Worked for Camden Regional Legal Services in NJ. Then directed Legal Aid Society of Sacramento.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:
|Nov 14, 1990
|Where relates to:
|California and New Jersey
|Civil legal aid: General
|Georgetown Law Library link (possible video):
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with: Don Griesman (DG)
Conducted by: Victor Geminiani (VG)
Interview date: November 14, 1990
VG: This is an oral history of Don Griesman taken on Wednesday November 14th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the NLADA convention. Hello.
DG: Hi. Good to see you.
VG: Good to see you. I appreciate very much, by the way, your being willing for us to do your oral history for the folks back home in Northern California. You are still a legend, I can tell you. Can you tell me a little bit about your background before you came to legal services in Northern California?
DG: Prior just immediately before that, I was managing attorney in a rural office with Camden regional legal services in New Jersey and had opened that up with some Vista volunteers. I worked for Camden regional for about four years as a managing attorney and as a staff attorney and put together a senior citizens component while I was there and had worked on the famous NAACP v. Mt. Laurel Township land use case and had been involved with . . . I thought a very forward looking program at that time. Prior to that I was an Episcopal clergyman working in the inner city on race issues and anti-war issues, got frustrated with what I was able to accomplish there and decided law school was a good place for me to try so that’s what I did.
VG: At Rutgers?
RG: Rutgers University at Camden and my oldest daughter has now graduated from there also.
VG: Quite a few legal services people seem to have originated from Rutgers. I think Quint is from Rutgers also.
RG: Yeah. There are a number of folks around and I think most are from Newark. Camden liked to pride itself on being a blue-collar law school and it carried with it, I think, also a redneck philosophy at the same time so it didn’t really have that aura. I was looking forward to having some fun in law school with people who were anti-war and starting to see that race was really a very severe problem in this country and instead I was in school with a lot of folks who were really breaking out of some syndromes of their own and looking to go with big law firms really so it didn’t quite have the atmosphere I was hoping for except among the women that were there. The women were very forward-looking. The men, not quite so forward-looking in terms of America.
VG: What attracted you to legal services initially in New Jersey?
DG: The initial part of it was having a law graduate from NYU working with me at the community center before there was a legal services and just at the beginning of the Vista program. We were one of the first Vista operations and we began working with tenants in tenement buildings in Camden. He and a former Blackstone ranger from a Chicago gang put together a rent strike although there was no law on that at that point and the tenants were in some very severe problems. We organized a tent city with the help of an assistant sheriff by the name of Arnold Cream. Arnold Cream had been the former heavyweight champion of the world, Jersey Joe Walcott and he was the one who saved our rear ends setting up this tent city. Joe was just enormously helpful and we started to see that we really didn’t know what in the world we were doing from a legal standpoint. There were no lawyers out there so Steve Lelico, who was then a Vista worker who eventually became an associate dean at NYU Law School, said “There is this new thing going on with OEO. They are talking about starting up a legal services component.” And I said to Steve, “You are going to be our representative. Go do what you need to do to help.” So he helped draw up the articles of incorporation for Camden Regional Legal Services and had some influence of the development of the board, of trying to block that development from the mayor’s control. In those days the government was still trying to control the Office of Economic Opportunity and particularly legal services was seen as something that was going to help tenants. There was a lot of tenant motion going on then. So Steve worked hard with Dave Dugan and a number of other people at Camden regional. Wade Drayton, who is here in Pittsburgh with us now, was part of that movement and he is still the chair of the board at Camden regional and Camden regional was born. I became not only a board member but a client and I was represented in a couple of cases on highways and so on. So that’s where the interest came from.
VG: Was Camden regional the program that Spiro Agnew made famous?
DG: That’s right. I had a bunch of clients who were blocking I-76.
VG: That was your case?
DG: Yeah, and the Mount Laurel case and the blocking of all the urban renewal because of the displacement of people that was going on at that point and he came to Collingswood, New Jersey and called us a number of very poetic words and Agnewisms and we felt pretty proud actually. We had some good times about that but the attacks were just as severe on us as they were on the West Coast with Ronald Reagan and George Murphy with CRLA and other programs there so, yeah, we’ve got that background.
VG: Spiro Agnew was really the lead in the Nixon administration to a large degree on legal services and on a lot of liberal issues but I had no idea that you were there at the program and that you were involved in that case. I remember that very well.
DG: It was interesting times.
VG: Can you tell me what attracted you after four years in Camden to move out west and to specifically come to — at that point Legal Services of California was known as Legal Aid Society of Sacramento, what attracted you to Sacramento and to the program?
DG: Well, my movement to law school included a belief on my part that legal services needed some management systems and I was interested in learning how to manage a law firm and was really interested in being an executive director when I started law school. I admired Dave Dugan. I admired Peter O’Connor who was a litigator but not a manager but I was interested in the way he set up cases and the way he set up his files and the control he had over hundreds of files, most of which were impact cases on mortgage foreclosures as well as land use, landlord-tenant stuff, consumer stuff, and Carl Descare (sp??) who was the most immediate project director there for me and they had brought some management schematics with them but I felt we could go further than that so I tried some stuff out in Gloucester and been appointed to the National Consumer Law Center up in Boston because I had done some rate hearings on behalf of the elderly in New Jersey and there I met Brian Paddock and Brian and I sat down in a bar in Boston and he said “There is a job in Sacramento, California. Are you interested in moving?” And you are shaking your head back and forth like you can’t believe this story.
VG: No, I can’t. Brian is back in the program in legal services now in Northern California so the circle is being completed.
