Melville Miller oral history, 1990

Focuses on his career in legal services in New Jersey, including as incorporator and president of Legal Services of NJ.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Melville "De" Miller
Interviewer: Brown, Stephen
Date of interview: Nov 14, 1990
Where relates to: New Jersey
Topics: Civil legal aid: General
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Georgetown Law Library link (possible video): http://hdl.handle.net/10822/711916
Length: 1:43:27

Full text of transcript

Download PDF: Transcript

Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with: Melville D. Miller
Conducted by: Michael Pritchard
Interview date: November 14, 1990

De Miller: The reason I took the small firm job in private practice initially was that I had the belief that I would be able to combine private practice and trial litigation with a lot of flexibility, because it was a small firm and not a large Wall Street firm, to do the kinds of things I wanted to do, and get involved with community groups and advocate on behalf of, among other things, zoning changes to break down barriers to low income housing and some other things from the private perspective. But it became clear within the first couple of weeks really that the other demands of that job and the expectations of the partners, even in a small firm, were such that I really didn’t have the flexibility that I’d hoped for. And it was at that point that I decided I had to find another avenue for my goals.

Michael Pritchard: When you were in law school did you do any law school clinic work?

De Miller: There was an organization called CLAO which was a (??) legal assistance office run at that point by a guy named John Ferren who subsequently re-entered and intersected with Legal Services and then became a judge in the District of Columbia. And I was involved with them. I didn’t have any involvement with the so-called Harvard Legal Aid Bureau at that point, but I had involvement with CLAO.

Michael Pritchard: So you took this first job in Legal Services as the director of the program?

De Miller: My title in the state office of Legal Services was general counsel, and I was responsible for all of the impact litigation, for supervising 4 other attorneys, my experience for that was based on the heavy years, two years, of litigation that I had in private practice. I was there for a year and then took the director job at Middlesex County Legal Services.

Michael Pritchard: And what kind of a program was Middlesex Legal Services when you went there?

De Miller: Had about ten attorneys, was a very, very high-volume program. They had intake days 2 days a week, and all attorneys were expected to see clients every intake day, and they were expected to see sixteen clients each intake day.

Michael Pritchard: What was your vision of the mission of that program when you took over?

De Miller: Well, one was to cut in half the level of intake off the bat so that people could do something other than process with short advice and settlement large volumes of cases and try to begin to get some perspective on practices of the welfare agency, practices of some of the landlords and some of the merchants, particularly furniture rip-off artists in the area, and after getting the perspective, be in a position to do some affirmative litigation about those practices. So I had a vision that we would break the huge volume individual case load emphasis, which really didn’t allow the attorneys who I found there to breathe, come up for air, and try to balance that a little better so that we had both the continued good volume but some substantial major impact litigation as well, and very early we got involved in major zoning case in Middlesex County, I brought a number of zoning cases and some other work, prison work, with me from my work at the state office, and so we had a plate of impact litigation pretty quickly after I got in the program.

Michael Pritchard: Some of us aren’t familiar with Middlesex. Are there any major urban areas in that area?

De Miller: Two decent-sized cities for New Jersey, New Brunswick, which is the county seat, and Perth Amboy, which is a historical city that goes all the way back to the 1600s in terms of its original founding, a port right on the bay, Raritan Bay.

Michael Pritchard: Well I’ve had time with your belief that law reform was an important component of the Legal Services Program. Did you believe that Legal Services and an effective (??) Legal Services Program could play a role in ending poverty for your clients?

De Miller: I think a lot of us who were in Legal Services at that time used that rhetoric and hoped that it could have a broad effect and were intoxicated by notions of community empowerment and community action and probably unrealistically intoxicated as well with the notion as well of how lasting the effect would be of major judicial cases setting new legal precedent and new legal rules of – I think we’ve all come in some sense to an awareness of the fact that – with humility and with age comes some greater wisdom – that our best aspirations are to join and link up hands with a lot of other advocates, most of whom happily are not lawyers, who are working together to end suffering and to struggle for a greater degree of justice and move toward reducing poverty. Their poverty has so many causes and there are so many factors, and so much of those factors now seem to turn on governmental policy that the broader goal, the notion of eliminating poverty through our own actions, I think is just presumptuous as well as unrealistic. But on the other hand I think the fact is that, what I usually tell people is, without Legal Services and its efforts and change-oriented efforts in the best programs around the country through the ‘60s and the ‘70s and the ‘80s, poor people would be immeasurably worse off without legal protections, without rules, without an expansion of some of the substantive benefits that have come their way because of the work of Legal Services and other advocates, so it’s plain that we made a major difference. And you can’t measure the effect of Legal Services by the statistical numbers of poor, because it was the other governmental policies, especially in the very early part of the ‘80s, cutbacks and programs, which forced the poverty numbers up, forced people to lose their homes, and created a situation in this country that we’re still trying to recover from.

Michael Pritchard: Well I’ll get more into the ‘80s a little later. What was it like in those early days practicing poverty law in the Middlesex program for you and your staff with these ideas of bringing about reform and bringing as many test litigation cases as you could?

De Miller: Well, Middlesex was maybe in some ways not characteristic of major legal services programs around the country that had major urban areas, in that it’s largely blue collar, largely decentralized, largely suburban, small not very wealthy families in small houses. But it was a decentralized situation so that we did not have in fact by ’73 any organized county-wide or even nearly county-wide community groups. Welfare rights in Middlesex County had flared briefly in ’70 and ’71 and died. There were tenant groups but even the tenant groups, because of the nature of Middlesex County having small landlords and very decentralized pattern, tended to not link up with each other. We found one organization called the Greater New Brunswick Tenants Organization we were able to work with that sought to represent a lot of tenants in the city and link up a lot of different neighborhoods and blocks, and through work with them and work with a couple of state-wide leaders we had Middlesex become involved with New Jersey Tenants Organization which was a growing and dynamic organization, and that was the real entity that pushed and succeeded in achieving a whole lot of statutory gains in the tenancy area in the early ‘70s that kind of made Jersey the first and foremost in tenant protection for a long period of time.

Michael Pritchard: How was your staff dealt with by the courts as they were appearing and taking more and more aggressive postures with respect to reform litigation?

De Miller: Well, certainly the experience of all of us I think around the country was, when Legal Services as young upstarts first went in and started appearing before judges in tenancy or family court, and took aggressive postures, a large number of the judges resented it. We made in some ways their lives more complicated, in some sense, because we made proceedings longer, we raised new theories and claims that they hadn’t had to deal with before. Tenancy court in particular was very much a bit of a club where the landlords went in and had their way and got their evictions and things closed down pretty much by 10:15 or 10:30 in the morning. We changed that. We instituted process, due process, rule of law, expanded substantive rights, and made judges uncomfortable. But more broadly, and looking at it over a number of years, the judicial reaction was very much a function of the personality and political philosophy of the individual judges as well, so that when we got a judge who was relatively enlightened or progressive, then we had a receptive audience almost from the beginning. All we needed to do was re-educate the judges to basic tenancy law and where the doctrine was.

Michael Pritchard: How were your lawyers received by the local legal community in those days?

De Miller: Initially the fear in Middlesex, as in many parts of New Jersey, as in many parts of the country, was that Legal Services would take business away from the private bar. And it was on that basis that many private lawyers resisted Legal Services, less so of lawyers in large firms, very often so of lawyers in solo practice or in firms of say five or six or seven people. It was only after the period of a couple of years of being there and succeeding and winning some appeals, making it clear to the bar that we were a force that was going to continue to be there and had become an institution that we got greater acceptance. But even in the ‘70s in New Jersey there was very substantial distrust on the part of a lot of legal services lawyers, of private lawyers and their motivation, and there was a sense that we were doing the right and the good work, and the private lawyers were out there in the mercantile world.

