One of the initial staff leaders of the OEO Legal Services in the mid 1960s. One of the leading architects of the design and development of LSC in the early 1970s.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Jun 7, 2002|
|Where relates to:||Missouri and National|
|Topics:||LSC: Creation and OEO Legal Services|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Georgetown University Law Center
National Justice Library Oral History Project
Interview with Charles Edson
Conducted by Robert Rhudy
June 7, 2002
Robert Rhudy: This is the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Project. This is June 7, 2002, we’re at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. at the National Equal Justice Library. I have the honor this morning of interviewing, as a part of our library’s oral history program, Charles Edson. Chuck Edson is one of the initial staff leaders of the OEO, Office of Economic Opportunity Legal Services Program beginning in the mid 1960s and he was one of the leading architects of the design and development of the Legal Services Corporation in the early 1970s. Charles, we’re going to call you Chuck, good morning, we’re looking forward to talking together with you. Where are you living now?
Charles Edson: [In the Maryland suburbs of DC.]
Robert Rhudy: Tell us a little bit about your background before you came into legal services.
Charles Edson: I was born in University City, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, went to Harvard College and Law School, came back to practice law at the law firm of Louis, Rice, Tucker, Allen and Chugg, which is very relevant to this story, because Bill McCalpin was my first boss. And practiced just ordinary type of law in St. Louis. Got a little bit restless, a program came along called White House Fellowship, which I applied for. And there were about 3,500 applicants, and I got into the finals and with my usual fate in life, I ranked where I was an alternate somewhere between 16 and 30. This was in the summer of 1995, I beg your pardon 1965. I have a very bad habit of dropping decades, so please bear with me on that. It was a very nice experience, and I said this is some nice town and I started looking around for a job. I let Bill McCalpin know, I think he knew generally about my restlessness. Meanwhile the OEO Legal Services Program was starting off. Incidentally I had, through another contact, applied for OEO when I was here at the White House Fellowship —
Robert Rhudy: That’s the Office of Economic Opportunity got created about —
Charles Edson: — in June of ’65 when the competition was, I happened to be there on June 30th, the last day of the fiscal year, and the place was in chaos and mayhem. I said to myself, this is the last place I’ll ever end up working. But then subsequently in the fall, Bill McCalpin set up a series of interviews with Clint Bamberger in Washington and after the usual paperwork and all, I was hired and began work around January 25, 1966.
Robert Rhudy: Let me ask, you’ve mentioned Bill’s name, I know him well, a wonderful gentleman. In the early 60s, the ABA and maybe the White House had had a forum of bar leaders to look at creating a legal services program that Bill was involved with. Do I remember that correctly?
Charles Edson: Yes, that was sort of before my time in the program. That was the summer, I believe, of ’65 or maybe late ’64. I remember Pat Wald did a study or a book that was used in conjunction with it. Jean and Edgar Cahn were very much involved in it. But other than that I was not. Yes, there were a lot of bar leaders like Bill that were involved.
Robert Rhudy: So then you came in shortly after your interview, you came to Washington, D.C. I understand that you bought a house, which your wife, when she came to town, sold later on. Is that an accurate statement?
Charles Edson: Well, you’re close. Bought a house actually in the same little town that we live in now. Not bought, we rented a house, a Charles Adams creation, but the rent was right at $250 per month, and it was a nice four-bedroom house which was quite old. And they were doing a huge construction project next door building a new house and we had three small children and just was not conducive, so we moved two blocks away. We then bought a house after four months of rental, and then we now have our second house that we’ve owned in this town of Somerset, which, as I say, is part of the generic area called Chevy Chase.
Robert Rhudy: So what was your position…. How many staffers were there—
Charles Edson: It’s hard to say. When I was there, the staff was Clint, his deputy, Earl Johnson. Clint brought in a friend of his from Baltimore named Buzzy Heddleman, a lawyer, a real live wire, very, very active, who I believe left when Clint ran for attorney general in around June of 1966. Buzzy went with him. And he and I plus Nira Long, who was with us at that time. Unfortunately Nira is no longer living. She became a prominent lawyer in town. I think she was also on the board of the University of the District of Columbia, very active in politics. I believe she was named, as Earl points out in his book, for the National Industrial Recovery Act, NIRA, and her father was fascinated by how it sounded, when… it was almost the day she was born in 1935. Then there were two staffers named Susan Fisher and Dawn Gale, who were the program analysts, both very good. I know Susan at least went on to law school, I don’t know what happened to Dawn. And there were a few secretarial people, too. That was the staff, as we found it in the 1966 headquarters.
Robert Rhudy: Tell us a little bit about what the legal services program did, the first U.S. public federal legal services program to set up legal aid for the poor.
