Ellen Hines Smith oral history, 1991

Discusses starting as Reggie, founding Piedmont Legal Services, working as a judge, and her role as pioneering “lady lawyer”.

Oral history details

Storyteller: Ellen Hines Smith
Interviewer: Geminiani, Victor
Date of interview: Jul 28, 1991
Where relates to: South Carolina
Topics: Civil legal aid: General
Law type: Civil
Collection: NEJL
Length: 1:00:18

Full text of transcript

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Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with: Ellen Hines Smith
Conducted by: Victor Geminiani
Interview date: July 28, 1991

VICTOR GEMINIANI: — 28th of July, 1991 at Ellen’s wonderful lake house in Saluda, North Carolina. It’s raining in the background, so the rain may interfere at periods of time with our sound. The interviewer is Victor Geminiani. The subject of the interview will be Ms. Smith’s extensive involvement in the early days in Legal Services and the project directors’ meetings that were periodically held to bring project directors together. Good morning.


GEMINIANI: I want to thank you for making your time available for us.

SMITH: It is my pleasure to talk about something I really care about.

GEMINIANI: Can you tell me a little bit about your background before you became involved in Legal Services?

SMITH: Well, I spent my life being sort of a pioneer. And I was the only woman in my law school class. And then I was the first woman judge in South Carolina. And then I was the first woman ever elected to the Spartanburg City Council. And I’ve sort of done a few things like that. And —

GEMINIANI: Law school was University of South Carolina.


GEMINIANI: When did you graduate?

SMITH: Nineteen sixty — January 1964.

GEMINIANI: Born and bred in South Carolina?

SMITH: Yes, indeed. And I went to Agnes Scott in Atlanta, was a philosophy major. My father kept wondering what one does as a philosophy major. And in fact, there was no demand. So I went to New York the first summer after I graduated, worked at a place called the Church of All Nations as a social worker. Made $10 a week, saw every play on Broadway. It cost my daddy a lot of money for me to work in New York. But then I went to law school. I decided I’d go on Thursday, and I went on Monday. That’s how you did things back then. And my brother took me down, and the dean said — my brother said, “How many people are in my sister’s class?” He thought it was [inaudible], but the only woman in the first-year class was going to be me. And the dean said, “There are 96 people in your sister” — which –But I loved law school. It was just great. I had a love affair with the law. And I enjoyed going from an all-girls school to an all-male school. And I sort of was everybody’s mascot. And I learned something interesting there, that women do think differently from men. I don’t care what they say. Because I remember the first time we were studying for exams. And the guys, I heard them talking. We all studied together, and they said, “She’s just not going to make it. She can’t get these concepts down.”Of course I made an A, but — I got there, but I went a different route than men. And I learned we think differently and we approach things differently, but we get there to the same thing.

GEMINIANI: How many women were in your law school?

SMITH: There was one in the senior class and one in the junior class. And then when I graduated, there were six in the freshmen class, so it was sort of interesting. So I started out in Atlanta as the corporate counsel with Southern Bell. And then I went to private practice, did real estate trusts and taxes. When I was with Southern Bell, I did franchises in southern counties. Franchises and legislation. And then I was going to come back to South Carolina. I met and married my husband. And Dan Bradley and I had a mutual friend. And she taught at the Emory Law School, and so we got to be good friends through her. And he said, “Why don’t you apply for a Reggie?”And I said, “What is a Reggie?”

You have to remember that I grew up in the South. I had never been to an integrated school in my entire life. And I was about 29 years old now. And I had never been in a situation where black people talked to me as an equal. I know that sounds really weird, but that’s the way it was. I was taught to always talk to them. It was never — I just was a real — just a little Southern — little Southern lady. So I always like to be called a lady lawyer. That would just horrify many people.

But then I said, well, okay. And I filled out the papers, and I went to the — and they said, “Okay. Come on.”So I went to the University of Pennsylvania in 1969 as a Reggie. And we studied for a month up there. And we had people like Ed — what did you tell me —


SMITH: Ed Sparrow was our trainer. We had Tony Amsterdam. We had — I mean, it was red hot stuff, you know. And it was the best teaching that money could buy. And it was at Haverford College. And during the course of the — of the training and during one weekend, they said, “We’re going up to this farm where they’re going to have a whole lot of music.”And I said, “Where is that?”And they said, “It’s Woodstock.”And I said, “Tell me about it.”I mean, I was so conservative and nice little ladyish. And people like Jerry Backer were there, and Gerry Rivera, who is now Geraldo Rivera.

GEMINIANI: Geraldo Rivera is a Reggie or —

SMITH: He was Gerry — yeah. He was a Reggie with us. And Jesse from Mississippi. He was just —

GEMINIANI: Pennington?

SMITH: Yes. Oh, I love Jesse. But anyway, all those guys were there. A lot of people were there. And they said, “Well, we’re going to go to this place. Do you want to go?”And I missed my opportunity to be historic, and I didn’t go, but they went. So that was Woodstock right there. And I had a chance to do that. I have since seen the video, and I said the Lord was looking after me. I wouldn’t have made it there.