[unintelligible]

De Miller: It probably did, I wouldn’t really presume to speak for precisely how the private lawyers saw us, they might have also seen us as rookie upstarts and a lot of other derogatory things. But it led to a kind of distance-keeping behavior by the Legal Services people. And it wasn’t I think until the later part of the ‘70s that we really began to see the need to have a broader level of involvement in the bar and a broader base of support in the bar in the state.

Michael Pritchard: In those early years were you a member of the local bar or the state bar, and were your attorneys likewise members of the local bar or the state bar?

De Miller: As a director I was, both of the local bar and the state bar. I always left it optional with my attorneys and generally my attorneys chose not to be members of either one, because I think of that suspicion and discomfort.

Michael Pritchard: Were you practicing law at that time? Did you specialize in any substantive areas or optional (??) areas of the law?

De Miller: I practiced law. I did really patchwork intake, I pinch hit for people who were away or on vacation rather than having a regular intake slot for myself. And my areas of specialization, if that’s the word, were entitlement law and education work because nobody else in the program did education work, and then the zoning and housing and land-use issues.

De Miller: Looking back, how do you feel you were equipped to take over the program with respect to your skills at management and with your skills at supervising and running an organization?

De Miller: On the job training. I think that in terms of the supervision of legal work, probably, I’d been fortunate enough to compress into my couple of years of summer clerkships and then my couple of years of practice, and then my year at the state office, an enormous amount of litigation, both at a trial level and at a major case level with full responsibility for a couple of major cases in private practice. And then in terms of the major impact kind of law reform case level, I argued in my year at the state office seven or eight cases I guess before the New Jersey state supreme court, and we prevailed on every one of the cases. So I had a nice batting average going in. So in terms of supervision of legal work I think I was (??) well-prepared, as well as probably most people going into directors positions of Legal Services at that time. But in terms of management, other than the supervision of the legal work of the attorneys in the state office, the most mgmt I’d had was balancing my checkbook probably, as many of us.

Michael Pritchard: In those days you were typical then of the two or three year experienced attorney becoming director of a program, with no management experience whatsoever?

De Miller: Pretty much.

Michael Pritchard: And was that pattern in the rest of New Jersey in those days?

De Miller: Yeah, I think that’s true. There were two kinds of people, I guess, or two types of background of people who became directors. One was a person who’d been in private practice for a substantial period of time, five, ten , fifteen years, who then was called on to take over a program, and they typically had very little management experience but a lot of life experience and a degree of maturity, and some boards of trustees were very much more comfortable with that sort of person. Middlesex board was looking for somebody who’d been a litigator and had a specific law reform focus. That was what they wanted at that particular point in time. So I fit that bill. The program was pretty well managed. It had a tight budget, in particular management was a skill of the director who I took over for, and it wasn’t the crying priority. It’s much like school district which over a period of time has different kinds of needs, one period it may need curriculum buildup, another time it might need discipline buildup, a third time it might need focus on morale and a sense of mission in the district. I think Legal Services programs go through the same kinds of cycles and pendulum swings.

Michael Pritchard: What is your reflection as to why your board, the board of the program at that point, was looking for a reform litigation type oriented director . . . change over from your previous experience.

De Miller: They had two pretty powerful community people who wanted more work done on things that were going on in their communities, one from New Brunswick and one from Perth Amboy. They had two very outspoken lawyers on the board, one of whom actually is still on the board of Middlesex County Legal Services, who just wanted us to do law reform work. They had a board chair, neither of those two lawyers but a third person, who was just a progressive, sort of traditional liberal politician who thought that was the direction the national program ought to be going and was perfectly comfortable with Middlesex getting in sync with that. So he deferred to the more outspoken two other leaders of the board.

Michael Pritchard: How long had the program been functioning before you were hired?

De Miller: November of ’66. So it was just under six years.

Michael Pritchard: Before leaving your experience at Middlesex, what would you recall as your fondest and maybe your worst memories of that job?

De Miller: Well, the worst memory was at the end of my first year, backing up the administrative experience, I was monitoring the budget very closely because I was very nervous, it was completion of my first year, first fiscal year, and I got to about week 50 and realized that in week 51 we were out of money. So I went to the staff and appealed to them in a pleasant and understated way asking them to each take a week in the woods. [laughter]

Michael Pritchard: This was probably a nice Christmas present for them, at Christmastime?

De Miller: [laughter] We were on a July 1 June 30 fiscal year, so it was actually a summer vacation, is the way we tried to bill it. But I learned a few things about accounting in that period, as I understood why the situation had come to pass.
And it was learning by throwing yourself into the scalding water, but I must say, it’s a mistake I never made again, or a set of mistakes I never made again.

Michael Pritchard: What’s your fondest, or your proudest memory, of the program, of that work by you and the program?

De Miller: I think that rather than a single case or a single victory, it was the building of a group of people by ’74 and ’75, staff attorneys who, in the classic kind of cliché I suppose, bore my stamp. They were people I had hired, and they reflected a lot of my views in terms of what Legal Services ought to be. And by ’75 we really had a tremendous group of people who were very dedicated, very effective, diverse. And it was just a lot of fun practicing together at that time. In the ’76, ’77 period, ’78, some of the people began to realize that, because of families and other things, their Legal Services salary wasn’t going to be able to continue to support them at a level at what they thought they needed, and so we lost a couple of those people, and then, as all of us who’ve stayed in Legal Services have experienced, you have these kind of waves, or periods where people that you’re particularly close to for whatever set of reasons leave the program, and it causes a major emotional adjustment for the survivors. We need survivor counseling to deal with those situations.

Michael Pritchard: During the early ‘70s we had massive attacks on Legal Services by the Nixon Agnew Administration. My recollection is that Vice President Agnew particularly took on the Jersey, Camden –

De Miller: Camden in particular.

Michael Pritchard: And what was the impact in Jersey even of these Agnew attacks on the Camden program?

De Miller: Well, it varied from program to program, director to director. For a large measure of the programs and directors it was intimidation. The major Agnew onslaught occurred during my time at the state office, I was involved in a lot of the strategy development and activity that Camden engaged in to respond to that. That actually pulled me into a whole set of legal issues and a major case down there, the so-called Mount Laurel zoning case, which I guess got me into the zoning work. I think for some of us though it was a major watershed in terms of creating a sense of anger and outrage that a program that had been just trying to effectively and aggressively represent poor people was being unjustly pilloried because of it. And it became a kind of emotional rallying point for me and I think for others, that gave us a new source of energy and determination, that if we had enemies like that we must be doing something quite right and quite significant. Probably overestimated our significance, but it was fun to do that at the time. And I guess gave us a new energy source that carried us through a lot of other battles that came up.

Michael Pritchard: I recall a story about that, which was to the effect that – this may all be rumor – that Vice President Agnew was so angry at the lawsuit that Camden brought to stop an urban renewal or a highway program, that he called the local program and spoke to the director and told the director he wanted him to come down to Washington. Is that true?

De Miller: I don’t know whether he personally called Dave. Dave Dugan was the director at the time, and then when he ceased being director of Camden was on their board for nearly 20 years. He was summoned to Washington, there was a meeting at the White House with OEO personnel and Dave and regional office personnel to discuss the matter. I’m not sure that the Vice President actually called him on the phone, but he was –

Michael Pritchard: Clearly it was for the purpose of intimidating the program?

De Miller: Yes, no question.

Michael Pritchard: Okay, let’s move on to sort of your next phase of your career, state support. How and when did you get involved with state support?

