in October 1975, he decided he wanted to practice law, and so I became the director in October of 1975 after having practiced for about three and a half years under him and then community education and a lot of housing work and a lot of legislative advocacy work — a broad range of things within the program. The program was growing in terms of its presence in the community. It was like many programs in the early ’70’s. We brought Reggies into the program. We brought issues — welfare issues — and when Kurt, for instance, first came, it became the era of impact litigation, where we made it our goal to do an awful lot of different things with welfare regulations in the area of truth and lending, in the consumer area, in the housing area, in the health area. I think when first — when Kurt first came, just to sort of introduce himself to the federal court, he took two months, and then he filed 12 cases in federal court on the same day, you know? It was one of those, “Here we are — all these problems have been put off for awhile. And now, we’re going to start practicing law and do what Sargent Shriver said we should do — and others said we should do — is have a panoply of skills and activities and service work and impact work. Most of the people that were retired full-time lawyers left. And it became a — a quite exciting place for the mid, early — excuse me, the early and the mid 70’s. And so, I became entrenched with the program. I became involved on the side in other political activities in the community with the ACLU and some draft counseling during the war. The Legal Aid Society became sort of a base for me and in many cases our client’s groups and the board. And, with the clients on the board, they grew and became strong and got a sense of identity.

Michael Pritchard:
Were they organized client groups you were working with?

Dennis Bricking:
Yes.
Michael Pritchard:
You remember any of those?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, yes — there was a welfare rights organization is the one I remember the best. And the Louisville Tenant’s Union. The tenant’s union first was probably the most activist. They would — they would do things like take over buildings. And they would pull tenants into one apartment when they were being evicted from other apartments and complexes. They would literally attempt to negotiate with landlords, which was the original idea — five or six tenants in the building — about repairs. And one time I remember, I was called in the Christmas holidays where they had gone through Kroger’s, ten of them at least — I’m not sure — and all filled their carts and went out to the checkout lanes, went through the checkout lanes, and when they got their check, said, “Charge it to the welfare department. We’ve got (indecipherable).” Of course, they were arrested in the parking lot, and we had to go downtown and get them out of jail. But they were very much into tenant rights and activism. The welfare rights organizations in the same way in those days — sitting in offices was the thing to do. Some of these folks were arrested. Then the police chief would wait for them when they came out of jail and help them with a ride home, because the town wasn’t sure what to do with them — with these clients. My job was to find the local judge to get them out on their own recognizance quickly and take them to Frankfurt and negotiate with the welfare commissioner about changes in how welfare procedures were handled in the local offices. Things were moving at a rapid speed and an awful lot of dramatic activity there for the first five or six years inside that program.
Michael Pritchard:
So you became a director during the Nixon years. Did you have any — what was your interchange with Washington at that time?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, Roger Cranston was one of the first board chairmen, I think. If I recall correctly, he may have been the first under the new law, or maybe he was there earlier. I don’t recall as we sit here. But in the beginning, there was a lot of hope. Because at that time we had the support of some people in the legal services power structure — Dan Brennan was there — regional director. But Bucky Askew was his assistant. And it’s interesting because (?Kurt Bergen?) in ’74 right before he decided he wanted to be a mandarin and wanted to practice law and then shifted over to me, Kurt decided that he needed to hire some people. And we went out and recruited some great people — great litigators — and they were then, and they are now. But we didn’t have the money for it. And so, all of a sudden we looked at a deficit where we might have to close our office for four months. Literally close our office. Get all the lawyers and judges in town. And Kurt wrote letters saying “Between May and September we’re not going to be around.” And I was just sort of flabbergasted. I didn’t know what really to do. So we were in the middle of a budget crunch. But I will say that I went to one of my first meetings of project directors in Atlanta — in one of the little hotels in downtown. The name escapes me now. And we got into a room and already 15 people there, you know? (?Thorn’s Raven?), Benny Ray. Michael Terry — maybe he was at Atlanta at that time. John ____ — others who have gone from the scene. Maybe Rosenberg was there. No, maybe not. I don’t know. Anyway, I remember Dan Bradley introducing (?Kurt Berger?) to myself. I was a deputy director at that time in ’74 as the persons who were writing a new book that everybody should read on deficit spending and how to do that, and how to get away with it, because we were able to pull money out of a community action and we get about $100,000. And our first grant was other people’s money to stay alive. And I’ve been doing that sort of ever since — grabbing whatever money that was out there to stay alive and keep the staff at the same level. I didn’t really come on — and in those days, you know, there was much more of a — supportive approach. Even in the — before Carter — in the mid, early 70’s in terms of what was called “modern training” or “program support” where, when people came in, they were really, you know, your Dutch uncle — they were going to help you. You know, they were going to tell you what was wrong, but they were going to help you. And you had no worry about them trying to catch you in a lie, trying to write something up for a report to make themselves look good. They were in there really to work out problems. Between our program and LSC, they were way out there. But, because we had a regional structure, we got a lot of support out of — out of the Atlanta region.
