Steve Cole oral history, 2013

Senior position at Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law. Later with MD Attorney General’s office and CEO of Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Steve Cole
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: Oct 25, 2013
Where relates to: New York
Topics: Poverty law and Support centers
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video): http://hdl.handle.net/10822/1050169
Length: 0:47:36

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

INTERVIEWEE: Steven Cole
INTERVIEWER: Alan Houseman
INTERVIEW DATE: October 25, 2013
TRANSCRIBER: Carilyn Cipolla

NCRA, NCRF and the Library of Congress – Partnering to Preserve the American Experience

Alan Houseman:
Hello. I’m Alan Houseman. I will be interviewing Steve Cole today. This is Friday, October 25, 2013. Steve, why don’t you provide a little background about where you grew up, where you went to college and law school, what you did after law school, and then we’ll get to your work at The Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law.

Steven Cole:
Great. Well, I grew up in the Bronx, New York City. And went to college in New York City at Columbia. And, being young when I went to school, I wasn’t ready for an out-of-town experience, so I really wanted to go to law school at Columbia and I did that. So I spent all my early years in New York City, which I suspect shaped me in many ways. After law school, I followed a pretty typical route for students who did reasonably well at Columbia. And that as a clerk for a judge in Eastern District of New York. That’s Brooklyn and Long Island in the federal system. And that was a wonderful experience. My judge was one of the first who was really a leader in administrative operations of the court. He was the chief judge. And the really good news about that is that this inexperienced clerk, he let me really write the opinions, because he was basically managing the court. So it was quite a learning experience and little scary since I was — you know, whatever age I was, I wasn’t old enough to be writing court opinions, I didn’t think, at the time.

Alan Houseman:
Who was the judge?

Steven Cole:
Joseph Zavatt. In those days, I thought he was a very conservative Republican. I think about it now, and he would be considered a RINO — a Republican in Name Only. Because he really was grounded in — in the business community, in — in kind of civil society. He understood, you know, culture. He was a very well-rounded person who was not as ideological as you see today. But at those days to me he seemed very, very conservative. And so, that was actually pretty interesting experience. I was not politically oriented in those days, but you know, my family were New Deal Democrats. And so, that’s what my thinking was. I idolized John Kennedy. He’s the first politician I really followed in any way. So I guess I — you know, my politics were forming in those days. While I was clerking, one of the other judges in the court who had just gotten appointed at the time I started was Jack Weinstein. And — in fact, after I accepted the clerkship with Zavatt, Weinstein — who was teaching at Columbia at the time, so I knew him from Columbia — had just been appointed. I went to see him, because I wanted to clerk for him. He said, “Gee, this would be great. But you just accepted a job with my boss. I don’t think I should hire you.” I guess he was right. And so, I missed out on that opportunity. But the reason I mention that is, a friend of mine ended up clerking for him. And the Rosado case was before him soon after. It didn’t take long before that case was pending. And I would hear about the case all the time from my friend. And once in a while I went in to see some of the arguments that were going on. And I was just totally taken with, “Here are these young lawyers in there, and they weren’t doing boring corporate stuff. They’re actually doing important things. They were suing the government.” I mean that to me seemed just amazing. I mean I had very little experience, you know, in lawyers or the law before law school. And this just seemed like a wonderful thing. And then, when I was in my second year of the clerkship, I got a solicitation from the Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship Program. I’m guessing they sent it to all law clerks in the country. I mean, I didn’t have any special reason why I got it. I — may have been just because I was a law clerk and they were trying to encourage people to consider poverty law, you know? So anyway, I put two and two together, and I realize, “Well, this program is the kind of work that I was watching in the Rosado case that had me mesmerized.” So I accepted that. And it was an incredible time at Haverford. Henry mentioned it in election this morning. He had a Tony Amsterdam, an Ed Sparer. And it was just pretty — pretty exciting. And then I was asked where I wanted to be assigned. And again, the ubiquitous Rosado case came up. The Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law, which they — they were able to do — I didn’t know that right away, but they did assign me there. And lo and behold pretty much the first thing that the then director — Lee Albert — asked me to do was write, draft one of the arguments in Rosado. It was the primary jurisdiction argument. He used absolutely none of my material. That’s another story, I learn quickly. So anyway, that’s the background of how I got to the Center. I actually was there, because the law firm that — I was on a typical track. This was a side track. The poverty law seemed exciting, and I wanted to be a part of that. But I had not yet ever thought that this was something I would do for a career. I mean, you went to Columbia Law School. If you were on the board, you went to a Wall Street law firm. It’s sad, but that was the track and we didn’t think of other alternatives. So I had an offer from one of the firms. And I convinced them that, after the clerkship — which they were very tolerant, because they liked when their new associates were clerks — I convinced them to let me do this poverty law thing. And then after one year, when I found out the Reggies would renew me for a year so the Center could afford to keep me for another year, I asked them to do it again. And they kind of rolled their eyes and said “Okay. Get it out.” Their exact quote was, “Get it out of your system.” And I did it a second year. And it didn’t go out of my system. And so, I ended up telling them, “Thank you.” And I really owed them quite a bit, because, if they weren’t so tolerant, I might have been richer now, but I wouldn’t have had the same terrific experience I ended up having.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Before we get to your work at the Center, just — and we’ll come back to your other career after the Center — just mention — just talk a little bit about your family, when you met your wife and your kid and all that.