De Miller: Interestingly it probably was coincident with my awakening to the national Legal Services politics and seeing – in early ’73 we all went through a period of, under Howard Phillips, of the illegal – it’s still going on – the stoppage of checks, just refusing to send out checks, refusing to process grants. There was sort of the regulation a week program where we had a whole lot of new restrictions, attempts to restrict travel, that sort of thing, and that kind of opened my eyes and the eyes of a number of us to what was going on and kind of the evil intent at the national level in a way we really hadn’t perceived, even with the Agnew episode, quite so much before. And we focused – I focused in particular, a lot of energy on reauthorization and the struggles to get a Legal Services corporation, and was outraged at the 24 or so amendments that were tacked onto the House bill in May of ’73. I couldn’t understand why we had been forced to accept those, and why our supporters hadn’t overcome those, and in fact why some in our community at least seemed to bow down to the need for compromise on a lot of those amendments. And that led me to more than a year of work on trying to do better on the Senate side and stave off the threat of veto and worsening, sliding downhill and worse amendments. And during that process, especially in the early ’73 period as I started to focus on that, it became clear that part of the way to have an effect on that was to be better organized at a state level. Jersey’s always had a tradition of close cooperation among the directors of its programs. It had a project directors association that was very tight starting all the way back in the late ‘60s. When I came into Legal Services I was certainly active in that. And in ’73 we decided that we needed to try to organize a statewide entity that would be able to coordinate information flow, targeted national advocacy where appropriate, and I think our distant vision, become involved in major state-level policy advocacy as well. And we actually had a commitment from the then-director of OEO Legal Services, a fellow named Tetzlaff, Ted Tetzlaff, to fund our new vehicle, which we incorporated in ’73, with a kind of pilot or seed grant to get us off the ground. And the day before he was to ink the grant he was fired, replaced, and we had therefore an empty shell for about a year until we figured out –

Michael Pritchard: A corporate shell.

De Miller: Corporate shell, until we figured out what to do about that.

Michael Pritchard: You mean that his termination stopped the grant process?

De Miller: That’s right. Stopped it cold, and it was irretrievable at that point. From then though I got very active in the regional and national work and in ’74 we broadened – I took over the head of the project directors association, the prior head, Jim Ventantonio (??) had left, I guess he left in ’73, and I took it over from him – and we broadened the membership, we made it the New Jersey Legal Services Association, and it had a project director and a staff rep and a client rep from the programs, to be more diverse in terms of a policy body. And through that vehicle we got the agreement of all the programs incredibly to kick in, contribute voluntarily, what we called dues to Legal Services of New Jersey, which was the languishing corporate shell, to start in a minimalist kind of way a newsletter with a non-lawyer staff person who would at least be an information clearing house. And I agreed to volunteer, while staying director of Middlesex, my time to run the shell, run the small staff, and that’s how we started with the staffed operation. And when the Legal Services Corporation actually came into being, the act was signed in ’74, corporation formed in mid-’75, first round of grants put out in early ’76, we were awarded a $90,000 permanent grant, $13,000 of one-time money, to start up, hired three staff attorneys, some support staff, and off we were to the races. And I still ran it and ran it really through the end of ’77 while doing the job of director of Middlesex. And finally faced the hard truth at the end of ’77 that I was doing neither Middlesex nor LSNJ sufficient justice trying to do both jobs, and I really needed to go one way or the other, and my heart was plainly with the broader statewide effort. And so I took over as head of LSNJ.

Michael Pritchard: Were you then first attorney director or head of LSNJ?

De Miller: Yes.

Michael Pritchard: After you took over with this new grant of the $90,000, what was your vision of the role of that state support staff?

De Miller: It actually was different than it is now. We had a couple of things that were hallmarks then. One is, we would take no case away from a local field program. We still pretty much hold to that credo. That is, we did not want to be the prototype of the arrogant law reform unit coming in and saying, this is a nice case, we’ll take this from you and you can go on doing your routine work.

Michael Pritchard: Was a fundamental piece of your vision that it would be a litigation support operation?

De Miller: Fundamental piece of the vision was that it would be a litigation operation including support but also including direct representation but on a co-counsel basis. Second piece was, I’d always been involved, even back at the state office, in starting and supporting task forces, groupings of the workers in particular substantive areas, meeting and sharing information on a regular basis. And so a second piece of the vision was that it was going to really have an effective task force operation. Third was to continue and expand the information articles in the LSNJ report, which was our monthly newsletter, which we had pretty firmly established at that point. Training was something we thought about and did a little bit of but basically in the early years very little of. And we wanted all of our attorneys not to be identified as trainers, or legislative lobbyists, or that sort of thing but to be available to do kind of jacks of all trades. And so they were not specializing by function. They had specialty areas by substantive areas, but not by kind of work. And that was all very deliberate. That’s the major way in which my vision changed by I guess the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It became clear for us to be effective we had to have functional specialists as well as substantive area specialists. We needed to have somebody really zero in on training, we needed to have specific responsibility for the newsletter, and so on.

Michael Pritchard: When you ticked off the list of functions you tangentially mentioned legislative advocates (??). Initially was it part of your vision that the center would be a major actor in legislative activity at the state level?

De Miller: I think we never thought we had at that time enough resources to be the onsite player that we would have had to have been to really have that kind of an effect. We provided testimony, we would work in specialized areas on specific bills, but we never thought that we could achieve a continuous legislative presence. Jersey has a full-time legislature.
Michael Pritchard: Even in the mid-‘70s?

De Miller: Even in the mid-’70s. Full time in the sense that they have expansive recesses, not unlike Congress, but they work in both years, it’s a two-year term, and except for vacations they’re there. They work two days a week, there are hearings on some of the other days a week, you really need a full-time presence to be that effective. And that combined with the fact that the New Jersey Department of Public Advocate, a rather unique institution in New Jersey, which is an aspect of state government focused on doing public interest work. Advocate had a legislative presence which in some ways reduced the need for Legal Services involvement because many of their issues overlapped with our issues. So we were always keenly aware of their presence, and the fact that they were occupying some of that terrain.

Michael Pritchard: After you got started with the 90,000 grant in that area, what was your staff size as you got the program started up and fully operating?

De Miller: Initially three attorneys, staff attorneys.

Michael Pritchard: Including yourself?

De Miller: No. Three attorneys. We had from the contributions which had already been got to a formula basis the coordinator for publications, Sue Perger (??), who’s still with us, and then we had another secretarial support staff position, funded partly by the contributions and partly by the residue of the LSC grant.

Michael Pritchard: What was your oversight or board structure as you started up the support center?

De Miller: We slid the grouping of the New Jersey Legal Services Association, the one director, one staff member, one client pattern over to the LSNJ board when LSNJ actually got its operating grant. And so that became our board, and that was our structure. And it remained our structure through the 1970s. So we were in some sense, even though we were captive of the Legal Services programs and community in that sense, more diverse in terms of the director and staff and client rep representation than most or many of the policy and governing boards of many of the state support programs at that time, a lot of which were dominated just by boards of directors of programs with no other representation. That was just part of the tradition, it was something I had insisted on when I took over the project directors association and made it a broader entity, and we made it part of the culture of New Jersey Legal Services. It’s just been an accepted and expected thing since then. Then in the late ‘70s I had the pleasure of convincing my board – I refer to it as firing my board, but I convinced my board that they should resign en masse and no longer be my board, and that even well before the McCullum (??) changes in the Legal Services funding and regulation, we decided we needed an independent board for our program, one that did not have that kind of total control by the Legal Services community. We found that it was in some ways incestuous and unhealthy and ultimately enervating I guess, something that made us weaker than we should have been, and so we went to a model of just putting our – with some care of course in how we effected the transition – lives in the hands of the state bar and gave the state bar the power to appoint a majority of our board. We retained a structure of one third client eligible people appointed by a variety of groups. And we had one representative from another legal organization and one at large representative who was either an attorney or a non-attorney appointed by the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, which is an umbrella organization for state labor groups. That structure is still with us, that is our board now, and it made all the difference. We kept the old Legal Services Association, that old LSNJ board, director, staff rep, client rep structure as the exact structure of an advisory policy group called the Legal Services of New Jersey Policy Council, and that to this day meets monthly, has an agenda of issues that cover the gamut of Legal Services life, makes policy recommendations to the LSNJ board, to other programs, to itself, to the world. So we have in some ways I think the best of both worlds.