DG: I am aware. We are a very small family. It was Brian’s job that he was talking about. It was not Legal Aid Society but he himself was thinking of leaving western center at that point and this is 1975 I guess, late winter of ’75, and when I went home, I saw a sign at the law school when I stopped by there that said that the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento had an executive director’s job so I wrote and got an interview and went through what I consider probably the most intense interview I have ever had in my life. It lasted several days, visited every single office, the board of directors almost unanimously were there for a highly competitive process and I thought I had blown the interview. I had gotten into this dialogue with the board on me and my feelings about myself and this United States and indicated that I was a racist, that I was a sexist, that I was landed gentry, and that I am working at those things but they are still very much a part of me. They are here. I don’t think you are going to see them, obviously. I am going to work very carefully at these things but I think we are all trapped. I think we all have got this kind of problem and notwithstanding that discussion which I found to be very healthy but certainly not one conducive to getting a job. They still hired me anyway so I was thrilled. I also, was within hours of getting the job, called by Dan Bradley who was then the regional director and he said, “I’m really glad you are coming to Sacramento. I have a job for you. It’s a very important job. I want you to take over two small programs. I want you to take over Shasta Legal Aid. I want you to take over this little program in Chico. I want you to expand all the way up to Oregon, all the way over the Nevada border, and think about heading towards the coast.” I said, “You have to be out of your mind.” He said, “No no no. I am very serious and so is your board.” And I talked to the board chair and he said, “Yeah. We are in favor of merger. We are in favor of expanding legal services going into every county. We are going to be big. We are going to go from two counties to who knows how big we can be and we have a budget now of $350,000. We hear it is going to be well over a million. We are going to be a big time operation.” I said, “Is the board convinced?” He said, “Not all of us but there is enough that we think we can make it happen. In fact, we want you to come sooner than we asked you to come. We want you to come in two weeks not four weeks.” Well, we compromised on three. It took two and a half years to get that stuff operating but the board, and Dan, were really serious about that kind of expansion and the more that I travelled in Northern California, the clearer it was to me that going to the coast would have been a mistake and that what we should do is create for CRLA up there, to make them a donut hole and sort of fill in around there and I eventually met with Wilson Kerl (sp. ??) up at Shasta who was the director up there and Mike Bush, who was the director of the Chico Legal Services office, who was doing some really exciting stuff, didn’t have any money but they were still doing some exciting stuff, and it took a while. It took a long time to think out how do you say to two boards of directors that you are going to surrender your authority. How do you get them incorporated into a new board of directors? How do we say to the Sacramento board, “We are making a shift and the Sacramento board is not going to have full control over this program any longer,” and what do you say to staff? What does it mean for staff? The easy part for Shasta and for Chico was “We are going to pay you more money. You will have more books. You will have a better funding situation than you’ve got know.” Legal services is saying to Wilson, “We’re not going to fund you anymore unless you do this.” Mike wanted money and LSC was saying, “The only way you’ll get money is this way.” So there were some carrots and some sticks on them so it was easy enough with staff but it was really hard with the board and we had to think seriously about that as well as the delivery system of what could we set up and Roberta was a key factor in that. Also, I had to negotiate with Bucky Askew a lot because I wanted more money. I wanted a whole bunch more money than they were prepared to pay for all of this to occur. I finally talked them out of some initial start up money around a quarter of a million, $300,000, which helped start up the purchase of the office in Chico and get some more staff, get some training, work on priority setting and that kind of thing, so it was all very exciting but a lot of those folks I am glad are still around.
VG: Bucky Askew was working in Washington OEO at that time?
DG: He was working in Washington LSC.
VG: Tell me about Dan Bradley, your stories about Dan. You knew Dan back in the south end and the carrot and the stick approach was well used and developed by Dan Bradley. Tell me a little about your memories of Dan Bradley.
DG: Dan Bradley was in my opinion an absolute saint about the delivery of legal services to people. He had his own style, however. He was not Saint Francis of Assisi. He was not going to cut off his hands to get things done. He could work things, I felt, with a velvet glove. He would make unsolicited visits at the office, usually saying he had a date in Sacramento and was just dropping by to say hi but it was very clear that there were certain things he wanted to see in how well I had progressed in working things out. He had some suggestions he wanted to make on the approach to Wilson Kerl or the approach to Mike Bush or the approach to the board chairs most particularly or how to work with the Sacramento bar, wanted to talk a little bit about money but he never wanted to get into detail about money. He let Bucky handle all of that and to a certain degree I think Clint was evolved in some of that, the more I think about that, but Dan — to quote a Bushism,,he stayed the course. It was constantly that this had to occur. He wanted one program up there. He was very comfortable with Sacramento being that program. He would mention from time to time a delivery system that he had heard about somewhere to think about as a way of assuring quality and a delivery system that would address conflicting, perhaps, priorities, he also wanted again to push thinking about the coast and I know that for a long time I was seen as the land grabber by other project directors and still get teased here today about that.
VG: There is a cartoon that I’ve either heard about or saw in my early days that was floated at a project director’s meeting in which there was a table, a smorgasboard laid out on the table, and there were a variety of counties on that table and it showed Don Griesman coming along and picking those up.
DG: I think that’s true. The other scheme that we thought about at that point when finally the offices in Auburn and the other counties were in place, we then thought about how do we create the executive directors of the future out of this program and in fact take over all of California anyhow and of course a couple of folks did mosey along, Frank Ochoa, headed south and became a judge, [Tamara] headed a bit west and became a project director so some of that did occur. We talked long and hard. We had these dreams of what we called the theory of ubiquity, of being everywhere.
VG: Do you remember the board chairs? Which board chair hired you? Was it Judge Ford?
DG: No. Joe Russell was the chair at that point and Joe was the right person for the right time because while all th beginning stages of expansion was there, Sacramento ishad some problems. The program locally had some problems and those problems were racial and all hell broke loose within months of my arrival. Lois Meltzer over at the senior citizen center in Sacramento wanted to fire—
VG: Which was part of our program.
DG: Which was part of our program.
VG: It is now Legal Center for the Elderly and Disabled but that was part of an original grant to I guess Sacramento County Legal Aid from the Department of Social Services of Sacramento.
DG: That’s correct.
VG: She was your managing attorney?
