Henry Freedman oral history, 2015

Please contact Special Collections or Mr. Freedman directly to verify before publishing direct quotes from this interview. Directed National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York City for more than four decades.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Henry Freedman
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: Oct 25, 2015
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/10822/761818
Length: 1:09:36

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

NEJL oral history interview
INTERVIEWEE: Henry Freedman
INTERVIEWER: Alan Houseman
INTERVIEW DATE: October 25, 2013
TRANSCRIBER: Carilyn Cipolla
NCRA, NCRF and the Library of Congress – Partnering to Preserve the American Experience

Note to researchers: Please contact the NEJL Archivist or Mr. Henry Freedman directly to verify quotes before publishing direct quotes from this interview.

Alan Houseman:
Hi. I’m Alan Houseman. Today, Friday, October 25, 2013, I will be interviewing Henry Freedman, who is the executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and one of the leading poverty advocates and a great leader in legal services. Henry, let’s start with your background. I’d like you to tell us a little bit about where you grew up, where you went to college and law school, and just sort of how you got to — through that.

Henry Freedman:
I grew up in and around Baltimore, Maryland. I graduated from Forest Park High School. From there went to Amherst College where I got active in some of the mildly liberal political activities of the day, forming the student chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action, which we only did after getting the permission of the president of college to do that. I can’t believe we did things like that in that time. A group of us came down to picket the White House in support of the Southern sit-ins. So there’s some of that kind of activity, strongly reflecting my interest in some kind of social justice activity. I went to law school — Yale Law School — because most of the people I was aware of who were doing interesting things — whether as legislators or public officials or other sorts of things — seem to have been lawyers. I had no lawyers in the family. I didn’t really know anything about what lawyers did. But at that time it made sense. Mixed into that, of course, also was the Vietnam War and the draft. At first, graduate school provided deferment from the draft. Later, marriage provided a deferment, but I had already decided upon marriage and gotten married after my second year of law school. And I was lucky enough at the age of 25 years and 11 months — one month before I would have been totally exempt – I learned I was about to become the father of a child. But backtracking just a little bit, in law school, I was the head of the student legal aid program. I was appalled — several years later when I looked back on that experience — because we worked out of an office down near city hall in New Haven. The major function of the program, it seemed, was to help people whose wages were being garnished — or as I think we were calling it then ‘garnisheed’ — to negotiate a reduced rate of garnishment. There was never that I can recall an attempt to challenge the garnishment to say “this debt is not owed.” All that we did was ameliorate. And, of course, this was the same time that Edgar and Jean Cahn were beginning to develop ideas about community lawyering, but we were obviously in a different universe at that time.

Alan Houseman:
So why did — after law school — I think you became a Reginald Heber Smith fellow.

Henry Freedman:
Well, there’s another step there.

Alan Houseman:
So describe what happened after law school and before you became a Reggie and why you became a Reggie.

Henry Freedman:
I married Helen, as I said, after the second year of law school. She was then at NYU Law School, so she had to finish her law degree. She was a New Yorker but didn’t really like New York. The assumption was that we were going there just for her to finish law school. I needed to get a job and thought, “Why not go to work in a law firm?” I didn’t see that as my future, but “why not?” I interviewed at some of the big law firms — Chase Manhattan Plaza (“Did you last long enough in the interview that you could get the great view from four directions from the building or not?”). But ultimately I was directed to a small firm called Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst. Morris Ernst was one of the best-known civil liberties lawyers at that time. Harriet Pilpel was a partner there — very active in reproductive rights. It was an exciting place to be. One lesson I got at the firm was that they were First Amendment firm and their clients were newspapers, authors, publishers, playwrights, so they had a paying clientele to pursue First Amendments types of issues. It was a good place to work.
I started the first year at $7800 a year. As a second-year associate, I went up to $8800 a year. Sitting at my desk reading the New York Law Journal one day, I saw the announcement for the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program.
It looked too good to be true. You’d get a month of training at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. You’d go to work in a legal services program — this new federal legal services program that was getting set up. And the compensation was $10,000 a year. So I could get a pay raise, get a great month of training at Penn, and get the kind of work I wanted to do! I went home, and yes, we were going to do it. At that time we had an infant. We went to Penn in August of ’67. I was the only Reggie who was there with a baby. So Helen was able to tell all the other wives — and it was mostly wives to these others there at that time — what it was like to have a child. Tony Amsterdam taught civil procedure. James Freedman, who became the president of Dartmouth College, taught education law. And Ed Sparer taught welfare law for a week.
Ed Sparer came to me at one point and said, “I have some openings at the Center right now. Would you be interested in coming there? We can talk to Earl Johnson, who was running legal services then and get his approval for this transfer”. Now, one reason that I was available was that there were five of us out of a class of, I believe, 50, who were destined for New York City which had a problem — the Appellate Division First Department had refused to approve the certificate of incorporation of the legal services program that was to be established in New York City because it did not have a majority of lawyers on the board. I think that was the reason. But, at any rate, they had to go back to the drawing board to set up the program. The only OEO-funded legal services program in New York City at that time was Mobilization For Youth. There were five of us. What were they going to do? So they were perfectly happy to send me to the Center. Oh, I should mention other New York Reggies at the time included David Diamond, who did go to MFY. And it was while David was at MFY and I was at the Center that the two of us worked together getting Goldberg v. Kelly started. So, when the Reggie training program was finished, I went to the Center, which at that point was housed in a tenement building owned by Columbia University at the corner of 117th and Morningside Drive directly across from the Men’s Faculty Club. I was surprised that there were so many empty offices. I knew that Sparer had just left to be a visiting professor at Yale Law School. I knew that Brian Glick had been named to be director in his place. Brian had been a classmate of mine at Yale Law School. And, in fact — I forgot to mention this – he was the reason I went to Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst. He had an uncle at the firm there and brought it to my attention. And also Howard Thorkelson, who had also been in my class at Yale Law School. I didn’t appreciate until later that — when Ed Sparer had left and had appointed Brian as executive director in his stead — that the four senior people that Ed had attracted to the Center, the great staff that he had — Marty Garbus, Jim Graham, Jonathan Weiss, and Steve Wizner — were apparently unwilling to remain under someone as young as a classmate of mine as executive director. So the staff had turned over almost entirely.

