Oregon State Bar Bulletin — DECEMBER 2010
Two Anniversaries, One Challenge
The Evolution of Legal Aid in Oregon

For the early part of the 20th century, legal aid in Oregon was an informal, catch-as-catch-can affair, with individual lawyers donating their services but with no organized, coordinated effort. But in 1935, Gus J. Solomon, a 28-year-old Portland lawyer and later chief judge of the U.S. District Court, and several other attorneys proposed to the newly established Oregon State Bar that the bar establish a legal aid office to help the poor. The OSB took on the project, with help from funding through the federal Works Progress Administration. In February 1936, the first legal aid office in the state opened in Portland.

After WPA funding ended, legal aid struggled to survive. It mostly was limited to a few scattered offices and individual attorneys who donated their help. In 1953, Portland lawyers Steven Lowenstein and Don Marmaduke traveled around Oregon to promote the concept of legal aid.

“When I started practicing law in 1953, legal aid was being done on a local basis by lawyers and their communities, sometimes appointed by judges, sometimes through the lawyer associations where they could contribute time, but the load was really overwhelming,” says Marmaduke, of Tonkon Torp. “In 1971, my job was to go around the state and talk to the various bar associations, the lawyers, and try to get them to understand the view we had about how best to meet the need. And it was not to do what we’d been doing before, but it was to transform it into a funded, expert group of poverty lawyers who would do the job as it should be done.”

“Steve Lowenstein went around the state and kludged together legal aid programs in 10 or 11 different locations,” says Henry H. Hewitt, a lawyer with Stoel Rives and an early supporter of legal aid. “He’d go to Pendleton and to Coos Bay and to Hillsboro and all these communities that really had no organized legal aid programs at the time. There really was no single source of funding. He got a little county money; he got a little bit of CAP money; he got a little bit of United Way money. He sometimes got local citizens to kick in, and pretty soon there was a lawyer, and pretty soon there was an office.”

In 1969, Gov. Tom McCall asked the OSB to study the feasibility of a statewide legal aid program. To finance it, McCall obtained a grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, supplemented by a smaller donation from the OSB shepherded by Lowenstein. The resulting 1971 report was written by Marmaduke, Lowenstein and Portland lawyers Charles Williamson and Douglas Green. It called for establishing one statewide program with 14 regional offices, a state administrative office and a state support unit. The response to that recommendation was the creation of the Oregon Legal Services Corp., the forerunner of today’s Legal Aid Services of Oregon.

In 1991, Oregon Legal Services received a pledge from the Meyer Memorial Trust to match lawyer contributions to legal aid in the amount of $750,000 over three years. Ira Zarov, now director of the Professional Liability Fund, fundraiser extraordinaire Linda Clingan, longtime legal aid lawyer Louis D. Savage, now with the state Department of Consumer & Business Services, Stoel Rives’ Henry Hewitt and Ernest Bonyhadi and others successfully raised the matching funds. It was the beginning of the Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice.

With its establishment, “we found a new and organized way for lawyers to lend their support for legal services to the poor,” says Sandra Hansberger, executive director of the campaign.

“People can contribute in different ways, but I think all of us members of the bar have a responsibility to make sure that ‘equal justice for all’ is not just a motto, but a reality,” says Balmer. “It’s something all lawyers need to support.”

—Cliff Collins

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