Michael Pritchard:
This brings us up to a time where there’s start of substantial expansion. I would like for you to talk a little bit about how expansion played itself out in Kentucky. Give me a little background as to what programs were in existence as you became a director and then how that changed.
Dennis Bricking:
Okay. The oldest programs in Kentucky were the ones in Louisville from 1921. And northern Kentucky right across from Cincinnati had a program in existence maybe since the ’40’s. The second group of programs came in the early ’70’s. And I think we had — the program in northeast Kentucky near Moorehead with Bill Mains as the director there now. And the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund under John Rosenberg. And it’s interesting because there were some Reggies with our program. Jerry Becker who’s since been NLADA chairman. He’s in charge of the civil committee for a while. He may have been board chairman. I can’t remember now. But he was in Knoxville Tennessee. He was a Reggie with our program. And we had people with the lawyer’s guild. And we were, you know, activist attorneys inside and outside the program in a certain way. And there were a number of attorneys from up east — Appalachian volunteers — Howard Thorkelson, David Place. A number of other people who came in — came to Appalachia — and I don’t know what their funding source was, but they really began to stir things up in terms of organizing minors, organizing people around health issues, and the local establishment were going nuts. And so, they wanted LSC money. But some compromise worked out with Terry Lenzner. And there’s a — and John Rosenberg has this story, and it’s on another one.
Michael Pritchard:
Who’s Terry Lenzner?
Dennis Bricking:
Terry Lenzner was one of the — he was from the Justice Department, John knew him there, but he was under Nixon for a time in charge of legal services OEO. And I think he was either fired or he left when Howe Phillips came in. So Lenzner set up this deal with a 2-state approach — West Virginia and Kentucky for Appalred. And John came in. And John with his Justice Department background and all the rest. In those days that was looked upon as the more conservative, cautious approach. And somebody even sent John a big jar of dead rats to his home after he arrived in Prestonsburg — what a welcome, huh? And it wasn’t really the bar association that did that. The bar association, however, did write a big article in the bar journal saying that AppalReD wasn’t needed there and they were — they were — they should be gone. And the bar chief — a guy named Stratton — tried to get rid of him in a number of different ways, but John hung on. And John got the support of local bar people and developed a regionwide board with some law professors on it. And the AppalReD program began to work and began to develop new offices all over the mountains. And now they have ten offices in the early ’70’s. And as well did the Moorehead and Ashland office in northeast Kentucky legal services. Those two programs came alive. And so, there were four programs in Kentucky by 1975-76. And then I think at that time also the Lexington program — the Fayette County area — was beginning to develop a program as well. Then came expansion. And around that time we were coming into regional meetings and Bucky was finding money — I think it was called Category 3 money. Doesn’t matter if it was ‘two’ or ‘three’. But Bucky decided he was going to find a way to develop state support. Bucky and Dan were visionaries in their own way. They wanted to push things forward, push the agenda, decide what could be there to help us. And they gave us some money to set up a statewide back-up center which became the office of Kentucky Legal Services Programs, which is still there and doing very good work in the area of legislative advocacy, training —
Michael Pritchard:
Where is that located?
