Recalls his work as xecutive Director and staff attorney for Legal Services of Northern California.
Oral history details
|Storyteller:||Roger K. Warren|
|Date of interview:||Sep 16, 1991|
|Where relates to:||California|
|Topics:||Civil legal aid: General|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with: The Honorable Roger K. Warren
Conducted by: Victor Geminiani
Interview date: Sept. 16, 1991
VICTOR GEMINIANI: Today’s date is September 16. The interviewer is VICTOR Geminiani. Good afternoon, Judge.
THE HON. ROGER K. WARREN: Hi, Victor.
GEMINIANI: I appreciate the time you’re making available to talk about your memories of our program in its earliest years. Could you tell me a little about your background prior to the time you came associated with Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County?
WARREN: Oh, they’re fond memories. I enjoy talking about them. My — I had a early childhood that was full of opportunities. My dad was a pilot for Pan American World Airways and oh, probably when I was going to high school and through college, was probably making $30,000 or $40,000 a year, which by standards of those days was attractive salary. And went to college and — Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts after finishing high school in Ridgefield, Connecticut. One of the benefits of having a dad that flew for 3 a commercial airline was that the whole family could fly for federal excise tax, which was — I don’t know — maybe 10 percent or something then. So our whole family enjoyed vacations in Europe, and I think I flew around the world twice with my family various times. So we spent time in the Far East and Europe, and that led to an interest in people from other places. So we ended up having students from Japan live with us, Japan and Austria and Ethiopia lived with us for about a year each.
And when I was at Williams, I — I became real active in the civil rights movement in those days. This is now early ’60s. I went to Africa for a summer during — after my sophomore year in college and then returned from that experience with Operation Crossroads Africa, a private group, trying to build bridges of friendship and understanding between American college students and African students. Very much interested in the civil rights movement in this country. Joined with others to form an organization called the Northern Student Movement in — in New England, back in the early ’60s. That program sponsored community organization projects in major eastern metropolitan areas during the summer, where principally Ivy League college students coordinated community organizations of — of college students returning to the communities and — and local students in ghetto areas. And I coordinated a project in east Baltimore, Maryland for another summer. When I finished college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and accepted a Fulbright fellowship to Iran. This is back in the pre-Khomeini days under the Shah in Iran, where there’s a major military — American and European military presence in Iran. When I finished the Fulbright fellowship in ’63, I still was looking for something to do with my life and ended up going to the University of Chicago, enrolling in their Center for the Study of Comparative Education, to which I was led by some Iranian university professor friend of mine in Tehran the previous year, and rode out there on my motorcycle from Connecticut in 1964. Decided on the way out, driving through Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio at 3:00 in the morning in the rain, that I didn’t really — wasn’t really interested in comparative education, and I was really interested in political sociology and police science and community organization. And of course Saul Alinsky was then a professor in the sociology department at the University of Chicago. So I immediately sought to change my emphasis from comparative education to sociology and applied for admission to the sociology department, which was accepted. And I think I stayed in the sociology department for about 48 hours before I decided that some of the courses I wanted to take were in the department of political science, which was also my major in college, so I ended up switching back to political science and finally ended up as a political science student at the University of Chicago.
After — I did that for a couple years and in the meantime was working during the summers with the Civil Rights Commission in Washington, DC and traveling throughout the South, doing investigation work on Title VI and federally funded programs — discrimination in federally funded programs and a voting fraud study in the South. And came in contact with a lot of civil rights lawyers through the college experiences and these experiences during the summer while I was in graduate school. And I was very — I grew very enthusiastic about the impact that lawyers were having in the civil rights movement. At the time, it seemed to be a way that someone like myself with the kind of background and skills I had could plug in. And so I took a master’s degree in political sociology from the University of Chicago and then transferred over to the law school at the University of Chicago, the other side of the Midway, and started law school in ’66 and finished up law school there in 1969. Headed out to California.
GEMINIANI: You were a member of the 1969 Reggie class. Can you tell me how you became a Reggie?
WARREN: Well, when I was in law school, I remained very active and involved in various civil rights groups. I had a fellowship with a law student civil rights research council, too, one summer, in which I was assigned to work as the administrative assistant to George Wiley, then the director of the National Welfare Rights Organization in Washington, DC, and continued to work with the Civil Rights Commission during the summer. I also was an editor of the law review and edited a major study and article on the manner in which persons who were arrested during the riots in Chicago following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King were treated in the criminal justice system. And meantime, Dr. King, of course, had talked a lot, especially in the last several years, about — changed emphasis from civil rights to poverty rights or sort of an awakening, philosophical understanding that the problems of blacks in particular were not just of race but of class. And so a lot of people, I think, were sort of fueled by that philosophy into the — into the war on poverty. And so many, like myself, that had some experience in the civil rights movement ended up getting involved in the poverty rights movement. It was particularly dramatic for me because of my work with George Wiley, who was a black man and the director of the National Welfare Rights Organization, which — whose slogan was “Bread and Justice Now,” and — and I think was a influential spokesperson for poor people in this country, of whatever race or background.
