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Guide to the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. records M0750
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions
  • Access to Collection
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • Sponsor Information
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights
  • Arrangement and Description
  • Historical Note
  • Preferred Citation

  • Title: California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. records
    Identifier/Call Number: M0750
    Contributing Institution: Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 406.0 Linear feet (167 manuscript boxes; 214 cartons; 7 half-boxes)
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1966-1990
    Date (inclusive): 1966-2000
    Abstract: The records of the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) contain administrative files, litigation files, and special program and subject files, dating from the founding of the organization in 1966 through circa 2000. Materials in the collection document CRLA's ongoing work to provide legal aid to farmworkers and the rural poor in California.
    Physical Location: Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance. For more information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/spc.html.
    Creator: California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
    Creator: California Rural Legal Assistance Incorporated.


    A small amount of material with privacy and confidentiality issues has been closed for 75 years from the date the material was created. Within this guide, this material will be marked with a Restricted Material note at the file level, specifying the extent of the closure period.

    Access to Collection

    The materials are open for research use. Audio-visual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy.

    Scope and Contents

    The records of the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) contain administrative files, litigation files, and special program and subject files, dating from the founding of the organization in 1966 through circa 2000. Material in the collection documents CRLA's ongoing work to provide legal aid to farmworkers and the rural poor in California and highlights particular priority areas where advocacy efforts were focused, including employment, education, immigration, health and environmental safety. Also included in the collection are numerous files related to CRLA's development and survival as an organization. The history of its funding and re-funding by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is particularly well documented. The majority of material within the collection originated from CRLA's central administrative office in San Francisco, although some records from regional branch offices are present as well.

    Processing Information

    The collection was processed by Joseph Geller; with Adelina Acuña, Destin Jenkins, Kimberly Koshiyama, Ashley McDonnell Lawyer, Beth Noyes, Liam O'Hanlon, and Rebecca McNulty Skirvin.

    Sponsor Information

    The California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. records were processed under a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was given by the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. to Stanford University, Special Collections in 1995, 2005, 2011, and 2013 (accessions 1995-085, 2005-077, 2011-059, 2011-160, and 2013-009). Materials from accessions 1995-085, 2005-077, 2011-059, and 2011-160 were processed between March 2011 and February 2013 and are listed in this finding aid.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubserv/permissions.html.
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Arrangement and Description

    The collection is organized into nine record groups:
    Record Group 1. Board of Directors
    Record Group 2. Directors
    Record Group 3. Administrative and Financial Files
    Record Group 4. Communication and Development Files
    Record Group 5. Advocacy
    Record Group 6. Program Files
    Record Group 7. Audiovisual Material
    Record Group 8. Government Relations
    Record Group 9. Born-Digital Material
    Materials within an individual record group, or within a series or subseries of an individual record group, have been arranged alphabetically by box title. Box titles and subtitles may include a general description (i.e. financial files), a format term (i.e. pleadings) a subject term (i.e. mechanization), or the name of a specific legal case or individual person. Legal cases are alphabetized by the name of the primary plaintiff or defendant. As a second level of arrangement, some boxes have been organized chronologically (i.e. meeting files and similar types of material have been arranged chronologically when possible and relevant).
    The majority of the collection has been described at the box level. Descriptions are meant to give researchers an overall sense of what will be found in the entire box but are not exhaustive and do not list the contents of every folder.

