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Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid
This is the fourth interview of the Oral History of Judge Inez Smith Reid, Associate
Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, as part of the Oral History Project of The
Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Devarieste Curry of
The Curry Law Firm PLLC. The interview took place in Judge Reid’s Chambers at the Carl
Moultrie Courthouse, at 500 Indiana Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Ms. Curry: Good morning, Judge Reid.
Judge Reid: Good morning.
Ms. Curry: Judge Reid, during the last interview, we discussed some of the social changes
and dynamics that incurred in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Since we last
talked, two legends who had a great impact on the changes that occurred in this
country, Rosa Parks and Judge Constance Baker Motley, have died. Before
picking up where we left off, I want to ask if you would please comment on the
passing away of these two giants, whether it had any significance for you, or any
effect on you.
Judge Reid: Well, I think both women certainly had a historic role in the decades when the
civil rights movement was most active. Rosa Parks, although not the first African
American to refuse to move from her seat on a bus, nonetheless took on a historic
role because on that day in Montgomery she refused to give up her seat. And I
think she, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., set the stage for the new impetus to
desegregate the buses or the transportation system down in Montgomery. So as I
say, she was not the first, but certainly has a place in history with regard to those
efforts in Montgomery. Now, with respect to Constance Baker Motley, I have a
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greater feeling for her role in history simply because I was privileged to work a
bit with her in the decade of the 1960s when I spent short stints at the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund. I can remember her as a woman of enormous stature who
exuded quiet confidence, intelligence, and skill, plus a determination to get the
job done with respect to the desegregation of the education, school system and
other aspects of life, segregated life, which blacks faced in the South. And I can
recall her talking about the judges on the Fifth Circuit and her adventures before
those judges. But perhaps the most memorable thing about my experience with
Judge Motley was the day she came into the setting where I was working at the
Inc. Fund and said, “I want you to meet James Meredith. He’s going to
desegregate the University of Mississippi.” So that summer we had a chance to
be exposed to James Meredith and also to listen in on the strategy that was going
to be used to get James Meredith into the University of Mississippi. So my twin
brother and I both had an enormous experience thai summer with Judge Motley.
In addition, I was able to work on some school desegregation cases with her in the
South, writing briefs and all, and it was quite an experience to have a brief come
out with your name on it as a contributing member of that brief. So, when I last
saw Judge Motley, it was in New York, at a program which my twin brother was
moderating on Brown v. Bd. of Education and the 50th anniversary of Brown. At
that time, she really literally had lost a lot of her memory, so it was kind of a
poignant experience. Her husband was with her, and it was clear, at least to us,
that even though she still had a wonderful smile, that she was not the same
woman she was when I knew her at the Inc. Fund, but nevertheless, her legacy
will live on, because she was an imposing woman and made enormous sacrifices
and contributions. And even when she left the Inc. Fund and went into politics to
run for borough president of Manhattan, I got to know her a little bit then, and she
had a great sense of humor about standing on the comer in Harlem and trying to
get people to vote for her to become Borough president. And, of course, I shared
the joy when she was designated for the bench.
Now, you mentioned working for her and writing, helping, assisting with some of
the briefs. Was she a great teacher? Mentor?
Yes she was, no doubt about it. Plus she expected you to work independently.
She would give you an assignment and she would come back a couple of days
later and simply say, “Do you have something for me?” and you knew you better
have something for her, and that something really meant, You better have a
product that’s close to the final product that I can really use.
Was she the only female Attorney at the Inc. Fund at that time?
As I can recall. I remember Derrick Bell was there, um, Jack Greenberg and
Jim Nabrit, my twin brother, LeRoy Clark, but yes, I think she was the only
female at the time. And needless to say, she was at the top, and the men actually
gave her a lot of deep respect.
Having grown up in Mississippi, actually only 20 miles from Oxford, which is
where the University of Mississippi is located, when I learned in my later years
about Judge Motley, then attorney Motley’s, representation of James Meredith
and her travels through Mississippi at that time, all I could think of was what a
courageous woman she had to be to really come into the bowels of that hostility
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as an African American woman and to represent James Meredith. Did she ever
speak of her fear or any concerns for her safety during those times?