SMITH: But the Reggie experience was wonderful because I had never been in that situation. And here were black lawyers, and we got to know one another. And as a matter of fact, I was stationed in Greenville, South Carolina, and this is where this other — the black Reggie went. And he and I are still very, very close friends. And he’s a senator now in South Carolina. And he may run for governor. And he really is — he’s a class act, but when we started out in ’69, he wouldn’t ride in the front seat with me. He’d sit in the back and scrunch down when we’d go to the housing authority. And then we’d get there, and he would tear into them, but he said, “I’ve got enough problems, and I don’t need to be seen with any white woman.”I know you’re horrified, but we’re talking about Greenville, SC in 1969. Those were different times.

GEMINIANI: What was the purpose of bringing you all together as a class, a Reggie class, in 1969 in Haverford College? Did they talk at all about that, the trainers?

SMITH: Yeah. The purpose was to acquaint us with the issues, the major issues of property law at the time. And the purpose of the Reggie program at that time was to snatch up people who had done well in law school or had some sort of reputation and send them out to be apolitical, paid for by a different source, to do law reform. And that took the pressure off of — this is before the real ’60s stuff where — I mean before you really got going in the ’70s and stuff. But this was — this was for law reform. And we worked on the — I worked with a couple of other guys in the state and with the attorney general to pass the South Carolina Uniform Consumer Credit Code. And it was a wonderful wild experience. And the concept was really very, very good, but that was the last year that it was at University of Pennsylvania. It went to — it changed focus. And I’m not sure that that wasn’t a good idea for it to change focus, but for the time that it was in, it met the needs of that time.

GEMINIANI: Went to Howard University after University of Pennsylvania. I think the switch was in 1970.

SMITH: That’s right. And that was the first year, 1970, that it switched the emphasis. So I was sort of the tail end of that thing. And the people that were in that class, I think had made some contribution to Legal Services because — I mean, I think I have. At least — one of the things I said I would do was to get Legal Services in Spartanburg, and it took me a while, but I did it. And of course with a little help from my friends, but —

GEMINIANI: You were placed in Greenville initially as a Reggie?

SMITH: Mm-hmm.

GEMINIANI: Do you remember what it was like to practice as a Reggie lawyer, woman lawyer in Greenville, South Carolina in 1969?

SMITH: Oh, yes. Well, first of all, nobody knew Reggie. And it was too much trouble to explain it. So Legal Services — there were only three programs in the state. And there were about five lawyers and a couple of secretaries in Greenville at the time. And so it was — there weren’t very many women lawyers anyway. There weren’t any in Spartanburg. So I, even though I practiced in Greenville, was the only woman lawyer in Spartanburg. But when you went on a project, region meeting, everybody went. Secretaries, everybody went because then there’s be about ten people. And I remember we went to New Orleans one time. That stands out in my mind, and that was just wild. And the other programs went as a group. So it was a different kind of situation. I went to the new project directors in New Orleans. And that was a lot of fun. Shel [inaudible] was there. And I can’t remember who else was there. I have that list somewhere, but a lot of people that became really big in Legal Services were there getting their initial training with me. And —

GEMINIANI: How long did you stay with the Greenville program?

SMITH: I had signed up for the second year and — in August, and I went through December. And I was offered a judgeship, and I took it.

GEMINIANI: In what town?

SMITH: Spartanburg. First woman judge in Spartanburg County.

GEMINIANI: How did that come about?

SMITH: In South Carolina at the time, the legislative delegation was the one that elected the judges actually, practically speaking. Then they took it to the legislature, and then the rest of the legislature would endorse that. But I mean, why would somebody in Charleston County — they didn’t care what happened in Spartanburg County, so whatever Spartanburg delegation said to do, they went along with it. And a lot of the delegation members had been my classmates or in law school with me at the same time so they had some familiarity with me. In addition, this was a brand-new court that they were creating. It wasn’t a magistrate’s court. It was a court that they wanted to have a lawyer running it. So it was a three-judge lawyer court. And that was going to be replacing the magistrates. Well, at the time, nobody wanted the job. Unfortunately in those days, that’s how women got jobs sometimes, because nobody else wanted it, so you had to just take it. Well, I just took to it like a duck with water and had an opportunity to — the chief judge contracted hepatitis and was not sworn in for six months. So that left me in charge for six months. And I cleaned house, and it was one of the —

GEMINIANI: Cleaned house?

SMITH: Cleaned house. And I really did enjoy it. It was sort of like a people’s court. And I really did enjoy that and have a whole lot of stories, but I was very naive, and I thought all you had to do was to do justice and follow God and whatever that Micah says, you know, to do justice, love mercy and walk in the footsteps of God. But anyway, I didn’t know you had to work the crowd and work the politicians. And so I was not only the first woman judge, I was the first woman judge to lose the judgeship. And the only one actually. But then I —

GEMINIANI: How did that occur?

SMITH: Well, I got — I had some arguments with a senator, and he beat me by one vote. So I had been reappointed three times. And I got to be the chief judge myself. And –You know, it was a cause celebre. I didn’t much like being — but newspapers wrote against him and the — you know, I came up here. I really did, for six months. I just couldn’t stand it. I mean, the newspapers flew back and forth, the arguments. And people wrote in letters to the editor about she’s been done wrong and all this stuff. And I — it was humiliating enough, but then to — I mean, they were trying to help me, I guess, but the die was cast.

