David A. Williams is convinced that a covert cabal of conniving communists controls the coffers at the Cambridge-Somerville Legal Services office. Williams considers himself an expert on the subject. In March of 1988, while a staffer at the Legal Services Corporation central administrative office in Washington, D.C., Williams conducted an extensive study attempting to document communist subversion by showing "the extent of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) involvement in the Legal Services Corporation." When LSC officials learned of William's study in the reactionary Moonie-controlled "Washington Times," Williams was given his walking papers.<$F This section was originally researched with my colleague Margaret Quigley as a joint project from which we both wrote articles and papers.>
The NLG is a national organization of progressive lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers. It was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which at the time admitted only white lawyers, and was fighting against the New Deal policies of Franklin Roosevelt. Its members have included several Supreme Court Justices.
To people who think like David Williams, the NLG is a commie front. Williams rhetoric is typical of those on the conservative and reactionary right who still suspect the hidden hand of the Red Menace, and utilize guilt by association techniques and hysterical anti-communism to "Red Bait" their political opponents who are insufficiently conservative.
The hysterical nature of most Red Baiting is easy to demonstrate historically, and Williams is no exception. Consider the tone as Williams noted breathlessly in his report that LSC staff attended Guild workshops: "The taxpayers paid for the official training and the NLG increased its opportunities to propogandize the Communist Party line and recruit allies and potential members." In his conclusions, Williams wrote of, "the 50 year record of the National Lawyers Guild as a Communist Front and a stalwart defender of the Soviet Union."
Williams was especially interested in the discovery that six LSC programs had NLG representatives on their governing boards, and singled out the Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services for special note: "Barry P. Wilson is President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. He represents them on the [LSC Board]. Barry P. Wilson is also Chairman of the Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services, Inc." claimed Williams who warned archly, "The proverbial `tip of the iceberg' would seem to apply to this subject."
"Bullshit," Barry P. Wilson, responded succintly. Wilson, a criminal attorney, did indeed chair the Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services Board at the time of Williams' study, but Wilson added in a tone fluctuating between ironic disbelief and anger: "I am not now, nor have I ever been an elected official of the National Lawyers Guild. I'm a member, and even if I had been an officer, it wouldn't mean anything. This is garbage, he certainly never contacted me. His kinds of remarks reek of the misleading and totally false accusations made in the 1950's. This type of smear has no place in a rational discussion."
A copy of the Williams study and related documents were obtained by the NLG through the federal Freedom of Information Act. The documents show that Williams combed through the 1986 financial records of 325 LSC-funded legal programs looking for a connection to the NLG. He found 28 programs where he discerned a connection, including instances where Legal Services programs listed the NLG among the participating local Bar associations and those times when LSC staff attended legal training workshops sponsored by the NLG.
When Williams examined the 1987 financial records from 323 LSC programs, he discovered the number of LSC programs sending staff to NLG-sponsored training workshops went up from 9 to 22. "That is an increase of over 140%!!!" reported a shocked Williams, "The taxpayers paid for the official training and the NLG increased its opportunities to propogandize the Communist Party line and recruit allies and potential members."
"To conclude then," wrote Williams, "the 50 year record of the National Lawyers Guild as a Communist Front and a stalwart defender of the Soviet Union, warrants concern when shown the high degree of NLG involvement in the Legal Services Corporation, especially with taxpayers' funds."
It's difficult to know where to start when dissecting red-baiting blithering, but math is a handy lever. If 22 of 323 LSC programs sent staff to NLG-sponsored training workshops, that represents just under 15%, hardly a "high degree" of involvement, even if you ignore, as Williams surely did, that the NLG-sponsored training is often accredited for professionally-mandated continuing legal education credits. Furthermore, NLG lawyers literally write the book in several areas of law, contracting with the respected Clark Boardman Law Publishers in New York to produce weighty manuals on the law of Immigration, Labor, Jury Questioning, Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and Police Misconduct-all areas of the law where Legal Services attorneys represent clients.
Williams reported his findings to an ultra-conservative LSC board member, Charles Jarvis, who, according to Williams, uged him to go public with his findings. But LSC President John H. Bayly, Jr., himself a widely-respected conservative Republican, is said to have been especially angered that he first read about the Williams report in an editorial in the Moonie-owned conservative Washington Times newspaper. Williams was soon job-hunting.
According to letters sent by Bayly to several Congressional staff investigators, "Mr. Williams' preparation of these memoranda was pursued without my knowledge or that of his supervisors in the Office of Field Services. Certainly, the Corporation authorized no such `study' and Mr. Williams memoranda do not represent or reflect Corporate policy." An LSC review of the Wiliams study concluded that neither his math nor his conclusions added up properly.
Bayly himself was ordered to clean out his desk a few months later when he refused as a matter of principle to carry out orders from the ultra-conservative majority of the LSC Board which Bayly felt would have crippled the agency.