Alan Houseman:
We’ll come back to the Center, and I want to talk much more about it. And just to — before we get into more of your Reggie experience, just briefly summarize your career. And we’re going to come back to that. And then talk a little bit more about your wife and kids.

Henry Freedman:
Briefly summarize my career. Well, I was at the Center as a Reggie fellow, and then on the staff from 1967 to 1970. OEO Legal Services funding had begun in 1966. The Center was originally set up in 1965 in the social work school for a variety of reasons related to how it was set up with Ed Sparer. When Ed went to Yale and then Brian became director, OEO Legal Services sent up — I think it was Barbara Yanow — Earl’s partner at that time. She surveyed the situation and told the authorities that they needed to have a more senior executive director, and it should be in the law school, not the social work school. The law school took over responsibility. Paul Dodyk, who was brilliant young tax professor who also was working on poverty law — was appointed faculty director. Paul had just clerked on the Supreme Court, and he invited Lee Albert, who had also been a fellow clerk on the Supreme Court, to be executive director of the Center. So Lee became executive director — we could talk about that. He was a very aggressive litigator who got Goldberg against Kelly and Rosado against Wyman up to the Supreme Court. These were rather remarkable feats of clever lawyering that allowed us to jump ahead of other cases. But then Lee left, also going to Yale as a visiting professor, and had Chris Clancy appointed as executive director. At that point things didn’t seem promising for me. I thought I’d go into teaching, so I went to the flesh mill — or whatever it is at the Association of American Law Schools, which was quite an experience at the time. I ended up — thanks to the encouragement of Florence Roisman — at Catholic University Law School where Clint Bamberger was dean. I taught civil procedure, staying one class ahead of the class. And finally, by the end of the year, thinking I now understood why all that stuff about pleading was so important, I couldn’t wait to get back to teach it another year. I also taught a course on welfare and a course on legal process.. But there was some turmoil up in New York at the Center. George Cooper had taken over as faculty director from Paul Dodyk. George called me and asked if I would come back as executive director. This is the spring of 1971. I didn’t anticipate that offer — and that was the one thing that would pull me back to New York. I just couldn’t turn that down. That was too great. So I came back. And in terms of career — we can talk more about that, but that’s been it ever since.

Alan Houseman:
And your wife and kids — your wife, I know, ultimately became a judge. And your kids — just a little bit more.

Henry Freedman:
Helen graduated from NYU Law School and had a variety of legal jobs. We had two daughters. Katherine was born in 1966, as I mentioned before, and Elizabeth was born in 1970 in D.C., because that was the year I was teaching the Catholic University Law School. We had a lot of funny adventures at that time that I don’t need to go into at this point, but it was quite a year. We moved back to New York and the girls went to public school in New York City. After Helen had been out of law school ten years, she was approached by the Reform Democratic Movement in Manhattan that had been very concerned about getting judges elected — quality judges — and was beginning to hear from all of the women who were just entering the legal profession “Why was it that there were no women judges?” The party was searching for women who met the basic standard for being a judge, which was ten years out of law school. Helen had met the 10-year standard and had all this legal experience and courtroom experience that was very exciting. She got nominated and was elected to the Civil Court, and then later to the Supreme Court, which was the highest level trial court in New York. Several years ago was appointed to the Appellate Division, First Department.

Alan Houseman:
Great, thank you. Let’s go back for a second to your Reggie experience at Penn. You talked a little bit about that. This was the first year of the Reggie program. And there were, as I recall, about 50 of you. And you had these courses that was pretty intense — four weeks, was that right?

Henry Freedman:
That’s right. The courses were very substantive. The teachers were expert in it. It was just an incredibly exciting time. Then, Ed and staff at the Center, even though he was no longer there, were instructors in the next few years in the Reggie program. So I got to go back and be a teacher’s assistant or whatever to Ed when he conducted the program, including the very dramatic year, 1969, where —

Alan Houseman:
We were both there. That’s right. All right. You mentioned Ed Sparer. Give me a minute — talk a little bit more about Ed Sparer. Background, and what you know about him.

Henry Freedman:
Ed had been a labor lawyer and worked on a variety of left-wing causes. The School of Social Work had set up a program on the lower east side of New York, Mobilization for Youth, that got funding from the Department of Justice as a youth-serving organization. This was a Bobby Kennedy project. The focus was on providing a variety of services intensively to one neighborhood to try to make a difference in the lives of people. One component was the legal services office. This was one of the early attempts to set up a community neighborhood legal services project. Ed was the person who ran the office. I really don’t know if he had other staff or was all alone. But at any rate, that was the legal services office. He did a lot of work on welfare issues and was appalled by what he found in terms of the lawlessness of the system. On the one hand, there were statutes, there were regulations; it would seem that certain people should qualify and certain procedures should be followed. But what people actually faced when they went into the welfare office was completely different. He began to develop thoughts about how to have an impact upon the system and how lawyers and organizers — he was very much a part of the movement — could have an impact. I didn’t appreciate until many years later — I should back up one moment — Richard Cloward of the Columbia University School of Social Work faculty was one of the major movers behind the Mobilization For Youth program. MFY began to be attacked in the New York Daily News as a hotbed of Commies and Pinkos. I learned many years later from Dick Cloward that he knew that the only actual previously card-carrying communist at MFY was Ed Sparer and they had to get him out of there as quickly as possible. And that apparently was one reason why the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law was set up so quickly. A committee of ten professors, five from the law school and five from the social work school, were set up to oversee the development of this project. But it was housed at the social work school before my time. It was at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street — the Andrew Carnegie Mansion — that was where the social work school was then. They got some private money from one small family foundation but then applied to OEO Legal Services for money as a special research unit and got funding starting in 1966, and that’s how the program really took off.