Steven Cole:
Well, I’m married to Adele Blong who I met — this is wonderful — in the Rosado case. Adele was working for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She’s the deputy regional attorney. And she was responsible for their participation as an amicus in the case. And I handled the case on remand. And I hadn’t met her yet. It was before the first hearing, before Judge Weinstein on remand. And I wanted to serve her with a brief. Since they were on our side, I wanted to do everything I could to be completely cooperative. And I met her when I served briefs at her home — at her apartment in New York. And that’s how I first met her. And at some point the Center had an opening, and Adele shared with me some readiness maybe to leave her post at HEW for the right thing. And I and Henry and — convinced her to come to the Center. Henry was just back becoming the director at that time. There was some pushback by some of our friends at the Center — “A government lawyer?” You know. But it worked out very nicely. Then we started dating at the Center. We managed to keep it very separate from the office. In fact, when we announced we were getting married — this was in the fall of ’75 — at a staff meeting, there was 20 seconds of stunned silence and then applause. It — clearly people didn’t know this was going to happen. We have one son, who is not a lawyer, never talked about being a lawyer, never even considered it, which he’s kind of a mathematics kind of person. He’s doing very well with two young daughters now. So we’re grandparents now. He lives in New Hampshire.

Alan Houseman:
Great. So, while you’re at the Center, you worked on a number of cases that have made a major impact in some way, shape, or form on the legal world in poverty law and all that. And you talked a little bit about Rosado. Why don’t you just explain what Rosado was and what you did on remand, and then we’ll go through a couple of others.