Dennis Bricking:
In Lexington. In Lexington. Training, legislative advocacy, and task forces — development of policy advocacy across the state. They’ve been a source of help to all the programs. Rona — I think her name then was Hopson — Rona Roberts became the first director. And Bucky asked her, and he asked me — and this is in the late ’70’s — to begin to move around and help with the expansion in the parts of the state where there were no programs. And so, we had programs developing by then. Five programs — in Lexington, in the eastern part of the state, and northern Kentucky, and Louisville Legal Aid. And what was undeveloped was the south central part of the state and the western part of the state outwards towards the Mississippi River and Paducah. We wanted to set up a program in Owensboro, which was on the river. But, like anything else, history in terms of legal services all over the South in expansion is determined by personalities and the leaders of bar associations. And we had some guy in Owensboro whose name was Rummage. He’s still there. He was a bar leader then. That did not like us for all the right reasons. He was ideologically opposed to us. It wasn’t a small petty thing. He didn’t like us, because we dealt with truth in lending. He didn’t like us, because we told landlords what to do. He didn’t like us, because we enfranchised our clients. He understood why he didn’t like us. And he didn’t want us out there — period. And Rona and I went out once to a meeting. And basically, if they had had tar and feathers on the occasion, we would have been plastered with them and gone out of town quickly. Because went into a meeting. The people said they didn’t want it. The bar leaders in this crowded little room. There was one guy there that was a former bar president — guy named Mike Mills, who took us out for a drink afterwards. It’s a dry area. So he took us to this little Ramada Inn room where he got his little bottle out of the wall and we went and had a few drinks before we went back home. He didn’t want us to think that everybody down there were ‘assholes’ as he said, you know? We didn’t know what to do. But we had this charge to put the program in. So we had to eventually move it to the administrative offices to another town and put branch offices in Owensboro and Paducah and begin to develop the area. And Bucky went down there once. And basically this guy Rummage spent the whole meeting telling Bucky why — isn’t it true that — Bucky was put on the stand as if on cross. “Isn’t it true that this is the same organization that funds the Louisville Legal Aid Society? And isn’t it true they filed desegregation cases and truth and lending cases against bankers and car dealers. And they filed suit against the welfare department, the housing authority, and all other kinds of reputable people and communities. Isn’t that true? And isn’t it true that you also fund Appalred in Eastern Kentucky, and they go after the mining companies. And they do all kinds of activist things over there that nobody should be doing. Isn’t that also true?” So Bucky spent about three hours one night saying “Yes, it was all true” — that we were “them” and “he” was us. And yet, the clients needed service out there. And, of course, their point — like everywhere that we expanded into in the late 70’s — was that “Local bars could take of anybody’s service.” Some of the older lawyers always believed that “How could you ever really need a lawyer in a civil matter?” Some of them only believed you really needed a lawyer when you were in jail, and needed to get out. They can understand that. But that’s the only time you really needed one. And you’re going to get evicted? Well, you’re going to get evicted. Or, if you needed a divorce, you wait and save up your money, or you get money from Auntie M. or somebody, you know? But you would take care of anything from the civil side. A lot of these people really believed that and gave us many kinds of grief. So, with fits and starts, every program that was already there in the late 70’s expanded to other counties with applications to the Atlanta regional office to say how they would serve those counties and how they would cover the client need in those areas. And in this area — this what now is called Western Kentucky Legal Services — they — they opened up their main office in Madisonville, which is maybe 90 miles south of Owensboro and other branch offices in the small cities in the western part of the state where there were never any lawyers for poor people before that time.