Charles Edson: It was to fund either extant legal aid societies or newly formed legal aid groups for the program. There were a lot of tensions. One is that people thought that the old-line legal aid societies could not adapt to the more advocacy type of program that was envisioned for legal services, that they were all fuddy duddies and the board met at the country club, etc. I think we had a requirement that there be one-third poor on the board. Well, you can imagine how that went over at the country club or the city club where these guys, and I use the word guys, met. So that we gave money both to the established legal aid but also set up new agencies like Washington Neighborhood Legal Services program, a perfect example of a new group. California Rural Legal Services, again, wasn’t there until we gave them the money.
Robert Rhudy: What were your primary duties?
Charles Edson: My primary duties were to see that the money was allocated to the various programs. We did not do it directly out of Washington. We had about seven regional offices: Boston, New York, Atlanta, Fort Worth, Chicago, maybe Denver and San Francisco. I may be off a little bit but not too much. And we had strong regional legal services directors who actually made the grants. My job was to see that we didn’t give out too little or too much money, and that we could fund this and funds were available or not available, parity between the regions. It was a fairly administrative job.
Robert Rhudy: Do you remember approximately what the grant levels were? You started off just at $3 or 4 or 5 million initially —
Charles Edson: Approximately in FY 1966, which ended on June 30th, the fiscal year in the olden days ended then, approximately $25,472,813, more or less. I kept the figures literally almost on the back of an envelope. We did not have computers there, so it was a little bit rough at times. It was kept manually believe me. And someone would say this grant has fallen out. I would say, hey that’s good news, then I can fund some other grant somewhere else, etc. sort of a balancing act the first year.
Robert Rhudy: You were there between ’65 and —
Charles Edson: No, January ’66 and I left in around October 1967, there for approximately 20-21 months.
Robert Rhudy: How many programs were there at the point when you left, ball park?
Charles Edson: That is hard, maybe near 100, but I’m really grabbing that out of the air. And the money we had in FY ’67, I could not tell was more than the $25 million, that’s of course when a million dollars was a million dollars.
Robert Rhudy: What were some of the challenges that you had to do deal with in funding these programs and setting them up and getting them started?
Charles Edson: Well, for one, you were selling something new of the concept of legal services that we had, the advocacy, the class action lawsuit sort of thing as opposed to just the individual service to the client. And one of the real challenges was to get your money spent well, to people who would do it. My first trip was to Oxford, Mississippi, where you had a very progressive Dean, Josh Morris, who wanted a program there. But you can imagine how difficult it was in an old-line institution, to bring in this new type of entity. Then it was very successful and had a good reception at Ole Miss. But much of the time was spent on the road in effect selling the program. We had regional legal services conferences, one at the University of Texas at Austin, one out in Salt Lake City and quite a few others. So I would say much of the first year was spent selling, when I wasn’t trying to be the bureaucrat administering the funds.
Robert Rhudy: And you were selling the legal services program to the bar, the —
Charles Edson: A lot of it was to the bar leaders, sometimes of course to the client community, although it didn’t need much selling. Sometimes you had to deal with very stormy issues. Perhaps one of the most contentious was that we would not do criminal defense, and I had to meet with the criminal defense lawyers and almost got ran out of there. They can be a very feisty bunch, as you know. I said, no dollars for you, because by that time you had Gideon and you were required under federal law to provide counsel, so why should these funds be used for them, when the states would have to come up with them anyway. So that was one of the hardest things. We had guidelines and enforcing those guidelines was one of the hardest things to do.
Robert Rhudy: When were they created?
Charles Edson: The guidelines were created, I think, in early 1966. Earl Johnson, I think, did the first draft, and we probably all chipped in on it and I’m sure in the archives in the Equal Justice Library, somewhere those guidelines are around.
Robert Rhudy: You mentioned that one of the guidelines was that, as a regulation, programs you funded had to have boards of directors that included at least one-third clients. I think there was priority given to programs that demonstrated ability to do law reform and impact work. Was that in the guidelines?
Charles Edson: Yes, all of these things that were priority for other than the mine run (??), traditional legal aid. And when we started doing evaluations, which was maybe in 1967, those were certainly on your checklist. Do you do this? Do you do that? They were quite interesting.
Robert Rhudy: You indicated a minute ago that one of the controversies was an interest in funding criminal defense, which you would not do, your funding was for civil legal services. I guess the oldest legal services program in the United States, still in existence, Legal Aid Society of New York, does both criminal defense and civil legal services in one program, a very large program. But that hasn’t continued as a model. There is a small number of programs that maybe do that tradition. But was there a decision you didn’t want to see a program in the main do both functions in the same organization?