Judge Reid: If she had a fear, she always dressed it up in humor. And I think that’s one of the
ways she dealt with the scary moments of being in the South. She would just use
her sense of humor and get on with it and move on to the next thing. And I
should also say that she had great vision because the strategy for James Meredith
was not simply to get him into the University of Mississippi, but also to make sure
he would have a place at a law school so he could study law once he finished, and
so she worked on making sure that he would be able to be admitted to the
Columbia University School of Law, assuming that he did well in his studies at
the University of Mississippi. So I guess I was struck by her vision, that i”t was
not just the moment of getting him into the University of Mississippi, but it was
going beyond that in making sure that he had a professional school education also.
Ms. Curry: Now of course James Meredith, unlike Ernie Green, who is one of the
Little Rock Nine, and Ernie Green has remained a force and active in the African
American community and in civil rights to some extent. James Meredith,
however, kind of went the opposite way and is a very conservative person. Did
you ever have an opportunity to talk with Judge Motley about James Meredith’s
evolution and what happened to him, or that was just not a subject that you all
Judge Reid: No, we never talked about that. And I guess I would say that one never knows the
scars Meredith was left with, and he came to the venture to go to the University of
Mississippi from the military, so he had that background, and then who knows
what he went through personally when he studied at the University of Mississippi,
and who knows what the transformation of his thinking was as he proceeded
through Mississippi and then at Columbia University.
Well, that’s certainly true. Judge Reid, we did not discuss the feminist movement
during our discussion of the significant 1960s movement. I do want to explore
that with you, but what I would like to do today is to continue where we stopped
the last time, and that is discussing your career. When we discuss the feminist
movement, I do want to revisit two issues raised by answers to questions the last
time, and those issues would be white male students’ reactions to you as a female
professor, and the female professor at Barnard who refused to speak to you. But I
want to, I think those issues are interrelated to sort of what happened in the
feminist movement, and I want to revisit those at that time.
Judge Reid: Okay, good.
Ms. Curry: Let’s continue then with our discussion about your career. I noticed that while
holding the teaching positions at Barnard in New York, you also served as the
Executive Director of the Black Women’s Community Development Foundation
in the District of Columbia, where you served from 1971 to 1974. How did you
obtain that position, and describe your experience.
Judge Reid: Actually, I was approached by Jean Fairfax, who also spent a lot of time at the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund, not as an attorney. And I was also approached by
Marian Wright Edelman, whom I had known in law school. And they asked me if
I could find some time to come down to Washington, even though I was living in
New York, to help them out with the Black Women’s Community Development
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Foundation. This was a foundation that had been created with funding from, as I
recall, Cummins Engine initially, and it was a foundation that was designed to get
at the heart of some of the problems of black women and to be of assistance to
them. So I agreed that I would come down and do a stint as head of the BWCDF,
as we then called it. Urn, I guess I would single out about three major projects
that I did. One was a symposium on the mental and physical health of black
. women. And we brought from across the country a group of women – I can’t
recall where we met, but I can look that up – and we had presentations from some
leading lights of the medical community on health issues. We covered cancer,
hypertension, the different types of mental illnesses that black women confront –
suicide – I mean, just a range of health issues. It was a marvelous experience, and
.the women at times got very upset. And, uh, they were so engaged that-
Ms. Curry: You mean those women attending the conference?