Michael Pritchard:
Let me break in for a second — how did the programs decide for themselves who would expand into what area? Was there — private directors talk to one another or — ?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, we did to some degree, but there was some conflict. And I think that the main conflict came between ourselves and what is now known as Cumberland Trace Legal Services, which is a program in the south central part of the state — south central — moved to the west a little bit. Right below us, a guy named Lee Huddleson, was the director there at the time. And we put in competing applications to the corporation in Atlanta. And Michael Terry and others — maybe Guy, I can’t recall — by that time I think Bucky has gone to Washington with Dan, and they were working up there. But Michael Terry came up there, and they had a public hearing in Elizabethton, which is about 50 miles south of us. And we weren’t that prepared. We went and said what we did in Louisville. And the — I think there were about — out of the 15 rural counties that we were given responsibility for, there were two counties on the east which Lexington the program applied for — or four; split those up — gave us two, gave them two. And there were about six counties on the south. Maybe eight — eight counties on the south — where there was a contest between our program and the Bowling Green program. At that public hearing, local lawyers came from one of the 15 counties — one of the southern counties — and said they should have the program in Marianne County in this one local county, a county similar to that county that they talk about in voting rights cases in Georgia. It’s a conservative county. What they didn’t count on was an NAACP member who had come back from the military service and who was an activist. His name was Norman Moore. He’s on my board now. He came to that meeting. I never met him before. And their bar stood up and said, “We should have these counties.” And the Bowling Green people stood up and said, “We should have all eight counties, because we’re rural-based.” And we stood up and said, “We have the experience to represent anybody on anything, and so we can expand our offices to put two rural offices in. And that’d be fine. And we want the program — we want this big, urban-rural complex to serve. And then Norman Moore stands up as a local. And then the bar association down there had a woman — a black woman in a mink — who stood up and said why they should have the program. And Norman Moore stood up and basically went into this half-hour tirade about what’s happened since he’s been in town — the blacks there were like slaves, and that they had a segregated cemetery with a barbed-wire fence down the middle. The housing wasn’t good. Everybody was treated bad. Everybody didn’t have jobs. And the local bar association would never sue rich people or their friends. And they were the same people. And so, they could never do anything to represent poor people. And then he heard — and this is sort of the way you get a little pride out of crazy statements — he said he heard that the people in Louisville were crazy. They didn’t care who they sued. And so, you know, they might as well come down, because they could probably do it. Because at least they wouldn’t stop doing it because somebody said they had to. That was what the local bar structure — and that’s what he’d been running into. Everybody said he couldn’t attack or challenge city hall. So, after that little mini drama at the public hearing, we were awarded the 14 counties surrounding Louisville sort of from the river on the north to the river on the south, all the way around Louisville. And the other programs were given some counties. And there was some conflict between these three programs in the middle of state. Now, in terms of the western part of the state, nobody wanted those counties. They were too far away. And the program that now is in Madisonville got those counties. But I’d like to return for a moment to that original meeting in Owensboro, because there was so much hostility there that there were some clients there and some lawyers there from Bowling Green and Bucky was ready to give some money out. And people from Bowling Green said, “Well, you guys don’t want it, we’ll take it.” And so, instead of developing a vast area in western Kentucky, the Bowling Green program was developed first, because at least for seven or eight counties around Bowling Green they were ready to take it. Bowling Green is about maybe an hour above Nashville right across the border in Kentucky. And they were ready to go, and so they went. Whoever was ready and whoever showed that they could develop a Board of Directors that was going to take care of the money and take care of the policies and follow policy regs et cetera. They were ready to do that. And some of the professors from the University — Western Kentucky University — local human rights advocates, they stepped forward and they got it. And the other program two years later had to wait until they got started. And incrementally moving in the areas of most resistance. And then they put in an office down by Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Kentucky to deal with the military population. We had an office ourselves in Elizabethton and in Shelbyville, two small towns near Louisville, both of which had to close in 1982 because of the Reagan funding cutbacks. So by 1980 — ’79-’80 — the state had seven programs and a statewide back-up center. And we — and a Board of Directors to that back-up center that included all the directors plus some staff attorneys, paralegals, and clients which still remains to this day to operate that operation — to run that operation. That is — it is interesting.
Michael Pritchard:
Who was the director of the back-up center?
Dennis Bricking:
The first director was Rona Roberts. The second director was Col Owens who now is the staff attorney with the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society. Since that time an attorney by the name of Tony Martin. Well, John Kemp in the middle. Some people in the region John Kemp has become a computer expert and a computer salesman. But he was there for a couple of years. And then he went to Victor — ____’s program down in Atlanta. He was director. But Tony Martin had been director for quite a while. He’s an expert in utility matters and is a good person on training legislative advocacy. But I was — I was — it was interesting, because Kentucky, it was — it was one of those deals where each part of the state had a different group of people that wanted to control us and not allow us any kind of independence and impact. In the eastern part it was the coal companies — in the private bar that was run by people that represented coal companies. In the west it was very conservative Democrats who ran used car dealerships and ran housing authorities. And in the central part of the state it was the people that ran the horse farms. There’s a very class-oriented system in Lexington Fayette County where the big horse farms are. They were worried about the development of legal services. That program never has become that aggressive and that independent. They’ve done a lot of good work, but they’ve never become very independent in Fayette because of a strong presence of local bar leaders who were concerned about holding the rein on things.