And so I did run for the probate judge that fall. And at the time — my family has been Republicans even before it became fashionable because they didn’t believe in a strong central government, not because of any prejudice against any of these other issues. It’s just my daddy didn’t think the government was the answer to everything. That was his theory. So he never voted in a Democratic primary, which meant he didn’t vote a whole lot in South Carolina, but — because we didn’t have very many people at that time. But I ran as a Republican. No woman had ever run as a Republican. And in that year, Mr. Carter ran. And of course I lost, but I got more votes than the President of the United States, Mr. Ford, and out of — there were more votes cast in my race than there were in the Presidential election. And I lost by 400 votes out of 50,000, which I don’t think is too bad for (a) a woman and (b) a Republican and (c) a landslide victory for the Democrats. So that was the countywide election.

And so I went to practice with my daddy because he was getting toward the end of his practice, but I just wanted the experience of practicing with him. Mostly we sat around and talked about old times and stories. And he was a wonderful storyteller so —

Then the legal — one of the guys said — let me back up and say in 1967, they started a Legal Aid Society.

GEMINIANI: This is in Spartanburg?

SMITH: In Spartanburg, with the United Way and the bar. And part of it, I hate to say, was to avoid federal money. They were afraid of federal money. Everybody was a Democrat in name, but they were really Southern Democrats, which is very conservative people. But some of the guys who were on the board of the Legal Aid Society had had the experience of Legal Services through the Columbia program. Columbia program at that time had a clinic. And many of the really good lawyers we have in South Carolina, career lawyers, were exposed to Legal Services through that clinic. I think that particular clinic was very, very good. And it wasn’t a law — it was a law school clinic, but it was conducted there at the program. So he thought that we could do better than what we were doing in Spartanburg. So he applied for and got a Title XX grant and —

GEMINIANI: What year is this, Ellen?

SMITH: We’re talking about 1976 now. So I applied for and they hired me for that. And they kept on the old lawyer too. So I had him with me. And another cedar(?) lawyer that I dug up. And my secretary, who went with me, and the other lawyer’s secretary, who she, Valerie, is still with me as a paralegal too. She’s wonderful. But off we set. And in the first year, we did 1300 cases. It’s a wonder we weren’t disbarred. Hope they don’t come after me after all of that. But what we did mostly were domestic cases. But we were able to identify many problems that as soon as I got some more staff, we were going to go after. I mean, a lot of Legal Service programs.

The Housing Authority was just horrendous. And nobody in my town had ever challenged what a charitable organization had to say. And if they said you weren’t entitled to [AFDC?], that was it. And who were you to be saying anything else? So it took a while. We made a lot of enemies. And of course, the bar was not amused.

GEMINIANI: Do you remember any resistance towards this founding member or this major —

SMITH: Yes. Sure.

GEMINIANI: — influence in 1976, who went after the Title XX funding? Do you remember any resistance to him going after the Title XX funding? Because clearly that would indicate —

SMITH: Not with the Title XX funding, but later on, when we had to go to the bar to amend our charter so that we could become a Legal Services program, we had a bar meeting, and they had to plead for the bar to let us go, to have our own board. And he led that fight. And it was a very difficult fight. And what we were saying was we have to have a board of directors as defined by the Legal Services Corporation, if we were going to receive that funding and make a difference in this community. So you must let us go. And they voted to let us go. But it was touch- and-go. And it was by the hair of our chinny chin chin. But the leaders of the fight were people who had been in this clinic program, and they knew what could be done for people. And I guess people who are lawyers, they are criticized a lot, but deep down, I think we’re all after justice, and we really do look — when we can, we try to take care of the underdog. And we really basically, I think, are wonderful people. I think lawyers are. So that was our beginning. And they hired me then. And then my old pal, Dan Bradley, was up and about. And he suggested that we apply to become a Legal Services program. And that’s when — but –Who was the regional director? Bucky —

GEMINIANI: Bucky Askew.

SMITH: Bucky was then the regional director. And Bucky and Clint came up to see me and [inaudible] the program and talk to our board. And our board at that time was made up of just all sorts of community people and art people — which was good, because he was able to convince them that they wanted to be a Legal Services program and so came up two or three times. And Bucky was so eloquent, talking. I mean, he’d talk to people that, you know, you just knew that they were so antagonistic. And after he finished talking to them, they were saying, “Well, now, you know, that doesn’t sound like a bad plan, you know.” He was just wonderful with them. So he said, I don’t have any — I don’t have the amount of money that you’re entitled to for these counties, but I do have $125,000. And that’s what we’ll start off giving you. Well, it look us years to get all that straightened out because it wasn’t —

Anyway, we became a Legal Services program in 1977. And we dropped off of the Title XX and the United Way at the end of 1977 because back then, it was so complicated. And we were doing everything manually. And you had to fill out these little forms, but for about every 10 minutes of legal work, you had to fill out six minutes’ worth of forms. And life was too short. And then they’d send the batches back. You remember the old-time computer stuff? And we had this stack of batches that big. And they’d say, “Well, when are you going to get around to straightening those out?”And I said, you know, “Probably when hell freezes over.” I mean, I don’t have time to fool with that. So in 1977, I hired the first Legal Services staff. And I hired somebody who had been in the Columbia program, and he was wonderful, Alan Holmes. And then I hired one other lawyer who had just — who had been out for six months. And then everybody else that I hired came to work on August the 1st. And your seniority during that time was what time you came to work on August the 1st, 1977. And as a matter of fact, one of the guys I hired then is the chairman of my board now. And guys that I fired are on my board and are my biggest supporters. And it’s been a real interesting experience. I’ve been there now since — I started ’77 — I mean ’76. However many years that has been. And I’ve seen a lot of different changes.

GEMINIANI: Your 15th anniversary in the program this year.