    Historical Note

    Founded in 1966 through a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) was the first federally-funded rural legal services program as well as the first such statewide program. CRLA provides legal services to farmworkers, particularly migrant farmworkers, and the rural poor in California. James D. Lorenz Jr. was the founding director of CRLA and organizers César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong were all members of its founding Board. There have now been five other directors: Cruz Reynoso, Martin R. Glick, Richard Baca, Alberto Saldamando, and the current director, José R. Padilla, whose tenure began in 1984.
    As one of the original "War on Poverty" programs, CRLA was nationally renowned for pursuing high-impact class actions that benefitted millions of low-income people in California and nationally until the 1996 "Gingrich Congress" prohibited federally-funded legal services from participating in class-action litigation. Today, CRLA continues to assist individual clients and communities through alternative forms of litigation, remaining steadfastly committed to advocating for the rural poor as a class in order to address the root causes of poverty. To achieve this goal, CRLA has developed an effective organizational structure, with a central administrative office in San Francisco as well as numerous regional branch offices located near rural communities within California. Regional offices allow CRLA to make its services available to clients where they live, while the central office is able to direct priorities for the organization as a whole.
    CRLA has traditionally focused its advocacy efforts around a set of strategic priority areas, including employment, housing, education, immigration, civil rights, health, and environmental safety. The organization has achieved legal success in all these areas. For example, an early CRLA advocacy effort led by Ralph S. Abascal—who joined CRLA as a staff attorney in 1968 and later became CRLA General Counsel for over twenty years—resulted in the eventual banning of DDT and other pesticides in the early 1970s. Other examples of successful litigation include Carmona v. Division of Industrial Safety (1975), a case that CRLA argued in the California Supreme Court and that led to the banning of EI Corito, the crippling short-handled hoe.
    Other notable CRLA cases include Diana v. Board of Education (1970), in which CRLA challenged the practice of placing non-native English speakers into classes for the mentally disabled. CRLA was also instrumental in the passing of the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Act of 1976, and enhanced the power of this Act in the case of Comite De Padres de Familia v. Riles (1985), which further defined the state's responsibility for supervising bilingual education programs. CRLA also achieved a victory for undocumented immigrants by securing the addition of the Special Agricultural Worker provision to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The provision allowed a million undocumented workers to become legalized. CRLA went on to litigate two of three "late amnesty cases" filed in the federal courts in California against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for its misadministration of IRCA: Catholic Social Services (CCS) v. Meese (1986) and Zambrano v. INS (1988). During litigation that spanned over twenty years, the CCS case was argued at all levels of the federal courts including before the U.S. Supreme Court.
    CRLA's priorities are revisited at least once every five years in the form of Statewide Priorities Conferences, and are also addressed through the formation of specific task forces aimed at identifying, understanding, and raising awareness about issues affecting the organization’s rural clients. Additional changes CRLA has undergone include the establishment of a Migrant Unit, in order to more effectively address issues faced by migrant farmworkers. Over the years, CRLA has worked hard to remain independent and true to its original mission, which has included collaboration with other legal services groups, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), through activities such as co-counseling and the joint filing of amici briefs.
    Despite being consistently praised by its clients and recognized by organizations such as the American Bar Association for providing high-quality legal services CRLA has been particularly subject to politically motivated efforts to defund the organization and has been forced to struggle for its survival. The 1970 veto by then Governor Ronald Reagan of CRLA's federal, OEO funding is perhaps the most notable example of this type of attack.
    CRLA's relations with Reagan had been tense ever since CRLA litigation successfully blocked his attempts to cut California's welfare programs in 1967. Following these defeats in court, Reagan appointed Lewis K. Uhler, a former member of the John Birch Society as director of the State's OEO, an appointment that seemed clearly aimed at undermining CRLA. Uhler compiled and submitted to Reagan a report that listed 127 alleged incidents of CRLA misconduct, ranging from misuse of OEO funds to intentionally inciting prison riots. The report failed to acknowledge any of CRLA's significant accomplishments. On December 26, 1970, Regan vetoed the OEO $1.8 million grant for CRLA's 1971 refunding.
    Although Reagan's veto was no surprise, the outrageous and libelous allegations contained in the Uhler Report prompted CRLA and its supporters to launch an ambitious campaign to save the organization. CRLA demanded an investigation into the Uhler charges and submitted its own report that refuted each incident cited in the Report. The Nixon administration appointed a commission consisting of the Chief Justices of three state Supreme Courts (all of them Republicans) to investigate. This commission conducted hearings throughout California (in which Uhler himself refused to appear or participate) and ultimately concluded that all the charges against CRLA were false.
    The Uhler Report controversy was not only a formative moment in CRLA's history but by exposing the vulnerability of legal services to political attacks, led to the bi-partisan creation of the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) with the goal of reducing state and local interference under the OEO funding scheme. This controversy and its implications have been examined in numerous articles and studies, including the 1973 article published in The Hastings Law Journal by legal scholars Jerome B. Falk and Stuart R. Pollak, Political Interference with Publicly Funded Lawyers: The CRLA Controversy and The Future of Legal Services. The controversy is also treated in Michael Bennett and Cruz Reynoso's 1972 article in the UCLA Chicano-Latino Law Review, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA): Survival of a Poverty Law Practice.
    Reagan's gubernatorial experience with CRLA led him throughout his subsequent Presidency to consistently seek the elimination of LSC and all federally-funded legal services. His efforts were continually blocked in Congress. Notwithstanding his inability to eliminate LSC, Reagan used his presidential power to appoint LSC members dedicated to eliminating the programs through politically-motivated investigations that interfered with program operations and often resulted in decreased funding. A continuing, decades-long series of audits, investigations and extraordinary conditions imposed on funding by LSC and/or its Office of Inspector General, have consumed thousands of hours of CRLA staff time and pro-bono efforts from supporting members of the Bar. In 1981, to help offset program cuts due to decreases in funding, CRLA and its supporters created the CRLA Foundation (CRLAF). The Foundation receives no federal funding, and is therefore able to undertake significant work that CRLA cannot because of federal restrictions on LSC-funded organizations.
    Despite the many challenges CRLA has faced, the organization has shown a remarkable resilience throughout its nearly fifty years of operation. CRLA continues its unique mission, providing legal representation and other assistance to farmworkers and the rural poor in California, and has evolved into one of the most effective advocacy programs in the United States.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. Records (M0750). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Abascal, Ralph S.
    Baca, Richard
    Chavez, Cesar, 1927-1993
    Glick, Martin R.
    Gonzales, Richard A., 1944-
    Lorenz Junior, James D.
    Miller, Tom
    Padilla, José R.
    Pearl, Richard M.
    Rasmussen, Barbara
    Reagan, Ronald
    Reynoso, Cruz, 1931-
    Rosenbaum, Stephen
    Uhler, Lewis K.
    White, Tony
    Legal aid--California
    Mexican Americans
    Migrant agricultural laborers--California.