Alan Houseman:
Well, that leads me into a set of questions now about your early years in the legal services world. And we’ll come then later to your years at the Center in poverty advocacy and welfare law. But I want to focus on the legal services world for a little bit here. So the Center for — on Social Welfare Policy and Law was either the first or one of the first — I think it was the first — of what became known as back-up Centers.

Henry Freedman:
If I could interrupt. If you would read Earl Johnson’s book. We were the first. [laughing].

Alan Houseman:
So describe a little bit about what the role of the Center was and the role of — using the Center as an example — we don’t have to go in all the others. What the Center does and how it did it, those kinds of things.

Henry Freedman:
It really was a combination of information gathering, research, getting a view of how the welfare programs operated, what the laws were, thinking about ways that there might be challenges, educating and training people in the field, and litigating. These were all things that Ed wanted to do. This was also the time that welfare rights organizing was just beginning to get off the ground. And, as I mentioned, Ed was really a movement person. And indeed, this really influenced the early history of the Center, because Ed and Brian were very committed to the National Welfare Rights Organization. Ed hired these experienced litigators — Martin Garbus in particular was made a co-director and specifically given responsibility for litigation. So during these early years, it was that mix of activity that was going on. In terms of other support centers, I know that a number of the very early people — I think it was Larry Silver, the setting up of health law program out in one of the — we were based at the —

Alan Houseman:
UCLA.

Henry Freedman:
At UCLA — all of the early centers were based at universities. There was some theory that that was — well, maybe it was because of the “funded under” research line — I don’t know. But, so — I distinctly remember Larry coming and visiting us and seeing how we operated. And then some of the other early centers were set up modeled on ours. And indeed, some sprung out of ours. I remember getting a call from OEO Legal Services saying “It’s toward the end of the grant year. We wanted to set up an employment project. We’ve got $50,000. We can’t set up a project with that. Will the Center take that money and do something in employment law?” And I said, “Well, I have to go talk to Lee Albert.” I don’t know why they called me, but anyway. So I talk to Lee Albert. Of course, Lee said, “Yes, we’ll take the money.” So we got $50,000. And a national employment law project was set up, and they operated as a division of ours for a couple of the years and then separated off. Jonathan Weiss, who was one of the early people who I mentioned, got funding for serving the elderly, and then went off and that was a separate center. Ron Pollack was on the staff and doing fantastic food stamp litigation, and he did fantastic fundraising. He got money and set up FRAC, which was first a part of us, and then a subtenant of ours in New York. They then moved to D.C. around 1974 and went on to greater glory. So we have been involved in a very direct way in the formation of some of these kinds of programs but also were a model that was being used at that time by OEO Legal Services.

Alan Houseman:
At some point in the early 70’s, there became concerns — well, some point in the early 70’s, after the Nixon election, there became worries about the future of legal services and the future of support centers. There were a number of organizations formed and conferences held. I don’t know what you recall of this era, but whatever you can recall would be helpful.

Henry Freedman:
There were different efforts. One was PLEA — Poverty Lawyers for Effective Advocacy — and Gabe Kaimowitz, who was at the Center at that time, was involved in that. I really don’t remember anything other than they were — whatever — the left wing of legal services advocacy. What I do remember is Action for Legal Rights, which was a lobbying organization which at first I think Mickey Kantor and then Mickey Bennett directed.

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Henry Freedman:
Is that right? Mickey Kantor, Mickey Bennett. I remember doing a fair amount of work but can’t remember it specifically. I do remember Kantor being incredibly effective doing what he was doing, setting the stage for his later career.

Alan Houseman:
Were you at the Vail Conference?

Henry Freedman:
I was at the Vail Conference.

Alan Houseman:
Tell me a little bit about what the Vail Conference was.

Henry Freedman:
Well, the Vail Conference was — so far as I know — the first time that there was some attempt to bring together a lot of the leading people in the legal services movement from around the country. Lee Albert and I attended, but we didn’t arrive until the second week. I think it was a 3-week conference. We arrived the second week because we had to do some kind of training — it might have been Reggie training. It was a tremendously exciting time with so many of the people who were creative leaders in the movement. It was also very much a late 60’s event with some of the carryings on that some people carried on about in the late 60’s. It also was at a time of great excitement, because Terry Lenzner had just been brought on by President Nixon to head legal services. He had made some comment along the lines that this was exciting opportunity for him, it was like being the head of a 2,000-lawyer law firm. All of us took great umbrage at the notion that we were now part of some big law firm that Terry Lenzner headed; we were our own independent lawyers, and so forth. So he came out and spoke to us and had to dampen down some fires. It was quite a time.

Alan Houseman:
Right. So Action for Legal Rights was formed to lobby to try to create a new Legal Services Corporation. And I don’t know what you can recall of that period, but you were active, I think, through the first era of the legal services fight — 1971 and probably ’72 and I know in ’73. So what can you recall about that?