DG: She was the managing attorney over there and been hired by I guess Roger –
VG: Roger is Roger Warren?
DG: Roger Warren. And she had been in the program before she became the director over there. She wanted to fire a black paralegal, whose name right now I cannot recall, and the black staff including Reggie and other folks who were there became very upset with the process that was being used and it reached the papers, reached some national concerns and LSC made a number of phone calls to find out was going on. It was a mess. And I wasn’t terribly well schooled in handling that situation and I still carry some guilt but we worked it out and there was an outside player in it that I felt really was the chief person in helping to calm the waters and that was a guy by the name of Willy Hunter who was working for the Human Rights Commission at that point and when the administrator, Dwayne Einhorn, left our program to head for the LSC regional office up in Seattle, Willy applied for the job and I was really happy to hire him. Willy talked to me a couple of times and we didn’t really know each other at that point but his advice and counsel and his calmness on the situation were very helpful to me and we weathered that storm, but it was a storm, and the friction between Lois and me grew over time, that she felt I was not supportive and she was right. I was not supportive of what she wanted to do and a schism really developed that was unhealthy. I should have fired her very early on. I did not do that. I would do that today but I didn’t do it and that was a mistake.
VG: What other early impressions did you have of the program? Did it meet what you thought you were coming to outside the racial situation you had?
DG: Yeah, I think in a number of ways it did. Lauren Mitchell who had been the project director for a while before Roger and then became litigation director under Roger Warren was finishing up some major, major litigation. That major litigation was part of my interest in coming to the program because it was doing some impact things particularly around the race issues and the railroads. Roberta Randstrom was managing attorney of the Sacramento office and had been very successful at the California Supreme Court in doing some cases. I think she lost one and won a couple of them. She was raising the important kinds of issues. My concern at that point was that we were doing an awful lot of divorces. We were grinding out a lot of divorces with a part time attorney and a paralegal, both of whom I had to eventually fire because they were burying files. It took me a couple of years to discover that and they both had to get fired but we were doing a lot of that and we were not doing any kind of impact work on the domestic relations area. I was interested in seeing what we could do around community legal education and I was interested in what else we could be doing in terms of farm worker concerns over in Woodland and what the expansion was going to mean to us. In meeting with Mike Bush, I think Michael and I had an immediate feel that there were great things that could be done up there. He wanted to smash the housing authority. He wanted to smash the welfare department and as far as I was concerned, that was green light business. Go for it and if we can give you the support to do that and the encouragement to keep your staff together, all of whom seem good, Allen Lieberman was there and a few other people, Sharon was there, so those folks were in place and they seemed not only to be having a good time, which was clear, but they also wanted to have a good time about smashing some evil things going on against poor people. So my expectations I think were eventually met, some of it was being met when I arrived and it grew over time as new hires occurred.
VG: Coming in to take over a program after a person has been there and was highly respected and became a judge, appointed at first, elected a little while later on, Roger Warren, was that difficult?
DG: No. I didn’t find any problems whatsoever. Roger stayed away. I didn’t ask him to stay away. We met several times. He let me go about my business. If I needed anything, Roger was there but he really didn’t want to interfere. He was not a difficult person at all in terms of the transition. He let me fly. Roger eventually came onto the board just prior to my leaving and his experience coming onto the board was valuable. I had no problems with that at all. He had left a good core of people there at least as to the LSC side of business, the law center for the elderly and the home project which was a housing program had some difficulties but Roger was able through I think his sheer personality to keep a number of things going. I was concerned with how to come up with the policies that we didn’t have to do it through my personality. I had a different one from Roger. I’m a lot more policy-oriented and how we can get things that are policy and folks can have some predictability about their lives and not rely on whether I’m a good guy or a bad guy.
VG: You came in 1976. What was the month, do you remember?
DG: Yeah, it was May 1st. It was 110 degrees, I remember that. [laughter]
VG: A cool California valley spring time.
DG: I also remember going out to lunch the first time and somebody was walking by and they said, “You are on the west coast. You don’t have to walk so fast.” [laughter]
VG: They still say that to me . . . The size of the offices, you said there were five offices when you first came. Could you tell me approximately what the program looked like in terms of staffing, in terms of budget, and in terms of offices and their locations if you can remember back that far?
DG: The budget was about $350,000.
VG: And that came from OEO for the most part?
DG: It was LSC, but we had money from community development block grant to do the home project. They did some remodeling of houses. They did some maintenance of housing as well as some landlord tenant stuff. June Otow, O-T-O-W, last I saw her a few years ago, was still very active in the Sacramento area doing a lot of community development activities. June was, I thought, just great. The home project was there, then the Legal Center for the Elderly of Sacramento came from the welfare department and community services. Then, over in Woodland, we had another senior citizens component. I had to fire her too and her name was Lois. I will never hire a Lois. I’m sorry, folks will have to change their names, but had real problems with her. She was in a separate office from the LSC funded office and Frank Ochoa, just a young guy, was one of my first promotions to managing attorney there and I look back on that as one of the right things I did. Frank was good for that community, having a Latino as managing attorney was very healthy, and among the growth things that happened was the arrival eventually of Carol Grossman into the program in Woodland–
DG: — Yeah, was another really good move, young woman full of vim and vigor, starry-eyed—
VG: Still is.
DG: –ready to break down the barriers. So there were a number of things going on at that time. At any rate, the offices – I don’t remember where they were; I know that the Woodland office was a nice old house next to an Episcopal church. The senior citizens component, the legal center for the elderly, was over a few blocks in a very dingy building. The legal center for the elderly of Sacramento was over on G Street on the second floor. You had a few complications in getting there if you were disabled. There was an elevator, it was just hard and kinky to find. But the home project was in another office building a few blocks away from that. I spent a fair amount of time over the first couple months just meeting the staff in these five different offices in two communities, trying to figure out how did we get this way but as time went along we lost the home grant. They were not getting what they wanted from us. We were not able to do what we wanted to do with their money so I was not terribly sad over that. The legal center for the elderly eventually broke off in Sacramento and I was able to combine the two offices when we moved in Woodland to, again, I don’t remember the address of where we moved to but it had nice stained glass and I remember an Argentinian restaurant back behind it somewhere.
