Featured oral history: Interview with Dennis Groenenboom

Interview with Dennis Groenenboom, November 13, 2014, conducted by Alan Houseman

Dennis Groenenboom, the Executive Director of Iowa Legal Aid, spent his entire career in legal services. After obtaining is J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law, he joined Iowa Legal Aid (then known as the Legal Services Corporation of Iowa) in 1978. Dennis worked as a staff attorney, managing attorney, senior staff attorney, and deputy director, prior to becoming the executive director in 1992. In the interview, he recalls some of the earlier cases he worked on that focused on disability rights, senior citizens’ rights and Dennis Groenenboom2Medicaid issues.

Dennis discusses the history and development of Iowa Legal Aid, which became a statewide program in 2003. In the early years, Iowa Legal Aid was funded almost exclusively by the LSC, but the organization started diversifying its funding in the 1980s. After Congress reduced LSC funding in 1995, Iowa was one of the first states that initiated new state support. Driven and supported by an extraordinary long-term staff, the work of Iowa Legal Aid has covered a wide range of issues and has impacted and improved many areas of law in the state, such as housing law, where Iowa Legal Aid helped to clarify notice provisions and rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants, domestic violence, disability rights, and consumer law. Iowa Legal Aid, which has received a number of technology innovation awards, has also managed to be very accessible on an equal basis for clients across the largely rural state. Special projects have included Iowa Legal Aid’s Health and Law Project, which connects patients of community health centers with lawyers to address underlying legal issues that are impacting the patients’ health, Iowa Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer clinic, a Foreclosure Defense Project, and coordination of legal services in response to flooding and other disasters in the state, among other special initiatives.

Community outreach and education has always been an important part of the work of Iowa Legal Aid , and the organization distributes its quarterly newsletter, the Equal Justice Journal (previously Poor People’s Press), of which Groenenboom serves as the editor, to over 7,000 households.

Groenenboom has closely worked with the Iowa State Bar Association, where he served on the Health Law Section Council, and served on the Civil Policy Group of the NLADA, which he chaired from June 2012 – November 2014, He has been active in working on social justice issues in his church, Common Cause, and the Iowa Pride Network, among other organizations.

Reflecting on the significance and future direction of legal services work, he emphasizes that: “I think it is very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that part of what we’re doing is trying to get people out of poverty and to have better lives.”

A transcript of the interview is available at Digital Georgetown:

https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/1041073

Featured collection: Gail Kinney collection

Gail Kinney served as the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Bar Association during the 1980s, and then as the Director of the New England Bar Foundation. At the ABA Mid-Winter Meeting in Baltimore in February 1986, Kinney, as well as Michael Greco, president of the Massachusetts Bar, Jonathan Ross, president of the New Hampshire Bar, and Bill Whitehurst, president-elect of the Texas Bar, founded the ad hoc group Bar Leaders for the Preservation of Legal Services for the Poor. The grassroots group was ultimately successful in mobilizing and uniting all other state bar associations and many city bar associations in a coalition that was determined to save legal services from the board that was hostile to the mission of the LSC. Kinney, who volunteered to staff the Bar Leaders for the Preservation of Legal Services for the Poor, compiled these files and research materials documenting the collective effort to preserve legal services for the poor during the 1980s. A finding aid for the Gail Kinney Collection (NEJL 066) is available on Digital Georgetown.

The collection includes Gary Bellow’s inspiring reflections: “Comments on Our Situation,” prepared for the Conference on Legal Services, March 6, 1982. The NEJL has made a digitized copy of Bellow’s reflections available on Digital Georgetown: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/1042743

In re Gault case file digitized

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Norman Dorsen’s argument of In re Gault 387 U.S. 1 (1967) before the Supreme Court. In recognition of the anniversary, the NEJL, in collaboration with the National Juvenile Defender Center, has recently digitized the original In re Gault case file using the Innovation Hub facility at the National Archives. The entire file will be available online at NARA’s website by February of 2017, and the scans can also be requested from the NEJL archivist.

Legal Services History Matters

By Katharina Hering

In her 1998 article Necessary Legends, Marie Failinger reflects about the importance of legal services history. She writes that: “History is crucial for a vision that will sustain a forward movement of legal assistance programs and beat back propaganda against such programs; it is demanded by the client-centered ethic of such programs; and it is important to a continued sense of community within the legal assistance movement.” (268)*

In the aftermath of the elections, reflecting about legal services history has become particularly meaningful. In his remarks at the NLADA Civil Caucus meeting on November 10th, two days after the elections, Don Saunders, NLADA’s Vice President of Civil Legal Services, reminded the audience that the legal services community has successfully managed to sustain programs and the existence of federal funding through challenges by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, as well as by the 104th Congress. Like no other repository in the United States, the NEJL collections document the continuity and transformations of the legal services movement during these challenges.

Reflecting about the meaning of history for the present, Failinger writes: “Like a metaphor, history is both like and unlike our current situation, and it is exactly those similarities and differences which force us to re-think our present, to discover what the ongoing issues of injustice and response have been over centuries, as well as to understand what is new to our situation, and what is likely to change in the future.” (289)

Our oral histories, in particular, offer the opportunity to encounter the stories of the past, and engage with historical reflections by long-time legal services advocates, whether they began their careers in the sixties during the OEO-Legal Services Program, or after the LSC had been established. “For it is in the encounter with the stories of the past that each lawyer’s – each client’s—own story becomes visible and clear to her and becomes transformed for the future.” (268)

Numerous legal services programs have been celebrating their 50thanniversaries in the past two years, such as the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in Washington, DC, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and California Rural Legal Assistance, or are planning celebrations soon, such as Legal Services of New Jersey. In the past five decades, all these programs have adopted different strategies to maintain, develop and grow their equal justice legal work, despite these challenges.