Judge Reid: Attending it, yeah. Urn, they were so engaged in what they were doing that
sometimes their emotions spilled over. But it was a very good experience. And
then we put out literature as a result of that conference which we distributed
across the country to try to get women to address some of these health issues early
on. And I recall that with cancer, for example, breast cancer was prominent,
prominently featured, and we had Dr. Thunderburk, who still practices here in
Washington, who has done a lot of work in cancer and cancer treatments, speak to
the women at that time. And we also wanted to focus not only on middle-class
women who had health insurance and all of that, but on some of the poorer
woman who were facing a choice between eating and buying their medications for
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hypertension. So that was one project. The second project was to try to address
some of the problems of female juvenile delinquents, to get them out of a secured
setting and into a home where some of their major problems could be addressed,
so we did create a juvenile facility for young black women who were facing the
juvenile justice system, so that was a major project of ours. And then I was asked
if! would do a major study of the attitudes of black women, and so, with the
assistance of some of my Barnard college students, we interviewed women across
the country on a range of things, and the results of these interviews are published
in a book which I authored called Together Black Women, and that was an
enormous experience, getting to talk to black women about things such as their
attitudes towards politicians, were they aware of politicians, and one of the things
we discovered is that virtually no one knew who Senator Edward Brooke was at
that particular time. They had no recognition of that name whatsoever.
Ms. Curry: Was this true of the middle-class black women?
Judge Reid: [Laughter] All, all black women. Yeah, it was a very interesting phenomenon.
We also explored their attitudes, and we’ll talk about this next time, or before we
finish with these interviews. We explored their attitudes towards the women’s
liberation movement and their attitudes towards the role of black women within
the civil rights movement, so that was a very interesting thing. The other thing
we did at the Foundation was to give out small grants to people, to encourage
their work. And one of the groups that we early on sponsored was – what was the
name – Sweet Honey in the Rock, yeah.
Ms. Curry: Who is in concert tonight, at the Warner Theater.
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Judge Reid: Oh, okay. Bernice Reagon. We tried to support her as much as we could. Oh,
and then finally I should mention before I left, we also got involved with African
women, and one of the things we wanted to do was to set up a project in Africa
that could benefit African women who were living in villages, and so we
established contact with a number of African women leaders in Senegal, Mali,
and what was then called Upper Volta, which is now Bourkina Fasso. We worked
also with the AID, Agency for International Development, and were able to get a
grant and to set up a project to help women – African women – in villages just
before I left.
Let me ask you, is the book – who published the book?
We used a little-known company called Emerson Hall that was run by a black
male at that particular time. And I specifically wanted to give the book to an
African American to do the publication. So he put out the initial volume. Then it
was picked up by another company, which is run by an African who was living in
New York at the time.
Is it still in print?
Urn, I don’t think so, but I have been told that one of my former students came
across it, reference to it, on the Internet, and there may be some copies around
somewhere that people are picking up off ofthe Internet.
This effort was really, urn, quite an extraordinary effort at that time. You hear
now of a plethora of organizations trying to achieve some of the kinds of things
that you all were doing at that time, but really, this is quite extraordinary, and you
mention it being the brainchild of Marian Wright Edelman and Ms. Fairchild?
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Fairfax. Jean Fairfax.
Fairfax. And were there others involved in the founding of this organization, or
were these two women the primary founders?
I don’t know whether she was involved in founding it, and I’m blocking on the
name, but she later became a congresswoman from, I believe it was North
Carolina. Eva Clayton. But she also played a prominent role. And then there
was another woman out of the South, maybe Mississippi, but I’ll get those names
for you because I still have some literature on the BWCDF and the things that we
Ms. Curry: Now, was this Marian Wright Edelman’s first, sort of, foray into public interest
organizations before she, of course, founded the Children’s Defense Fund?
Judge Reid: Marian actually had gone – I think it was after law school- had gone to
Mississippi, to work in Mississippi for a while, with urn, what’s his name-
Robert Moses. Is his name Robert Moses?
Ms. Curry: Yes it is. Bob Moses.
Judge Reid: Bob Moses. Yes, so no it was not her first, and as you know Marian’s roots are in
the South, I believe it was South Carolina. Her father was a clergyman in the
South, so it was not her first. Children’s Defense Fund was not her first venture.
