I have been looking
forward to talking with you lawyers and interns because some of my best
friends are lawyers. I just wouldn't want my sister to marry one of them.
Theresa Hughes and Jill Robertson have done a great job of promoting this meeting and they have sent me copies of the Minnesota Justice Foundation's Pro Bono Report, each one of which I have read from cover to cover. Volume 13 No. l the Fall 1997 issue has a picture of a cat and me. Unfortunately the accompanying article contains everything I planned to say tonight; even my favorite story about U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who sent a postcard to a concerned friend telling me not to worry about being deported. So I did stop worrying. It was good to follow this advice; most parties to a lawsuit have to sweat it out.
That MJF article did a good job of covering my checkered career, but wholly failed to reveal that I earned my living for almost 50 years as a legal secretary.
At the age of 16, just out of the 8th grade in Canada, I had my first job in a law office. In those days one didn't have to have a PhD to work in a law office. One needed only to be able to type and be an expert with shorthand. Shorthand, as you know, is a now a lost art.
I received $25 a month, $15 of which I paid my mother for board, $5.00 a month on a bicycle. The rest went for candy no doubt. I didn't have to worry about clothes since I already had a bathing suit. It had a high neck, long sleeves, a little skirt and bathing slippers. Very depressing. If I am asked what is the greatest change I have seen in my long years, I would say it was in swimsuits.
My unfortunate first employer dictated on my first day on the job as follows: "The defendant denies each and every allegation contained in paragraph I of the plaintiff's complaint herein." Don't you love it? It sounded Greek to me.
Had you known that I had been a legal secretary since 1913 I am sure you would not have been so reckless as to invite a legal secretary of such solid credentials to address a captive audience of attorneys, and particularly a retired secretary, who could not be fired.
Let me insert at this point, something you probably don't know: that behind every successful lawyer there stands his or her utterly astonished secretary.
However I am not talking about the members of the Minnesota Justice Foundation. In my book, the Foundation and similar groups are special--a breed apart.
It was during the hysteria of the McCarthy period in the 50's that I had a run-in with the law. I was arrested because of earlier membership in the Communist Party and was held for deportation to Canada. As a responsible ex-legal secretary I must remind you, just in case you have forgotten, that deportation proceedings are held under civil law, not criminal; therefore the victims are not protected by the Bill of Rights. The Immigration and Nationalization Service, the INS, thought nothing of trying to deport me, who was foreign born, for membership in the Party thirteen years before my arrest when such membership was not a deportable offense. I can only charitably assume that the illiterate INS didn't know what the phrase ex post facto meant.
So they took me off to the slammer where I spent an interesting afternoon with a couple of young women awaiting deportation. They asked me why I was there and I thought I would make them laugh, so I told them I had been accused of trying to overturn the government by force and violence. They didn't laugh. Instead they said "well, the damned government ought to be overthrown." They had never heard of such a noble crime.
My friends bailed me out for $500. I understand that bail is usually set so high that the bailee will not attempt to leave the country. They must have known that I was the last person who would want to leave the country. After you get home tonight just try to see the logic of that. But don't ask me to explain this during the question period.
I have good, personal reasons for believing that were it not for pro bono lawyers I would not be here tonight but would have spent the last forty years in exile in England, although I was born only 80 miles from Seattle, in Victoria, British Columbia. I'll explain why England and not to Canada.
We had friends in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa whom we persuaded to ask their government to tell the United States government that they would not accept me. I guess those friends argued that if I was too dangerous for the United States, why should Canada take the risk?
So, after ten years of trying, the United States was back to square one.
Next they tried to deport me to England, where I would spend the rest of my life thousands of miles from my only child, my grandchildren and not-yet-born great grandchildren; from all my relatives and friends, completely uprooted from my home in the United States of some 40 years. I can sum this up by saying that behind every exile by deportation lies a tragic story.
Shakespeare's Romeo poignantly described exile. He says: "Be merciful, say 'death' For exile hath more terror in his look, much more than death; do not say 'banishment'" I agree with Romeo. It would be a bad trip.
Of course, I had no connections in England. But the INS made the mistake of lying to the British government, claiming I had no ties in the United States, had one daughter from whom I was estranged; in fact, I didn't even know where she was.
Eventually, by a question in the English parliament by a member to whom my lawyers had given the facts, England, too, refused to accept me. Spared once again from exile, this time we finally got some relief from the courts: the Ninth Circuit sent me back for a new administrative hearing. This time the INS finally stopped their efforts to deport me. They had enough of the Wolf case.
The some 400 political deportations initiated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service were but a prelude to the McCarthy cold war persecutions of the 50's that deeply penetrated into every niche in our society: lawyers, the courts, the churches, labor unions, seamen, grass roots organizations such as senior citizens; the arts through attacking Paul Robeson and refusing to allow him to leave the country and refusing to allow Charlie Chaplin and the artist Pablo Picasso, who were foreign born, to come in.
Most of the deportees were poor people but due to the work of mostly pro bono lawyers only two were deported: Hamish McKay, expelled from his union in the U.S.A. because of his alleged Communism, was unable to find work. But Canada did not share the Communist hysteria that prevailed in the United States. Hamish was fully employed in Vancouver, B.C. through his membership in the Canadian Carpenters, union for the rest of his life.