And I think also that that whole experience turned out to be one that — that made all of us more conscious of the — of the problems of class and economic deprivation in this country. George Wiley talked a lot about the welfare dependency system; that is, a whole class of — a subclass in this country that became totally dependent on the welfare system and for whom there was little economic prospect or opportunity. So I think that was sort of the thinking that went into applying for a Reginald Heber Smith fellowship. The Reggie program of course had started up a few years earlier and was a major effort by the federal government to identify principally, I think, young law school graduates with an interest in this field and help them get placed in some legal services program around the country and provide them with some special training, hoping that they would in turn, I think, act as a catalyst for more aggressive and motivated legal services delivery in legal services programs around the country. And so I think about maybe a couple hundred of us were selected and gathered in Haverford, Pennsylvania for a week or two of training after law school and then were dispatched to various legal services programs around the country.
GEMINIANI: Can you tell me how you ended up being dispatched to Sacramento? Was that by choice or was that just by luck?
WARREN: Well, a little bit of both. Originally, I was — I was interested in coming to California. I had — I had traveled a fair amount around the country. I’d been — I’d spent some time down South with the civil rights movement and in the East where I was brought up. My family was from the Midwest, so I’d spent some time in the Midwest. And I hadn’t spent any time in the West except coming through California for a week, returning from the Far East on the year I spent overseas, and had liked California, as everyone would have liked California back then. Or now. So I was in — I was particularly interested in getting an assignment in the Bay area in San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley or probably even further south. But — but I wasn’t alone in feeling that those were desirable locations, and there were so many — and many of the Reggies were from the Bay area. And so ultimately the Reggie program decided, I think, that — that the only people they would place in the Bay area were people who were from the Bay area, for whom that was their first choice, because almost all of us probably or many of us had the Bay area as our — one of our top preferences. So then for me, it was just a process of getting as close to the Bay area as I could. And I remember actually taking out Census Bureau monographs from the library and looking through things like number of movie theaters per capita, number of parks per capita, to try to pick a location. I was told at one point that I could go to Marysville or Stockton or Modesto or Sacramento. And I remember sort of checking out all these places, trying to learn more about them. And ultimately chose Sacramento probably because it was the most cosmopolitan of the — of the choices that I was given. And I think of the other jurisdictions that I was — of the other programs that I was offered an opportunity to go to, it was the one that was closest to — to San Francisco and the Bay area. And matter of fact, I was so confident that I would end up getting re-placed into a Bay area program, that I didn’t move to Sacramento originally. I moved to San Francisco and lived with friends in San Francisco and commuted to Sacramento every morning and went — and drove back to San Francisco in the evening. And then the director of the Sacramento program at the time, David Licker, felt sorry for me and invited me to spend the evenings in his loft at his home. And so I moved in with David and Barbara and lived in their loft for a while. Until finally, I realized that I was probably going to stay in Sacramento for a while and moved up here and got an apartment.
GEMINIANI: Reluctantly gave up the Bay.
WARREN: Yeah. It was hard to, but in the meantime, I had gotten — it didn’t take long before I was pretty much over my head with — over my head in activities here in Sacramento and sort of got sucked in quickly to my work in Sacramento. And at that point, certainly felt that I’d feel more comfortable living where I was working than commuting an hour and a half every day.
GEMINIANI: Can you describe the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County when you first came to it in 1969 in terms of numbers of offices and the size of the staff and the philosophy that it pursued?