Michael Pritchard: That’s impressive. What was the size of the original board?

De Miller: The original board? 42 members. Actual attendance on any given month, and we had monthly meetings, usually varied between 20 and 30 people.

Michael Pritchard: Was that 40 plus size board unwieldy?

De Miller: No, because the actual attendance was 20 to 30 people. There were only a couple of knock-down drag-out issues, usually over funding.

Michael Pritchard: How on earth did you convince that board to resign and fire itself?

De Miller: Perseverance. I just tried to get them to see that it made sense for all of the programs to have a stronger and broader basis of support. And they ultimately thought about it and accepted it.

Michael Pritchard: My guess is that your major opposition on that were the project directors?

De Miller: Even when it was initially proposed, they were split. So there were some that were supportive of it. Some of them were among the most skeptical to be sure. But basically it was just something that seemed to make sense and I think very quickly to the majority of them made sense. It wasn’t a kind of bloody battle. Despite our disagreements from time to time over allocation of funds in the state, there’s a kind of overriding trust, collegiality, sense of common mission, and sense that if I or some others recommended certain things, they were probably likely to be in the best interests of the Legal Services community. So it wasn’t really a contentious – there were some transitional issues, kind of the logistics, that took a couple of months to figure out and talk through and get everybody comfortable with, but the actual change was accepted fairly readily.

Michael Pritchard: What size is your board currently?

De Miller: Fifteen.

Michael Pritchard: So you’ve reduced size to a much more manageable level.

De Miller: Yep.

Michael Pritchard: Obviously LSNJ has grown and changed over the years. Could you describe it today? For example, what is its funding from LSC?

De Miller: LSC is actually a little less than it was in 1980. Probably a good bit less. It’s now at around $200,000.

Michael Pritchard: And your non-LSC?

De Miller: The total budget will probably by the end of this year be 1.3 million.

Michael Pritchard: So you’ve got roughly a million plus in non-LSC funds compared to 200 or so LSC funds. What is the current staff size?

De Miller: We have six attorneys. We have five other professional positions called coordinators that deal with various of our major functions, training, publications, computer operations, special events.

Michael Pritchard: Including yourself?

De Miller: My title is president and I’m one of the six attorneys. And then we have another six or seven people who are in various categories of support staff, some of whom, as is the case with all state support offices, really have functions and responsibilities which are outer-directed, that is, most people when they think of support staff think of people who do the typing and the filing and all the internal kind of work, but in the nature of state support offices, you have to maintain brief and pleading banks, you have to maintain rosters of program staff and a lot of lists and so on and our support staff is responsible and directly involved in a lot of that outer-directed activity. We also run by New Jersey court rule two practice programs, a student practice program which allows appearances by second-year law students, people who have completed two years of law school, we do this review certification of all of those students, the authorizing to have them practice with Legal Services and other legal assistance entities, and we also under Supreme Court rule approve and run the out of state graduate practice program, so we do all of those certifications as well. And we also have a role as you know more recently with the advent of the IOLTA program, again specified by court rule, as the grantor and conduit for the majority of the IOLTA funds. 75% of the net IOLTA proceeds pass through Legal Services of New Jersey under the court rule, and we then grant those funds out to the 14 legal services programs on a formula that’s based on their shares of the poor in the state, each county’s share of the poor in the state. So that’s opened up a whole new dimension of activity for us.

Michael Pritchard: Well, it’s clear that your program is doing a lot more than many support centers, and I want to get back to that in a minute. Getting back to the staff, what would you guess to be the average experience level of your attorneys and other professionals?

De Miller: Well, the least experience up to – we just got a special grant to hire on a temporary basis, probably two-year basis, an attorney to monitor a public housing settlement that we achieved in Newark, but apart from that person that we’re about to hire, the most recently that any of my staff graduated from law school was 1982. And we have – my coordinator of publications has been with us since 1975, my coordinator of training has been in Legal Services since 1969 and with us since ’78. My administrative coordinator has been with us since ’78. I have hired two new coordinators this year, new positions so it’s not a longevity issue. Harris David, my most senior attorney, has been in Legal Services since 1967. A lot of experience.

Michael Pritchard: Lot of experience like – more comparable to maybe a lot of law firms in your area. Over time as your staff has grown from its initial four people, what additional activities has your program taken on? I know you’ve mentioned a couple of things that the state – first let’s talk in terms of litigation and support for other activities in support of local programs.

De Miller:Well, in the litigation area, more task forces, more I think responsiveness and in-depth response to requests for help from programs. More litigation, more amicus work. Legislatively, the reliance on the public advocate to do a lot of the work in New Jersey came to a bit of a halt in the later part of the ‘80s as the public advocate then in power decided that he did not want the office to be involved in a legislative way. While that chill has subsided a bit and warmed up a bit and they’re back in a little bit, we learned that we couldn’t count on them and we’re now in the process of setting up a system to be more involved legislatively and are doing much more of that this year. We’ve always been heavily involved in the ‘80s, less so in the ‘70s, so it’s a change in administrative policymaking and rulemaking activities, with very intense relationships with the welfare agency in New Jersey called the Division of Economic Assistance, with the family and child services agency called the Division of Youth and Family Services, with the Department of Community Affairs which is responsible for the housing programs, those in particular we have a very intense, longstanding involvement, with a lot of respect and trust. We’ve gotten heavily involved with Supreme Court committees and rulemaking activities, and again I think enjoy a very high credibility with the court.

Michael Pritchard: How did those contacts with the court develop, and who is responsible for that? Was it you personally, or were there other people on your staff involved?

De Miller: In terms of the Supreme Court, it’s been practically entirely my domain to have that kind of liaison. We’ve made it really a major focus since 1978 when we got a new chief justice, Robert Wilentz, who’s still with us.

Michael Pritchard: If I hear you correctly it sounds like the relationship of your programs to the state institutions is dramatically different than in the early days. Do I hear you suggesting that your program has almost become a – almost acts in some way in partnership with the state, whereas years ago I’m sure your state was almost always finding itself on the other side of state issues and squabbling with the state.

De Miller: Well, in the very first days I think it’s fair to say that most of the state agencies didn’t know Legal Services existed, didn’t want to know it existed, and then Legal Services knocked on the door figuratively with some lawsuits and managed to get some attention. And we came in with a style that I think was kind of aggressive in our early administrative rulemaking days. Partnership – probably whether that word is accurate depends on the particular issue. I think that we have a high degree of respect from the agencies that we deal with that most affect the lives of the poor. They take us seriously, they know we know what we’re talking about. They also think that we have a sense of reality in the policy perspective that’s trying to make things better for the poor. They also know we’ll sue them, not at the drop of a hat, but we’ll sue them. And they know that when we sue them, more often than not, we win. And we’ve had some dramatic wins in the ‘80s that have enhanced that. My own conviction is that most effective change that really affects the lives of poor people must come with the investment ultimately and cooperation and buy-in of state officials and employees. If they’re fighting you every step of the way and undermining decrees and orders, there’s going to be an awfully long monitoring phase and ultimately principles may not get translated into real benefits for poor people. So I always believe that if we can get state agencies to come to our point of view or reach a meeting of the minds where we close the differences and approach it from an interest-based analysis rather than a we-they kind of thing, that the poor benefit in the end. So in that sense partnership can be viewed as true, but there will be isuses, there’s one now with the Department of Human Services, the Division of Youth and Family Services, where their view of what they’re obligated to do under the Adoption Assistance Act in terms of reasonable efforts to keep families together is somewhat radically at odds with ours, and we’re continuing to talk with them, we talk with them literally every week about it, and strive to narrow the gap and participate in a regulatory process that we got them to start, they had never had a regulation on any of this stuff, on any policies that they follow, in any area, but on the other hand we are actively pursuing litigation on visitation and reasonable efforts at the same time.