Henry Freedman:
To the extent I have any specific recollection, it’s around the issue of the Green Amendment, which was an attempt by Congresswoman Edith Green to eliminate the national support centers. It sprung up on the House floor — I don’t think anyone was anticipating it — and got swept into the package. It went over to the Senate where it was removed. The bill went to the White House — I may be mixing up now Round 1 and Round 2 of the Legal Services Corporation.

Alan Houseman:
It’s Round 2.

Henry Freedman:
I’m really talking about Round 2. So okay, Round 1, Nixon vetoed the bill. And one of the four or five or six reasons he gave was that it did not include the Green Amendment. So I do think it was a Round 1, Round 2 thing. So it came back. And, for reasons that utterly escaped me at the time — and in a sense almost always had, although Earl Johnson has tried to put me at ease on this lately — all of our friends agreed that they had to get a bill on to Nixon’s desk before he got into a helicopter and flew off forever. And I remember that one of his requirements was that the board had to be appointed — nominated entirely by the president as opposed to by the House and the Senate and so forth. But another was that the Green Amendment had to be there. And so, we — since that was supposed to eliminate national and state support, we were, of course, extremely unhappy about that. However, the language of it seemed weird. It said that the new corporation that would be established could not contract out research but could only do it in-house. And we said, “Well, how is that going to get rid of us?” And in a recent conversation with Earl Johnson, he told me that when one of the Senate staffers — I forget who — called him up to say, “Well, what do you think about this amendment?” He said, “Well, give me the language.” He read the language to him. He said, “Leave it just the way it is.” And that is indeed what happened. Now, going back for a moment, I’ve mentioned that we were set up apparently at the social work school under the research authority of the Office of Economic Opportunity. So my assumption is that whoever was trying to get rid of us looked at what we were funded under, “Oh, they’re funded under the research line. So we’re going to bar the contracting out of research.” So they barred that. The Act was passed. The president signed it. It met his requirements. He went out to the back lawn and took off in a helicopter. And all was quiet for a little while. But we haven’t talked — and I assume we should — about the Howard Phillips era.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Well, right in the middle of this was the Howard Phillips era. So beginning of ’73. And Marshall Borman. So reflect on that.

Henry Freedman:
When I tell people my long and often sad history and try to make it short, this is Crisis Period 1. First — the first Nixon administration. I mean, Nixon came in in ’69. The first Nixon administration just didn’t raise problem for us — interestingly neither on the legal services side nor on our welfare advocacy side. We had all of our friends still at HEW, and we were able to negotiate regulations with them and so forth. Right after the re-election, Nixon did the biggest sweep of — the kinds of people the president can get rid of — that any incoming president had done. Cleaned out the people at HEW and brought in Ronald Reagan’s welfare people and turned OEO over to Howard Phillips, who set about trying to eliminate legal services generally but support Centers as a particular target. And a gentleman, unfortunately, named Marshall Borman, who was responsible for writing papers to explain why support Centers should be eliminated. And the solution being that it should all be brought in-house to the corporation. For one time it was not the legal services programs that dealt with the oppressor, but the other community action agencies who brought litigation and had Howard Phillips removed from office because he had been improperly appointed on a recess appointment. But while he was there, I think it would be the beginning of ’73, we were all put — we — all the national support Centers were put on 3-month funding except for the Center for Law and Education, which was at that point headed by Marian Wright Edelman, who was a particular target of certain people. As I recall, her program was given 1-month funding. Well, you can’t run a program knowing that in one month or in three months you may be out of money. So it was a terribly frightening time. That was the first time we went out and started trying to raise private funds. And indeed, in the next few years, we did succeed in getting some foundation funds which made things a little bit better for us. Once Phillips was gone, once Gorman was deactivated, and once Gerald Ford was president — it was a very quiet period. Community Services Administration?

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Henry Freedman:
CSA took over the program until LSC was set up, and they took the position that they were going to turn the program as it was over to LSC. So the next few years were quiet, except we were preparing for the Legal Services Corporation —

Alan Houseman:
Right.
Henry Freedman:
— Which had a Green Amendment in its bill.

Alan Houseman:
So the new corporation comes in, 1975, and they have to face this Green Amendment and what it means. And what did they do?

Henry Freedman:
Well, of course, what do you do? You study it. There were a number of studies prepared. It is my recollection that David Tatel, then a lawyer at one of the big firms who had done a lot of pro bono work for the legal services movement, wrote a — as I recall — a legal analysis of the Green Amendment. A number of analyses were done, all of which had subtle differences, but all of which made basically the same point — which is the restrictions said the Corporation could not fund research; it did not say the Corporation could not fund litigation. So here were these programs like ours — other national support centers — that, among other things, were doing litigation, and the Corporation could fund them if it chose to. I think after Tatel wrote his paper, Tom Ehrlich, the first president of the Legal Services Corporation, wrote his own legal memo that came to the same ultimate conclusion but through a somewhat different analysis. Alexander Polikoff was retained to do a study of each of the centers. I’m looking back at my material, and am reminded that he and various other people working with him visited each of the centers and wrote up a long report on each of them. Our Center was visited by Polikoff and Milton Shadur, who sometime later became a U.S. District Judge in Illinois. The Polikoff-Shadur report — whatever the document was called – said, in effect, “These various programs are doing a whole lot of good work. Corporation, you really want to fund these if you could. And we have good news — you can.” We didn’t enjoy being the center of attention right at the very beginning for the new Corporation Board of Directors, but they decided that they had authority to fund us and that they would fund us. They would tell us we couldn’t do research — at least if it was not in connection with particular litigation. And then, they were going to keep tight control of us by subjecting us to a contract rather than the grant process that had generally been used for programs. A committee was formed, of which I was one member. There were three of us from the national support centers and I forget the name of the individual representing the Corporation. We negotiated for many months. We were very unhappy with the Corporation’s attempts to exert all kinds of control over our activities. I do remember one time saying in frustration that, “You want to make me sign a contract that, if you say so, next week we become a consumer law center in Houston, Texas. That’s how much power you want to have over us.” So we negotiated — and I know Tom Ehrlich expressed some considerable annoyance that, instead of being openly and absolutely grateful for being saved, we were saying, “We need to have independence.” So ultimately some contract was developed. Bob Sable joked some years later about finding an annotated copy that said — Henry says “This is our Reagan protection.” So, even back then in ’67 or whatever, we were worried about the prospect of a Reagan presidency and for good reason.
Alan Houseman:
So I don’t know if you remember this, but in 1977, the Corporation was reauthorized again.