WARREN: Well, it was a local legal aid society that had been started in the mid-’50s by the bar association and its people active in the bar association and — in which lawyers had volunteered their time to provide legal representation to low income people. The areas in which they typically provided representation were the areas of legal practice that the private bar was most familiar with: family law, domestic relations, bankruptcy, maybe a little bit of landlord-tenant, consumer purchase contracts. And then when the OEO program had started up in the mid-’60s, the program had applied, along with Yolo County, for an OEO grant and had — and had for the first time any governmental funding. And that allowed the program to actually hire a permanent staff, and that had happened in the late ’60s. And then the first Reggies, the first Reginald Heber Smith fellows, came to the program — I think the year before I did. I think 1968, possibly ’67. No. I think 1968. So it was a — Sacramento then was sort of a sleepy river town, in which — which was going through a transition from a legal services delivery system that was dominated by the private bar on a volunteer basis into a staff attorney program. There were one or two Reggies from the preceding class that were still there, and there was another Reggie with me, so now there were three or four Reggies. And I think that there was an attorney staff combined in Sacramento County and Yolo County together of something like eight lawyers. And there were three neighborhood offices in Sacramento and one in Woodland. There was one in Del Paso Heights, one downtown in — downtown or midtown Sacramento, and one in — in Oak Park. And there were, I think, two lawyers in each office. So there were about eight lawyers probably, plus the director or something like that. And it was a — it was a service organization. When I — when I arrived in Sacramento, the program had been in existence for — oh, gosh. I think it was started in 1956 or so. So it had been in existence for — what? 14 years. And I think had been in an Appellate Court once in 14 years with a very important published decision, which I had read in my textbook at University of Chicago as a matter of fact in law school. Had never been in Federal Court and had never been in the State Supreme Court. It was pretty much focusing on trying to provide legal representation to individual clients, typically who face legal — adverse legal action in the courts in a domestic relations or consumer context. Most of the lawyers did not — did not have any formal training in legal services sort of work, didn’t have any particular experience dealing with low income people or the minority community before — before coming to the Legal Aid Society. Some of whom, I think, viewed legal aid work as steppingstone work between law school and a private practice, trying to find a — sort of try to find their way. And — and I think did a good job at doing what they were — what they were hoping to do and what they were trying to do. Obviously during the ’70s, the whole vision of what legal services could be or should be changed significantly.
GEMINIANI: Can you tell me what your initial assignment was when you came to the program?
WARREN: Well, I — the director, I think, didn’t know exactly what to do with me because I wasn’t a member of the California bar. My predecessor, the Reggie from the year before, had graduated from Boalt and taken the bar when he graduated from Boalt. I was from Chicago, arrived out here about Labor Day, I think, ’69 and didn’t take the bar until June of 1970. And so the director had to find something for me to do that didn’t require me to be a member of the bar. I had, as I say, spent some time with the National Welfare Rights Organization, and I was, myself, particularly interested in seeing what kinds of welfare rights organizations and activities were going on in Sacramento. And so I was sort of looking around, trying to see what kind of community groups were — were in Sacramento and talk to them and find out what their interests were and the kinds of aspirations they had. And I think the director felt that was a good role for me until I passed the bar. And actually by the time — I remember that by the time I passed the bar, I had — I had — I ended up working with a lot of these community groups more than full-time for months. And by — I remember by the time I had passed the bar, I actually had three or four major pieces of class action litigation ready to file that I had all drafted up that were just sitting on my desk waiting so I could sign them. And the day I passed the bar, I remember walking over to the courthouse and filing my first four lawsuits.
GEMINIANI: Do you remember what they were?
WARREN: Well, they were all — they were all welfare cases of one sort or another. One was in the area of challenging the — the county and state regulations of the day with regard to clients’ trust funds. One of my clients was a — might have been the father or an uncle of a boy that had some money put into a clients — into a trust fund by the court in compensation, I think, for a personal injury settlement, although I’ve sort of forgotten that part of it. And the state and county regulations both proclaimed that that money was actually available to him to meet his needs and therefore, the boy was not eligible for public assistance, despite the fact that the money was not in any physical sense available and would only be made available if the boy were to petition the court for release of the funds, which had been blocked by the court until he became an adult. And he had — he had sought permission from the court to make the money available, and the judge had denied it. His uncle or his father, whichever it was, had sought, and he had been denied that. And the department was contending that he should hire a lawyer to get access to the funds. I remember that was one of the cases. Another case involved general assistance eligibility, but I forgot what the — what the specifics were, and the other two, I think involved AFDC — statewide AFDC regulations. One, I know, was in the area of stepparent families and how the income of the stepparent is attributed to the minor for the — or to the child for the purpose of determining eligibility for AFDC. And ultimately, we ended up filing separate litigation on that subject, which dealt with that whole issue on a statewide basis. This initial litigation just dealt with it on a countywide basis. And I’ve — and I’ve forgotten what the other lawsuit was all about.
GEMINIANI: Do you have any strong memories of working with groups, primarily welfare groups, in those years?
WARREN: Yeah, I sure do. I remember — I remember some of the meetings and some of the clients, some of the retreats. We actually had retreats. Once, I remember we rented a cabin at Tahoe and went up for a weekend to hash things out.