VG: Do you remember the total size of the staff that you funded with the $350,000 about?
DG: Probably about 25 to 30 people who rarely met together.
VG: After Joe Russell, do you remember the presidents?
DG: Bill Briggs from . . ..
DG: Somewhere around there. I’m trying to remember whether Bill was before Nate White or vice versa.
VG: But Bill Briggs was the president before Nate White. That was in 1984 and he had been president I think for a year or two. Nate White preceded him and served for two years. Actually, Nate White preceded him by 4 or 5 years. Deborah Zaring was president of the client board.
DG: Yeah, I think Deborah was just elected president when I took my little sojourn into the south pacific but Nate’s timing as far as I am concerned was also an appropriate piece of timing because, let me backtrack just a bit, we had worked with staff and some board as the merger had occurred, we had worked on what were we going to do among a lot of issues. Impact work, we had talked about, impact being on a continuum with service caseloads. You have to do some service to get to that of impact. You have to have client contact but it’s a continuum and at the other end is impact, making an impact on those things that are affecting poor people the most but we also talked about what was our culture and what kind of culture did we want to be as a group of people and we went through some training around that kind of thing. We also talked about what can we do with the state bar, how can we be active with that, and started to talk about who could play some of those roles. Tamara (??) volunteered but was also semi-selected to become much more involved with the state bar. She wanted to do that. She could address women’s issues at that level. There was a vacuum in the leadership there. She wanted to bring some people from the Foothills in with her into that area. We talked about Willy getting very much involved with his counterparts and we were concerned over the insurance and there was a movement towards some combining of programs to have a joint insurance package that eventually created NEBO (??) and Willy said, “Yes. I want to get into that.” And Roberta wanted to get into some of these kinds of things and training and we sent her off to training for trainers in federal litigation. We saw ourselves as getting further and further out into the community, having some sphere of influence into what was going on nationally as well as state-wide with the bar and with legal services, client counsels as well as lawyers and paralegals. So that theory of ubiquity that I talked about a moment ago was very honest and very sincere and deliberate that we get as far into things as we could and my role was to get into things nationally with other project directors and got onto the funding criteria committee of PAG and the PAG board of directors and we wanted very much to be known. We wanted to be known as a good program but also wanted to be a good program and to share in the life of legal services nationally. So there were a lot of approaches to the state bar. We talked to local bars on pro bono activities and started with June Black to in fact develop a pro bono arm prior to the 10% being required by LSC. Nate became a part of all of that because he is so gregarious. He so much wanted to be doing things that he got involved at the client counsel level and became a state chair as I recall or at least one of the state officers and was involved at the national level, came to national legal aid defender association meetings and on a few occasions brought along Anne Gales so that Anne was able to see things that were going on in the state and nationally. Now, of course, she is well known throughout the United States in legal services as a lead paralegal and a good dancer. So a lot of that was also very deliberately done by us as a way of demonstrating our interest in what was going on. We wanted to learn but we also felt we had some things to give and Brian was a part of that. He had left Western Center then did some things for a little while and came to work with us on a special grant that folks had pulled together to go after Proposition 13 which was cutting back on a lot of services for people. We organized a number of law suits against county welfare departments all filed on the same day, all broadcast over TV and off the capitol steps one day and we got together with experts to show what it costs to live as a welfare recipient in counties under general relief. Just an awful lot of excitement and we wanted to be very much a part of that. We wanted very much to offer what we could as a staff.
VG: Do you remember some of the major issues that occurred during the expansion? We talked about expansion. I think that was a critical point, the turning point for the program when it decided to take its core and the expertise it had and really reach out and build throughout the 17 counties it was ultimately funded for. Do you remember some of the issues that came with that growth and with the politics around expansion? You talked a little bit about that before. Are there other things?
DG: I think Mike and Allen and Dan Siegel. Dan Siegel, and Andy was in and then he was out for a while.
VG: Andy Holcolm?
DG: Andy Holcolm was there for a while, too.
VG: Three of the four are still there.
Dan Siegel came back as regional counsel for a while and now is working for the attorney general in Sacramento.
DG: Yeah, it’s a great program. The concerns that they had of being liberated from local funding to go after the welfare department was critical and seeing the clearing house in that welfare department is still recalcitrant. But also there were some other interesting cases.
VG: And losing…
DG: And losing, yeah, as they should.
VG: I think Allen made a life career of filing suit against the department of social services. [laughter]
DG: But they also filed against, I think, Heyman County. One of them almost got locked up out of a lawsuit –they just didn’t want to give away welfare at all. I remember Mike Bush bringing a case that Michael and I still have some great misgivings over, the cattle rustling case. Michael can tell you the story of that some other time. There had been this big cattle rustling that had gone on in one of the counties. That was an issue we had not seen before. But up into the foothills and high desert, I guess it was Mehama (??) County, a group of people who would not normally have reached us in any circumstances were threatened by the department of the interior who wanted to move them out. They were living in houses that were on federal land. Those families had been brought there 50 years ago or so, maybe even longer now that I think back on it, for the purpose of logging, that it was in the interest of the federal government to have logging and to have those people live there and it was Watt, who was the secretary of the interior—he didn’t like the Beach Boys and he didn’t like people living on federal land—who announced that they were all going to be displaced from up there, their land leases were to be cancelled and Mike got wind of that and they were folks who would not have normally supported legal services. They were folks who were not going to look kindly on legal services, generally. Their houses got saved. Michael did it administratively. He worked hard, wrote a lot of letters, made a lot of phone calls, talked to a lot of people, did a lot of client education and those folks got to like and to love legal services because of that and I thought that that movement by Mike was one of those politically advantageous moments that was also a legally advantageous moment for clients that said to Mehama County “Yes, we are here.” There were some people who were prepared to support our presence. There were little pockets of discontent that maybe we were going to do some things in counties that folks didn’t want us to do and that certainly was true out of Shasta. It was very hard with that office to move from a service case load into looking at broader based activities and I never felt that we had totally communicated at that office that, yes, we are interested in the divorces you are doing but we are also interested in seeing some changes in the way the housing authority does things, we are interested in the welfare department being much more responsive to people, to be doing some outreach. We are also interested in what is happening to people on SSI, food stamps and medical benefits and that just never totally clicked.