SMITH: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a lot of changes.

GEMINIANI: Did you notice any changes when OEO money or LSC money came in after that period of time?

SMITH: Oh, yeah.

GEMINIANI: Can you tell me what happened —

SMITH: Sure.

GEMINIANI: — in the program that was different than what had happened before?

SMITH: It was a different attitude. And we used to talk about the difference between Legal Aid and Legal Services. And Legal Aid was a traditional, eviction, divorce sort of a program. And Legal Services was a try to make life different for somebody, try to improve the quality of life by people through the law. And make changes. You had to make a lot of changes in there. And so we were familiar with some of the Supreme Court cases that had said the government as the government is still — the government as landlord is still the government, and you still have to be — due process, equal protection, all of those things. That was a revolutionary concept back then because, you know, that made them subject to the same laws as anybody else when they were running them. The idea of entitlement rather than charity came out. And so that was a different concept. It was looking into the mouth of the gift horse. It was seeing then that you had a right — if Congress had determined that people in this country should not be hungry, you had a right to food stamps. And if I didn’t like the person you were living with, I couldn’t deny you that. It was — it was a — [background noise]. That’s one of the dogs. It’s not somebody being beat. [laughter]The whole emphasis changed to the benefit of the clients, the client participation, the client voice. People had never heard of this sort of thing. One of the stumbling blocks when we joined Legal Services was that there are going to be clients on the board. What do they know?Well, it turns out that the clients who are on the board made the most significant difference because the lawyers, you know, you had to have 33 percent clients and the rest lawyers. And the lawyers would get [inaudible].When we expanded to York County and that area and set up another office, the lawyers on my board didn’t want to do that. They said, well, they’ll think we’re, you know, horning in. And the client — I’ll never forget it. She waited till they finished discussing and they were about ready to vote, “No, we’re not going to go over there because they’ll think we’re horning in.”And she said, “Well” — we had sent her to some Legal Services training. And she had learned about how to speak up. And she said, “The people in those counties would be better served by us because we already know how to do it.”And they didn’t have any way to say no. So that’s how we got to expand was because of a client. So made believers out of them about having clients on the board, and clients in fact did know what they need, and clients did in fact have some input that was valuable. And it made some believers out of a lot of people who would have never thought that. And of course, now having clients on the boards is — it’s just de rigueur. I mean, that’s what you do now. But back then, that was a new idea. And the thrust became different. And so we talked about service versus impact cases. We never bought that. We didn’t — never used that argument with us. We always talked about the fact that if it were a problem that could be best solved by class action, then that’s what we brought. And if it was a problem that could be best solved by legislative advocacy, that’s what we did. And if it was a problem that could be solved best for this client by calling on the telephone, we did that. So we never really did buy into that concept of service versus impact. We tried to analyze our cases based upon what we thought. The beauty of those times — and I know we can’t ever recapture it, but it was such a thrill to be able to practice law and know there were people all over the United States who cared about the same thing you did. And you could go to meetings and sit around and talk and learn something, and there were people that were as enthusiastic as you were and saying it was just wonderful. I get real emotional about it. And you could go to training. And sometimes, of course, we had to have these requirements. And what the Legal Services Corporation would do, would say, listen, you’re going to have to do something like — CSR comes to mind — okay. Oh, no. Private bar involvement, and I’m jumping way ahead of myself, but —


SMITH: But yeah. You say you’re going to have to involve the private bar. So you just didn’t do like they do now, where they send you a note and say, “You have to do private bar involvement by Wednesday.”And you call them up there and say, “What are you supposed to do?””Well, figure it out, and if we don’t like it, we’ll let you know.”Back then, my board chairman and I went to Kansas City. You had a training. You had notebooks. You had — it was — I mean, you told us how to do it. And we went back and we did it. And we sent — we’ve had the same private bar involvement program since 1982. It’s been successful. It was written up in the ABA magazine along with the Evergreen. That’s how you did stuff. And you flew us out there to do it.

GEMINIANI: When you say “you,” you mean the Legal Services Corporation?

SMITH: I’m talking about the Legal Services Corporation. And the regional offices did most of the monitoring. And they’d come up — you’d call them up and say, “I am really in some trouble up here because I can’t do such and such. I can’t figure out” — somebody would be up there. And the monitoring visits would — you’d say, “I’m having a lot of problems in the housing area.”And what was the guy out of Atlanta? He used to come up all the time and help us on our housing cases.

GEMINIANI: David Webster.

SMITH: David came, but earlier than David —

GEMINIANI: David Webster?

SMITH: David came, but earlier than David. Anyway, he was great. And what — you told — you told what your problems were, because you all were so sympathetic with it. And you’d say, “Yeah. And we’ve got somebody over here that’s had this problem. We’ll have them come and then help you with it.”So I think that that’s what was so wonderful about it, was that you were — everybody was sort of all in it together, and you had a mission that the country subscribed to, for the most part. I mean, we had our problems, but you had a mutual mission. And you had a funding source that believed that you were doing something good, and they were in it with you. That doesn’t mean to say that they didn’t jerk you up short if you were doing the wrong thing, but at least they — if you weren’t doing the right thing, they came down there and straightened you out. And that was so beneficial. I think it was so good, such a good use of the money.

GEMINIANI: That relationship changed a little bit after 1981?