GEMINIANI: Priority thing?
WARREN: Yeah. It — yeah. In a way. I mean, that’s what it was functionally. I don’t know that we called it that or thought of it that way. It was really just the organization trying to decide what it wanted to do with itself, what kind of services it wanted to offer to its members, whether — Foreign(?) for most welfare rights activity in those days — before the courts became heavily involved with the fair hearing process, and one of the things that welfare rights organizations did was represent people before fair hearings. So high on their agenda was making people aware of the rights they had to a fair hearing and the fair hearing process and then serving as authorized representatives for people in the fair hearing process. And my role was really just sort of training them about the fair hearing process and what they could expect in the process and what their rights were in the process. And I think I — I went to some of the hearings as an authorized representative myself, even though I — I wasn’t a lawyer. Admission to the bar of course wasn’t required to do that kind of work. So I did a fair amount of administrative work during those days before I was admitted to practice and actually built up a significant interest in administrative work and — and felt then and continued to feel that — that administrative redress was a principal forum for poor people that was under — underutilized and underemployed. So that during my work at the Legal Aid Society, I tried to build programs that built in significant components of using paraprofessionals to do administrative advocacy because of course many of the income maintenance and other service problems that poor people had were in relation to governmental agencies, and all these governmental agencies had grievance processes of one sort of another. And knowing what they were and how to use them was oftentimes important. Oftentimes, too, the people that staff these agencies were sympathetic with the situation of the — of the clients coming through and — and so it was a hospitable forum. And the — we were not having such an impact on any of these administrative agencies that poor people were yet felt to be threatening or our claims were felt to be threatening. It — it had not arisen to the level that it ultimately did where it was costing the government so much money in these — in these claims that — that they started feeling threatened by this activity.
GEMINIANI: Do you have a sense of what caused those poor people organizations to be created or sustained them in their efforts?
WARREN: Yeah. I think it’s the same thing that causes anybody or any people with a self-perceived sense of needs that aren’t being met to communicate with other people that are in the similar circumstance and begin asking whether — begin exploring that commonality of interest and begin asking whether there’s something that they can mutually or jointly do to address it. It’s the kids in the back of the classroom and the kids that are joining gangs today and tenants that form tenants organizations, welfare recipients that form welfare rights organizations. Neighborhood watch groups that form organizations because of their fear and apprehension about the lack of public safety. It’s just people’s — people’s needs and aspirations. And I think that a — a sort of a natural and a constructive reaction to being put in that kind of situation of not having your needs met is to — is to want to talk to other people about what you can do about it. It’s either that or, you know, screaming against the moon by yourself, which isn’t constructive. And so I think other people choose that, and other people freak out or become homicidal or — or move and try to run from the problems. But I think that if — if people are going to try to deal with the problem rather than run from it or get buried by it, a naturally human thing to do is to try to form associations for the purpose of doing that. These were just those kind of associations. They were informal. None of these groups had articles or — of incorporation or bylaws or officers or directors or a budget or financing at the beginning, although some of them developed some of those later as they became more formalized.
GEMINIANI: Do you remember any particular difficulties the program Legal Services of — or actually Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County was having back in the early ’70s when you first came on board?
WARREN: Well, the major problem of course was the sort of demoralization that accompanied the change in administrations, both at the state and national level. The — my sense is that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was this — this real sense of enthusiasm and optimism, fueled by the war on poverty and the — and the federal contribution, the federal willingness to — to participate and provide sort of a comprehensive funding scheme. And then even these other resources, I mean just the volunteers and Reginald Hebert Smith fellows and — and in other ways to provide some employment resources and funding to the — to the project and providing legal services to people who couldn’t afford legal services. But then in 1972 with the election of President Nixon and here in California the administration of Governor Reagan, both at the state and national level, you had administrations that for one reason or another felt very threatened by what Legal Services was beginning to do. It was — And I’m not sure why they felt so threatened. I don’t know whether it was the — the impact that these programs were beginning to have on their own governmental programs. It was — if it was just that the — the view of the world that poor people had, as that view was being articulated in litigation and legislative activities and community activities of clients of these programs was radically different than the view of the world that — that the political leadership had.
But for whatever reason, all of a sudden, federal funding dried up, was frozen. Governor Reagan, of course, was a — was an open critic of legal services programs and really led a crusade against legal services programs in — in California and did what he could to — to put them out of business. So when — so our budget here actually declined. When I — when I got here, the budget was a little over 300,000, the federal OEO budget, and went down to a little bit under 300,000 during that — during that time period. So I think that the — the drying up of federal financial support combined with the outright opposition of the state political leadership were sort of our — the main problems we — we had to deal with from an administrative level. And so we — we started trying to get as energetic and creative as we could in trying to find other sources of revenue and support.