Henry Freedman:
Yes.

Alan Houseman:
Actually the first time and last time. And the Green Amendment was changed. And I don’t remember if you remember that change or not, but.

Henry Freedman:
I remember the sense that it was basically lifted. I don’t remember the exact terms.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. But the Corporation also did some other things unconnected to Congress. I don’t know if you remember them, but there was a support center study in 1978. And —

Henry Freedman:
Was that Brian Paddock, or was that another study?

Alan Houseman:
No, that’s another study. The support center study I did.

Henry Freedman:
It was your study — okay.

Alan Houseman:
In 1978. Judy Riggs and I did it.

Henry Freedman:
Ah, yes.

Alan Houseman:
And then there was — that led to a board decision on expansion. I don’t know if you remember anything like this. But we — I don’t know what you recall about it.

Henry Freedman:
My recollection is that we were — first of all, we got this new overseer at the Corporation — the Research Institute — which you are quite familiar with, Alan. Suddenly, instead of dealing with these people who didn’t know us, we were dealing with someone who knew us intimately. That was a rather good time. But it was always the awkwardness of the person doling out the money and organizations receiving it. And that gets to the report that you’re talking about in the process, which was to try to get — I think core funding would be provided, but then proposing for different projects or areas of work and things of that sort. So we had to put in applications of various kind — which net result, as I recall, was nice increases in funding for our work. So going into ’79, ’80, ’81, there were significant increases in funding as a result of that whole process.

Alan Houseman:
So then Reagan comes in. And that led to a whole bunch of things with regard to the whole program. But what was the impact of Reagan on the support centers? And the Reagan election and the first board he put in and the efforts to deal with support centers.

Henry Freedman:
The Heritage Foundation prepared a transition report for the first time in 1980 for President Reagan advising him about legal services. And, as I recall it in effect said, “It’s a very popular program with Congress. You’ll have trouble getting rid of it as we know you very much want to. But the national support centers are a particular thorn in our side. They’re on the leading edge of a lot of challenges to programs. And you can get rid of them far more easily and should. Programs such as the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law.” So I had this mixed feeling. It was nice to be recognized, but one would rather that they hadn’t noticed. We went through this period where Reagan did not appoint a board, because he wanted to eliminate the program. So, in fact, we had our friends still back at the Legal Services Corporation. So there’s a little lull there. It was very nice. Then there were sharp funding cuts in ’82. And then, after that, years of harassment by the Reagan people. Monitoring teams that were sent out where it seemed the only goal was to find some slip-up. And the problem was they really didn’t know what to look for, what to do. I was assuming they’d come after us ideologically — that they wouldn’t like our work, wouldn’t like the things we said. And indeed, they would raise such questions, but not very well. What they were really looking for was how we were stealing the money. They just could not believe that people would work for such low pay and not be getting something on the side. And where were we keeping our legal services money? We had several minority banks that we used. We’d always get money in advance and had to put it in the banks before we’d use it. On the first team was a retired IRS criminal investigator. He absolutely refused any offer of help to understand our books and records and spent the entire week looking at all these transfers from one bank to the other assuming that at some point we were slipping money off the table. And, of course, he ended up at the end of the full week totally frustrated because he didn’t have anything to go on. But my hands felt dirty after that experience. It just — you know, call me an ideologue, but don’t call me a crook. So anyway during that whole period there was one battle after another. I should talk about we got involved in litigation with the Corporation. I guess it was in 1984 for the 1985 year that the Corporation gave the national support centers the contracts or guidelines for next year that indicated we could only spend 10% of our money on litigation. For some centers that might not have been so much of a problem; for other centers that was a major problem. But there also was the principle — they were really trying to cut back on the cutting-edge work that was going on. Rick Cotton, a lawyer in D.C. at that time, offered to help, and he did a fantastic job. From the national support center side, the litigation effort was led by Burt Fretz from the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and Adele Blong from our Washington office. I realize you will be talking with Adele. In 1977, we had set up a Washington office and she was heading it. She worked most directly with Rick on that litigation, and an absolutely fantastic result was achieved. The Corporation was enjoined. They appealed, and the D.C. circuit affirmed. It was a major victory against the Corporation protecting our independence. They came back the next year with other restrictions and so forth — with grants for only three months, because they were going to go through some process with us. And Rick again counseled with us, but all that was worked out. We should go back for a moment to the 1982 grant year when finally a Reagan board was in. They finally got nominated and confirmed — and they had on their agenda the elimination of the national support centers. I remember being at an LSC board meeting at some hotel on New Jersey Avenue a few blocks from the Capitol. There were three factions on the board at that time. The liberal side wanted to give us one year to close down. The moderates said “Give them six months.” And the conservatives said “Give them three months funding and shut them down.” This was being debated very seriously at the Corporation Board meeting at the same time that Julie Clark was reporting from up on the Hill that Senator Rudman was offering his rider — at least this is my recollection — was offering his rider — and this is before the days of cell phones. So somehow this communication took place so that we, sitting in the audience, knew that the Corporation’s hands were being tied at the very moment that the board was deliberating this serious question of whether to close us down with three, six, or 12 months funding. Those were terrible times. And that was the second crisis period when I talked about that we went out and did some serious fundraising. Oh, I have to tell you this —

Alan Houseman:
Just a second before you do. Senator Rudman’s rider, what do you recall that it did?