SMITH: Well, contrast that. You know, we got all these letters about computers. And I had always said they’re going to come by with UPS and dump out something here and say go for it, which is exactly what happened with us. They dumped out a mountain. It sat in our office for months. And then they dumped out some more stuff. We didn’t have the cables. And we never did get any documentation. So we tried to hook it up. And I had somebody who knew something about computers, and he called up there. And the guy who was responsible for it had left. So we never had any training. We never had anything. It’s just ridiculous. Send it to us as money, when –But those were just really wonderful days because you felt like the courts were sympathetic. I mean, you could argue Constitutional cases before a court. And they thought that the Constitution applied to low- income people. They thought that low-income people were entitled to justice. And now, sometimes, you know — the pendulum swings back and forth. Hush, dog. Excuse me. Now, though, you have to change your forums. You don’t go to the Supreme Court anymore. You try to go to state court now, if you can believe that. We have had a really interesting time educating the courts here to new laws. And when things come at you, it takes courts a little bit longer to get up with the laws. And so we’ve done a lot of that. The last eight, nine, ten, however many years it’s been, have been very different and very difficult. And I’ve sort of been in a lie-low position. It’s been nice to be able to have a touch with people, but a lot different from the old days.

GEMINIANI: In the old days, as you say, 1976 and onwards, especially during the ’76 to ’81 period of time when the corporation was more supportive of field programs, there were a series of meetings that continue today. Project director meetings —

SMITH: Yeah.

GEMINIANI: — in which project directors from across the South would periodically get together three or four times a year to talk about issues of mutual concern, learn from each other. Can you remember those early project director meetings?

SMITH: Oh, sure I did. I loved them.

GEMINIANI: Could you describe what the feeling was like and who the characters were a little bit?

SMITH: Well, there were people. Denny Ray was there. Thorn(?) Craven(?) was there. Terry Roche(?) was there. The feeling there was one of support, was one of learning from somebody else. We were new. We were trying to get started. Terry Roche helped me so much. Denny Ray helped me. Denny Ray sent whatever I needed. I said, “I really — I don’t have a policy on such and such.” And two days later, I got a policy, a proposed policy, and I read it. And it really — there was a feeling of support and of this mission and of being in it together. And here were these people that you cherished. I mean, it builds up a camaraderie and a — anytime you go through an experience with somebody else, you get a feeling of friendship and a feeling of — really a bind, a binding feeling. But there weren’t very many of us at that point, so we got — we went to a lot of really nice places, and we had a lot of trainings and stuff. But one of the things that we started out there, the first few meetings, we’d go to bars and have a drink. But I realized — I don’t like to drink that much, first of all. And the second thing is that we’d all done all of that. And you can’t talk in a bar because it’s too loud. I’m an old poker player. I grew up playing poker, and I said, “Well, wouldn’t that be fun to sort of — let’s play a little poker.”So I had poker chips. So I took them the next time. And I said, “Anybody want to play poker?”Of course there were a lot of people who did. And that was the beginning of the southeastern project directors’ poker playing. And it’s still a tradition now. But it was more than just playing poker. And it’s just nickel, dime, quarter. You lose $10, and you’d buy that with two drinks. It’s just the fun, the camaraderie. I learned a whole lot about what was going on. I’d play with you and Clint. And we got Bucky to play one time, I think. And you get an opportunity to get to know people. Additionally, it became after a while, sort of the meeting place and sort of the thing to do. And even if you didn’t play poker, you could go up there and be kibitzing or watching or whatever and say, “Have you had supper yet?””No.””Well, let’s go together.”And people got together. And it was a meeting place that you could go; more so than the little receptions that we had, little cocktail party things, because you mostly talked to your friends there. But standing around, you could ask a stranger, “Have you had supper?””No.””We’ll go together.”Or you know, “You want to go swimming, and let’s do a water ballet thing?””Okay.”It was a way for people to get together. And I think it served a real purpose. And it continues to serve a purpose. I mean, you all [inaudible] continue that tradition, so —

GEMINIANI: Do you remember the early players in that — in the poker games?

SMITH: Oh, Hollingsworth was always a player.

GEMINIANI: From Little Rock, Arkansas.

SMITH: From Little Rock, Arkansas. And we had Marvin Campbell from Alabama. And I remember back in my youth, we — Marvin and Hollingsworth and I would play on after everybody had stopped. And we would play on and on and on and on and on. And Marvin used to lose all the time, and Hollingsworth would make up these games. And Marvin and I kept saying, “We’re going to beat you the next day.” And then we never did. But we’d stay up all night playing cards, but we never missed a meeting. If the meeting was at 8:00, we were there. And people would say, “What time did y’all go to bed?”And we said, “10 after 7.” You know, but I mean, we’d stretch out for 10 minutes or so, but we never let it interfere. We may not be 100 percent, but we were always there. Marvin Campbell. Let me see. Who were some of the other early people? We didn’t have any women players at first. And — well, there weren’t very many women in legal services, although in South Carolina, there was a point when we had all women directors. When [inaudible], we had all women directors. I thought that was very good. I loved it. It was a lot of fun. But let me see. Jerry Becker was a player, and Clint was a player early on. And he was just —

GEMINIANI: James Bradley.

SMITH: I don’t know if he ever played very much, but he was always there talking, and you know, he — his job was to work the crowd, and he was the best problem solver I ever met in my life. He could just talk you out of being angry about anything. And he was so good, and people needed to talk to him [inaudible]. And he made himself available, and he’d say, “I need to see you.” And you’d sit down and talk to him. And he’d help you with whatever problems you had. And then if he couldn’t help you, he knew who could, and he’d have them come to your program to help you. So those early people were such fun.