Michael Pritchard: Other than IOLTA funds does your program receive any significant amounts of state funding?

De Miller: Yeah we get – through our efforts over the ‘80s New Jersey got up to a combination of state money and SSBG pass through money so that we get about $3.4 million through state contracts, and we get just about $450,000 of that for Legal Services of New Jersey.

Michael Pritchard: And so far you’ve been able to walk that tightrope being a recipient of state funds and yet not hesitant to sue them if necessary.

De Miller: Yup. It was probably at its hardest back in ’71 and ’72 when we first went for the what was then Title IV for aid money, before it became Title XX money, before it became called SSBG. And that was administered by the then State Department of Institutions and Agencies and it a commissioner which wanted to condition the funds –

Michael Pritchard: Maybe you should – what is SSBG?

De Miller: Social Services Block Grant. The then commissioner wanted to condition the funds so that we would not be able to sue his department if we got the funds. And we refused to accept the funds and we refused to accept the condition, and we struggled. Two years later we got the funds with no such condition. We’ve been able to walk a line. Obviously in a bad political situation our environment could change, but it’s so now institutionalized that it would be fairly shocking if there was a change, and I suspect state bar and judiciary and others would be very troubled by any such attempt to change, to restrict our ability to sue state government.

Michael Pritchard: And with respect to your state of lobbying activities, you don’t feel compromised in your ability to push push push push state government for money and think that you might risk or jeopardize any funding?

De Miller: Again, it’s not a problem now, it hasn’t been a problem, one can easily foresee circumstances with changes of governors and personnel where it could be a problem, but we push on ahead, as you said.

Michael Pritchard: What specifically is your legislative program now? What resources are you putting into your legislative activity?

De Miller: I don’t want to get into funds and percentages but the way we organize our work is by substantive areas of expertise, so rather than having an onsite lobbyist who is a lawyer or a non-lawyer who’s supposed to be a generalist and know all things about all subject areas, we try to match particular lawyers, either on our staff or in the field program, with pieces of legislation that are in their areas of expertise, that they know best what impact there is. So it’s a kind of a match up by substantive area. And what we’re willing to do and attempt to do and are expanding in terms of our level of involvement, is the usual multifaceted role that Legal Services programs in this area get engaged with, which is conceiving and having some proactive work, thinking about new initiatives that need to be taken, looking at pieces of legislation that others have introduced and assessing the effect they would have on the poor, and then doing something about that in a broad sense, it can range from testifying to working with the draft sponsor on language to working in markup settings with the committee as a whole on language, and then paying attention obviously if the piece of legislation ultimately gets to the floor. Jersey has a way of operating in the legislature that is largely by committee. There are certainly pieces of legislation that get changed and amended on the floor but by and large major amendments are done in committee and not through open floor fights and floor votes.

Michael Pritchard: [unintelligible] . . . the significant amount of IOLTA funding and state funding [unintelligible] legislative lobbying is facilitated despite the LSC restrictions?

De Miller: We are, with state money and IOLTA money, able to do representation in any form, including the legislature. So we don’t use any LSC money for any of that.

Michael Pritchard: As you look at your program now, and as you look back (??), what would you describe as the major strengths of LSNJ?

De Miller: Staff expertise. Credibility with Legal Services programs, their staff, directors, leadership boards. Credibility with the institutions of power in the state, judiciary, governor, state agencies, legislature, press, private bar, law schools. And a track record of accomplishment which enhances the credibility. Maturity, I guess, a sense I think of where we’re trying to go, careful analysis of the real goals here, the particular issue, and how to get there, as opposed to jumping into the breach with stuff that’s half thought through and concluding three years later that another tack might have been better. We always make mistakes, we always have unintended consequences, but I do think the experience of the staff and the kind of analytical way we try to approach their projects lead us to try to sort through and get rid of as many of the unintended consequences as possible. I think we’re tough. I think we have a lot of pride in what we do and if we think we’re right we won’t back down. And I’m looking forward to the ‘90s. I just think the problem, I guess the larger context of the ‘90s, is that in the country generally and in New Jersey, we face a period of unparalleled in some sense meanness. It’s been ok to bash poor people and people of color and disadvantaged generally in the ‘80s, to sneer at them, to turn your backs on them. It’s been ok to bash government and conclude that government shouldn’t be providing as much of the services, whatever they are, as it has historically, and to bash revenue-raising as a way of supporting government services, and now we’re in a deep recession, and we have a deficit pattern at the state level, and we have all of the well-known fiscal problems at the national level, so I think that on the one hand, all of the economic signs and in some ways environmental signs are discouraging and negative in terms of the climate in which we work and what the prospects whole (??) are for poor people. On the other hand, we also, I think a lot of us, sense that, although it won’t take the same form as 30 years ago, that we are on the dawn of a new era of consciousness on the part of a lot of the public of what is happening to poor people and a new era of sensitivity and determination in terms of a larger and larger number of people that that ought to change, that people shouldn’t be forced to live under bridges and in drainage gutters and other places, and that they shouldn’t be forced to live at levels of subsistence that are half of what they need for decent health and food and so on. So I think that while the times are negative, we are strong, and will be strong, and that there’s likely to be a swing of the cycle and swing of the pendulum and I think a turn back towards some gains in the middle and later part of this decade. I think we all hope for that, I actually believe that it’s going to happen.

Michael Pritchard: Of course it goes without saying that many folks in Jersey think one of the main strengths of the program is the director himself. Before leaving this subject, as you look at your program now, where do you see the challenges or the weaknesses, or what – that you would like to see your program be able to do better?

De Miller: Well, a major weakness probably is my determination to try to have us involved in all major issues and my continuing lack of realism in making hard decisions about where we need to set priorities and not start new battles. But I think we’re going to have to be realistic in that regard, and limit the number of things we undertake so that the ones we undertake we do well and can follow through. That’s a self-criticism and a personal criticism, and I think that permeates the program. I think we are going to have funding problems. I think IOLTA nationally will plateau, is plateauing. California it’s actually going to go down this year. The LSC national revenue, the conventional wisdom says, won’t go up much. It’s just incrementally going up. Our state money was cut by 200,000 last year. So we’re going to hit a revenue crunch and a resource crunch, and it’s going to make the priority decisions even harder. My conviction on two fronts is that as many describe the late ‘70s and ‘80s as a time of turning to state courts and the states for substantive increases in benefits and rights, and also for state funding of Legal Services, the ‘90s are going to have to be a time when we turn back to the federal government and realize that in the area of econ and welfare policy, states can’t do it alone, we can’t have a Massachusetts popping up with a housing subsidy program as they did a couple years ago without any other state in the country having a housing subsidy program and then thinking that it’s not going to have some negative effect in terms of migration patterns, it does have an effect, and people in neighboring states become aware of it, and that creates a further drain on the state that becomes the welfare magnet. And all the economists will tell you, conventional wisdom is, that’s bad economic policy, states can’t singlehandedly enact redistributional schemes that really make huge differences. Over time, things get messed up in the country, the federal government has to do that. So too with Legal Services, the ultimate deep pocket here, with a stroke of a pen Congress can raise easily by simply restricting the next shuttle launching or bomber or nuclear submarine or whatever, can raise another $50 million, or $75 million, or $100 million for Legal Services, and it’s only funding on that order of magnitude that’s really going to make a difference. If you think about the tremendous difference the infusion of IOLTA money has made in the country, I think the last figures I saw were that on an annual basis we were still around or just under $100 million in IOLTA money, and that money has plateaued. You think of the enormous difference that IOLTA money has made for Legal Services, and you think about a $100 million increase by the feds and how that difference could be duplicated and how $100 million is really within the realm of possibility. They have budget errors that are five times that. So we’re really going to have to I think with a new sense of determination turn back to the United States Congress in the ‘90s.