Michael Pritchard:
Let’s — let’s move forward in time a little bit. You alluded to earlier the retrenchment situation in the early ’80’s. Can you tell me a little bit how Kentucky dealt with that and particularly how your program dealt with it?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, first of all in Louisville it’s — as with some programs around the country — it was obviously traumatic. We — a union developed at the very point in time in order to be there to make sure that layoffs were done in a way that was only for seniority and not because of anything else. I sort of knew that was going to happen. I didn’t know what else to do. I recommended to my board that they be recognized. And then we went through a torturous process. At that point we had 74 people on staff. And some of them were law graduates that hadn’t passed the bar. And they happened in some cases to be minority attorneys. And we were trying to develop an affirmative action plan. But the goal the board established was to keep as many lawyers as possible. And we couldn’t keep some of the people who had come to us from other sources — Vista people, CEDA people, and other paralegals and law graduates who hadn’t passed the bar — we had to lay those people off. And we went all the way from 72 people down to about 44 people. And now we’re, you know, with all the new money you might save and raise locally, we’re 38. We’re a mere shadow of our former selves. And then we made — as much as we hated to do it, we made a calculated decision to close our two rural offices which house three attorneys plus support staff and fees in order not to have further layoffs or bigger layoffs. And now we circuit-ride to all those counties from the Louisville office and have a free incoming watt line. But those were traumatic times. We had a committee — a couple strong bar leaders. Black bar leaders on our board investigated to see whether or not we were, you know, denying people affirmative action. And it turned out before all this came down, we didn’t used to do a lot of national recruiting. And we went to Howard, and we went to the northeast. And we had offered a number of jobs to — and hired some too. We had a couple black attorneys on staff at the time. But we had offered to five or six others who basically didn’t take jobs with us, took jobs back home where they were from, and more likely took jobs where they could make more money. So we survived that, because I think we did have a good-faith effort, but we had to lay off people who weren’t lawyers, because they weren’t as valuable to us. We had to struggle with a lot of people who became very angry with us, because they were community education specialists and they were into community development work, economic development work. The work was good work, but we decided we had to have people — especially in the rural area at that time — our goal was to keep lawyers, because we had to spread them out, and they had to do everything — not just SSI work, but divorce work, housing work — they had to do court work as well as work that paralegals could do. So we had to trim our sails, use advocates that were multi-purpose advocates — namely, lawyers — and move forward with the best we could. Now, in other places John Rosenberg took the opposite tack. He had — maybe by then he already had his ten offices open, but he was bound and determined to keep them open. And so, he had offices maybe with only one attorney and one secretary, but he kept them open. And he still has them open. It was a source of pride that he was able to do that. The other programs — I think they kept their offices open and decided to lay off more people. And they only had one office maybe, one program. Another program had — I don’t think the Kentucky program didn’t have any offices. In those cases they had offices in second-class cities. In Kentucky cities of Ashland and Paducah. Madisonville was the main office for the western Kentucky program, so I guess the other office there was still in Owensboro. So some of these people kept offices open because they were in bigger cities. Retrenchment basically cut back our back-up center staff as well. Across the board our budgets shrunk and the work we did and the work we’re able to do was at risk. It is interesting, however, that for some reason — and I heard this from John Rango — during those times in Kentucky — and I didn’t keep records on this at the time, but for some reason — and people don’t know, except that maybe we just decided that in spite of everything we’re going to work harder. But for some reason, with all the cutbacks between ’81 and ’84 — ’82 and ’84 — the number of clients served between that time stayed the same. If it’s true — and I’ve heard that from a number of people — that we were able to dig in and do more work and address more needs. And we weren’t out there trying to prove to a hostile corporation that we had the numbers, that we would survive a competitive bidding war, or whatever. But we were able to maintain our contacts and clients. There was, needless to say, a feeling of solidarity with many people on the board and the client staff and the client’s counsel that was active in those days. The national client’s counsel had a regional person. And Bea Cannon in Atlanta. They have state people — and they still have state people, some of whom are at this conference this week that have been around for ten years or more. People pulled together. People — people saw that the work remained important, and that we had enough people