Steven Cole:
Yes. As a preliminary, what’s really interesting to me — and listening to some of the sessions today at the conference kind of reminded me of this — we did have major impacts, but it’s quite sobering how transitory even some of the most major ones were. And we didn’t appreciate that at the time, I don’t think. I didn’t; maybe others did. Especially when we started relying so much on statutory claims instead of constitutional claims, for obvious reasons, with the direction of the court. And, since they were statutory, they were totally under the control of the Congress. But Rosado started out as a case trying to implement a statute that required the states to adjust the way that they determined need for public assistance. And to adjust it, to take into account the cost of living. And the question in the case as originally presented was “Did they also at the same time have to increase their actual grants?” And that case, except for by small role when I first joined the counsel, was decided — was really handled by others. And the Supreme Court said “No, Congress did not intend to require the states to increase the grant levels, but just the need.” And in deciding the case, the Supreme Court did two things that were very — one had lasting importance, and one did not. The one that had lasting importance is, they actually said it was okay for the welfare recipients most affected by the state rules to bring suit in federal court. The second circuit said, “No, this is a dispute between the federal government and the state. That’s who’s providing New York with the hundreds of millions of dollars. And New York wasn’t complying. And the statute said if they didn’t comply, they lose their money.” And we had argued, based on the fact that the Supreme Court had previously decided (?K v Smith?) and took for granted that welfare recipients could sue states when they were violating the law, we had argued, “No, this is not just between the federal government and the state.” And that was the key item that had — that lasted in the Supreme Court’s decision. And it’s something that I think this second circuit and the Supreme Court got into, because they had the physical presence of HEW actively in the case. And so, they kind of reminded them, “Well, who are these welfare recipients? We have the two governments are duking it out.” But the conclusion was good on that one. The other thing they decided, as I said, was that the Congress didn’t really intend to have grants increase. But, in doing that, they said — “But a statute has to have a purpose.” So what was the purpose? And they said, “Well, the purpose is, if you increase the standard of need, you would really increase the eligibility of people for public assistance who missed the old standard of need, because their income was just a little above it, but when it was adjusted to take into account the cost of living, they would be eligible. We can’t say how much they would get paid, but they’d be eligible. And then they’d be eligible for social services, for Medicaid eligibility, everything that depended on your receiving a cash public assistance check. So that was Justice White’s decision. It wasn’t meaningless. It really had some real key importance to it. Well, case goes back to the district court. And [pause] — the other thing the Supreme Court said in that case was — now, the remedy here is unusual, because we can’t just order a state to increase grants or to reformulate. We can’t tell them what their standard of need is. So, if they don’t comply, they’ll just lose their hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds. And I came into the case much more actively on remand and it was — as frightening as you could imagine having the district judge agree with us and issuing an order terminating New York’s receipt of federal public assistance monies. So we were talking about a state where the political environment was changing. Governor Rockefeller was moving a little bit more to the right. The state legislature was very conservative. And we were worried, “Did we just give them an opportunity to do something they might not have done otherwise?” And we were really frightened. Of course, it turned out that they couldn’t possibly do that, and they complied. That was an important aspect of the decision. Later on, Rosado grew into — a number of cases around the country were remanded who were brought the same claim that you had to increase the grants. And on remand I started advocating to many of the legal services lawyers — California was a particular example that I recall in the case called Villa v. Hall — that Justice White said there was meaning to the statute. And many states were looking at the income that a welfare family might have, and the way they reduced the amounts they were paying was they — instead of subtracting the income from the standard of need and say, “Okay. Now you have individual need of x dollars. And we may reduce that. We may apply a maximum to it. May give you only 50% of it.” What they did instead is, they reduced the standard first and then subtracted income. So, as a result of that, increasing the standard need did not increase anyone’s eligibility, did not create an availability of other services. In fact, it created a barrier that no matter how much you earned, you could never reach more than a certain percentage of standard need, which is actually a disincentive to work. And so, we developed the argument that that violated the statute and that was one of the major issues in Jefferson that did not succeed.

Alan Houseman:
It was —

Steven Cole:
No, that was in Jefferson.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. We’ll get to Jefferson.

Steven Cole:
So Jefferson basically was premised in the Supreme Court at least — not the first time around — on —

Alan Houseman:
This was Jefferson v. (?Haye?)

Steven Cole:
Yes. Was premised on the fact “You meant what you said in Rosado.” Now, I don’t know if you want to talk about Jefferson now.