Charles Edson: I’m not sure we really cared if a program did both, as long as we were assured that the money we gave would only be for civil. I know that we did give a lot to the New York Legal Aid. And they are very active, as you might imagine, being New Yorkers, a very aggressive group.
Robert Rhudy: You ran into controversy providing legal assistance to low-income people. It seems pretty fundamental. Why was there so much controversy?
Charles Edson: Well it was a new idea, especially that the government would fund entities that would sue the government. I remember we had a forum up in Montreal, Canada in 1966 on it. And Mr. Justice Clark, who I think had just maybe resigned because his son beaome Attorney General, was a moderator and a very good panel. And someone asked that question, and Mr. Justice Clark said I’ve seen cases titled United States v. United States, and I said, yes it sounds like a divorce, but apparently it’s done all the time. But that was a big, controversial item, that the government should be funding programs that sue the government. All in a day’s work to us.
Robert Rhudy: You ran into some conflicts with governors over that issue.
Charles Edson: Well the biggest conflict was with Ronald Reagan and California Rural Legal and the funding of that. In the olden days under the original OEO law, a governor could veto a grant going into the state, but he could be overridden by the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was then Sargent Shriver. After many, many months of work from a super group in California led by Jim Lorenz, we made the grant. The governor vetoed, and we were on pins and needles. Would Mr. Shriver override? And I remember it was a Saturday afternoon, and Clint coming down from upstairs with the signed veto, Sargent Shriver, and CRLS got started. I’m sure that that memory rankled with the future president and more to follow, when he became president in the 1980s. In Florida we had a similar rural migrant program. I don’t think the governor vetoed it at the time, but there was a lot of unhappiness when we pushed it through. Florida rural legal, I don’t know if it’s around or not.
Robert Rhudy: It is. It’s interesting that a lot of the challenges to legal services the current day has come from the agricultural community against the representation of particularly migrant farm workers. It seems to be the most organized opposition to legal services from the inception.
Charles Edson: It’s interesting but not surprising, but boy we saw it then.
Robert Rhudy: Do you remember some of the people you worked with in the regional centers? You mentioned the D.C. staff.
Charles Edson: Yeah. Well Bill Greenwald was our New York and. I believe, New England representative. He was a New York lawyer, I think in a Wall Street firm, very, very able, took a real leadership role. We may have had a Washington regional office with Tex Wilson, who is an African American, recent graduate of the Harvard Law School, quite able. Jim Cardell in Atlanta, a good old southern boy, did that region. Hank Magee in Chicago went on to become a professor, I believe at either UCLA or USC. His father was postmaster of Chicago. He did a very good job there. I’m not sure Maura Tucker was in San Francisco when I was there, but she certainly was head of the San Francisco region. I think she might have been for a short time and might have had a predecessor before that. And there may have been one in Fort Worth. I’m getting a little bit hazy on that, maybe in the southwest region, and I forget who he or she was.
Robert Rhudy: So your regional directors had a lot of responsibility.
Charles Edson: Yes, they did. They were good people. And they would come together. We had a meeting, for example, at Earlie House in 1966 in November. All the regional directors came in and the then directors of our funded legal aid programs. Mr. Justice Brennan spoke. Oh, Barbara Yanell was, of course, at the office and now Mrs. Earl Johnson.
Robert Rhudy: The regional offices continued a lot of the structures of the OEO legal services program with some changes we’ll talk about in terms of the board of directors and being an independent agency. A lot of the structures that you set up in the mid 60s continued with LSC, including the regional offices. And I think in the main, those locations, up until the early to mid 80s, when the board that was appointed by then President Reagan, wiped out the regional offices.
Charles Edson: I was not following that closely. Another bit of controversy was internal. We were part of the Community Action Program, or CAP, yet we sort did not like to be under CAP. So to the extent that we could work around them, we would. A little infighting at OEO.
Robert Rhudy: Weren’t a number of the new legal services programs you talked about— When the program was created, there was an existing body of old line legal aid offices around the country, a certain number of them. And if I remember correctly, in some instances, you picked up and you made grants to those organizations, but in a lot of instances you funded new groups that were frequently within community action agencies.
Charles Edson: Correct, they had their local ties within the CAP and maybe the CAP was instrumental in helping them getting started. Each locality differed. I think in Los Angeles, for example, we went with the existing legal aid society.
Robert Rhudy: Were the national backup centers for legal services begun—
Charles Edson: They were just coming in. In fact, I helped out on the housing center not knowing that my future would be in housing. I think it was one of the first in San Francisco. I’m trying to think of the guy who set it up, very, very good guy and they have been well staffed ever since.