in Washington in Congress to keep us alive at least and that we were going to — we had all the more energy to battle, in those days, Ronald Reagan and his — Ed Meese and those people. And we began to do cases that involved our whole state, not just local cases involving the confinement of the mentally retarded and whether they had the right to community treatment or they were going to be warehoused away in a rural box somewhere away from people. We began to do cases involving that segregated graveyard that I mentioned earlier in one of the counties where, after about six years of needless fighting, the federal court issued an order — told them to take the fence down and make the black side the same as the white side, take all the bramble bush and the mud away. And the local NAACP came down there on successive weekends and helped us mark the graves. Five more people were buried, so they could actually have a gravestone and a cross or whatever they wanted to commemorate where their loved ones were buried so they can be buried next to that person. The other side was so blind to what we were talking about in the beginning that they told us that, “Well, we’ll settle this case. From now on, we’ll let you people be buried on the white side.” And we look at them, and we said, “We’ll think about that.” I said, “Why would they want to be buried over there if they’ve already got people, their families, buried over here if we could find them.” They said, “Oh… well, okay.” They couldn’t settle the case, you know? It was — you find people that lack imagination when they have entrenched positions, and they just sort of looked at us like, “Oh, well –” They could understand it at that point, because they wouldn’t want to be buried somewhere on the other side of the cemetery away from their loved ones. So we finally went into that. It took us awhile. We dealt with that. We also dealt out in some of the rural counties with the women’s prison population winning a lawsuit that took us years — which again, you’d think we wouldn’t have to fight that hard — get a half million dollars in attorney’s fees and all the rest just to get the women the right to get the same training, the same education the men had in the state — the same ability to learn how to be a truck driver and not just a hair stylist, because being a truck driver pays more, you know? So we did a lot of that kind of work out in the regional area beyond Jefferson County. But, except for all the layoffs, which were traumatic, and except for the fact that people got aggravated around that stuff a lot, I think that program’s survived in what many people called a lean and mean framework and began to look around for other money obviously. Began to look around for other ways to support ourselves. Some of us did at least. More rural programs had a hard time with that. And John would have a hard time with that, at least in Kentucky. Because, in spite of everything, he does have some people who are on his board that are now on the court of appeals, and he has some — certainly a number of supporters — but probably not many people out there who have money that are going give the mountain programs in Appalachia money. And in many other parts — the rural parts of the state — they probably don’t have ways to get money either. In the urban area — on the suburban area of Louisville — we’ve been able to do some local fundraising since then to try to deal with the second retrenchment with all the funding cutbacks that have happened since in the late ’80’s and the flat money that have meant more small cutbacks as we move along. And if we hadn’t had a good deal of fundraising, we would probably be in worse shape.
Michael Pritchard:
What’s the relationship between the state bar and the programs? Is — is — are they a very important part of your work, or are they pretty much out of the picture?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, the IOLTA program started. And we had a rocky relationship with the Kentucky IOLTA Board appointed by the Kentucky Bar Association under judicial district — some guidelines. They are always nervous about us, and they want the IOLTA program only to support pro bono work. And, however, we do get about half of the IOLTA money. But, compared to some states, we get very little — like my program, which is a million and a half, we only get $20,000 IOLTA. And many of the — and we get second most. John Rosenberg’s AppalReD program gets about $38,000, but not much — very little. We work with them. We talk to them. We are on committees with regard to senior citizens and with regard to pro bono activities. And, you know, they tolerate us. The chief justice has a thing for us, because about eight years ago we filed some consumer cases that had to do with changing some court forms that were used around the state for judgment debtors. And the short of it is, at the end of the case, we won the case. And his lawyers forced us into a lot of pleadings. And we asked for attorney’s fees. And the Supreme Court of Kentucky decided they would give us attorney’s fees when hell froze over. And finally they got a new lawyer from the University of Kentucky who talked with us and understood we were entitled to the fees; we prevailed in the case. We — it was that area where judgment debtors had a right to receive a form from the court to say that “If you had Social Security or other exempt money in your bank account only — uncomingled money — that you could not be attached, and you could send a note back to the court so they