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Steven Cole:
Jefferson started out as a case that was doing two things. It was using this statute that was involved in Rosado also to say the state couldn’t cut welfare grants; it actually had to increase them because of this cost of living statute. And also, because Texas was using the same rules and formulas to define need for all individuals no matter what program they were in — whether they were in the AFDC program for children, or they were in the old age program for persons over 65, or they were blind or disabled — they had the same way of determining what their subsistence needs were. But, having done that, they paid the adult programs, let me say, close to either 100% of their determined need or close to it. And in the children’s program, they paid 50%. And so, the lawyers who brought that case — Ed Sparrow was one of the — he was kind of the godfather of that and many other cases at the time — were arguing that that violated equal protection. Now, the case is brought pre-Dandridge. So there was a lot of optimism that the Equal Protection Clause would actually accomplish more in terms of the treatment of the poor and take hard looks at the validity of statutes that were treating the poor differently. Jefferson was — I don’t want to say “unique,” but the claim in Jefferson — the constitutional claim was not how the poor were being treated compared to others, but how they were being treated compared to each other. And that’s a little problematic in a way especially in Texas, which had a constitutional limit on how much they could spend on public assistance. So winning the case meant somebody was going to lose — somebody who we cared just as deeply about. So it was a — it was a kind of high-stakes strategy. So that was the way the case started. It went up to the Supreme Court, and they sent it back to be reconsidered in light of the Rosado decision. So the lower court saying “grants had to be raised” wasn’t going to be the right answer. And it was on remand that the plaintiffs argued this theory that, “Well, Rosado may not have required you to increase grants, but it at least required you to increase eligibility for the grants.” They lost, and Ed, because he realized that this statutory claim was really going to be probably the dominant issue in the case. I guess he was losing a little faith at that point in the constitutional decision. He asked me to take it over since I had developed that claim. And it was a real struggle, because I realized it was — it was like two cases in one. They had nothing to do with each other. One was about treating the children differently than the adult programs where the children’s programs were 90% Mexican-American and the adult programs are 95% white. And the history — contrary to the way the Supreme Court decided it, folks in Texas knew why that was the case. There’s no question. And the record even showed that. But anyway, I was faced, as a young lawyer who had never been in the Supreme Court, dealing with other colleagues who had never done anything like that when you really come down to it. So the amount of really solid experience we were bringing to this was negligible. What we did know was, we knew the welfare programs but not necessarily the techniques of advocacy in the Supreme Court. But I was very concerned that bringing — bringing both of these issues to the court at the same time — the racial discrimination issue and the complicated “How do you compute welfare grants under the Social Security Act?” issue — was going to be very difficult. And Ed was very clear [chuckling], “We want you to do this case, but this is how you’re going to do it.” And that was his right. It was his case. And I was an invited guest. I definitely got that. But the consequence is one of the longest briefs. I think both sections of my brief were quite good, frankly. But I don’t know how the — in retrospect — in hindsight, I guess I should say — how the Court was really able to cope with that. And they didn’t cope with that very well.

Alan Houseman:
Yeah, you argued it.

Steven Cole:
I argued in the Supreme Court. The — most of the argument was dominated by Rehnquist who — this was the first case he had heard. He had just been confirmed. I was scheduled to talk to him in December of ’71. And like probably anyone arguing in the Supreme Court, but certainly someone doing it for the first time, I must have researched and practiced and wrote and practiced again and, you know, for weeks and weeks and weeks to get ready for this, you know, amazing occasion. And the day before I was ready to go to Washington — we were based in New York City — I got a call from the clerk telling me that they’re not going to reach my case. I’ll never forget my answer. It was ‘the’ clerk of the court, not a deputy clerk. I guess they had the courtesy to do that, right? And I said, “You’re not going to what?” And he explained to me that they always schedule an extra case just in case something happens so that the docket stays full, and lo and behold I was the extra case. So I’d be the first case of the next case, which was going to be in February. And, between December and February, Lewis Powell and Rehnquist were nominated and quickly confirmed by the Congress. And so, what turns out would have been a 4-3 majority was a 5-4 against me. But that’s just an anecdote. So what. That’s the way it was. But he did argue the case. And most of the argument was dominated by questions from Rehnquist, who — he was very brilliant; no question about that. His questions were very tough, but they were almost entirely on procedural aspects of the case that had nothing to do with the substance. So, when I listened to the argument — which I did recently — or look at the transcript — which I did recently — I realize how little opportunity I had to argue the point I was there for. The experience though couldn’t — you know, was a handful of the most incredible experiences of my career even though this was right at the very beginning. The other thing I remember about the case is, while I was — I — I — my goal (?appellants?), I asked the court to reserve five minutes for rebuttal. And, while I was getting towards the end of my initial argument being peppered with questions constantly — which is good. Anyone whose argued a case knows it’s disastrous when you’re not asked questions. But the chief justice was Warren Burger at the time said, “Mr. Cole, you wanted to reserve five minutes, but you’ve used three of those five already.” I had this moment of truth — do I tell him that the yellow light never went on and that was supposed to go on when I had five minutes or was I supposed to suck it up? Of course, I sucked it up. I was not going to fight the chief justice then, but I had almost no time for rebuttal. I abruptly sat down. You remember these things in your first case. Anyway.