Michael Pritchard: Despite the fact that congress and the government is going through some of the worst fiscal deficit lows that it’s had in its history.

De Miller: Well, they’re going to have to make choices too, yes.

Michael Pritchard: What effect did the ’82 cuts have on your program in New Jersey?

De Miller: They were devastating. At that point we did not have a broad base of state funding, we only had a quarter of a million dollars in state funding. We had a lot of programs that had no county or local money. So it chopped our budget I guess from a gross of about 8.2 million down to 6.4, 5 million, and caused radical retrenchment, lots of tensions, confusion, upset, loss of services, dropped our caseload almost I guess by 10,000 cases.

Michael Pritchard: What effect did it have on LSNJ?

De Miller: State support programs received an increase, the first real boost in state support funding, since the initial grants, and were looking forward to the famous 4, 6, and 8 percent sequence of increased state support funding, and we took one step forward and two steps back in terms of the size of the cut, so we were way, way below where we were before we had gotten the big increase the year before. We lost – we actually did that by holding a position open that didn’t fill, and we avoided a layoff, but we had vastly reduced services for a while. What it also forced us to do was become much more involved in fundraising efforts at the state level, first with the state legislature, and over a couple of yrs we built up the 250,000 to $2 million, and then the efforts to get IOLTA money.

Michael Pritchard: In your years as director of LSNJ, what has been your most difficult challenge as director?

De Miller:I think managing to walk another fine line that we haven’t spoken of yet between maintaining good relationships and credibility with the field program and pressing on to garner a share of the newly available state funding for LSNJ, our program, consonant with my vision of the kinds of work that needed to go on on a state level in order for the overall Legal Services effort in New Jersey to be effective, because what you do there is you run head on in any given yr into the views of some director, views of staff people whose programs may have paid them absurdly low salaries, a policy decision of the director or the program more broadly, and the challenge was to succeed in having a reasonable share of the money or a significant share of the money go to LSNJ and at the same time not cause everybody to be so angry that they simply stopped having anything to do with us, thus defeating the purpose of LSNJ. And it’s been a challenge which has come and gone, it too is pendulum-like and cyclical. It tends obviously to intensify when we get a new funding source. There’s no easy answer, you just have to struggle with it, you have to understand, you have to try always to understand and hear the perspective of the other side, even though you’re convinced you have your perspective and your perspective is right you’ve still got to hear the perspective of the other side and adjust and compromise and negotiate and keep in mind the broader goal ultimately of needing to be on the same boat, going in the same direction, working on the same page for the same ends.

Michael Pritchard: This problem is not (??) something we’ve talked about with any specificity, are you alluding to the fact that your program gets a large amt. of IOLTA funds and then redistributes it to local programs and as such it puts you in an oversight relationship with them?

De Miller: That’s really an ancillary aspect of the relationships, I was alluding more just to the flat-out question of what our share would be, what share of the new revenue that became available would come to us for our operations versus what share would go to them. The ancillary question of our admin of the IOLTA program and evaluation of programs which I guess is largely unheard of in most places in the country, most state support centers don’t do evaluations of other field programs in the state. We actually had a tradition of – we started in ’85 – of evaluating field programs before we administered any grant funds. We called them program reviews. We sent in fairly large teams, we did reports, we got the directors to agree to this process as a – consensus – [unintelligible] [laughter].

Michael Pritchard: I did not know that your program played this monitoring role.

De Miller: We did it – I mean, there was a consensus built around that as something to do because of the concern of a lot of the programs about what was going on in some of the other programs and how those problems in programs could affect negatively all of us. So we were all in it together. And out of that we were able to forge a consensus that something needed to be done. The problems with it were that we tried to I think be too ambitious in the scope of what we did. We had no money to do it, and we did it on a volunteer basis. We sent in huge teams really, 8 and 10 and 12 people, into programs, and tried to do it in a very short period of time but with a lot of people. And the people that we sent in were not skilled evaluators, they were very skilled people, but there were learning on the job in terms of being evaluators. We did it with other people from New Jersey. There are a lot of things about that experience that we learned from. One is, large teams are too disruptive, you’re better with a smaller number of people there a longer period of time rather than the other way around. Two, it costs money and you’ve gotta pay the money to do it. Three, you’re really better off for the most part with an independent evaluator rather than New Jersey people because almost anything that anybody says is going to rub somebody the wrong way, and if it’s said by a colleague, somebody that they’re then going to see two weeks later at a housing task force meeting, it’s going to make that person less likely to want to work with the colleague in the near future if their nose is rubbed the wrong way, so we really need a kind of an independence. So we learned from it.

Michael Pritchard: With this experience behind you, however, you now find yourself with monitoring roles related to administering the IOLTA program?

De Miller: That’s right. Monitoring is a word that – we call them evaluations, back to the old word. They’re normative, they look at the quality of the work and the whole scope of the work of the program, compliance aspects of these visits are very minimal because the limitations and restrictions on the IOLTA funds and the state money are very minimal. What we’re looking at is, what kind of work do they do, where are the problems and strengths in the program, what can the program do about the problems, and try to unearth that and think about that, provide some perspective and analysis on that, some recommendations about how to go forward. We’re really in the early phase of that, we just started that this year we’ve evaluated three already, three more to come in the two weeks right after Thanksgiving, and the play-out of the final reports and where one goes after that is history that’s just now being written.

Michael Pritchard: And I presume you’re applying the lessons that you learned in your prior monitoring experiences.

De Miller: We’re trying.

Michael Pritchard: Describe a couple of what you think are the most significant program accomplishments of LSNJ.

De Miller: You really almost can take it function by function. In the publications and communications area we have three newsletters, one for the legal s community, the staff, which has become I think very good, very informative, very analytical, goes out monthly. Case developments, articles, calendars, just a wealth of information. A publication called Looking Out for your Legal Rights which goes out to the client community every month, publish about 12,000 copies at present, probably going to put out more than that, again a very now highly professional looking publication that I think is easy to read and something that agencies use and poor people use. And then For the Public Good, which is a publication which is really billed as a journal of pro bono and Legal Services activities in the state and is pitched more toward the private lawyer audience, cooperating private lawyer and pro bono audience. And then we have a whole raft of publications in substantive areas, housing, tenancy specifically, consumer rights, education, domestic violence, charity, health care, immigration, which are all community legal education materials. And we also wrote a book called You and the Law in New Jersey which is a 400 page volume covering really all manner of law as it would affect real folk, and it was published by Rutgers University Press, sold nearly 5000 copies. Rutgers University Press is as the name would imply not a major market press, so they were very delighted with that kind of sale and want us to do another edition. So I think in terms of publication, the written communication, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount, I’d probably stack us up against anybody in the country in that regard. We have not done what I would like to do in the area of video communication, tv spots and that sort of thing, and as much as money will permit that has got to be a priority for the next couple of years. Litigation, we’ve had a bunch of major victories, one of the most recent was forcing the state to come up with a new standard of need that really adequately assessed what it truly costs poor people to live, and declare it, come out, bring it out from under the covers.

Michael Pritchard: But not necessarily pay it.