wouldn’t allow a garnishment of the bank accounts.” That’s happened all over the country. And, when we did that, you know, we got attorney’s fees — $7,000 from the state and from the administrative office of the courts. And a lot of the people took that wrong. We were being much too uppity at that point. Bad enough to sue, but to ask for attorney’s fees, that was almost sacrilegious. Literally, they took it that personally. So we had to recoup from those bumping — suing judges, juvenile judges. I mean, it’s that issue of privilege and class. I’m not sure if it’s — I guess it’s around the South in terms of race. But it’s around the South in terms of rich/poor too. And the fact that poor people — our clients — in other words, the way one judge publicly talked about our case — that we got these attorney’s fees in the case to represent these judgment debtors — to say that to a public group with us in the room that “The state of the law in this state is going to hell in a hand basket. It gets so that the Supreme Court of Kentucky can even be sued by a deadbeat.” Just taking totally unbelievable bad offense at the fact that we represent these people and that we’d win and that we’d take attorney fees for them for our work and for our trouble. And so, that’s still there — that edge is there — and yet, like in most states, we’re moving towards — more rapprochement for this pro bono issue and see how that’s going to work. Some people in the state want the Kentucky bar — some parts of the Kentucky bar want an opt-out rule like a Hannah Montana where you have to do pro bono work 50 hours a year unless you say you’re not going to do it. And that’s part of your being a lawyer like taking CLE courses 15 hours a year as being part of a lawyer to continue to have your license in an integrated bar, okay? And then a question from us is — and this is going to be an ongoing question in Kentucky and everywhere else — how do you relate to your KBA — your bar association? They have the ability to help you get money — in this case, we’re trying to move a filing fee bill forward — how do you relate to these people, and at the same time work on something that makes sense with pro bono? Because it’s easy enough for lawyers to think everybody — some bar leaders think everybody should do pro bono, but who’s going to administer the program and where that money is going to come from, we don’t know. The relationship is better, and we’ve got some work ahead of us. But now the center of the issue is pro bono.
Michael Pritchard:
We have about five more minutes. I would like just to hear where — what your thoughts are. I know this is supposed to be historical, but where you see us as a community going. What do you see as the challenges for legal services as we head into the next century?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, it seems to me that we matured enough so that we are part of a landscape. And many of us have — we had a 65th anniversary dinner. We’re as much a part of the (?MetriAnIoway?) family as is the Red Cross or the Family and Children’s Agency or the Home of the Innocents for wayward children. We are as much a part of a local bar as might be any other group. We are that part of the bar in most communities that can be lifted up as a public relations vehicle to say, “Look, this is maybe — we’re partners with these people. We’re helping these people with pro bono, other public interest stuff, so that we’re moving in inspite of the fact that we take different positions on different issues and continue to do that.” I was instrumental, for instance, for the local bar with a few other people in pushing through a resolution that I found in Nashville, Tennessee that was a bar association resolution. None of their activities henceforward would be conducted in any country club or facility that discriminated against blacks, other minorities or women. Whereupon our summer event ceased to happen, because they couldn’t find any place to go. And that sort of — that juxtaposition of a professional organization that had blacks and women obviously in that with judges and the rest — had to step away from the prejudice that still exists in our communities. Now, in terms of the future, having said all that, I think there are ways — and they’re being developed in other programs around the country — where public interest is going to be a matter of cooperation with other funding sources. And maybe to a point where LSC will become minority funding source for more programs around the country because of IOLTA and because of other issues. We can contrast with hospitals to try to do SSI work and to get many people on SSI and therefore have the federal government pay for what is otherwise an uncollectible debt. Contract with the state welfare department on these disability children, get them on SSI. Find other ways to — to — especially in the SSI outreach area to help local governments get the federal government to pay the bill. We also are obtaining local money from attorney campaigns. We get $105,000 now in Louisville. We’re in our fifth year. And that’s working well. So that the real question comes down to, “Yeah, there’s still a lot of people out there that are causing trouble.” And I don’t think it’s all going to go away. But I do believe that in many cases we are going to be in partnership to develop ways to — ways to be colleagues and partners with local government — local and state government — in order to get a bigger piece of the pie out of the federal government. I see that as one part of