Alan Houseman:
Well, why don’t you talk about some of the other cases you worked on at the Center — I don’t care what order you pick them, but doesn’t matter — that you think are important, you know? Some of what you tried to do at the Center and, you know — I don’t care.

Steven Cole:
Yeah. Yeah. There are a number of interesting cases that — some had lasting effect, and some didn’t. And some were surprising. A theme that went through the cases and was a very tricky aspect of working at a back-up center in legal services is, sometimes we brought cases on our own. Very frequently we helped other local legal services lawyers develop their arguments and write their briefs. And this was always a challenge, because sometimes you were helping some really really good lawyers who did a great job, and sometimes not. And that became a personal challenge — how do you do that kind of work? And some of the cases that I did the most work on were cases that I never went to court on. Two that came to mind — one was a case called Hagans v. Lavine. I forget now what the substantive issue was, but the procedural issue was whether or not the Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart could support these kind of cases. And the issue in that case was the constitutional claim everyone knew was a loser after Dandridge. The Court knew it, we knew it, everyone knew it, but when it was filed, it wasn’t a loser. And so, the issue was, “Could it claim that the Court knows is a stinker — could that support handling other claims like the stat federal supremacy law claims that did not otherwise have jurisdiction?” And the Supreme Court eventually said “yes,” and it was very satisfying. That was an example of a case that was very hard for me, because I had really developed a lot of the legal theories and worked very hard on it and didn’t get to argue the case. Another case where I didn’t feel that way and I felt really good about it — because, I guess, I like the way it was handled and I thought they did a great job — was Shea v. Vialpando. And I mention that case, because of kind of an anecdote that happened. That case involved a requirement of the law that a recipient — welfare recipient — was working, had a right to have all their work expenses taken into account when need is determined. So essentially, if they earned $100, but it cost them $20 to earn that 100, you’d only count the 80 against them. And it’s basically the principle that you’re trying to relieve current need and people don’t have their work expenses. And what the state of Colorado did — and I guess it was spreading throughout the country — is, they decided everyone’s going to get a flat amount as work expenses. We’re not even going to bother looking to what your real work expenses were. And the Colorado attorneys ended up winning that case. And my two favorite parts of it — one was I made a big deal about — I cited Alice in Wonderland and the brief goes — it was, I think, “The words mean what you want them to mean.” And that was essentially what Colorado and the federal government was doing. But the thing about the case that I remember very well was — and I know this from a friend of mine who was clerking the Supreme Court at the time — the court was very well divided, and it wasn’t clear who was going to win the case. And, in fact, I was not likely to, or our team was unlikely to. And the solicitor general at the last minute filed this crazy brief that just was an unfair description of prior history and how this came about. And I got permission, even though time was up, to file a reply to that. And, when my reply came in upending all this old history from HEW and how the solicitor general had misstated the situation, apparently that persuaded several justices to turn around and we won the case. Is that true, or is that an anecdote, I don’t know, but — but in terms of lasting effect —

Alan Houseman:
By the way, who argued the case in the court?