De Miller: Not necessarily pay it. Everybody understands that the current state of New Jersey case law is that the legislature implicitly amends any statutory entitlements with its appropriations process, if it doesn’t put up the bucks the statutory entitlement is thus amended. The great uncrossed bridge and unanswered question, as I said to one of the justices when I was on my feet before them in another case fairly recently is, what happens when a constitutional entitlement clashes against a lack of appropriation. And we are certainly prepared, should nothing happen out of the legislature of significant moment, to consider the possibility that people living in rain gutters and under bridges is not what the Constitution really has in mind. The policy advocacy, a whole range of accomplishments that we were instrumental in the design and altering the design of the reach program to make it less punitive. The reach program is the welfare reform program New Jersey instituted a couple of years ago. Make it less punitive and more protective of clients. We work and will continue to work with the Human Services Department in terms of the restructuring of welfare grants entirely. I think we’re in the inner councils of theirs, as they’ve actually asked us to chair the process of thinking about that. So that’s I think an area of tremendous accomplishment. And so too with judicial rules, which I think are now done, promulgated, with great sensitivity toward the effect on poor people. Training, I think people outside New Jersey – we came from a position of virtually no training calendar in ’80 and ’81 and ’82, as Jerry Wine (??), a person who used to be with your program, will attest, as he came down one time to look at us, to what is described by many as the most ambitious training calendar, or one of the most ambitious, in the country, and actually we’re trying to rethink that a little bit and see whether we’re actually trying to do a little too much in terms of demands on programs. I think we have a good task force structure with a very high level of communication among programs. And we have developed in a lot of little ways a camaraderie among Legal Services people in this state that I think is important. We do a thing called an LSNJ conference every year, a state-wide conference. Just for all staff. In its current form it’s a one-day conference, we’ve had overnights and other more elaborate things, but it’s a one-day conference and everybody comes to the annual luncheon, and it’s an awards luncheon, and we recognize board members and staff people from every category of staff, and sort of gird ourselves for the coming year. I don’t know. I’m proud of a lot of what we do I guess.

Michael Pritchard: I think you should be. Having accomplished all these things as the manager of the program, the director of the program, how would you describe your management and leadership style?

De Miller: Intrusive. Overbearing. Too tending to get involved in too many different things, much to the dismay of many of my staff people. Something I struggle against all the time, but at least I’m conscious about it. Informal. Trying to keep people feeling, as we all do, positive and proud of their work, positive about and proud of their work, which is at odds with intrusive and overbearing, my fingers in every pie kind of problem. But we’ve always been small enough, starting out with five people, starting out with one person and then five people and then ranging up to the sort of 10 to 12 level where we were for many years, and now at the 17, 18, 19 level where we are now. We’ve always been small enough so that the office could be run informally, and people could have access to me at any time I was there. That’s been a mainstay. We’re right at the brink now of having to put in more procedures and have more kinds of layers and that sort of thing than has been the case before, and I’m struggling to deal with that as well.
Michael Pritchard: With so many people on your staff and with such experience, do you have a tendency to pretty much let your experienced people follow their own instincts and pretty much set their own work plans and work agendas?

De Miller: Candidly, probably not as much as I should or as much as they would like. The reason that I’m still in Legal Services is because my engines start and thrive on the substantive work, and I still have a fire in the belly in terms of – one of the ways I describe my motivation to people who ask is, I can walk down the street next to a housing project in any New Jersey city, and in the space of 5 minutes get angry enough that it’ll last me a couple of weeks in terms of a fairly high energy level.

Michael Pritchard: So you can continue putting in your 60 hour weeks.

De Miller: Yeah, it’s a little over 60 actually, it’s about 66 I think this year. But that’s with the – we hired two additional attorneys last year, one of whom had 16 years of experience and the other of whom had 8 years of experience, and I’ve already described Harris’s experience and the experience of some of the other people. I am now adjusting to the fact that with each year they’re getting more experienced and older and we’ve really had a significant increase actually in the experience level of our staff, and I’m trying to learn how my role and my interest in substantive issues needs to interact and interplay with their experience and obvious competence, and so that’s an area of needed personal growth on my part in the immediate future.

Michael Pritchard: Let me make a slight shift here. You’ve played a major role in the Legal Services community as an outspoken proponent of state support. Could you describe briefly your activities on committees, study groups et cetera relating to pushing nationally state support?

De Miller: Well, my memory isn’t good enough to remember all of the involvement. To limit it to the last 15 years. Alan Houseman had an effort where he tried to look at support and where it should be going and started that in ’77 I think when he was head of the research institute at the corporation and his process went through ’77 and ’78 and one of the thing it recommended spun out – it looked at national support and training, state support – was the need for a more detailed focus and in some ways standardization and analysis of functions and so on of state support, and that led to a second process that was pretty much headed up by Vic Geminiani with help from Hobson and some others, Leanna Gipson, [unintelligible] in the ’79 and ’80 period, and that was a process that led to a concept of state support as being a key component of the delivery system within a state of legal services to poor people, and tried to describe certain basic characteristics that all states should have, the ability to raise the max amt of funds, information dissemination systems that were effective, that reached clients and staff and other members of the Legal Services community, effective ways of being involved in policy advocacy, policy advocacy at the state level, legislative, administrative, judicial, and so on. There were as I said 6 or 7 of those functions. And we saw the role of state support as – recognizing the vast differences state to state in terms of program structure, and state support structure, and history, and possibility, and all that stuff – the role of state support as, given adequate funding, making sure that all the gaps were filled, that if local programs excelled in fundraising but didn’t do anything on policy advocacy that state support should close that gap, that it should ultimately be the last resort to ensure that all of those functions were being met in terms of the overall state delivery effort. I think that was a very significant effect. In conclusion, it also had some recommendations about percentages of funding that should go to state support, and as you well know, since you were involved in that process and the follow-up, the implementation was aborted by the national change in administrations and the subsequent change in the administration of the Legal Services corporation and the attempt indeed in ’82 and ’83 to specifically eliminate support. We had the experience in ’83 when they picked 11 lucky programs and sent out monitoring what we called tag teams to find bases of [unintelligible], to find reasons to defund those programs. And that of course was not successful as a strategy on their part either, but it gave us kind of the full – it was the formal declaration of the end of the state support planning process that Victor had started, and now we’re waiting for the next phase I guess.

Michael Pritchard: That work was very timely, because it’s been utilized to state support’s advantage since. Now you were president of PAG in the ‘70s for a while. Why did you devote so much energy to PAG?

De Miller: I actually devoted – I think I split my time in thirds in ’74 and ’75. I always kept very specific time records and a third of my time roughly was spent on my local program and a third on statewide stuff and a third on national stuff. I was very involved. I went to New Orleans – I got involved in national stuff, as I said earlier, in ’73 coming out of my dismay at the developments at the House of Representatives and the substantive legislation of the Legal Services Corporation Act, and that led me to attend PAG meetings and see what was going on. I went to the NLADA convention in New Orleans in ’74 where to my surprise from the floor I got nominated and elected as a vice-chair of PAG. Then a couple of months after New Orleans Greg Bellaire left his program, Georgia Legal Services Program, and was not employed by a legal services program for most of the following year, year and a half actually, and so HE as chair of PAG really was in no position and had no base to continue, and Alan Houseman was then in transition to or working toward the corporation, so I wound up as de facto chair of PAG, although still title of vice chair for the rest of ’75. We had a Seattle convention in ’75 of PAG where there was a bit of a coup d’etat and there was a rebellion against the white male domination of the officers. Every officer in PAG was white, every officer was male, and our very diverse legal services community justifiably was troubled by that kind of slate, and I was given responsibility of running a couple of huge meetings there where PAG’s membership collectively, as is the Legal Services style, with 250 people milling around, decided to reconstruct itself and set up new bylaws and elect new officers, and out of that process I was elected chair of PAG and re-elected I guess in ’76 and ’77. I spent 4 years as chair and the one year as de facto chair before I eased out of that, handed the gavel to Charlie Dorsey.

Michael Pritchard: And as head of PAG that was the connection, the springboard possibly for your extensive work as far as getting the LSC Act passed?

De Miller: The LSC Act was passed in ’74 and my involvement in the efforts to shape some of the substantive provisions on the Senate side really was before I was an officer of PAG. But as you know in ’77 we had a reauthorization, which was the last substantive reauthorization of the Legal Services Corporation to date, and that was a time when we actually made some steps forward. We had some reversal of some of the unfortunate amendments that were added in ’73 and ’74, and some substantive gains, and as head of PAG I was very much involved in that effort.