the public interest puzzle. The other part is the civil rights issues. The other part is developing a panoply of skills — like Sargent Shriver once said, Bamberger and the others in the late 60’s. Litigation, legislative advocacy, community and economic development, education, developing clients, empowerment pro se packages. Community and economic development — my program’s got a big emphasis on that. We even have a workshop tomorrow afternoon for four hours here at the NLADA conference on economic development. We help people build houses for themselves. We help them with nonprofit organization work across the board. Help them with CRA funds to get some investments and to get ways to find money to build housing for the poor. Represent homeless shelters and deal with their issues and help them do their job better. Represent social service providers and their efforts to provide the emergency aid. Develop mediation programs through some of our client groups. So looking for different solutions in the community. At the same time realizing that in some cases — and in many cases because of the composition of the federal court system — Reagan put an awful lot of people in federal court situations that are not as interested in our point of view as were — as were the people that went in even any time during the 70’s under Nixon and Carter and Ford. The ones that are there now, it’s more difficult. And to say you’re going to appeal to the United States Supreme Court with now Thomas there and the rest of the court leaning like it is — in many areas of law in addition to abortion — many areas that affect our clients, it’s a real problem. I mean, to give an example — before this happened, before the Court came to be like it is with the two new people, with Brennan and Marshall gone, we lost a Social Security case about five or six, seven years ago where we were trying to hold them to the standard of moving cases forward quickly. And the Supreme Court finally said that the courts couldn’t tell the Social Security system what to do. And they can — you know, they had a reasonable promise but that was it. And all of a sudden all of our cases around the country were lost. And all the work we’ve done was dashed asunder. So in some ways some people argue our impact litigation work is going to have to be more carefully crafted. Look at maybe filing the kind of suits that can be settled at the local level. If it has to go to the circuit level, maybe you’re still in good case. But we’re worse off in the litigation area across the board. So we have to find other ways to deal with client issues. And I believe these partnerships with local government, local hospitals, and with community and economic development partnerships and housing partnerships is the way to go. Because we become — (?Gang Ray?) used to say it was a brokering of getting our clients on board where they can make a difference for themselves on zoning boards, on local boards that say how money is going to be spent. And I think that — that was a while back, but I think that’s what’s happening. I think that, in some of our cases — especially in the urban areas — that’s what’s happening. To have our clients become part of the decision-making framework of the community is what’s going on. And I’m — I’m looking forward to that. And I think, just to put it in a way that — I think there was a writer called John. There is a writer — John Gardner wrote something once saying that, you know, the pinnacle is boring and stifling and that the only time when you’re at your best is when you’re on a steep climb. And, as for the legal services, we’ve been on a steep climb from the beginning. And I think a lot of our people like that edge. And it gives us energy. And it gives us a way to go for our clients. And we know that we’re not going to lose altogether, and we also know we’re not going to win altogether. And it’s going to be a constant struggle. And I think that organizations like NLADA — and Victor Geminiani’s project that we’re part of right now is a big part of that to — and to trace our history and to talk about the importance of our work.
Michael Pritchard:
Great. I really appreciate this. Is there any particular — you’ve summed up beautifully. I don’t want to break it up, but is there a great story or something you wanted to say that I missed out on?
Dennis Bricking:
Well, I only think that — that — some of the things that are deepest to the project directors in Kentucky are — are — and I don’t think we’d ever be around or be as strong as we are now without the support we got from Dan Bradley and Bucky Askew. The regional office support was, you know, daily phone calls if you have to have it, you know, and contacts with Washington. Or they’d come in town to meet with bar leaders and talk things over and get them off your back during hardest times. And, you know, in a way we’re stronger and more independent, we missed that. At least in our region — in the Atlanta region — having Dan and Bucky around for all those years was a real big boost. And that’s the kind of story I’m sure many other people have told. But, even for Kentucky, it really lent a lot of credibility and a lot of support to what we were doing and kept people in the game longer. They knew we had that kind of professional and really nurturing support that held us up against all the local troubles. And that was great. Appreciate it.
Michael Pritchard:
Thanks a lot, Dennis. Really appreciate you doing this.
Dennis Bricking:
Glad to have the opportunity. Thank you.


END