Out of that room came those who pollwatched for Raza Unida Party, fought the State Bar of Texas for invading the privacy of prospective lawyers, pressured the University to support the United Farm Workers’ lettuce boycott, participated in the defense of antiwar demonstratorswell, the list goes on. But the times, they are a-changin’ right back again, and law students now appear more interested in where they will be working three years hence than in whether the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley can get drinking water. It’s understandable. The great issues of our timesegregation and Vietnamhave been at least outwardly resolved, and the Nixon Court is closing the doors to the federal courthouse almost as fast as the Warren Court opened them. It would not be fair to speculate whether law students now are more likely to “sell out,” merely because visible activism is so rare. One who has never stood up for a principle can’t be accused of abandoning his or her stand for money. But the lawyers I went to school with, the last group tempered in the Sixties and fired by the Warren Court, have a public commitment they must honor or at least be measured by. It’s not only fair but necessary to ask whether human rights activism was only something to keep us awake between Torts and Business Associations. A strange, strange experience One former classmate works for the University of Texas. I called him the day UT refused to let a labor union meet on campus on the nonsensical grounds that the union might advocate something illegal. He agreed that the law was on my side, but the fire was gone from his activismeven having to discuss the matter with him at any length at all was a strange, strange experience. At a party last year, I overheard former UT regent Frank Erwin discussing my friend: ” didn’t sell out, we bought him out . . .” \(haw-hawI was embarrassed enough for both of us. Another time, I was hassling the gas company on behalf of a welfare mother who couldn’t get service because she had once lived with a man who skipped out on his bill. Once again, a classmate on the other side gave me what I wanted, but only after we engaged in a silly little duel about “beneficial use” and “statute of limitations.” I kept wanting to yell out that I didn’t really give a good goddamn whether I was right on the law, because the woman had small children and the temperature had dipped below freezing the night before, but somehow that didn’t seem the thing to say. 18 The Texas Observer Several of my classmates now work for big-time Houston law firms and one is pursuing his interest in environmental law by defending polluters. A chicano friend who once gave me a hard time for supporting a Democrat over a Raza Unida candidate is now prosecuting in a court where I defend. But the good news outweighs the bad. Two UT law students of my vintage clerked for U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice in Tyler, one works for the NAACP and one for the MexicanAmerican Legal Defense Fund, and a few others are now with Texas Rural Legal Aid. Another heads the farm worker division of Colorado Rural Legal W. Page Keeton, dean of Texas lawyers Services, and one is counsel for the Texas Civil Liberties Union. A dozen or so are staffing legal aid societies in several Texas cities and a couple are practicing labor law on the union side. In the end, more public interest lawyers came out of my class than there were jobs available to them. Most are doing exactly what I’m doing: cramming as much political work as possible between wills and divorces. And now that it’s possible again to work for the federal government without feeling corrupt, perhaps more of us will be in positions where we can put a human face on the system. I frankly do not get the same feeling from winning a lawsuit that I used to get sitting in a jail cell singing “We Shall Overcome,” but that is no argument against a legal education. Nor am I inclined to resign from the Bar because it follows self-interest to the brink of dishonesty. I have come across enough lawyers and judges who are honest and decent and seriously concerned about delivering more justice and less legalistic folderol to convince me that though they are a minority in my profession, they are a minority worth joining. And the Bill of Rights remains the most radical set of promises a government has ever committed to paper. As long as those promises are unkept, lawyers have good and important work to do. in Austin. Austin In the summer of 1974, I was in Nebraska on one of the Wounded Knee cases then in federal court. My client was charged with cattle rustling, poking a rifle in the face of an FBI agent, and something else having to do with the obstruction of “justice” during the 71-day uprising of the Ogala Sioux the year before. Several hundred native Americans and a great many others were indicted by federal grand juries on charges growing out of Wounded Knee. One night soon after we got to Lincoln, my partner, John Howard, and I were drinking beer outside the rundown barracks at the abandoned Air Force base where the legal defense committee was housed. It was nearly midnight. Hillbilly, our client, had just made his nightly appearance. We never saw Hillbilly any earlier than this unless we happened to spot him around sundown up on a roof considering the somber Nebraska sky during an acid trip. Talk of legal strategies, court motions, and the division of functions had drifted away into the cool summer night. Were it not for a non-defendant of young years, call him Bernardo, who spoke through clenched teeth of killing the white manhe did not appear to be Indianit would have all been rather pleasant. No business in Nebraska Then someone came running toward us in the night. Whoever it was yelled out that some defense committee people had been arrested at a local nightclub and that since we were the only lawyers around, we had to get them out. John and I had no business in the Nebraska courts, not being members of the state bar, but we were soon headed for the Lincoln police station in my car, with Hillbilly and Bernardo along for the ride. John and I were tense; Hillbilly was giggling and Bernardo, in a low, beer-can monotone, was proposing various violent courses of action. “What’s that weird smell?” John asked and immediately his eyes went wide in disbelief. Here we were pulling
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