Henry Freedman:
My recollection was it barred the Corporation board from terminating funding to any program without specific good cause. And indeed, over the ensuing years, they did terminate funding to several programs including, sadly, the Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship Program where they found specific issues that could support the termination. But, for the centers as a whole and as well as the rest of the legal services movement, it meant that that kind of action couldn’t take place.

Alan Houseman:
I interrupted you.

Henry Freedman:
But you interrupted me. Because of this obvious funding crisis, the support centers got together and went to the larger foundation world and said, “You’ve got to help us. All of this valuable work is going to go down the drain. Funding is needed.” And the foundations funded a study. I’m just blanking on his name. Rob Stein.

Alan Houseman:
Rob Stein.

Henry Freedman:
Rob Stein. And — where one of the most incredible meetings I’ve ever participated in took place which was, we were brought together — the executive directors of all the centers were brought together — to discuss whose work was most important and should survive. And I just remember being a little dizzy at the time by all this. And afterwards, when I talked to people, they said, “You have a fiduciary responsibility. You can’t sit there and say, ‘Oh, take my money away and give it to this program here; their clients are more important than my clients.'” But we spent two days having this supposed discussion about — everybody talked about why their work was critical. I mean, that was all it was. No question about that. But at the end of that process Rob — and there’s another name on the study, I forget who — issued a report which recommended to the foundation world that eight centers get funding. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but of course, everybody was clamoring. Poor Amy Vance, who was the program officer at the Ford Foundation, who was kind of the center of this and had the biggest pot of money potentially to give out, endured some long period of hassle. And finally, she just cut through it and said, “I’m funding these six programs.” And we were one of those six, for which I was very grateful. And Ford continued that funding. So that was one of the major sources of private funding that the centers began having through the 80’s.

Alan Houseman:
At some point in the 80’s, Congress — in its appropriation of legal services — created several funding lines, and one was a line for national support.

Henry Freedman:
Yes. And I know that our friends working at Washington assured us that this was a great benefit. And for a while, I’m sure it was, especially with the Reagan Board of Directors. But, of course, it also was — we’ll get to it shortly, I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll get to it now. Rudman retires in 1992. And I remember saying to so many people, “This is very bad news for us.” No, it’s not, they said. Bill Clinton just got elected president. How could it be bad news? The Democrats are in charge. No problem. So the next couple of years were pretty good. You know, the husband of a past president of the Legal Services Corporation was in the White House and Congress is supportive and the money is going up and we have that funded line in the budget. November 1994, Contract With America, Newt Gingrich gets elected. I read in the papers they’re doing research on how to defund the left. Well, knowing that the Heritage Foundation had named us in 1980, I didn’t think they’d have to research very far to find state and national support. And indeed, Congress rescinded funds. Every year a contract has that boilerplate: “We understand that Congress might change the amount of funding. We won’t put up a fight if you have to change our amount of funding because of Congress.” You signed it — of course, you signed it. We learned what the decision meant. Congress rescinded funding. The Corporation, staffed at that time by people who were very fond of us, tried to allocate the pain by limiting the amount being taken out of national and state support and taking more out of the field, because Congress had not explicitly directed them where to take the funding from. And some of my colleagues were oh, so delighted. “Oh, we’re going to get more money than we thought we might for a night.” I just said, “This is terrible.” Because, indeed, Congress came back and said, “Okay, you didn’t get the point. Screw national and state support.” And so, then the Corporation’s hands were really tied. And we — it was June ’95. And we were notified that we would get our last monthly check in July or August, something of that sort. My board met quarterly and just conveniently had a regular meeting scheduled right after that notice. And I came into the board with recommendations to retain staff as long as possible. How can we fundraise if we don’t have staff and we’re not doing things?” I said. The board went into executive session. I had never faced that before: the first time there was an executive session. Or, maybe to set my salary they went through executive session, but in terms of an issue of this sort, this was the first time there was executive session. Adele Blong, the head of the D.C. office, was my co-director at the time. They had me come in and then leave. They had her come in and then leave. The board continued to deliberate and came out at the end of the day and said, “You have to close the Washington office. You have to lay off some staff in New York. Give
four weeks’ notice.” That was the worst time of my life. We closed the Washington office. We laid off staff in New York. We got hustling trying to raise private money while hoarding the little bit of legal services money we still had in the bank. Sometime later — and I realize we haven’t talked about OLSBUC at all. The Organization of Legal Services Back-Up Centers. We’re in a meeting with my colleagues, the directors of the other program. And in the middle of some profound discussion — I think it was Bob Sable then, from the Consumer Law Center, turned to me and said, “Do you have trouble sleeping?” And we went around the room and discovered that everybody was having trouble sleeping. I mean, the stress and tension of the kinds of personnel actions we’re having to be taking on was really getting to everyone. So that was a very terrible time.