After being terminated by LSC, Williams wrote of his study in several rightist publications. In Conservative Digest he penned an article titled "Legal Services Caught Funding Communist Front," which repeated the errors concerning Boston attorney David P. Wilson. The article also reveals that the Washington Times editorial on the Williams' study was penned by Samuel T. Francis, with whom Wilson had worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Francis had written a Heritage study that bemoaned the end of executive and congressional subversive hunting, and later joined the staff of Denton's witch hunting Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism.
Using Williams "expose," rightist conservative groups began a failed campaign in late 1988 to cut off funds for the Legal Services Corporation. It was not the first time LSC came under attack from the political right.
The ultra-conservative attack on the Legal Services Corporation has always been linked to the red-baiting of the National Lawyers Guild. As early as September of 1977 Howard Phillips as leader of the Conservative Caucus circulated a letter to every member of the U.S. Senate saying: "I am deeply concerned the some employees of the Legal Services Corporation....are active in the National Lawyers Guild. Indeed, it is a fact that some grantees....assign seats on their boards, to be filled at the discretion of the National Lawyers Guild." Phillips asked the Senate to initiate public hearings to investigate the connection between LSC and NLG.
The April 8, 1981 issue of Review of the News escalated the rhetoric by claiming LSC was "a federally-funded beehive of radical activity, swarming with Marxist attorneys who want to remake society, and most of whom can't find jobs in the private sector." Review of the News is published by the paranoid ultra-right John Birch Society, a key institution in the American nativist right. The column quoted ultra-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) as saying, "The record of this Corporation and specifically its representatives around the country contains many horror stories of harassment and intimidation...." Among the alleged LSC atrocities: · Legal work to help "organize farm workers unions in California, Florida, the Midwest, and New Jersey...." · "Litigation in order to return major portions of the States of Maine and Massachusetts to the Indians; · Legal advice for "A lobbying campaign for the graduated income tax in Massachusetts; · "Litigation to compel payment of SSI benefits to alcoholics; · "Litigation to place South Boston High School into receivership; · "An amicus brief in the Bakke case; · "...Litigation to define 'black English' as a foreign language; · "...Litigation to compel the New York City Transit Authority to hire former heroin addicts; · "Litigation to establish the principle that a mother's lesbianism is not sufficient grounds for changing a custody decree."
Most Congressional representatives found little odd about the list provided by Helms, since the Legal Services Corporation was established to assist poor people in asserting their legal rights in non-criminal situations.
Rep. George E. Brown, Jr (D-CA) responded pointedly that "The problem with the Legal Services Corporation is not that it is ineffective but rather that it is too effective in representing the needs of the poor and disenfranchised"
Legal Services became a key component in a campaign launched by Conservative Digest in its April 1982 special issue: "How Washington Funds the Left: The New Pork Barrel" The magazine at the time was published by New Right direct mail whiz Richard Viguerie, and its contributing editors included Reagan advisors Patrick J. Buchanan and Lyn Nofziger. The issue included a two page spread on why "Legal Services must be Stopped" and a column by Howard Phillips titled "Let's De-Fund the Left."
The November 1983 conservative "Free Market" newsletter On Principle raised the issue of the NLG as commie front: "The Guild was identified by a Congressional Committee as the "foremost legal bulwark of the Communist Party, its front organizations and controlled unions," said the newsletter. The article quoted a study by Michele Rossi revealing that "workshop speakers at the 1983 National Lawyers Guild Convention included at least eight NLG attorneys who are also Legal Services Corporation attorneys."
The article failed to mention that workshop speakers numbered over 200 and one workshop panel was a discussion of attacks on Legal Services by LSC staff who were also Guild members.
Attending the convention were two young conservative college students wearing Conservative Digest press credentials. One student had the credentials legitimately, but the other had forged his credentials, and when reporters complained the two had sat in the press section during a major event snickering and passing racist notes during speeches by Black NLG members including then Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, the Guild leadership decided to revoke the credentials and toss them out.
The student who had actually registered as representing Conservative Digest, blamed his colleague for all the disruption, and demanded an appeal hearing, so one was quickly convened by Guild leadership. The appeals board voted that if "Conservative Digest" would verify the student's press credential was legitimate, he would be allowed to stay. The student reached Howard Phillips at "Conservative Digest" but Phillips refused to speak to any member of the NLG so the credential could not be verified.
The National Lawyers Guild has learned to expect red-baiting and to confront it head-on.
Responding to a 1985 printed attack in a Seattle daily charging the Guild was part of a "Soviet Front," two local Guild officers responded by explaining the tactic of the "Red Baiter" is to use "labels and name calling to cloud issues."
"It is a technique that discredits dissent, breeds distrust, and limits debate. We shouldn't forget the sordid history of the with hunts for "Un-Americans" in the 50's. Lilian Hellman named that period well - it was a "Scoundrel Time." Then and now, the National Lawyers Guild stood, with honor, beside those, like Hellman, who refused to participate in what was, and is, red-baiting."
"The Guild, throughout its history, has fought for the rights of women, minorities, the poor, the politically and economically disenfranchised - and those who dissent. Anyone at all familiar with the Guild's open and democratic decision-making is aware of the substantial diversity of political opinion in the organization. No informed person would entertain for a moment the accusation that it is a front organization for a foreign government of for anyone."
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