GEMINIANI: Do you — did the — as the project — numbers of projects expanded in the southeast through expansion dollars, did the feeling for the project directors’ meeting change at all?

SMITH: It became more valuable.

GEMINIANI: More people?

SMITH: And I guess that’s when we started going to the [inaudible] were there too. That made a big difference, I think. The most — we always had a core of people who’d been around a while. And it was always valuable to go to these meetings because they would be there. And they had a very good new project training, and it wasn’t at the regional meeting. It was a separate training event, new project directors. You got to know the really fine project directors [inaudible].The feeling since then — the ’80s changed — have changed everything. People, you know — when you have eight years or nine years of a hostile funding source, it wears you out. It really does. And a lot of the old people left. Now they’re back in, in different areas, but they left the southeastern region. And I think that hurt us. We’ve still got Bradley. And we’ve still got Ricky. And Ricky has played with us, and James Bradley has always been there. And John Rosenberg has been there.

GEMINIANI: Ashley Wilshire.

SMITH: And Ashley. We’ve had wonderful games with Ashley. And then Leanna after a while. She was in Tennessee. Leanna started playing with us in there. She’s a steady person in the games and a necessary product of the fun of the games. And it has changed too. The poker games remain the same. You’ve become a regular and — you became a regular after a while. And Clint and Leanna and James Bradley and whoever else wanted to play really. Don Hollingsworth again from Arkansas. And then whoever else wanted to play. Karen Meyers learned to play with us and played with us. And Karen Dennis has started playing with us. Esther, I understand, has started playing. Esther [inaudible].We started playing also at the NLADA meetings, and that gave us a national flavor. And we had — what was the name of the guy that was in Iowa? John — director John Barrett. He got to be a —

GEMINIANI: Oh, John Barrett.

SMITH: Yeah. A long time — I mean, we’re talking a long time ago. We played a lot at the NLADA meetings. That was also — that gave you the national flavor. You got to see people that were just famous for you and get to know them. People couldn’t believe that — that the Reggie program had had Ed Sparrow and Tony Amsterdam, people like that, but they did. And so when you got to see other people that you could put faces with your heroes, it was just wonderful. And poker games were a good way to do that. Gale(?) [inaudible]. We used to play with him all the time.

GEMINIANI: What was it like being a project director in 1976, ’77, maybe one of the few women project directors in the entire southeast?

SMITH: It was great. It was great. Because you all were up there. You were in there. And you had so many — your heroes around. You were one of my heroes. And Denny Ray was one of my heroes. And you know, there were a lot of your heroes still around and doing the things in the southeastern region. And you could — the sky was the limit. You could be as good as you could be. Nobody stopped you. You could do what you thought was the right thing to do. And we made such a significant difference in the lives of clients, I think. We made a lot of law. We used the law for the benefit, which is what I think the law should be used for anyway, for the benefit of the people and the quality of life. And James Bradley brought to my attention something. He said, “You can get better healthcare in another country. There are a lot of things you can do better in another country, but this is the only country in the world where the second most important thing to us is justice.”And it says, “To form a more perfect union, establish justice.” And you know, that’s pretty heavy stuff. And in this country, we believe that. And you —

GEMINIANI: Was it difficult being a woman project director back then?


GEMINIANI: There were so few men around — or so few women around. Surrounded by men.

SMITH: My experience was always professionally with men. And so I never sat aside and said I was a woman project director. I was just a project director that wore a skirt. I never — I never, ever identified very much with that. I never — I missed all of the feminism stuff because I finished law school in ’64, and I went to work practicing law. And so I missed — I never got to [inaudible]. I never did any of those things. And I never really — never burned any bras. I missed all of that. And I had to get along. I could not make any demands is what I’m trying to say. I had to work the crowd, and I had to hustle. And I don’t mean hustling the bad(?).But I mean also I came from a time when — long before the sexual revolution, which I’m sure was wonderful because it saved me from a lot of grief. But I had to get along. I had to figure out how to get along, even though — I could not — I didn’t have enough backup and support in the press or from anybody else that I could go make demands that I want; because I’m a woman, I have these rights. I had to — they said, “Well, she’s okay, even though she’s a woman.” And [inaudible] people would be horrified for anybody to say that, but I figured that I had to take advantage on behalf of my clients of being a Southern lady because that’s what I was. And I expected the opposing counsel to open the door for me and light my cigarette. And then I tried to beat his brains out, if I could. And then when we left, I expected him to hold the door. I know people think that is really awful, but that’s the way down here at that time I could do the best for my clients. And I could call them up, before pro bono.