Alan Houseman:
Before we talk about what happened, just describe a little bit about what OLSBUC was and, you know, a little bit of the role it played.

Henry Freedman:
OLSBUC, Organization of Legal Services Back-Up Centers, was founded sometime around 1970. I remember seeing papers from back then by the people who were then the executive directors of the Back-Up Centers. It continued to meet at NLADA conventions or have set up other meetings through the entire period that we were all funded by LSC. Having a single funder was, of course, the focus of the program. And, whether that was the Research Institute or whoever it was — otherwise the Corporation — it was the strategy around “How could we get things changed in the contract? Should we accept this and so forth? And also how can we collaborate better? How can we do more effective job of communication?” It was a real opportunity for people running these different programs to get together and learn something. During the course of those years a number of times OLSBUC had to deal with suggestions coming from various consultants or authorities in Washington or whatever that we really — it would be far more efficient to have a big national support center in Washington, D.C. that would also give us the benefit of access to Congress, all kinds of cross-communication and so forth. And we, from time to time, then would have to write papers and say why it was better not to do that — why it was better to have people who were out in the field more, why it was better to have independent organizations that would really develop their own areas of expertise. And in preparing for this conversation, I got to thinking about that, and I think we’ve been vindicated in that most of the centers have continued and continue to thrive because they had over the years started developing private funding, developing their own areas. And certainly now, when you look around, the Consumer Law Center, the Housing Law Program, the Health Law Program, Senior Citizen’s, Immigration Law Center, and certainly I think our program have been able to continue making real contributions including to the traditional legal services community which, if they had not existed in that way would not be around. So I just wanted to throw that into the oral history.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Well, and — so we’ve gone — we’ve done a little bit of the history of the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law. Describe how you — why you moved to a new name recently and a little bit more about what you’re currently doing. And then we’re going to go into welfare advocacy.

Henry Freedman:
The name Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law was the original 1964 name. It was “Welfare Policy and Law,” because it was a social work school and a law school. It was a clunky name, but it was our name and we stuck with it. After we had lost the legal services funding, we faced a real crisis in fundraising — we now really had to survive privately. And we were hearing both from people at law firms and people from foundations that they couldn’t go into their executive committee or whatever it was and say “Oh, we want to fund welfare law.” Litigation was bad enough. Welfare was bad enough. As John Asher, I think, jokes, “There is nothing they hate more than a poverty lawyer.” So that was one problem, but it was a very real problem. A subset of that problem is, for some reason a lot of foundation people mixed up the name with the Center for Law and Social Policy. And, when we came they said in effect, “Why are you here? We already funded you. You did a great job.” But the other reason was, people in the field would say, “Oh, I had a great food stamp case, but — you know, I didn’t get in touch with you because you do welfare, not food stamps.” And, in fact, that was a real problem, and my staff was complaining about that. So it was a combination of the two. We had a fundraising consultant at that time who said, “Everybody is always calling you the Welfare Law Center. It’s really descriptive. So call yourself the Welfare Law Center.” So we called ourselves the Welfare Law Center. Another few years go by. And this is what I had said about welfare law — first being too narrow, and then — I’m sorry, I think part of that argument I gave you was for changing from welfare law Center to National Center for Law and Economic Justice. But at any rate, we broadened the kinds of issues we were addressing and the kinds of issues we had hoped to address. And we needed to get rid of the Welfare Law Center name. And National Center for Law and Economic Justice seemed to do the job.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. Now I want to switch. We’ve talked about your legal services world. We talked a little about your organization. Now I want to talk a little bit about the advocacy you did, the relationship with the National Welfare Rights Organization, your involvement also — not just case law, but in legislation — sort of the role that you individually and your organization has played in poverty law and anti-poverty advocacy. And we can do this a number of ways. But why don’t we just start off with — and then we can take it wherever you want to take it. Let’s just start off with some of the major cases in poverty law. Our welfare cases. And they came out of work of the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law and its successors. And why don’t you talk a little bit about some of them — not in great detail, but a little bit about what they were and why they were important and the role you played. And we can start with anything, but there’s King v. Smith and Shapiro versus Thompson and Goldberg versus Kelly. We’ll just start with those and then take off from there.

Henry Freedman:
Certainly. King v. Smith struck down the suitable home policy in Alabama but established the very important principle — the statutory entitlement — that people who were within the scope of people to be covered under the AFDC program statute, the federal statute, had to be provided benefits. Need standards could be set by the state, but if you were a dependent child — meaning you were deprived by reason of the death, incapacity, or absence of a parent — you had to get benefits. States had been excluding many people. The substitute father policy excluded many people where the mother was “co-habiting” with a man not the father of her child. It was really an attempt by the states to keep people off. That case was initiated by the Center. The attorney who handled it at the Center left the Center as the case was working its way up the Supreme Court and was handled by him separately. The Center put in an amicus brief that was the only place that the statutory entitlement argument was made and that’s what the Supreme Court accepted. It was an enormous victory; a unanimous opinion by the Warren court.
Goldberg v. Kelly — the due process right to a hearing before aid is terminated — was a theory, a legal claim that Ed Sparer at the Center had been propagating around the country. The first case was brought by Marian Wright Edelman in Mississippi. And interestingly, Mississippi immediately folded and said they would provide a prior hearing. So the opportunity to litigate that in the South was lost. I, right out of the Reggie program all full of this and also knowing we had a complaint ready to go. I spoke with fellow Reggie David Diamond, who was at Mobilization for Youth — and he came up with five plaintiffs in three days, which showed what a pervasive problem it really was out there. Lee Albert argued in the Supreme Court and was successful.
Shapiro v. Thompson was the durational residency case, the denial of aid for people who had been in the state for less than a year. These cases were brought all over the country and three got up to the Supreme Court. The Center worked with all of them, and that resulted in a very important victory. Things started running downhill after that.