Robert Rhudy: Florence Roisman came in a little later on.
Charles Edson: I’m not sure she was ever in the backup center, certainly her great interest is housing. But, oh, she might have been, she might have worked for the Washington, yeah—
Robert Rhudy: She did, she was in the D.C. office.
Charles Edson: —the D.C. office of it, before she sent to Georgetown, maybe when she was at Georgetown. That’s right. Then maybe consumer law, juvenile law were just trying to come in. One of Earl’s suggestions to the staff, which fell flat, there was down right mutiny, was that we all become expert in a substantive field of poverty law, whether it be housing or consumer or whatever. We said frankly that is a great idea, but we are all so busy just being administrators that we can’t be substantive people at the same time. It was a well-intentioned suggestion, did not go over very well.
Robert Rhudy: Earl became the director of the legal services program—
Charles Edson: Well, very quickly. There was a little competition. There were some political people they tried to foist on Sargent Shriver. One from west Texas who was just blatantly political, and Sargent Shriver to his credit just promoted Earl.
Robert Rhudy: What were some of the differences between Earl and Clinton? Style of direction—
Charles Edson: It’s hard to really tell. Clinton was only there for about four months of my tenure, and then of course Earl was there too. Earl was deeper into the substance of legal services, Clinton was more the charismatic leader, dealing sort of with the outside, but when Earl had to assume that role too, he did it extremely well.
Robert Rhudy: Earl had a background in Neighborhood Legal Services before he came—
Charles Edson: Yes he did, Neighborhood Legal Services. Earl just had more of a background in legal services. Both of them, to this day, are very, very interested. I don’t know if Clint is retired or not. Earl, of course, is on the bench, but I know he dabbles in this very strongly.
Robert Rhudy: Earl was one of the leading founders of the National Equal Justice Library—
Charles Edson: Yes, I know that.
Robert Rhudy: —and still very involved on the board and on the oral history committee. Clinton is semi-retired but still active, serves on the board of the Open Society Institute, the advisory board in terms of their legal services access to justice grants.
Charles Edson: That is good. I know about 10 or 12 years ago, Earl wanted me to justo go out with one of his handheld camcorders and do some interviewing like we’re doing now and it just never came about. Unfortunately, had we started 10 or 12 years ago with this nice program that we have now, we could have gotten the Ted Vorhees and the Maynard Tolls, the Lewis Powells, the ABA hierarchy who really ran interference for us in the early days.
Robert Rhudy: We did do some interviews with Victor Geminiani ,who was on the board and chaired a project a few years ago. And we’ve got a number of interviews, but we’re moving forward and looking for about 300 in the next couple of years.
Charles Edson: Wow, have fun. [Laughs]
Robert Rhudy: Looking forward to it. Was the Reggie program created yet?
Charles Edson: The Reggie program was created in 1967, and I remember the ceremony at the White House, when they were sort of sworn in or blessed by Lyndon Johnson.
Robert Rhudy: What was the Reggie program? Can you describe it?
Charles Edson: As I recall, they would recruit outstanding law graduates to go and work in legal services programs or funded programs for a year or two. It was an intern program and it certainly led to a lot of other intern programs, some funded by big law firms, Skadden Arps for example funds an intern program, almost does the same thing. It was a very creative thing. I think Earl was of course behind it.
Robert Rhudy: It was the Reginald Heber Smith Law Fellows Program
Charles Edson: Correct, named after Reginald Heber Smith, who was sort of the father of legal aid, as we know it.
Robert Rhudy: Do you know what the intentions of the program were, obviously to recruit bright law graduates to get them into legal services? What were some of the other purposes behind the program?
Charles Edson: I guess to beef up the capabilities of any given legal services program, to have that sort of firepower. I don’t know if this was a purpose, but it certainly publicized the program at the law schools, and made it known and even people who didn’t get a Reggie might have been impelled to go into it anyway.
Robert Rhudy: I’ve heard some other people indicate that sometimes Reggies were deliberately placed in some of the older, little more staid legal services programs to try to put a little bit—
Charles Edson: I think that was probably a purpose too, to invigorate them with some of the new, fresh ideas. They had a training, I believe it was at the University of Pennsylvania, and then went out into the world.
Robert Rhudy: That was another program that in the early 80s was eliminated by the Reagan—
Charles Edson: It is really too bad. I mean to show you the contrast, I just heard the HUD general counsel last week under this Republican administration saying we’re going to double or triple the number of young interns we can bring into the department to get new blood, etc., somewhat analogous to our Reggie purpose.