GEMINIANI: Were you successful? Were there other sources that you could —
WARREN: Yeah. In Sacramento, we were very successful. I think actually that we sort of established a reputation among California legal services programs for being creative in — in seeking other sources of funding. We actually expanded this program significantly during those lean years in Sacramento by looking to other sources. We got pretty imaginative and skillful at identifying other sources. We — we started a program of legal services for the Hispanic community with Department of Labor funds. We started a landlord-tenant housing project with Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 funds. We started an elderly legal services programs with general revenue-sharing funds supplemented with Older Americans Act funds.
GEMINIANI: That still exists today as Legal Center for the Elderly and Disabled.
WARREN: Uh-huh. Sure does. We — we got pretty good at using CETA funds, Comprehensive Employment and Training Act funds, so we ended up — they ended up funding law — summer law students, investigators, investigator trainees, who became our investigators since we didn’t have any investigators. Let’s see. What else did we — what else did we look at? United Way of course. The program had always had United Way funds. And we just got, I think, a little bit more aggressive in trying to present our — our situation to the United Way. So the program that had an annual budget in the area of $300,000 in 1970, 1971, despite the fact that the federal resources declined, by 1975 or so, had an annual budget over a million dollars with these other sources of funds.
GEMINIANI: It increased by $700,000 at a time of retrenchment in the federal government support.
WARREN: And a lot of other legal — legal service programs in California sort of looked to us for ideas. And it’s — one of the things we did that worked out well was we actually hired a couple people to help us do program development and fundraising, with the understanding that we didn’t have any money to pay them but that they could take a commission out of any grant funds that — that they helped us arrange. And one of these people made a living for a year on his commission off of the — putting together the elderly legal services programs.
GEMINIANI: Do you remember what the relationships with the private bar in Sacramento were during those years? Initially the program had begun, as you mentioned, through a — using not only a part-time lawyer, but a number of volunteer lawyers that did pro bono work, and that had continued on through the ’50s and even through the mid-’60s. Could you tell me if that panel still existed during the early ’70s and what the relationship with the private bar was around that panel and other issues?
WARREN: Well, the bar in Sacramento, like I think the organized bar statewide and nationally, was always very supportive of the work of the Legal Aid Society. The principal form of support was through the volunteer work of — of individual members of the lawyers referral service as — as the program was called here in Sacramento. And when I came to the program in Sacramento, the form that that volunteer work took was intake work on behalf of new clients. Volunteer lawyers would come into our offices two or three times a week, into each of the offices two or three times a week, where we, the staff, would have scheduled appointments for them with prospective new clients at about a half hour each, I think. And they’d come in and sit in an office and then interview a client every half hour and give legal advice to the client, leaving notes on the file as to the legal advice and referring some of those clients to the staff for continued legal representation and/or follow-up. And one of the responsibilities of the staff attorney was to review those intake sheets on a daily basis and then — and then follow up with cases that required further — further legal representation. The — I thought that that was an inefficient use of — of volunteer work and volunteer help from the private bar. I thought that the result was that members of the private bar were providing volunteer work in an area that they were the least skilled at and which we were the most skilled at.
Our whole background and interest was in the area of how to deal and communicate with poor people and being — and some skill in identifying what their legal problems were and knowing something about what the possible remedies might be. So we had some background in poverty law and dealing with low income people and communicating and interviewing low income people. On the other hand, the private bar typically did not represent low income people. They didn’t have low income people as part of their — their office clientele. They weren’t accustomed to dealing with low income people. They didn’t have any particular skills or experience in poverty law or at identifying their legal problems or knowing what the remedies were for some of the problems that were unique to the poor. On the other hand, we were constantly litigating cases in which we were not terribly expert, like domestic relations matters and bankruptcy matters in which we did not have any particular expertise, and the private bar did this kind of litigation on a daily basis. So our proposal to the bar was that we switch this thing around, that we would assume responsibility for doing the intake work on our clients and ask them to provide essentially a comparable number of hours. They were providing 16 hours of volunteer service doing intake work, and I think we sug — we agreed that they could reduce it to 12 hours a year, if they would provide that work by undertaking the representation of people that we would refer to them who needed help in the area of domestic relations or bankruptcy or personal injury or some other — personal injury defense or some other area of particular — that they might have some particular skills and experience in. And that — and that — that worked out, and that was accomplished.