Michael Pritchard: Legal Services lost a true friend with the death of Dan Bradley. Do you have any special recollections of him?
De Miller: My first is actually my first national meeting in ’73, in Washington, I think June, right after the House vote and the passage in the House of the Legal Services Corporation Act, before it had gone to the Senate. And we gathered in Washington amid much personal anxiety and unhappiness with what had happened in the House, and it was a fascinating meeting to me, probably 30, 35 people in the room, and I remember Dan Bradley standing up then as a regional person, I think he was in transition from Atlanta to San Francisco at that point – I guess he was still in Atlanta – and being a voice of great calm, great reason, and determination to kind of find a way through the passion of the fomenters, like myself, who thought that evil had been done and we had not been as aggressive as we should have been, and the very natural sort of justification and in some ways defensiveness of the people who had been instrumental in our community in seeing that we got any bill at all, and Dan was sort of cutting a way through that and saying, you know, we’ve got to keep our eyes on the ball here, and, we’ve got to find a way to make this better but there are political realities and we’ve got to understand that there were political realities and that’s why decisions had to be made that were made the way they were. I just remember him having a calming, good –humored, insightful kind of role in that meeting, it was very important, and for, like you, those who knew Dan, very much characterized the way he conducted himself in his later leadership of the corporation.

Michael Pritchard: How would you assess his presidency of the LSC?

De Miller: It was a different time, it was on the eve of – we feared destruction, we knew for much of his time – he took over the presidency and it became clear that the federal government was even then in trouble financially, that he was going to preside over a no-gain, no-increase budget. As he looked over a post-expansion, meaning the expansion of legal services that took place in ’76, ’77, ’78, phase of Legal Services, where we were really looking more at well now after expansion what’s really going on in these programs and how effective is it, and he needed to and got the credibility of the community, believing in him and trusting him, that everything was being done to try to get more money, everything was being done to try to prepare for what looked like the bad time to come, so he was – I think Tom Ehrlich had one set of challenges as the first president, which was to shape it and mold it and set up rational conditions, and it’s hard to say that was easier or harder than Dan’s period, but it does strike me that Dan’s period had very little environmentally about it that was positive. It was post expansion, it was flat funding, it was imminent challenge to the entire structure and existence of the program. And it was yet in all of that a time of great exp on the part of Legal Services people who had had these good years and wanted the good years to continue and couldn’t understand why some of us had been denied, as older programs, increases, while newer programs got brought up to where we were, that the older programs felt it was their turn now, so Dan really had I think a very difficult time to be president.

Michael Pritchard: Do you think (??) one of his hallmarks was this ability to bring the Washington bureaucracy together with the program?

De Miller: I think he certainly went a long way. There was a lot of I guess secretiveness in some ways on the part of some parts of the first corporation that was broken down I think during Dan’s period. He had a style that was more informal and open and reaching out to programs. I think that was important and needed and probably any other style during that period of time would have been self-destructive because of the other environmental factors I mentioned.

Michael Pritchard: A couple of closing questions to you. What is your present assessment of the state of Legal Services and the state of state support?

De Miller: State support as we know from the past two days of discussions, there’s just an incredible range right now of funding and economic base from programs that have one or two professional people to programs that are very sizeable relatively speaking and are able to do a lot of things. I believe so strongly that these basic functions have to be carried out in every state for there to be an effective delivery system and it’s clear that a state support program which is funded with one or two or three professional positions simply can’t do all those functions and we must find a way to attend to that and change that. So we’re very strong and good in some states because of the funding base, and we’re very weak and struggling and hanging on by our fingernails in other states, and that’s got to be changed. Overall, it’s really trying to describe an elephant, and all any of us can see I think is sections of one leg, or the trunk, or an ear, or something like that. National support is in deep, deep retreat and trouble economically, as it’s really had not the alternative funding bases that many of the state support programs have had during the ‘80s. So it’s a vastly reduced operation from what it was, what we knew of as national support in the ‘70s in terms of the ability to impact on national policy. And that’s a loss for poor people, huge loss.

Michael Pritchard: With limited prospects of repair.

De Miller: In the next two years at least that seems to be true. Field programs, it’s very much a function of the environment within the state within which they are. If they’ve had a state which is progressive and supportive, and has had a lot of IOLTA money, then those field programs are probably feeling like in some senses they actually have more money right now than they had at the beginning of the ‘80s. In other states where IOLTA is not that kind of a factor, they haven’t been able to raise the state money, they don’t have alternative local sources, they feel tremendously frustrated. They’re still losing people, their salaries are awful, they’re on the run, and typically I must say those field programs feeling that way tend to match up disproportionately well with the state support programs that are also underfunded, so that we then have it seems to me the phenomenon of states that are less strongly positioned than other states, not just state support but whole state structures and delivery systems that are weakened. Nationally I think we’ve grown up as a community, I think we trust each other more, I think we delegate more, I think we allow the national people who do our bidding, our lobbying and that sort of thing, to make a lot more of the judgment calls than we allowed them in the ‘70s for example, I think that’s a sign of maturity and trust. I fear a little bit that the sense of collective national energy that we all need to draw off of, we generate it ourselves, we come together as a body corpus and feed off each others’ energy, that that sense of collective national energy is not as strong right now than it has been even at pts in the ‘80s. It’s just a sense I have, and I don’t know why that is. I know there are very promising efforts going on right now, the Uniting of Support Conference and that kind of effort to cooperate with substantive task forces and enhance sub training at the national level, sharing, computer use and that sort of thing, there are a lot of efforts which are positive, but I think they’re imminent, they’re things that are looking toward the place we’ll be a year or two in the future, so I’m hopeful, but I’m not happy with where we are now. I think right now we don’t have a high level of collective national energy. And we’ve had a wonderful triumph this year, that was this year’s triumph in terms of beating back very restrictive and harmful amendments in Congress. We’ll have a harder battle next year. I think there’s good resolve and a good apparatus in place to fight that battle. But we’re going to need the energy reserves. We need energy reserves to run cars, we need energy reserves to run Legal Services. I think they’re low right now.

Michael Pritchard: Despite your reservations about where we are now, Legal Services survived the onslaught of the Reagan Administration in the ‘80s. What do you think was the most instrumental in the survival of Legal Services during that onslaught.

De Miller: A few factors. The private bar, organized bar, ABA involvement at the national level. The involvement of a few key people at the national level. Very much – our community is small enough to be a function in part of the strength or weakness of the leaders that we have, and we’ve been blessed with strong leaders. Alan Houseman’s played a critical role in the ‘80s. Julie Clark’s played a critical role in the ‘80s. Clint Lyons has played an important role in terms of keeping aspects of the com m together in the ‘80s. Ultimately the greatest strength comes though I think from quality staff, dedicated Legal Services staff at the local level, doing good work for clients, which creates a solid base of work, a track record that we can go to in times of need and say, Look, Congressperson, Look, Governor, this is an important program. And we have testimony to it from the people we served. Brick by brick, solid programs, in a lot of parts of the country, all kind of building this solid foundation. And therefore getting a lot of support from community groups, and bar associations at the state and local level and their vicinages (??). And all of that creates – it always struck me that we were the Hydra, only we had many, many more heads than the Hydra. We were always underestimated by the opponents of Legal Services in the early ‘80s who thought with a stroke of a pen could have blown us away. The roots were too broad and too deep, and services were too important for people. And once it became clear what was being attempted in terms of eliminating Legal Services, there really was a kind of a groundswell, a hue and cry, that grew up, and that could not be denied. And I think very much from the same solid foundation was kindled the same kind of fire, a fire that could not be denied this year. And I have a lot of confidence that that will be even stronger. Bigger fire next year.

Michael Pritchard: Last question. Any regrets in making a career of Legal Services?

De Miller: No. There’s no place else I’d rather be.

Michael Pritchard: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

De Miller: Thank you.


END