Robert Rhudy: So the OEO legal services program, you were there from ’66 to ’67. It started late ’65. That program existed until 1974, when a new program came into existence. What were the problems that were identified from your perspective with the existence of the Office of Economic Opportunities Legal Services Program that prompted people to try to find a little better way—
Charles Edson: The main thing prompting it was the existence of, and we’ll use OEO itself— We thought especially under the Nixon administration that that agency just did not have long to live as an independent agency with the various components, Head Start, Job Corp, VISTA. Some might be chopped off and kept, other less successful programs— I don’t know if there is a community action program today or who has it and if it’s a shadow of itself. We knew OEO was a sinking ship and we felt we had to get off it. Or at least that was the feeling in the circles that were concerned. And after I left OEO, I was put on an ABA. There was a special committee, the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, and that is where we started focusing on it and worrying about it. But it was really the demise of OEO. And then once we realized that that was going to happen, we then said, well we have a very controversial little program here, going around suing the government and all. Where then should it be put that it can be isolated as much as possible, underlining those words? What agency would protect it? If it’s on its own, could it be protected? Should it be buried in some big department? These were the type of thinking that we had to go through.
Robert Rhudy: So OEO was created under the Johnson administration. Sargent Shriver came in as the first director of it, and at same time I think he was director of the Peace Corps. He must have been a pretty energetic guy.
Charles Edson: He was certainly, and he worked very hard on both. If you’ve listened to the Lyndon Johnson tapes of 1965, he had to twist Sarge’s arm very, very hard to get him to take this job.
Robert Rhudy: So in 1968 President Nixon was elected and started a campaign very quickly to try to eliminate OEO.
Charles Edson: Right you know, it was always on their hit list in real, real jeopardy, so you had that going on at the same time. Although there was an OEO director under Nixon, Donald Rumsfeld, I don’t know what ever happened to him but—
Robert Rhudy: We’re going to try to interview him.
Charles Edson: I think you should, who was fairly supportive and he brought in some good people to run the legal services program and were probably thorns in their sides. So I really was not following it in the early Nixon years, as to what they were doing to it, but it became pretty apparent that in any and all event, OEO was not the place for it.
Robert Rhudy: As I recall, the funding was frozen for the legal services program literally from ’68-’69 until the creation of the Legal Services Corporation in ’74 or ’75. So when you left, you left in 1966?
Charles Edson: I left in ’67, I became general counsel to the President’s Commission on Postal Organization, until it disbanded in around June of 1968. I then joined the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD, worked there for two years. On June 1, 1970, I began at a law firm called Lane and Edson, then called Frosh, Lane and Edson. And it was my intent to practice in the housing field, but my first and only client, or that I knew anything about—I couldn’t really solicit in the housing area that would be a conflict—was to do a study jointly commissioned by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and the Individual Rights Section. And I was asked to do a study on what should happen to the OEO Legal Services program.
Robert Rhudy: You mentioned you were with the study commission that led to the creation of the U.S. Postal Commission. How was that experience useful in terms of your work on the development of the Legal Services Corporation?
Charles Edson: Well, in that regard, the proposal was a government corporation. I think Larry O’Brien, the then Postmaster General, said it should be made a government corporation. When the government goes into any commercial type of business, it should, it doesn’t always, create a corporation, corporate form. TVA is the best example, but there were about five or seven others. And I made a very thorough study of the structure of each of the government corporations. There are some wholly owned corporations. There are some where the government has a slider nexus, and then we came across the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And I said, gee this is has really the same controversial aspects about it and the same need for freedom from government interference and yet dependence on government money. I said, it is an interesting model.
Robert Rhudy: Tell us more about the planning process. It took place under SCLAID, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.
Charles Edson: It did, and John Robb from New Mexico was chair of that, and Jerry Shestack was then head of the independent Individual Rights Section. I think he became president of the ABA about 25 years later. And he took a very active role. Jerry is a very smart guy, as is John. And I think I was the only paid staffer, and I can’t remember how that worked, whether I had people working with me or not. I know I did most of the drafts of the report, and Jerry Shestack was critical because it didn’t have enough footnotes. [Laughter] I think I pretty well put it together, but obviously it was debated within whether they appointed little subcommittees from each of those groups to monitor it. I don’t know quite how our governance was, it certainly was a collective function of the two ABA organizations.
Robert Rhudy: What year was this?
Charles Edson: The year was 1970-71.
Robert Rhudy: So your report became a basis for what was created actually in, I guess, 1974-75?