And if I needed some help, I’d call up one of my classmates, and you know, they’d help me out. Now my classmates are on the Supreme Court. My protege — there’s a woman on the Supreme Court in South Carolina, and she’s an Agnes Scott graduate, and she’s one of my proteges. Some of my classmates are circuit judges. And you know, it’s very interesting to see all that. So times are so different now. I mean, women can be women lawyers, and women can say, “You can’t do this, and I have a right.”The first job I ever had, I worked a year — this is at the telephone company. I used to pretend that I didn’t know people were discriminating against me. And it was really hard for them because then they couldn’t get any benefit out of it because I’d pretend I didn’t know it. So anyway, the second year, they hired — they hired a guy who was from my law school. He didn’t have as good of grades as I did, but they hired him. And they gave him a thousand dollars more than they gave me. And I did storm in there about that. And they said, “Well, he’s married, and he’s a man.”So I said, “Oh.” But I never forgot it. That was — again, I didn’t have any support. I didn’t — I didn’t know where to go about that. They thought that was okay to do. I didn’t think it was okay, but I didn’t know what to do about it, so I just continued on. So it was a different environment. Now people wouldn’t put up. Now they wouldn’t have the gall to do such a thing, but they did back then. But then my own father didn’t — didn’t think much of women lawyers except I was always an exception in his mind because he was a very conservative old Southern gentleman there. And things were different. But the ’70s in legal services was just wonderful.

GEMINIANI: The ’70s in legal services had a number of institutions —

SMITH: Yeah.

GEMINIANI: — in the southeast that were practicing. Let me ask you your brief impressions of some people. Dan Bradley.

SMITH: Oh, now I can’t talk about Dan without tears because I loved him. I thought he was wonderful. And he was the glue that held everybody together because he believed — he was the main one that believed that it was possible. It was all doable. And he and I had a mutual friend that was just a wild woman, and we just loved her to death. And she was a professor. And we would always get together and talk about her and what was her latest doing. But he had a vision for legal services that he — he really did believe in the justice, the concept [inaudible] justice matters. He thought he did. And he was going to do everything he could to make it work, which is what he did. And you could go to him with an idea, and he’d try to help you make it a reality. You’d say, you know, something like, “We want to try to set up this thing that’s going to do Medicare cases in a real efficient sort of a way.”And he’d say, “Well, how much do you think it’s going to cost? Let’s see. We can go call so-and-so and get him to come in here.”And it was all doable. And the only thing that limited you was your imagination and, you know, working out the details. Now, you couldn’t get around things. I mean, you had to do it by the book, and you had to do it right, and he did not suffer fools lightly, but he applauded and he appreciated imagination. And he made Legal Services what it was, which I think to this day is (a) the most efficient program ever funded by the government. It was the most valuable program ever funded by the government for the public at large because I think if the least of these has justice, then it’s possible for the rest of us. And if we are to learn anything from history, it is that the haves can’t have it all. The have-nots have to have something. Otherwise, if you look at history, the French Revolution and all these other things, the have-nots just simply said, “If I can’t have anything, neither can you.”And we had all that rioting because people felt that they didn’t have a chance. There was no hope. And I think Legal Services and the opportunity to be represented and have your day in court is what turned the country around. And with all my heart, I believe that. And I think Dan was one of the main people that led us to do that and brought that up for us to do that. When I was a judge and doing cases, it was brought clearly home to me that people really didn’t care whether they won or lost. Of course they wanted to win their cases. But the right to be heard and to say that the other side were really SOBs and have a court listen to that and have them say that you were an SOB and then have the court chew everybody out and everybody goes home; it was the opportunity to be heard. And I see that in my clients now. They just want to have their story. Now, their story may not win, but that doesn’t matter as much as having the right to say it and not having somebody shut the door in their face. And we are creeping up again. We are creeping up to injustice. It costs $50 — $55 to file an action in the general court of the state of South Carolina now. Our people can’t pay $55, but we have a limiting statute that says that if you — we use the public defender standards, which means that — there are a whole lot of people that can’t pay the $50. It costs $25 to file in the magistrate’s court. And if you want to file for — you want to get your $25 back from the people at the VCR place, it’s going to cost you 25 to get justice. And I don’t think that’s right, but I see — I see us tightening up. I see the Supreme Court representing the state now instead of being the defender of the — you know, you were talking about that the other night, and it’s just frightening about the Supreme Court is not representing individuals anymore. And who is going to represent the individual against the state?That’s another beauty of our country is that we’ve always — the state’s supposed to be serving the people, which you ask some of our clients whether or not the state’s helping them out much.

GEMINIANI: You also worked with Bucky Askew quite a bit. Can you tell me your impressions of Bucky?

SMITH: Oh, yeah. Bucky is, next to Dan, one of the best diplomats I’ve ever known. He came up to help us get started. And he came up and talked to these people who were anti-legal services, antigovernment and ultraconservative. And he convinced them — using his arguments of justice, he convinced them that this was the thing that they should do. And he did this all over the country. He and Clint used to just have a traveling roadshow. And I remember when — during the expansion time, we were at a projector directors’ meeting up here as a matter of fact, I think — Clint wasn’t up here, but we were somewhere and we were carving up the state, who was going to have what counties. Sort of like the godfather dividing it up. But Bucky had a concept and had a vision for how we were going to do this. And he had the visions way down the road. He and Clint had the vision way down the road of having a state support for the legal services program in each state. And that was even before it got started, you know, but it was an idea that they — he and Clint came up with. But he also was some of the glue that held it together. He insisted on highest quality. He insisted on standards. He knew quality when he saw it. And he could see when it wasn’t quality. And he’d try to help you make it quality. He was so — and is so important still — in the legal services —

GEMINIANI: How about Clint Lyons?