VG: Wilson Kerl and Gary Silberg were both there at that time.
DG: That’s correct and we also secured a Vista worker, a young woman whose name again escapes me. She was cut from legal services cloth.
VG: Laverne Denotto?
DG: Laverne was a paralegal there. It was someone else. This young woman was cut from legal services cloth but she wasn’t getting the total sort of support and I remember Tamara and Roberta and Mike and some other folks and myself would sit down and talk at great length, and Lilly was involved in these discussions too, great length on what can we do with the Shasta office to help it curve more in line with the culture that had developed in the other offices.
VG: And it’s the farthest office away from the Sacramento office which creates some difficulties in terms of joining.
DG: Yeah, it’s a lonely career up there and both Gary and Wilson were carrying their own culture that was not the same as ours. Mike and his crew was very much the same as Sacramento culture but up there it was a different one and I always thought it was the red clay but that may be too simple.
VG: Issues around Auburn, we talked about Chico and Shasta, a little bit about Sacramento, any issues in Auburn, the motherload area? To this day, it continues to be a contentious relationship, some of the very small, low legal aids that exist in Calaveras County and particularly Nevada County. Can you tell me a little bit about the issues, the people, the personalities or events that occurred in the expansion up there?
DG: Tamara was willing to go into that new territory and this was a place that Dan Bradley did not have a good finger on what was going on because I don’t think we knew what those little legal aid programs and those bar associations were about up there and getting the funding for there brought with it some political problems and I’m trying to think, I think it was someone that eventually ended up on your board, Joe Bell.
VG: How could I forget that name? Let me tell you, it’s your interview but let me tell you a brief story as a prep for what you are going to say. After you had left, of course, I came and about 6 months into my term there we had a meeting and Joe Bell raised the issue of private attorney involvement money and why couldn’t Nevada County legal aid receive money from our budget to provide services out of the PAI funds and after thinking about it and getting a little bit of the history under my belt, I had a conversation with Joe and told him, basically, for a variety of reasons, that was not workable and he said to me, “Oh, we have another Griesman. You are the same as Griesman.” Or something like that. The same words Griesman said. And I said, “Well, I can’t be in too bad company.” [laughter] Joe left about a year after that, left the board, after another attempt to get money diverted from the board to Nevada County legal assistance. I’m sorry to have interrupted. You mentioned the name.
DG: No. Thank you for filling me into the rest of it because that’s true. Just what you said is what I faced also with Joe. He did not think that we should get the money. He was afraid that we were going to do things that were very, very bad, very, very evil in those counties, in particularly his, and that he already was there and they were just a shoestring operation and that they could use that money.
VG: I understand the shoestring operation and they were there so they should continue to receive funds for their work. I understand that. I don’t understand the “we would do evil and bad things.” Can you describe a little bit about what we might have been in his mind or might have been in the minds of people he was working with in Nevada County?
DG: I think there were two things. One was we were going to rip the money off for Sacramento, that we were really not going to do legal work up there. The second thing was that we were not going to do the legal work they believed was the priority, which was divorces. They really believed that that was what they should be about. When we talked about consumer transactions, when we talked about landlord tenant kinds of things, the response particularly around landlord tenant was, “You are going to bring building codes up here, aren’t you? You are going to have codes up here that are going to interfere and require people to put heaters in. You are going to make the cost of housing go up in this community when you start bringing habitability issues up here and we don’t want that and we don’t need that. That’s not our lifestyle. We don’t want this urbanization coming up here.”
VG: What about suits against the Department of Social Services that wouldn’t have those effects to raise grant levels for general assistance, were those bad issues?
DG: They were bad issues, too, because they were going against the elected officials and the people who were selected to do those kinds of programs.
VG: So it was pretty much, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like an isolationist viewpoint, that they basically wanted to be left alone and have no external forces or personalities coming in requiring them to change in a way that they didn’t and their county didn’t think was appropriate. If they thought change was necessary, they would implement it themselves.
DG: I think that’s there. There was some of that still wild-west kind of thing that “ rugged. I’m an individual. I’m rugged. I can handle it and I’m here and don’t come and muck in my life with some sort of federalism or statism that is going to require me to do things that I don’t want to do.” While it was a shoestring operation it was also a boot strap kind of life. I can do what I need to do by myself and I don’t need these other things. I don’t know if he was speaking for the way people who are poor want to live out their lives. I can’t say he didn’t speak for them, that they really did want to be left alone, that they really didn’t want heaters put in, they really didn’t want inspectors coming around, they really didn’t want houses condemned because they were satisfied with their lifestyle. But that was not what we were about. We knew that we were going to get the money for those counties. Joe and others throughout there all the way up to Truckee in the bar associations were upset about and they came to the public hearings on it but it was written in stone already. Dan knew where the money was going to go and that was with the Sacramento program. So we got the money, began the operation and continued the dialogue and all we tried to do was neutralize that dialogue. We tried to bring Joe and other lawyers in with Tamara into the state bar to try to get them educated as to what the statewide issues were and why poverty issues were really important but for some folks in the foothills I don’t think it ever worked. So that office did have to work with all of those politics. It took a long time to get accepted by the judicial system, to have our kinds of arguments accepted into courts, to have our paralegals accepted at a hearing. It took some doing and we had to come up with a strategy on that and so quite often there were one or two or three page briefs written in cases that in other judicial areas we wouldn’t have to write anything just to educate the judges.