Steven Cole:
That’s a really good question. I — I — I — it’s 40-plus years ago. I’m trying to remember. I don’t remember. It was one of the Colorado legal services attorneys. And I — I can’t recall right now. One of the issues that we did a lot of work on at the Center — and eventually it was the kind of issue that led me to go to work for HEW eventually — and I’ll explain that — was “How did rules develop in the federal government? What attention to the facts do they pay? What real investigations do they do, or is it just kind of off the top of the head policy kind of decisions?” And we felt that welfare recipients — or poor people generally — were not any different than the business community when they challenged federal regulations governing how — or states governing how highways are built or how significant economic decisions were being made. And that is, it needed to be a serious application of principle to the facts, and the agency had an obligation to develop a record and to rely on that record. However informal rule-making might be, they still needed a record. And we actually got — one of the cases was _____ v. Matthews. And HEW had issued a new rule that prohibited states from allowing welfare recipients to have resources greater than $2,000 in order to be eligible. And it used to be something like 8,000 if my memory is correct. It was a very significant change. Not only that, it said that, if your resources were encumbered, you don’t worry about that; you count the full value of the resources even though you don’t even own the full value. You still owe the bank or the — you know, whatever. And the District of Columbia circuit set aside — I think it’s the only time a social welfare rule was set aside for violating the Administrative Procedure Act and found it to be arbitrary and capricious, because the government did not in its statement of basis and purpose in issuing the rule give any attention to the factual basis for how they determine that $2,000 was an appropriate amount for the states to be limited to in defining who would be eligible for public assistance. I really don’t know if that principle has been used since then. I know we tried unsuccessfully to use it in other contexts. But that was we thought a major accomplishment, because the idea was the agencies needed to be disciplined. They needed to treat poor people like they were treating any economic regulation that may be going on in the government. And that — I shouldn’t say “any.” This is more sensitive maybe than pure economic regulation. But they needed regulation. They needed to be deliberate and thoughtful in their processes and not just to throw away, “We like to do it.” We’re not legislators in other words. You’re administrators trying to implement the statute. So that — I thought that was a pretty important area that we got into. Another one, which I didn’t have the pleasure arguing, but I did file, was the — I guess it was the only one at the time. I don’t know if there have been any since then. Gender discrimination in the welfare programs. That was Westcott v. Califano. The case there was this statute provided, as an option to the states, to give aid to families who were needy because of the unemployment of a parent, but many states only applied that to the unemployment of the father. And the Supreme Court ended up ruling — Henry Freeman argued the case —

Alan Houseman:
We just talked about it.