The bar had always been a major participant — members of the bar had always been major participants on the board of directors. And the relationship was always very hospitable. I think there were sore spots. I mean, there was a concern from time to time whether we were representing poor people in cases in which a contingency fee would be available to a member of the private bar. And we had to refine our methods of referring those kinds of cases through the bar. I think it invariably turned out that there wasn’t a member of the bar that was interested in doing that work, but I think it took the bar a while to realize that. We also ended up in consultive relationships with the bar where we would — we would jointly file lawsuits. We’d team up with private lawyers to file lawsuits where we might focus on, for example, injunctive relief, and a member of the bar might focus on some sort of compensatory relief. Or in some other way combine interests or skills. So the relationship was always a positive one. There were some — Bob Matsui, who’s now a Congressman, used to be one of the lawyers on the panel that used to sit in the office in which I worked, the downtown office. He’d come through every two or three months and sit and interview clients. Lloyd Connelly, who’s now an assemblyman here in California, started off as a — as a law student at the Legal Aid Society in the elderly legal — legal services program. So in a lot of ways, other than providing direct legal services to people, it has benefited the community and the program, I think, by having a relationship with the bar that involved members of the bar in the program.
GEMINIANI: Offhand, do you remember approximately how many lawyers were volunteering their time back in those days?
WARREN: I had the thought that it’s in the high two hundreds maybe.
GEMINIANI: That’s a good percentage of the bar back then.
WARREN: Yeah. A lot — yeah. Now, I can’t imagine how many lawyers are in Sacramento. Seven or eight thou —
GEMINIANI: 4500 —
GEMINIANI: — of whom are members in the county bar; 4500 approximately are members of the California bar located in our county.
WARREN: Yeah. It was well under a thousand back then, and I don’t remember exactly how many.
GEMINIANI: You became the director of the Legal Aid Society in 1973. Do you remember how that came about?
WARREN: Yeah. I had — somewhere before ’73, I had — I had or we had. The program had created a position called director of litigation. I think we were the first program in California to create that position. And it was partly, I think, created for me because I was interested in litigating and — and it seemed that — that my interest in litigating could be shared with the program more effectively by sort of working with other lawyers on litigation they might be interested in, rather than my having a stack of files on my desk. And so we created this position called director of litigation. And I had been in that role for a couple years, I think, when the director at the time decided to leave the agency. And I was appointed by the board of directors to — to fill in as the acting director until they chose a permanent director. And then the program went through a hiring process in which applications were sought from — from around the — from other people around the state that might be interested in the position. But I think it was well-known at that point that I was interested in the position and willing to assume the position. And I don’t recall there being gobs and gobs of other applicants for the position. I’m sure there were some. And the process seemed to go on a while, but ultimately, I was named by the board of directors to fill the position on a permanent basis.
GEMINIANI: Do you remember any particularly strong memories of being the director or problems you had to resolve or issues you dealt with, people you dealt with during those three years that you were the director of the program?
WARREN: Well, there were the funding problems. I think we put a lot of energy into trying to find revenue sources. We put a lot of energy into litigation. The whole litigation capability of the society changed radically in those five years. I’ve mentioned that back in — as of 1970, the — the legal aid program had had almost no serious litigation experience, had no appellate experience to speak of and little experience in Federal Court. Within — by 1975, we were counsel in over 20 pieces of litigation in the Federal Court, had been in the Supreme Court four times and had been in the Appellate Court, I think, 12 times. So we just had — I think had acquired a real competence in doing litigation. We — we spent a lot of time on administrative problems. Office consolidation was — was a major issue. The fact of the matter was that we — we were all grant-funded, of course, at this point. And all these grants had different due dates and expiration dates, and so it’s this whole balancing act of trying to keep all these grant-funded projects going. And of course we always wanted to spend as much of that money out there providing direct services and as little into rent and overhead and administration as possible. So we were constantly looking at ways to provide those services more efficiently. As the — as the federal — and most of these agencies that we were getting grant funding from weren’t that interested in having their money spent on office rent. They wanted it spent on legal services, which is what we told them we were going to be doing with it. Most of our rent was being paid for by the federal government, but as that money continued to not expand, sort of dry up, and as rents went up, we were — you know, we were inevitably forced to think about closing offices. So we did. We consolidated offices and eliminated the neighborhood office in — in Del Paso Heights and eliminated the neighborhood office in Oak Park and consolidated into one office in Sacramento in what then seemed to be the most accessible location, which was — and probably still is — where the rivers meet and the highways joined in midtown, downtown Sacramento. And of course we maintained an office over in Woodland. So that — that was a big issue.