VG: Were those types of problems isolated to Nevada County or was Nevada County just the most vocal? Did they exist in Calavaras, El Dorado, Amador?
DG: Yes, we got it out of all of them. But Nevada clearly was the most vocal. [tape interruption]
VG: Can you tell me, if you remember, what your initial goals were during this period of time for the entire program, not just vis a vis expansion? Are there one or two or three things that you can remember that were the core of what you were trying to achieve?
DG: Keeping my head above water. [laughter] Looking back, I’m not sure if I consciously set some things, but things that were sort of carrying along there was bringing a staff that had been disparate before together was pretty important and until 1981, that was one of the goals, to bring that staff together into a whole kind of approach that we would be operating jointly, that there would be a lot of give and take, that no one lawyer had to figure that he or she was the expert in everything, that there were replaceable parts and that Mike might be working on something that Roberta could use and was hoping that Wilson Kerl were working on something that Allen could use so there was some cross fertilization in the program and the sharing of ideas, the putting together of management meetings and including into the budget process the managing attorney so they had a sense of their own worth and their own dollar amount that they had to work with and if Mike wanted to buy a library, what he was willing to surrender to go get that library out of a given year.
VG: Not much, I bet.
DG: He wanted that library so for one year he surrendered and his CAL chip came off the wall. That was among the goals, of bringing a crew together. I was much more interested in stealing people from other programs than I was in raising up new young people, though we did have an interest in a couple young people especially coming into Woodland. Romero was one of those that again I look back on some very good hiring decisions that I made and staff helping to work those things out and make those kinds of good hiring decisions. They were important so that was one of the goals. I wanted a goal of a very well-trained staff so we spent a lot of money on training and getting people trained so if folks wanted to go, they went. I wanted support staff to have that same kind of thing. It was important to me that support staff got training so we had folks go as far as San Diego to get into training, the computerized things, and to bring things into the 1980s was very important when all of a sudden 1981 hit us and we had to go through the retrenchment process. The retrenchment process I think because we had become somewhat known statewide and a round the country, we got involved with some programs going to the Wharton School of Business who spent a week together, Willy and I, went along with CRLA and some other programs to talk about retrenchment and to utilize some of their computer capability and what retrenchment would mean in terms of the effects on minority staff, the effects on women in the program, the effects on the rural office versus the urban office in the program, just where could cutbacks be made, what was predictable about who would leave and who would not leave, where we could go get some more money, where we might not be able to get money. So spent a week at that whole riffing reduction in force thing and the goals at that point shifted and that was to make all of that as painless as possible and, as I recall, there was only one person that I had to say “Sorry, we are going to have to let you go.” Robert Spangenberg. I think in every other instance the riffing was done by—one instance, in California, we were able to go somewhat on unemployment compensation and we made the management a unit and we all went on four-fifths time and so we got paid by the program for four days and paid by unemployment compensation on the one day we took off. That was enough to save a position for the time period we did that and so it was through attrition that the reduction occurred. That was a hard time also and painful to go through. At the same time there were all these new initiatives around AOLTA starting to develop. The state bar was starting to get more and more involved in what had to occur because of the Reagan cuts. While we lost in dollars on one side, we started picking up on dollars on the other side, too.
VG: Exactly the same time as retrenchment was going on in ’81, of course, there was the requirement for the implementation of PAI. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
DG: We had already begun before that requirement came in. We had already started some PAI work, I think June had already been shifted over to doing that kind of work, had been meeting with a number of people particularly with the Sacramento bar who were a little incensed that we had changed the name and I remember one guy saying, “Oh, now that the name is available, we can use it ourselves. We can become Legal Aid Society of Sacramento.” And I said, “ Go with my blessing.”
VG: One of the bar members said that?
DG: Yeah, one of the bar members still was a little hurt that the name had been changed. At any rate, there were . . . Jim Mize particularly, but there were other people who were very helpful in the development of the PAI program for Sacramento and seeing pro bono work is important and not having a real problem with our funding some staff to coordinate that kind of activity rather than going to a contract model with Nevada County for instance so there was a lot of local support for that. The board had no problem with that so when the requirement came in we were already pretty much in place and that didn’t have a major effect because in fact we just moved staff over into it.
VG: The history that I understand from the people I have talked to and the documents I have read is that Jim Mize on a number of occasions, two or three at least, during the late ‘70s tried to get the Sacramento County Bar Council to adopt the LSP program and was defeated until the PAI requirement came down the retrenchment obviously was cutting into legal services and there also was an uncertainty whether legal services would continue or not with zero funding as opposed to a 25% reduction and Tom Ares was the president of the local county bar. Him and Jim working together were finally able to get the resolution together to the bar that they adopted. Was that your memory?
DG:–indominable. The man stayed very much on point. He was also, not to take anything away from Tom, but Tom was making a drive for the state bar presidency also, which he didn’t make, but his involvement I don’t think was just because of that by any means. He was very much committed to the delivery and made speeches all over the state, headed up a committee to look into VLSP statewide, talked about how the program needed to do more, how an 800 number by the state bar might be helpful. There were all kinds of ideas that were generated and Tom was at the very center of a huge wind of needing to change and at the local level, he and Jim Mize played an important part. Jim, I never appreciated him enough, and looking back, I wish I had worked with him earlier and stronger than I had because I think he had his finger on a good pulse that was coming.
VG: He is an incredible man still today. He just testified a few months ago in front of the board of supervisors on behalf of a variety of poverty providers in Sacramento for an increased grant level, and was very, very effective, I understand. He also works a day a week serving food at Loaves and Fishes and serves on their board. He served on the bar council for three years and was an absolute delight. He is a contributor of ours, an economic contributor as well as a moral supporter of ours in virtually everything that comes up. A marvelous man.