Charles Edson: I think it was the intellectual basis for it, and people thought it was a good idea. Then they, I don’t know who actually hired him, but Mickey Kantor was the lobbyist, certainly someone you should interview. And he worked prodigiously to get it through the Congress. It was a Democratic Congress at the time, but a Republican president. So I’m sure they had to do a lot of compromising. But the report was sort of the intellectual stimulus for it. There was a competing suggestion by the Cahns, Jean and Edgar, that the function should be performed by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which there is one that administers the federal courts. I thought it was sort of crazy, myself. I remember taking it to Judge Murrah, who was an executive director of it, for whom that very ill-fated office building in Oklahoma City was named. And he couldn’t be less interested in the infighting going on. Because I said, do you really want to have this thing thrust upon you, and I don’t think he was very enthusiastic about it. I don’t know what impelled the Cahns to suggest that, sometimes they like to make suggestions just frankly to stir things up and be a little different.
Robert Rhudy: That’s really interesting. My program, Maryland Legal Services Corporation, is currently funded under the Administrative Office of the Courts in Maryland. And I think it’s a pretty good model.
Charles Edson: Funny. Well, it would have maybe given it some insulation.
Robert Rhudy: Interesting. So the initial report proposed an independent agency. There was a board of directors of the corporation, I assume. Can you remember who had the appointment authority, what the board looked like?
Charles Edson: You know I really cannot. I would assume it would be a presidentially appointed board that we recommended. Whether there were saying so many had to be this or so many had to be that, like you have in Maryland, I don’t know. I assume that somewhere hopefully in this archives is a copy of the report which can refresh everyone’s memory.
Robert Rhudy: We’ll be interviewing Edgar Cahn in the near future and hopefully Mickey Kantor and some of the other people you mentioned.
Charles Edson: And it would be interesting when you talk to Edgar—Edgar is an extremely thoughtful guy, as was his wife Jean. And I’m sure that they thought through certain advantages that probably we did not see, and why they suggested it, but they certainly did suggest that it go to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Robert Rhudy: If I remember correctly I think there were two version of the LSC Act, perhaps passed and vetoed and I may be incorrect on that. But President Nixon, before there was finally a version that he signed just literally before he left office, it was one of the last bills he signed.
CD: I guess in ’74 would be the case. As I say ,I was really not following it closely, I was trying to start a law firm and all sorts of—raise kids you know, a very, very busy time in my life.
Robert Rhudy: You know some of the history since the creation of the Legal Services Corporation. What are some of the lessons that you think we’ve learned from our efforts to establish and expand legal services in the United States in terms of where we are now?
Charles Edson: It’s hard to say. First lesson is to get strong support of the bar, which is what we had at the start. Second is to try to build up some political constituency of which I don’t think there is much for, at least in our field of affordable housing, there isn’t much of a constituency. I think we should continue to keep working on that. I guess try to make it attractive to the best and the brightest who are motivated by something else than money, because legal services is a very low paying thing, I don’t need to tell you. I was on the board of the legal clinic for the homeless in Washington, D.C., which is sort of a legal aid group, and our biggest struggle with our executive director was to get her to take more money and accept raises. We did have a little bit in the budget for it. And I think it’s a need to somehow or other scrape together funds so that you can get people and not starve them. You can’t pay them anywhere near what a law firm does, but it’s just unfair that they should have to carry that burden. The rest are, obviously, the need for independence in an administering agency, and again I’ve not been following it, but I think the corporation’s ability to fund programs would challenge about anything have been pretty well clipped, whether it can do any law reform as we know it, I do not know. But I’ve seen a steady erosion of that, and obviously we should stand up against it. Cultivate political friends and heroes on Capitol Hill. We always had one or two Senators or Congressmen we would go to. I don’t know if there are actually members of Congress who are really taking an interest in this program. There are some on this (??) Judiciary Committee that oversees it, but I don’t know what subcommittee appropriates funds for it. But I would continue such political arm. Whether legal services has a PAC, I mean it has to be done privately, but whether there is PAC in support of legal services, I don’t know. I certainly have not heard of one, but it would not be a terrible idea to seek out those Congressmen and Senators who take an interest in this program and help them. I assure you we do in the housing field.
Robert Rhudy: You mentioned a conference in Montreal in ’67 or thereabouts. Were you aware of the development of legal services in other countries while you were principally involved with legal aid?
Charles Edson: Not really. One of the big debates was whether to have Judicare, which was you choose your own lawyer and he’s given funds to do it. In the English model it was mainly, I don’t think it was called Judicare, but it relied on the private bar to a great extent. So we did study the English model and that was one of the raging debates at the time. We funded a few Judicare experiments in areas where it would be hard to set up a legal services program because of a lack of lawyers. I remember a poster that I got on an evaluation, that said “be aware of Judicare,” and I cut out the ‘a’ so “beware of Judicare.” I posted it in our office. We were not fans of Judicare at all. I don’t know if that came out at all in the interview with Clint or Earl, but it was a huge contentious issue.