GEMINIANI: Was there much community resistance to closing offices in Oak Park and Del Paso?
WARREN: No, there wasn’t. But I think that was partly because we spent a fair amount of time discussing that issue with our clients and our client community groups. The philosophy that surrounded creation of those offices originally was the philosophy of the early OEO days, the support for building neighborhood law offices with the concept, I think, that the law office would be in the community and of the community and would be a community resource. That — that — I don’t know how viable that concept was in most jurisdictions. It’s certainly a tough concept in most major metropolitan jurisdictions. They’re just — it’s not a — Sacramento isn’t composed of just three communities. There’s 10 or 15 communities, and you’d have to office — open a whole lot more neighborhood offices than anyone ever envisioned in order to really fulfill that — that expectation. So really what we tried to do was find other delivery mechanisms to provide the same kind of service to try to involve the community in our program and make sure that the community recognized what services were there and had a voice in — in defining those services and in deciding what — what needs would be met and what needs couldn’t be met. But we tried to find other ways of accomplishing that other than through a neighborhood law office delivery system and then combined those methods with consolidation. And I think that — I think that — I think everyone recognized that there was something to gain by that. It meant that there was money that was being tied up with rent that could go to legal services.
GEMINIANI: Any other strong memories of events or personalities during that three-year period?
WARREN: Well, yeah. We got sued for discriminatory hiring practices. That’s an experience I probably won’t forget, which came about, I guess, as the result of my pred — my predecessor hired a couple of lawyers who — both of whom had legal services experience in other states, who were friends of his. They were both from Colorado, and they were both friends of his. And they were both Anglo male. And they were both qualified legal services lawyers, but they were both hired without the benefit of any sort of advertising of the position. And — and their hiring, I think came as a surprise to some of us on the staff and came as even a greater surprise to other people out there in the community that would have been interested in seeking appointment to one of those positions, had they known they were available. So that — that whole problem led to the filing of a lawsuit against the society for discrimination in hiring practices, which of course was very embarrassing and ended up — I ended up spending a lot of time developing clinical programs and affirmative action programs and clients councils and planning sessions and priorities for the society, all in an attempt to make sure that that kind of perception in the community didn’t — didn’t persist. So that was an event I won’t forget.
GEMINIANI: What made you finally decide to leave?
WARREN: I think I just got tired. I had — I had accomplished the — my short-term goals — the various projects I was working on, the funding sources I was trying to get, the kinds of things I was — I was working on had basically been — been put in place. I had been there now for six or seven years, and I was beginning to weary a little bit. I could tell that when I was going to board of directors meetings monthly, I was running out of bright ideas and fresh ideas. I was — I was falling into the role of sort of operating what we had, which isn’t the role I felt most comfortable in. I felt more comfortable in the role of going out and trying to improve the program and expand the program. And I was — I was finding myself sort of not in that role anymore, but trying to sort of defend what we had and keep the machinery that we had in place oiled and going. It was just — it was something that I didn’t enjoy doing as much. It was also that the timing was right. The Legal Services Corporation had just been created and acquired a new leadership. New and enhanced funding packages were coming through Congress for the Legal Services Corporation. And it looked like a new day. There was a new President. There was a new governor. They were both much more supportive of legal services. It just looked like that there was going to be a new support for legal services and a new — new funding available. There was now — there was now talk of merger, which I guess was the next step after office consolidation, sort of — it was to consolidate sort of on a regional basis. And the Legal Services Corporation at the very outset promoted the idea of merger among legal services programs. We were asked in Sacramento to explore merging with other valley legal service programs and explored for some time the idea of merging with programs to the south of us, the Stockton program and Modesto, and actually went down and met several times with — with some of those programs. And we had — and that was the direction in which the new Legal Services Corporation was expecting us to merge, I think. And then at some point, several of us wondered about the whole idea of merging north as opposed to south and really saw Sacramento’s role as being much more the — the gatekeeper to northern California than the gatekeeper to the southern — to the Sacramento Valley to the south, the San Joaquin Valley. And of course the problem was that there were no legal service programs to merge with in northern California because we were basically the most northern — the northernmost of the existing legal services programs. So our proposal then to the corporation was that we helped build legal services programs to the north and play some role then in coordinating those programs on a regional basis.
So we created an elderly legal services program in — I think it was El Dorado County, either El Dorado or Placer County, and — and began discussions with the Shasta program up in Redding and ultimately right — right at the very end of my tenure, we were just — just exploring the idea of merging with the program up in Shasta County.