The history of the CRLA, in particular, reflects this persistence. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the CRLA this year and to share these stories of the past with a wider audience, the NEJL has made available streaming video files of our oral history interviews with Michael Bennett, who was CRLA’s first Administrator, and Cruz Reynoso, who became CRLA’s deputy director in 1968 and a few months later its director. These streaming files complement our existing collection of oral history interviews that are already online, several of which also cover the early history of the CRLA, especially the interview with Gary Bellow.

Whether to provide comfort, inspiration, or simply information, listening to these interviews in whole or in part offers welcome moments for reflection during difficult times.

Oral history interview with Cruz Reynoso, conducted by Alan Houseman, August 12. 2002. Oral history collection, National Equal Justice Library, Special Collections, Georgetown Law Library, online at: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/1042295

Oral history interview with Michael Bennett, conducted by Alan Houseman, May 27, 2004. Oral History Collection, National Equal Justice Library, Georgetown Law Library, online at: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/710421

Other resources:

* Failinger, Marie A., Necessary Legends: The National Equal Justice Library and the Importance of Poverty Lawyers’ History (January 1, 1998). St. Louis University Public Law Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1998), pp. 265-291. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1929516

Expanded LSC Records Finding Aid

Let’s C — LSC employees’ newsletter, May 1980. LSC Records, Newsletters series, NEJL.

The NEJl has recently expanded its finding aid for the LSC records (NEJL 012). The Legal Services Corporation Records constitute one of the core collections of the NEJL, and came to the NEJL in several different accessions. Many of the materials were donated from LSC’s in-house library. The collection consists mostly of gray literature – generally defined as publications that are not controlled by commercial publishers, such as research reports and proceedings of board meetings, and of audio-visual materials. The LSC collection is not a traditional manuscript collection and is partially “artificial”: to fill gaps in specific series and to facilitate easier access to LSC materials, materials from other NEJL collections are included in the LSC finding aid, even though they remain part of other NEJL collections, such as the Bill McCalpin Papers.

The records are arranged into the following nine series: 1. Board and committee meetings; 2. Fact books; 3. Budget and appropriation requests; 4. Annual reports; 5. Program directories; 6. Reports and proceedings; 7. training materials, 8. Newsletters and clipping files, and 9. Audio-visual materials.

In re Gault 50th anniversary

The NEJL has started working on a few projects in preparation for the 50th anniversary of In re Gault next year. We are currently collaborating with the NJDC to scan the entire original In re Gault 387 U.S. 1 (1967)  case file, using the new Innovation Hub at the National Archives, for example, and more projects are planned down the road. Stay tuned…

Experiences of a Legal Aid Lawyer by Junius Allison

When reviewing correspondence files from the early 1990s, the NEJL archivist recently discovered an unpublished manuscript: Experiences of a Legal Aid Lawyer by Junius L. Allison [ca. 1993]. Allison (1909-2003), who was originally from North Carolina, worked at Chicago’s Legal Aid Bureau in the 1940s and joined NLADA’s staff in 1953. From 1962-1971, he served as the organization’s Executive Director. Allison’s manuscript includes detailed recollections of his work for the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau in the 1940s, and his work for the NLADA in the 1950s and 1960s, where he closely cooperated with Emery A. Brownell. From an archivist’s perspective, Allison’s memoirs are also interesting, because they include descriptions of the contents of NLADA’s library in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as descriptions of some of NLADA’s promotional projects, such as the launch of the “Justice” TV series in 1953. The manuscript can be reviewed at the NEJL.

Featured collection (election special): The Center for a New Democracy collection

The NEJL also holds a few collections that document the development of public interest law more broadly, beyond the history of legal services. One of these is the Center for a New Democracy collection on campaign finance reform. The Center for a New Democracy, a project of the Tides Foundation, was established in 1991 to promote democratic reform through research, public education, litigation, and community organizing and training. A particular focus was on public financing of elections and fair voting reforms. The CND existed until 1996, and Donna Edwards served as its director from 1994-1996.

The collection (NEJL 064) was donated to the NEJL in 1996, and it includes case files and other materials related to state ballot initiatives in favor of campaign finance reform in the mid 1990s: Missouri Proposition A (Carver v. Nixon and Shrink v. Maupin); Minnesota (Day v. Holahan); California (Pro-Life Council PAC v. Jan Scully); Colorado (Colorado Right to Life Committee v. Victoria Buckley, Secretary of State); Montana (Right to Life Ass., et al. v. Robert Eddleman, County Attorney); Maine (Maine Right to Life Committee v. Federal Election Comm.); Oregon (Center to Protect Free Speech, Inc. v. Oregon); Washington, D.C. (National Black Police Assn. et.al. v. DC Board of Elections and Ethics).

In addition, the collection includes a range of reports, pamphlets, and articles (gray literature) on campaign finances in various states and in the U.S., including statewide surveys of “American Attitudes Toward Money in Politics” conducted by Bannon Research on behalf of the Center for a New Democracy in Massachusetts; Montana, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California.

Of particular local interest in Washington, D.C. are the materials related to Initiative 41, a 1992 ballot initiative that limited contributions to $100 for the election cycle for district-wide races and $50 per cycle for Ward races. The Center for a New Democracy and the DC community group DC ACORN, a principal supporter of the initiative, undertook a study to analyze the early impact of Initiative 41 on elections in the District. The collection also includes case files from National Black Police Association v. District of Columbia, 108 F.3d 346, 348-49 (D.C.Cir.1997). The case challenged the constitutionality of the new D.C. law as imposing “unprecedented limitations on the right of individuals and groups to contribute, and of political candidates to accept, contributions in support of campaigns for elected public office.”

A collection inventory exists, and the collection can be accessed at the NEJL.