Robert Rhudy: I staffed the creation of a conference at the University of Maryland Law School in conjunction with an ABA conference there about 8 or 9 years ago that was comparative analysis of the legal services in the United States with Great Britain and Canada and Scandinavia, Australia and some other areas. And we were delighted, Gary Bellow came down and Earl was involved in the creation of the development of the conference. Clint Bamberger was in Nepal at the time, but he was on our planning committee and Reese Smith and others. And I ended up getting we did a law review symposium issue from the conference I had to write the piece on lessons learned and what was going on in the United States and it was the comparison that most of the countries did have primary reliance on Judicare unlike the United States and we talked about that. Gary and Earl and Clint indicated in conversations that, whereas there was a deliberate and firm decision not to go with Judicare, initially there was a belief that a Judicare parallel system would be created and would become a very substantial part of the legal services program. And they were surprised that the staff program became so strong and so opposed to Judicare that never really happened in the United States.
Charles Edson: I vaguely remember that there would be political advantages of Judicare. It had built up a nice consistency with them in the bar and when you tried to cut it there would be a lot of people yelling and screaming other than a few proponents and a few legal aid lawyers.
Robert Rhudy: That was the recommendation that I made, that you have Medicare and Medicaid in the United States, because you had doctors who made a living from that and it expanded at a much, much greater level than Judicare and legal services.
Charles Edson: Of course I think people think medical services are more basic than legal services.
Robert Rhudy: One of the other differences between our program and those in other countries, it started around the same time we started our legal services program, was our program emphasized law reform impact, poverty law, changing law whereas it was basically sort of an access program in other countries. The level of controversy was enormously greater in the United States than other countries, I think in large part because of that.
Charles Edson: Oh absolutely. It was a pioneering effort. And I think you really owe the Cahns a lot for that and the articles they wrote in ’64 and ’65, using legal services as part of the war on poverty.
Robert Rhudy: We mentioned that Earl worked for Neighborhood Legal Services. Were there maybe three or four prototype programs that were created under Ford Foundation money that sort of became the models for what you created around the country?
Charles Edson: I think there were. Whether New York got any, I don’t know. I’m trying to think of what the other— Mobilization for Youth in New York. I wonder if that was a Ford Foundation.
Robert Rhudy: New Haven and D.C., I think.
Charles Edson: New Haven, right.
Robert Rhudy: Interesting that in other countries, the funding has expanded and the level of at least basic access services has expanded, whereas we’ve been stymied for quite some time.
Charles Edson: Well budget priorities and this is not perceived as a great need, just like affordable housing is not perceived as a great need and we, by and large, stood still.
Robert Rhudy: So most of your career, after the legal services period, has been focusing on development of housing for low to moderate income or—
Charles Edson: Yeah, low to moderate income. This is what I did for the ABA was about the only non-housing work I have ever done in my practice. I think I did one small business matter actually. There was a Section 8, with a different Section 8 under the Small Business Act, a minorities set aside (??). But other than that it’s all been housing.
Robert Rhudy: Have you have much continued contact with Bill McCalpin?
Charles Edson: As much as we can. I keep sending my regards to him and I try to see him. But really not too much, but he’s always on my mind and always thinking of him, because he was such an influential person in my life. And a strong Republican I might add, we always used to argue on politics.
Robert Rhudy: It’s interesting to me that legal services, when LSC was created, had good strong bipartisan support.
Charles Edson: And it probably still does, indeed probably more Republican support than Democratic among the ABA leaders, because most of them were Republicans.
Robert Rhudy: Bill still stays very active. He’s on the Legal Services Corporation Board now. This is his second— He was on the board in the early 80s or—
Charles Edson: I think on the original board. And one thing in looking back, I don’t know whether this would have been possible, I served in the Carter transition full-time for two months working on HUD and Stu Eisenstat who then headed HUD said do you want anything. I said no I want to go home to the family and support the kids and did not want to work at HUD. But, had I thought about it, I should have asked to be on the newly restructured legal services board. I certainly had some qualifications and probably would have had some political support at that time, but that’s all in the past. Probably Hillary got the seat instead and the rest is history, I don’t know. She was on the original board, Hillary Clinton.
Robert Rhudy: And I think she served— Perhaps appointed by President Carter, but I know she was chair during the Carter administration.
Charles Edson: I think she was appointed by President Carter. It was a good board that he appointed.
Robert Rhudy: Bill was the chair of the board when President Reagan was elected I believe, I know he was the chair up until the time that the first interim board was appointed by President Reagan and then he’s on the board now reappointed by President Clinton.