And that — and so I — I thought it was an appropriate time to leave. Obviously the program was going in a new direction and with new funding and there was new political leadership at both the state and federal level. And I felt like it was a new beginning and a new dawn and sort of a convenient point for someone else to step in with a keener sense of vision than I thought I had at that point about what direction the program should go in. And I was also tired and looking forward to just doing nothing, and submitted a resignation without any prospect of any other employment. And my plan was just to go backpacking for two or three weeks and then maybe go to Europe for a while and return to California or Sacramento when I felt like it.
GEMINIANI: As you reflect back on the years you spent with legal aid and the time you spent in working with the poor in the South during and subsequent to law school — or to college, rather — do you have any particular words of wisdom or advice you can give those that are working with the poor in legal aid today?
WARREN: Well, you know, it’s important work, and the — it’s probably more fraught with emotional and ideological pitfalls today than it even was back then. There are issues of self-esteem, of pride. I mean, this whole concept of helping people and trying to provide opportunities to other people that — that — that we as the provider have had ourselves is just fraught with a lot of difficult baggage, I think. And so I think there’s just — there’s a necessity of some — of the exercise of a lot of good judgment. The — there’s a real risk of creating expectations that you can’t — that you can’t fulfill. So I think there’s just an importance at all stages of making sure that the communication between the program and the — and the prospective client are open and candid and that the program has a sure sense of what the client’s needs are and what the client is expecting from the program, and the program has a clear sense of — of its ability or inability to meet those needs and has explained that and articulated that, so that there is from the very beginning a — a plan of action that is — that has the full understanding of both the client and the program. I think that most — most efforts at — at representing the poor that have gone awry either individually or — either individual clients or programs, are those that lack that — that early communication or — or planning. I think you have to go about representing a low income person the same as — in that sense the same as a lawyer would go about representing someone else who wants the lawyer to do a will or form an organization or give them legal advice about issuing stock. You need to make sure that in your zeal to help the client in this case, that you don’t promise more than you can deliver, especially understanding that — that most of your clients have very limited understanding about your role as a lawyer and — and the role of your program and what their rights and responsibilities are.
So I think it’s just — you know, it offers unbelievable opportunity, I think, to lawyers that are interested in this kind of work. It offers a lot of gratification and rewards. It offers opportunities really for legal work that almost don’t exist anywhere else in practice. I mean, the idea of being able, at least as we were with the legal services program here in Sacramento, of — of deciding which cases we were going to take and which cases we weren’t going to take, deciding in effect which cases we thought we could be of some help and which cases we couldn’t and explaining why we were doing one thing or the other is a luxury that most lawyers — is a feature of our practice in legal services that most lawyers would die for. When you talk about other court-appointed counsel or lawyers in private law firms who in effect have to work for certain clients, whether they want to or not, whether they think that there’s a cause that they feel comfortable with or not, legal services programs have the luxury of — I think, of doing work that they think will be helpful and not spending resources if they think it won’t be productive.
And so that’s a — I think a real nice feature of legal services work that allows you to be, in a sense, a pure lawyer. You get to be a pure advocate on behalf of clients that — and causes that you believe in and maintains your credibility. You’re not often in the position of advocating a cause or a contention that — that you yourself, you know, think is mistaken or — or misleading. So I think there’s a — a sort of a righteousness to it and — and an opportunity for enthusiastic advocacy. And the vice that accompanies that, I think, is the tendency sometimes to promise more than you can deliver or at least a perception by the client that you promised more than you can deliver. So I think just good judgment and a dedication, awareness of the — the significant responsibility that you undertake when you agree to provide legal help or representation or advice to someone. That person is, more than you would ever realize, now dependent on you for what you have promised to do. And how well you perform what you’ve undertaken to do is going to have a significant effect on that person’s life for a long time.
When I first came out here to juvenile court, I started running into many poor people that I hadn’t seen in 15 years. Because of my work for the last 15 years, I just hadn’t had occasion to run into them. And then I — I came out here to juvenile court and — and immediately started running into people that said, “Aren’t you Roger Warren? I remember you when you were a legal aid lawyer. You once represented me or my children,” or did this or did that. And these are people that I did not remember, that I did not recognize. And yet they had a vivid memory of what had happened during those — during that representation 15 years ago. And that’s the responsibility, I think, of doing legal services work. You have more — more of an impact or a detriment than you may know at the time.
GEMINIANI: Well, Judge Warren, on behalf of the board and the staff and most importantly the clients of Legal Services of Northern California, I want to thank you for your critical contributions at a really important time of our program’s development. Thank you.
WARREN: Thank you. Nice talking to you.