SMITH: Clint is — oh, I can see Clint now with the — with the pencil dividing. Clint has always been to me a very strong influence. I have seen Clint when black people rose up against some of the policies and were raising [inaudible] with him(?). He never raised his voice. He never said anything untoward. But in a quiet, rational way, he talked through it. And he was a master at that. Just — and is a master at that. That’s why he’s so good at NLADA. He just –Of course, I just love him to death anyway. I love to play poker with him. But he cares so much about this. He’s carried on with [inaudible]. And he’s had to deal with an exceedingly difficult decade. He didn’t have — at least Dan and Bucky had opportunities to win people over. That wasn’t what Clint was having to do. Clint was trying to keep this alive. Clint was trying to keep this going. And he had, I think, a much more difficult road to hoe, although I’m sure — Dan had a road to hoe [inaudible]; Nixon deciding the last — as his last act in office to sign the Legal Services Corporation Act. But I think this last time, when you have a hostile funding source and you have not just hostility, but you have somebody trying to gut you and cut you — not just gut you, but just kill you. Knock you out of — I think he has handled that situation with such dignity and such success. I think we owe a lot of our existence today to what he’s been able to do this year. And you helped and, you know, the people — my heroes have kept this program going.

GEMINIANI: Joan Lieberman also worked down here. Did you have any occasion to work with her or see her at meetings?

SMITH: Oh, yes. Yes. Back when Legal Services had problems and then they would send for you and they would train you how to deal with it and you’d go back to your program with the skills to do it, we had the concept of retrenchment. And we were being asked to develop a budget and an action plan. We didn’t call them that then, but to develop a plan, what we would do if they cut us out entirely, what we would do if they cut us — if they cut us 50 percent, and what would we do if they cut us 25 percent. What would we do with the staff, what would we do with the budget, what would we do with the priorities. And so the Legal Services Corporation had a training session, and Joan was there. And Joan did the session on death. She was, at the time, very ill herself, but she did that session where you talk about the four stages of death. And — I can’t talk about it without tears. Stop a minute. (Pause in interview)

SMITH: I think the fact that she brought her end(?) to it, brought a professional level to it and a managerial level. And the fact that most project directors were attorneys, and all of a sudden, you [inaudible] there, and we’re supposed to run a program and know about budgets and that sort of thing. And she brought some professionalism and said you can learn how to be a manager, and there are concepts. There are principles. Just like there are principles in the law, there are principles about how you do these things. She was wonderful. And when we had the retrenchment, which I think was the worst experience I ever had in my own life and — because it was the breakup of something that we all knew we loved. It was the wrong thing that was happening. It was the end of an era, not just for us, but for this country. And it was wrong. Here was something that was working. It was doing well. And they — and it was gone. And we knew we could never get it back again ever. So her experience — her doing the death thing, which is the four stages of death, at that — at the retrenchment meeting, you all taught us how to deal with our staff because the staff was going to be going through the same thing that we were. And here was something that we — everybody was in it together, something we really loved, and how are we going to deal with this issue. I think that was probably the most sensitive thing the Legal Services Corporation ever did was to recognize. And Joan put it into such perspective and said it’s okay to cry about it, as I’ve just been doing. But it was okay because it was part of the whole process. And that made it — again, it put it into a framework, a structure, which was different from just saying, boohoo, you know, we’re losing something wonderful. She went through the four stages of death and the fact that these four things will happen to you. And once you knew it — I mean, you couldn’t stop it. You couldn’t do anything about it, but you knew that that was it. And there would be an end to how you felt about that. And she — I’ve been to other things that she has done. Everything she ever did was just really great. But that retrenchment thing, by giving us the training and the skills to be able to deal with it, made us do a better job in our programs. And one of the things [inaudible] is to do is to do the history, where you’d been. And we did that, you know, and I remember — we did it from the Legal Services standpoint too. And that was where we’d been, where we were coming from. I hope you can get those things which went around the room about where everybody said the Legal Services Corporation had been and where it was now and where we thought it was probably going to go. But it gave everybody a sense of what we were and then to know what we were losing and then to be able to recognize that. She was superb. And to this day, I think she’s one of the most important influences on Legal Services for the future as of that time in ’82, the future of after ’82, because I think she gave us a businesslike attitude, a professional attitude and ways to identify behavior and ways to turn what we were doing into managerial concepts and principles and recognitions. You know, we did a lot of good things, but I don’t think we got professional until she got hold of us really.

GEMINIANI: It’s a nice viewpoint.


GEMINIANI: You have been involved in Legal Services now for 15 years straight on and then a two-year period as a Reggie back in the late ’60s and in the ’70s.You’ve been a woman judge in South Carolina. You were one of the few women that were in law school in South Carolina in the — in the ’60s. You’ve had a great career. Did you have any particular thoughts about that career or words of suggestions, words of wisdom that you can share with people that are looking at this tape in future years?

SMITH: Well, I always thought that the law was a very high calling, in spite of the public(?) notice(?) we get now, but I think that for those people for whom serving others is a satisfying thing, that legal services is a high calling. And it’s not for every lawyer. It’s not for everybody. But for those for whom it’s a satisfying thing, then it is, I think, one of the most wonderful careers in law because you get to serve the law. You get to serve your country by justice. You get to serve your fellow man. You get to serve yourself because it’s so satisfying to help other people. And you get to make a career out of trying to make life better for people. What more could you want?

GEMINIANI: Well, thank you on behalf of all of us, the staff, the clients and the boards, the programs across the country. You are a model to many of us. You are one of the people I’ve become close to and I’ve been fortunate to get to know during my years in Legal Services.

SMITH: Thank you.

GEMINIANI: And it has been a great pleasure sitting here this afternoon in Saluda, North Carolina with you. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.