William Mackey was sent to Finland and after a few years, when the hue and cry died down, he was returned by Congressional action.
My attorney was John Caughlan, assisted by C.T. Hatten. They worried my case through innumerable administrative hearings and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice on certiorari. Along this route, before the higher courts, local lawyers usually acted on their behalf. John did the major work for all of the 14 deportees in Washington state. I happened to be his secretary and we still argue over whether I worked for him or he worked for me.
We lost all the battles but won the war in all of these cases. I applied for citizenship, but that is another long story. After some 24 years of turmoil, I finally became a citizen in 1974 at which time I forswore allegiance to my former sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. Celebrating at the local pub I proposed the following toast: "To hell with Queen Elizabeth and to hell with Richard Nixon, too." That is the end of my personal story.
Mr. Caughlan founded the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and both of us have belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union for many years.
There is also a group of women lawyers in Seattle, known as the Northwest Women's Law Center. Their mission is, and I quote, "The Northwest Women's Law Center is a non-profit organization founded in 1978 to advance women's legal rights -- the right to reproductive choice, the right to earn equal wages, to be safe in the workplace and at home, to be free from employment discrimination and sexual harassment."
These groups concern themselves with civil rights abuses. However, many lawyers who give generously of their time, like the Minneapolis Justice Foundation, act for the poor. There is indeed a thin line between the people who suffer from civil rights abuse and the people of low income. Rich people seldom suffer civil rights abuse. And because poverty and discrimination go hand-in-hand lawyers may start their pro bono services for the poor but end up with civil rights cases. I think this is what happened to Morris Dees in Montgomery, Alabama. He built a staff to work for the poor, but he soon found out that the African Americans suffered civil rights abuse as well as being poor. He did tremendous work in suing the Ku Klux Klan into bankruptcy whose victims were largely the poor.
I am going to change gears now. With the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in the early 60's the rather small and largely recreationally oriented environmental movement sprung into action, particularly the Audubon Society whose mission had been somewhat limited to protecting birdlife. But Carson demonstrated that the use of DDT was life threatening to many avian species. I remember that a bumper sticker reading "Ban DDT" was enclosed in our national magazine and we all started a campaign that did finally ban its use, at least in the United States. I was then the local Society's secretary, and still am.
We often discussed suing the polluters or the footdragging government agencies, and sometimes did. We won many of these cases. And who did the legal work? Mostly lawyers, and a lot of their time was pro bono. Students began to study environmental law, as our Society and other environmental groups pressed for legislation for clean air and water, for preservation of ancient forests, for protection of wildlife habitat and for endangered species.
A wonderfully witty book was written by Attorney Scott Reed of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It was written especially for environmental organizations, to discourage them against using litigation, and presenting many options. I remember so well his last sentence in a paragraph all by itself: "If all options fail, sue the bastards."
The Seattle Audubon Society has a board of twenty three persons. Seven are lawyers, serving as volunteers. John Lundin is our official legal adviser. Dick Butler takes care of our purchase of wildlife refuges. Eleanore Baxendale, a city attorney, is on land management. All volunteers. Lawyers serve as volunteers in other environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund. Attorney Brock Evans serves as president of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs. There many others. Some large law firms allocate a certain amount of pro bono time on a regular basis. They are generally known as volunteers rather than pro bono but they all mean the same thing.
We have a special organization to assist with our special litigation known as the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, until lately known as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.
Returning to legal aid for the poor, here in Seattle, we have an offspring of the King County Bar Association known as the Evergreen lawyers, whose mission is to provide free legal services to the poor. They earned the 1997 Harrison Tweed Award given by the American Bar Association and the National Aid and Defenders Association.
The Seattle Post Intelligencer recently commented in an editorial: "If we are to remain a nation of laws, it is essential that all persons have access to the legal system."
So far I have discussed deportation cases of the past. Presently there are thousands of immigrants who are being persecuted under the Immigration Reform Act passed by Congress in 1996. The critics say the new rules could tear apart families with legitimate claims to U.S. residency. Many immigrants in the Puget Sound area believe their lives and futures are hanging in the balance. The Seattle Post Intelligencer of September 25th 1997 devoted more than a page to individual cases under the headline "Millions of families may be broken apart as (the new) immigration law kicks in."
For example, Pedro, a U.S. citizen, has two sons, 21 and 24, who support him. They live with him in a small two-bedroom apartment where the sons are awaiting their green cards. Under old immigration laws they could stay here while waiting. Now, however, that provision ends. The two young men will be required to return to Mexico to wait for their permanent residence in Mexico where they can't support their father. The wait could take years.
A 50-year-old Chinese woman says she would rather die than return to Hong Kong.
Cela Rodriguez with husband, Noel, and son, Francisco, is among 300,000 Central American refugees whose future will be in limbo unless Congress acts. Returning to Nicaragua without her family frightens Cela.
These are just examples of what faces thousands of immigrants under the new Immigration Reform Act.
Things happen fast in the vacillating present 105th Congress. Help may be forthcoming; but, then, maybe not. But for me, now a U.S. citizen, I am spared anxiety and I will never fail to be grateful to the many, many pro bono lawyers who prevented my deportation to a country of strangers, and who made it possible that I am living here in the comfort of my family and friends.
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you.
(Last updated October 24, 1998)
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