The biggest disappointment was Dandridge v. Williams, a maximum grant case. Without the link to an impairment of a federal right, the right to travel, that decided Shapiro and got equal protection scrutiny upheld, Dandridge was the case in which the Court said “In social welfare cases, we apply a rational basis test that will rarely result in any classification being overturned.”
There were many other major cases. I’m particularly proud of Califano v. Wescott, which I argued and won in 1979. A sex discrimination case in AFDC where Congress said in a 2-parent family, if the mother became unemployed, the family didn’t qualify for benefits, but if the father became unemployed, it would qualify the family for benefits. That was my personal pride and joy. On the question of remedy, the Court ruled 5-4 the program should be expanded to cover the families of unemployed mothers. That meant four out of the nine said “No, the program should be eliminated because it’s not what Congress voted for.” That would have knocked several hundred thousand people off the rolls — a close call in any event. The Supreme Court became a less welcoming place for the kinds of cases that we were involved in. And so, over the years there was a lot of enforcement, a lot of litigation around the country. Legal services programs became quite proficient at enforcing the legal requirements that could be enforced. The Center got much more heavily involved at training and counseling programs, and doing a lot of legislative and administrative advocacy. We were working on regulations at HEW or HHS, especially when there was a sympathetic staff. Adele Blong in the Washington office worked up on the Hill and did very interesting things over the years very effectively. It was after the loss of the federal funding in 1995 that we returned in a major way to impact litigation. Initially those were the Giuliani years in New York City. Giuliani was the perfect defendant. He didn’t care what the law was, and he wouldn’t let his lawyers be reasonable in court. They had to be unreasonable and refuse to accept any request from the court, so that they would be ordered to do something and could go back to city hall and say, “We tried our hardest, but the judge made us do this.” I have some anecdotes on that that we could spend some other time on. And we were fortunate that there were a number of funders in New York City who were very concerned about the direction he was going, who understood how we were able to have an impact on what was happening in litigation and that the local LSC-funded programs could no longer engage in that kind of class-action litigation. And indeed, we were able to get our litigation director, Marc Cohan, with his whole docket of class-action cases from one of the New York City programs. Since then we’ve branched out into a lot of other areas. We’ve dealt with disability rights. We’ve gotten involved with FEMA and the aftermath of Katrina and Rita. We’ve got involved in child care work and some things related to foster care. It’s been very exciting.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Could you talk a little bit about — I mean, I think we could go on and on about this. Because, in my view, the Welfare Law Center — whatever name we want to call it — has made enormous impact on the law and on the rights of poor people. I can’t think of any institution that has made more impact. I just can’t. So I think we need to emphasize, just in this interview, that you have led an incredible organization that’s done enormously effective work and made a huge difference to poor people in this country. And I think, “just because you’re here I say that,” but I think it’s true. And so, you know, for posterity sake, we’re talking to a person that’s been there and really made this happen. One of the things that I did want to cover was not so much your relationship, but that can come in here too, but about the National Welfare Rights Organization and George Wiley and the Center’s relationship to it, Ed (Sparer’s) relationship to it, you know, that kind of thing. So why don’t you just talk a little bit about that.

Henry Freedman:
As I had mentioned, Ed Sparer was very determined to be lawyer to the movement and work with NWRO, work with George Wiley and Richard Cloward and Fran Piven, who’s still working at this. So, while Ed was at the Center, he was personally — and Brian Glick was personally — very much involved in early efforts at NWRO to develop strategy, but understanding that they would take direction from the organization. When Ed left and Lee Albert became director, Center staff continued to meet with George Wiley, work with NWRO, go to their conventions, and bring litigation in their name. I remember in particular the Democratic National Convention of Miami in 1972 was also the time of NWRO’s convention; they scheduled it to be in Miami at the same time. They opened a hotel that had been closed, so they had very cheap quarters. But there was a lot of turmoil. Our staff was down there and working with people.

The negotiations at HEW with HEW staff were largely conducted by our staff and representatives from the NWRO leadership. NWRO really began to fade after ’73, ’74. Catherine Jermany, who was one of their leaders, was on our board. And we filed several NWRO lawsuits, some of which made an impact in APA terms and in terms, I think, the way resources were treated. But by ’74, ’75, NWRO had dissolved.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. I don’t know if you want to comment. I think Adele maybe did more of this, but I’m not sure, on any of the federal legislation that you worked on during this period. I mean, there’s a huge amount of things that happened in the Family Assistance Act. And you mentioned Carter had a plan. Reagan.

Henry Freedman:
I think also I’m seeing outside the door that David waiting for some time. So I think I really ought to leave that to Adele.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. Well, let’s just conclude with your thoughts about advocacy — and you said some of this earlier, but — where do you see and hope that advocacy goes in the broad social welfare arena?

Henry Freedman:
This is such a difficult time in this nation, and especially in this town that we’re sitting in right now. I can’t really define a grand scheme, but I can say I would hope for our organization and the people we work with that we’ll be able to use the legal system and be able to enforce rights and establish systemic change or maybe block systemic change in various ways; provide more help to groups working in the states and localities, some of them doing it so effectively; and preserve and create opportunity for low-income people to improve their life situation. Poverty has grown so much now. I hope a new generation of leaders will be able to figure out some ways to really turn this country around.

Alan Houseman:
Well, thank you. This has been a great interview, and I appreciated very much your coming down to D.C. and doing it.


END