Charles Edson: Yes, that is great. I don’t know if President Bush II has been doing any appointments to it. I haven’t…
Robert Rhudy: There hasn’t been yet. The board currently is the carryover board from President Clinton and there have been, I believe, five Republicans named but they haven’t been considered by the Senate yet and likely will not until the other six members are sent up as well. I think the work in developing the Legal Services Corporation with your leadership as an independent entity very likely may have saved the existence of at least federally supported and funded legal aid to the poor in the United States.
Charles Edson: Well it, you know, was a collective effort. Al Gore can say he invented the Internet but I [laughs] won’t say I invented (??) the corporation, you know I had a lot of input into it. And I think it was really fortuitous that I came off this background of government corporations through the Postal Commission.
Robert Rhudy: We’ve had a lot of difficulties but it’s weathered a lot of attacks and efforts to eliminate the programs. So it’s been all and all very successful.
Charles Edson: I think the program is probably—knock wood here—forever. There is no attempt now to eliminate it, is there?
Robert Rhudy: Hasn’t been since Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Elimination was back on the table for a while there, but I haven’t heard any serious discussion since that time.
Charles Edson: That’s good.
Robert Rhudy: You mentioned some of the other people a little bit that were involved in the development work, I guess under SCLAID. Who were some of the other people that you can recall that had some—
Charles Edson: You know, I am really drawing a blank after 30 years plus. It was the two chairs certainly— I’m trying to think whether any of the old timers like Maynard Toll or Ted Vorhees or people like that or Howard Westwood were on either of the committees. I guess the record would show who was on SCLAID, as you know. Is that still around?
Robert Rhudy: It is. It is. Did you say John Robb was—
Charles Edson: John Robb, yes—
Robert Rhudy: —he was the chair of SCLAID?
Charles Edson: Yes, from New Mexico. I don’t know if he’s still living but—
Robert Rhudy: John was—
Charles Edson: a committed guy.
Robert Rhudy: —was scheduled to be interviewed early next week and he had to change plans. We’ll be talking to him very shortly.
Charles Edson: Well he’ll certainly remember that. And I remember a lot of meetings and drafts going back and forth. I remember I was supposed to fly from Montreal to New Orleans for a meeting but got snowed out. I know there were a lot of meetings held on this topic—
Charles Edson: — in the Individual Rights Section. Oh the book ends maybe.
Robert Rhudy: I’m trying to remember. It’s been a long time since I read it. I’ve been carrying it around with me lately.
Charles Edson: Does he do it chronologically or—
Robert Rhudy: Pretty much so— towards justice and reform, 235.
Robert Rhudy: We were talking about your setting up an evaluation program while you were at the OEO Legal Services Program?
Charles Edson: Yes, we felt after the first year we ought to see what we had wrought. So we set up a program to evaluate, on a regular basis, our funded programs. We would put together teams of staff members from headquarters, and we had a whole rash of consultants, which I did not mention in our earlier discussion, which helped us set up programs. You know lawyers who were involved in legal aid, law school professors, etc. They helped to set up the programs. And then when we had evaluations, we’d put a team together maybe one headquarters staffer and two consultants. I believe I put together a form questionnaire or evaluation manual, which was always being evolved as we went out into the field and tested it. And we wanted to see whether the programs were doing both the standard legal representation, the group representation, the law reform, the community education, all of the purposes.
Robert Rhudy: Were the evaluations somewhat key to the guidelines then?
Charles Edson: Oh yes, what I probably did was took the guidelines and then made that the evaluation manual.
Robert Rhudy: Was there resistance in the programs to being evaluated?
Charles Edson: No, I think it went very, very well. I managed to draw the Hawaii program to evaluate. It was in conjunction with the ABA meeting there in 1967 and ended up going to some very fancy Hawaiian wedding and stuff like that. I was treated very nicely. They seemed to want to tell what they were doing.
Robert Rhudy: The evaluation continues to be redesigned, ever since you set up the first—
Charles Edson: I can imagine it probably still in a state of flux.
Robert Rhudy: What else would you like to—
Charles Edson: I think we pretty well covered both phases. You’ve jogged my memory on some of the things that went on, and I’m sure I can think of others. On the other hand you are interviewing a lot of people who were very much involved in this time, and I think the whole picture will emerge from it.
Robert Rhudy: Chuck, I very much appreciate your being with us this morning. You are our second person. We interviewed Clint Bamberger earlier this week, and it’s been a real pleasure to sit down and talk.
Charles Edson: I am flattered to be in such company as Clint Bamberger, one of my lifetime heroes. That’s very, very nice.
Robert Rhudy: Thank you.