Steven Cole:
— that that was gender. And what was fun for me in deciding whether to file the case and to get help shaping it — Ruth Ginsburg was then a faculty at Columbia. And we were at Columbia, so I took advantage of that to chat with her. So that was kind of a memory now — now that she’s become Justice Ginsburg. So that was fun. There were a number of — one other case — well, two other cases I’ll mention. One was the first SSI case ever filed, and that was (?Leon v. Weinberger?). That essentially applied the principle of Goldberg v. Kelly to the SSI program. And it’s almost surprising that we had to bring the case. That the federal government who administered SSI didn’t appreciate that the constitution applied to them too. But we did, and we won. What was particularly interesting about it is, Mr. Leon had a mental issue — if my recollection is that may have been why he qualified for disability. And he wasn’t spending his welfare money; he was saving it up. And so, he had a reasonably substantial bank account compared to the eligibility level you were allowed to have. And so, they terminated him on — again, on that basis that he had too many resources. And we brought — we got the first appeal on SSI heard by — something called the appeals council in the Social Security administration. And our argument was that this statute says the government had to take into account any other income and resources, but not the actual welfare grant that he was getting — SSI grant. We did not prevail. It was too much for them to think that somebody with $5,000 in the bank or whatever it was could be eligible. Our argument was, “If you feel, as we do too, that he should be using this for subsistence needs, provide him help. Don’t terminate assistance.” And the other case that had certainly a short-term impact, because it was about more than half a billion dollar cutback in the Medicaid program in New York in the early 70’s. And in two separate cases we — we managed to stop that. The first case was Braster v. Rockfeller, I think, was the the name of it, and we filed it in the eastern district of New York. And it was a statute in Medicaid that required a maintenance of effort. And we argued that this violated maintenance of effort requirement. No one else had brought suit there. And I’ll never forget — it was the first case where I had an opportunity to actually question a witness at a hearing. Before that, it was all kind of legal arguments and motions and stuff. And the witness I was questioning was the head of the Medicaid program in New York City who was on our side. He wanted the state cutbacks stopped. And I was in the court I used to clerk in — different judge — Judge Bruckhausen, who was well up in years at that time. And, while I’m questioning Mr. (?Bodoff?), I think this is riveting, right? I mean, I’ve got the head of the New York City department there. It’s half a billion dollars involved. I mean, this was extraordinary. And the judge starts snoring. [laughing]. So what do you do, you know? I mean, I didn’t have much experience then. So I realized that — I just kept going. But after that we said, “No, this is not going to go well.” And we talked to lawyers from MFY legal services to find some other plaintiff, so we could file in the southern district in New York, and we did. Judge Tenney kept awake. We did stop that. We had some very novel jurisdictional arguments — the Court’s finding it a federal question even though each individual claimant didn’t have $10,000 at stake. And so, that was the jurisdictional amount at that time. Those are some of the highlights in the cases.

Alan Houseman:
That’s great. Well, the Center also has done some legislative work, and I think you worked on some legislative work. You want to describe what you did and why you did it?

Steven Cole:
Yeah. It was on two occasions both related to child support enforcement. There was a whole lot of litigation in that area that the Center was involved with and many other legal services programs around the country. And a lot of states were imposing requirements that the mother cooperate in essentially naming the father of the children. And eventually Congress enacted a law that required that cooperation as well. And we — this was something I was heavily involved with — felt that there at least ought to be an exception if the mother had good reasons not to want that father involved in the family culture, in the children’s upbringing, in the children’s life and so did not want to engage in that kind of paternity contest. And it was a different legislative environment, I guess, because we did get that enacted — a good cause exception to the cooperation requirement. Later on there was an amendment to the law about how — this is so long ago and so complex I can’t tell you exactly what the statute was, but there was a statute that changed the way that grants would be computed based on the income that was coming in from child support. And we felt it was very unfair the way they were doing it and got involved in some legislative work to get that overturned — not ‘overturned’, but to get it clarified and approved. And the reason this particularly sticks in my mind is, I mentioned earlier that, because of my interest in how rules were being developed, I went to work — I left the Center and went to work with HEW, because I felt I would be better at understanding how the government ticks and I would be better at suing the government if I worked for the government for a little while. And one of the things — so as a special assistant to the general counsel, one of the things I was asked to work on was the development of regulations to implement the statute that I had helped get enacted. And Russell Long, who was the chair of the finance committee, wrote to the secretary — who was Califano at the time — and told him he didn’t want me. This is pretty flattering actually they even knew I existed. He didn’t want me working on this, because — and it is interesting — he didn’t name as a conflict that I was involved in the writing of the statute, but the conflict he identified is that my wife was working at the center and she was working on all these welfare issues. And to his credit, Califano basically told him to forget it. And he really stood by it. It was really very interesting. The legislative work became a bigger part of the counsel after I left though. This was something we — we started to get involved with in my last year or so there.

Alan Houseman:
Right. And you also did some training, I think — I know you — you wrote what we call the model thorough complaint.