DG: One of the things that came up, it was small but it was also something we put into the VLSP activity, was Lexis. We were one of the programs that got a free Lexis and a free time period and we went out and hired a law student who was a computer whiz on Lexis to come in and his task was to help us learn about it as a program but also do some research for private attorneys who were going to do some pro bono cases so that they could get some research done by Lexis. That way, we kept that contract of no payment longer because in fact we were selling something on behalf of Meade (??) to the private bar and we thought that was an important step to take because giving something back to the private bar that cost us a little bit of money but we charged it against the 10%, eventually 12.5%, but we got free Lexis out of it ourselves for quite a long time.
VG: As I understand it the program was first for a brief period of time, 6 to 8 months, maybe 12 months, placed with the Sacramento county bar and then came over to our offices, physical placement.
DG: The VLSB?
VG: Yes. Were there issues around that transfer, physical placement, over to LSNC at that point or did it go fairly smoothly?
DG: I thought it went fairly smoothly because of the way the bar had responded to the expansion initially, which was not terribly favorably. They wanted to know what expansion meant for Sacramento and so they were concerned but as the years went on I think things smoothed out a little more and I was pretty surprised that VLSP did come in the house. It was one of the things that we clearly wanted but I wasn’t sure that we were going to get all the necessary support. So it did happen and I never did quite understand how because I know that I didn’t always pull the right switches all of the time. Somebody pulled them for us and I don’t know who to thank.
VG: Did you have a plan for the other offices in terms of private attorney involvement? Was it primarily going to be implemented down in Sacramento for the federal requirement?
DG: It was going to be mostly Sacramento, though each of the offices was asked to try to develop something and if they needed some money it was going to be there but Sacramento was easily greased and that is where it happened.
VG: On another issue that we passed over a little bit a while ago, was the split of the Legal Center for the Elderly a contentious one, an adversarial one, or was there an agreement that they in fact should be separately split off from the program and under different board structures?
DG: I think there was an option by us not to fight it. The proposal came through our board every year and on the last year Lois created another non-profit corporation, filed on behalf of Ed. Word had reached me—I was going through something else, I don’t remember what it was—but I responded to it a little late, beyond the time of filing any kind of response, took it to the board. The board was gentle with me and indicated that, “Hey, don’t go worrying about it. It’s probably a good thing that it’s happening this way so let’s not cry over this thing. Let’s stay with the LSC and continue to get money elsewhere.” So it wasn’t seen as a big battle. Lois and I had words but there wasn’t anything beyond that.
VG: You talked a lot about personalities in the program. Are there particular ones that remain in your memory today, strong memories or feelings?
DG: Yes, there were a number of mountain top experiences for me with the staff there. I didn’t always get along with Gene Moriguchi, not everybody did, but his support of Jeff Ogada was important and he saw it in a style that was their culture of the older attorney and the younger attorney, the older attorney having been in an internment camp and remembering those days and his continued love for Japanese culture. Jeff, coming to grips with that and going back to Japan to come to grips with that and then Jeff eventually getting involved with the homeless issue and eventually getting on 60 Minutes which I saw in Samoa, many, many months after it was viewed here. The joy of some of that was important for me. Mateo Munoz originally in Chico and Sacramento, Frank Ochoa, Romero, the Latino staff members and coming to grips—I remember one time going through Maslow’s theory of the triangle and the movement of people, the hierarchy of needs and having Frank come back saying, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t quite fit my culture. There is something culturally wrong here. This is not one of those things that we retain.” Those lessons which to the degree I have learned them have made me feel better about our diversities and the respect for maintaining those diverse cultures in our America have been beautiful moments for me. Working with Roberta and Willy and Dotty when she was there with Willy, I don’t remember everybody’s last names and I hate leaving folks out, working with the Chico office and Becker up there—I know she helped organize the union but I have fond memories of many times up at the Chico office, even some moments I’d see a light bulb go on in Wilson Kerl’s head and saying, “Oh, ok, yeah.” Of just seeing that kind of magical moment in a person because Bush and Tamara were two-teaming him on something or other and Dianne Morrison who had been the managing attorney over by McGeorge. Dianne, who I stole from CRLA down in Stockton to be the managing attorney there and June Black who had been with Reggie and replaced Dianne there as managing attorney and who, being an African-American, had to take the pains of us closing down that office at McGeorge and Oakpark but who did it with a full understanding and who helped smooth that community’s negative responses to that happening. Those kinds of moments of just some magical discussions of clients being served well, of strong landlord-tenant activities going on, of experimenting with videotape of getting the word out of how a tenant could defend himself or herself in court, of using some media, the case kinds of meetings about whether we were going to appeal things. I don’t remember all the cases or what they were about but I just remember that they were discussions on welfare issues, food stamp issues, housing issues and I guess if I were to look back on it now, the areas I wish we had gotten much more involved in then would have been much more into the community development things, of getting involved more with community groups and trying to keep them going. I think when I look at legal services generally I think one of the things we are missing is the direct work with client groups and while we cannot organize and I understand those words and I know the word coalition is a bad word, I sometimes fear that we have gotten office-bound over the years and I wish, looking back, that we had spent more time on the streets with people than we were doing. I still think it was good things we were doing and needed to be where we needed to be but I just wish that there was an extra hour or two per person per week that we could have put in to be on the streets.
VG: Do you think the closing of neighborhood offices creates a real impediment to that walking the streets and contact with local communities?
DG: Yes and we didn’t spend the creative time to try to address it another way. You had asked me earlier about goals, one of the goals we set was no less than three attorneys per office and doing that I think set up a good flow in some areas in terms of quality control and a bad flow in terms of client contact on some other kinds of issues. But I’m in a program now and I’m not saying it’s me by any means, its more about Clyde and the history of that program that has enormous numbers of organizations that it represents and has been doing that for all of its life and I’m not quite sure why that’s true for there but I know that in Lexington when I was there for three years, client groups were nowhere.
VG: Sometimes in Sacramento I still worry about whether we are close enough to the community and I have fantasized about acquiring enough funds or finding a way to open a few neighborhood offices, one, initially, to see if it works, Oak Park was always the one I hope to open, and I always wondered basically if there is almost an inability—the barriers that are created by the removal from the community and the centralization of an office creates such enormous barriers that serious contact with the community is almost impossible. I don’t want to admit that it’s true but it’s a worry of mine and I’m not sure Ibelieve it’s true. We have to continue to struggle for ways of overcoming that.
VG: Do you have any particular strong, fond memories, one or two things that come back to you every once and a while as you get older and reflect on your history with the Legal Services of Northern California?
DG: I have many. I’ve gone over a few of them. I remember talking to Roberta and saying, “I think it’s about time for me to mosey along” and her saying, “Wait a minute. You’ve worked very hard to get this program to where it is. Why don’t you settle back for a little while and enjoy it.” That’s not where I was.
VG: Why did you leave?
DG: Carolyn Burton who then was my wife and worked for Legal Services of Northern California.
VG: Yellow office.
DG: Yellow office. We had been talking for about a year for an international experience and really had talked about Micronesia as a place to go and Caroline (yn?) spotted—and again it may very well have been Brian—but somebody spotted an ad in the Wall Street Journal for an assistant attorney general in American Somoa and we had said, “Whoever has got the first one, we are going to go.” So she pursued it, Caroline did, and she had to pursue it hard because they didn’t want to hire a woman and I was not interested in working. I wanted to take some time off and sort of raise our youngest child, Kate, so I wasn’t going to work. She persisted and persisted and had interviews and eventually got the job so we took off. I took a sabbatical year—a wonderful program, the sabbatical program—and I figured that we’d be gone a year and we really did like it a lot and by that time I had gotten a job there also so at that point, the choice was, do we come back or do we not come back. We said, “No.” So we stayed. She lasted out that year and then we broke up and came back and eventually worked for you and I stayed on for another contract, started looking, was offered a job in Richmond, California, but the day before I had taken the job in Lexington. I thought that some of the stuff I wanted to accomplish in Sacramento had been done. I also thought it was time to take a rest. I really thought I was tired and when I did, I was honest I wanted a year off. There was a chunk of me that was saying, “I’m not sure I’m going to be back but I’m not sure I won’t be either.” The longer we stayed in Samoa the clearer it was that I was not going to be back in my mind. At some point I wrote to Nate saying, “I’m not coming back. I hereby resign. Sorry I’m breaking my word.” I made a good faith promise that I would return and I felt badly for Roberta but, you know, this is her second time doing it now for you so she’s an old hat at this.
VG: Leaving the program, going to American Samoa for a couple of years, coming back to legal services in a totally different environment in Kentucky, now being in Ohio as the project director, do you have any perspectives on legal services in general? Is there a difference in who we were as a community in the ‘70s when you first got involved and when you came to our program in the mid-‘70s than what you see today? Are there lessons that you can share with us or ideas, perspectives that you may think may be helpful?
DG: Certainly the graying of legal services is obvious. There are many of us who have been around for a while and we’ve grayed. The talk, and I’m not sure that it’s unhealthy and I’m not sure it’shealthy, I’m still too close to the forest I guess, the talk of professionalism and career-development in legal services that developed around the mid-1970s and the desire to have people think of legal services as a career, I think has been good on a lot of levels in terms of quality, in terms of predictability of response, in terms of folks knowing each other in a national program and I think that has been developed very well. I think there is a lot of sharing nationally on issues and folks can borrow and beg and don’t have to steal ideas, andthere is a lot of cross-fertilization of ideas. I think, however, that we may be the products of our time, that some of that gung-ho business of the original legal services in the early 70s before the corporation where lawyers were much crazier than we are now, that folks were not thinking of getting a pension plan in, not thinking of career, but belting here and belting there and maybe going into private practice later, that some of the dynamism has been lost. I still think there is that healthy kind of atmosphere in legal services but the good always seem to carry some sort of bad or what you do on the positive side carries because you’re not doing some other things therefore there is a negative side to it and I think that the ache in the belly, while it’s still there in a lot of folks that I know, I’m not sure its there to the same extent that it was 10-15 years ago and some of it, I think, may have been the product of our time, the product of the battle of survival with a hateful legal services corporation, has tired people or maybe because we have just gotten older and our views of life have become somewhat more conservative and I think, generally, people become more conservative the older they get unless they joined the Grey Panthers or something but overall I think there is much more of a survival attitude about legal services than there is an ache in the belly and I miss some of that. When I hear Brian and a few other folks who have still got it and are still mad people, women and men, I cheer because I think the craziness of us has been lost to some degree and I’m sorry for that and maybe that’s what Gary Simpson and others are doing right because they’re doing it with the law schools to try and bring a new breed to us. It’s probably a time for Griesman to move aside and some other people come in and bring that dam ache back in and saying, “We’re just not putting up with this crap any more. We’re just not.”
VG: Let me tell you a list of people that are still in our program today that you brought to this program for the most part or found and ran the program and formed a variety of environments that they wished to continue to work in that are still there and they may be a little older and they may not have that pounding on the table but they are as effective as they ever were: Mike Bush, Anne Gales, Allen Lieberman, Roberta Randstrom, of course, one of the cores if not the core of the program, Carol Grossman, Willy Hunter, June Black, Andy Fall, Janet Himmel, Ryan of course we talked about, Lucy Q in Chico, Darren Anderson, and I probably missed one or two. That’s a healthy, healthy core of people who have remained with that program for 20 years.
DG: They’re good folks.
VG: They’re the best.
DG: Sacramento has got a really good history and I wish every legal services program had that one and I’m really grateful they allowed me to share in it.
VG: Well, thank you very much. I think they are grateful that you allowed them to share time with you.