Steven Cole:
Well, this is — this is, you know, our major role — you know, the theory of funding organizations like the Center was to provide assistance to very overworked, harassed, legal services lawyers and to help bring them along so that they could do the job that really needed to be done despite their overwhelming caseload. And one of the ways that the legal service corporation assisted that was by creating a training program. But my contribution to it other than — like many others, actually participating in training conferences — was to create a model complaint that could be used for almost any issue. Very significantly annotated. And what’s interesting, thinking about that in 2013, is — it was such a modest amount that had gone on in this area of law that we either knew, because we were actually working on all the cases we were citing, or we knew others — you know, we worked with others who had done it — or we had cited all these cases in our briefs. And so, this was all like personal. And that was pretty interesting. But the complaint was — the motto complaint which — it was very gratifying, because I would see for years that complaint being the structure that was used. And it was helpful, because a lot of the local lawyers who were excellent lawyers, but their time constraints were really prohibitive, they were able to put out pretty sophisticated work very quickly by tailoring their particular situation to this model. And model also gave them briefing material because of the annotations. That was fun to do. Yeah. Yeah.

Alan Houseman:
As a recipient of the complaint, I can say it was a great benefit.

Steven Cole:
[laughing].

Alan Houseman:
So let’s just end this by talking about, “What happened after you left the center?” Let’s just go over that.

Steven Cole:
There are three major parts of my career after that. One was I did go to HEW. It was a great experience. But I didn’t feel I made the kind of contribution I thought I would in approving the rule-making program. That was too ingrained. That was difficult. I did my best, but modest success there. I did have a short stint in private practice with Mike (?Schuster and Dick Solo?). Mostly gender discrimination cases. Although one of the most interesting aspects of the work is, we got funding from the Legal Services Corporation to do research in different areas. One that I spent a significant amount of time on was — those were the days when block grants were just starting — and to try to develop a theory about whether block grants without any strings attached to them at all were constitutional. And I published in the Clearinghouse Review an article on that. Got me into the Federalist Papers. It was a really wonderful experience. I then went to the Maryland attorney general where I headed their securities and consumer protection divisions. It’s my first foray into consumer protection. And that was a great experience. The attorney general who I worked for was Steve Sachs, who was reputed to be not only one of the best politicians in the state, but one of the best trial lawyers in the state. So it was interesting. Very good learning experience. Also learned how to run an agency, which was important. I then went from there to the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which is the umbrella organization for the BBB’s in North America. And when I had learned in Maryland was there was a beauty of the consumer issues, because in those days, at least, Republicans and Democrats could work together on those issues. Everybody knew their aunt Sophie who got messed up by some consumer issue and could relate to that. So that was a satisfying thing to be able to do that. And I ended my — my career there as the CEO of the council. What I concentrated mostly then on was related to the new technologies. And I looked at a system that had about 130 different websites and ways of using databases and technology, because each Better Business Bureau was independently funded and managed — and integrated them all into a common database and a common website. It was pretty good for a non-techie like me — it was pretty interesting learning experience getting that done. But enough was enough. That was a difficult situation, because of the small pea politics of it. And I thought I had done what I could do there. And I had this home in Cape Cod. And so, I set my sights on retiring up to the cape. And I did that four years ago. And I’m as busy as ever. I missed the class where they taught you how to say “No.” So I’m involved with some non-profits, helped organize a few, because I knew how to do that from my BBB days. And I lead one now. In New England, much of the town governments — we were town government system in Massachusetts in much of New England. And the town governments are assisted by volunteer committees. So I’m a member of the town’s finance committee. So it’s — it’s keeping me pretty busy, which is good.

Alan Houseman:
Great. Well, thanks so much. This has been terrific.

Steven Cole:
Thank you, Al.

Alan Houseman:
And we appreciate the opportunity of doing this. And this is really — helps us a lot.

Steven Cole:
This is fun. Thank you much.


END