How did you manage two positions in different cities before the age of
Judge Reid: Well, it was not easy. I mean, I had a small efficiency here in Washington, and
then of course I had my apartment in New York. And I structured my courses at
Barnard so that I would have days that I could come down to Washington to work
on the BWCDF business. But fortunately there was Amtrak. And if I had to be
pushed, I could take an Amtrak.
And, was this position at the Black Women’s Community Development
Foundation, was that a paid position?
Yes it was.
And how many staff members did you have?
Uh, let’s see, we had 1, 2 – a very small staff, maybe 3 or 4 people, and some of
them worked part-time.
Where were your offices located?
Ms. Fairfax had gotten a place, actually right on Connecticut Avenue. And we
received a lot of assistance, and I’m not sure that we paid the prime rate to get that
small office. Ms. Fairfax was well wired and very persuasive in terms of
convincing people to do something for an organization that was designed to do
community work on behalf of African American women.
Ms. Curry: I don’t recognize the name of Ms. Fairfax. Is she African American?
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Judge Reid: An African American woman, yes.
Ms. Curry: Is she still alive?
Judge Reid: I’m not sure whether she’s still alive or not. She went out to the Midwest or West
after she retired. But she was also very active in church life.
Ms. Curry: Did she grow up in the District?
Judge Reid: No.
Ms. Curry: Well, you finally entered the legal profession in May 1976 when you accepted a
job as General Counsel of the New York State Executive Department, State
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Division, in Albany, New York. Why did you defer entering the legal profession
for so long?
Judge Reid: Well, initially it was not my choice to defer. I think I explained that when it came
time to graduate from law school, there was a problem with African Americans
finding good positions in the law, and that’s one of the things that prompted me to
say, “All right, I’m going to go on with education and do something else,” and
once I got to Africa and started teaching, I liked teaching. And then when I came
back to the States, it was a question of finding a position fairly quickly, and I
thought that I would enjoy teaching, so I got into teaching and I stayed in teaching
because I really, really loved it. And then, as I say, when my twin brother said it
was time to justify the law degree; about that time, I got a call from
Peter Edelman asking me if I would become his General Counsel. Peter, of
course, is married to Marian Wright Edelman. And I accepted because it was a
position that would enable me to have contact with juveniles, and I saw this
position as kind of an outgrowth of the work that I had started with BWCDF with
the juvenile justice project for African American women.
Ms. Curry: Is that how you first developed an interest in working with juveniles, when you
Judge Reid: At BWCDF, yes. And then Peter is just an extraordinary man. He’s got an
intelligence that is not equaled by many people in the country. And he had a
history of working with the Kennedys, with Robert Kennedy, and being ingrained
in the affairs of African American people and with the problems, social problems,
confronting poorer people in the countryside, so I viewed it as a great opportunity
to work with him. And it was.
Now, were he and Marian married at that time?
Yes, and they had young children. I’m not sure all of the sons were born at that
time, but yes, they were married and living in Albany. And Marian would
commute down to Washington to her position.
After such a long hiatus from working in the legal field, did you have any
trepidation when you began your first job?
No, none. No, not at all.
Of course not with your background.
No, I just looked upon it as a great challenge. Because the position required me to
do a lot of travel throughout New York State because we had facilities across the
Why don’t you describe your responsibilities and a bit more about what it was
like to work for Peter. You just stated he has an intelligence unequaled by many,
but describe your overall experience.
Judge Reid: Well, the New York State Division for Youth had responsibility for children in
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foster care, for what we called then persons in need of supervision, PINS, and for
juvenile delinquents and all of the institutions in which juvenile delinquents were
housed. So my work was partly in contracts because we had to do contracts with
all of the persons who were servicing those facilities and partly in personnel
because we had problems that had to be dealt with with the employees in some of
these institutions. The most memorable personnel case was one of child abuse,
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child sexual abuse, by one of our employees. And then the responsibility was to
go out into the facilities to make sure that things were in order, that the rules and
regulations were being followed, that the juvenile delinquents were being treated
as they should; for example, getting the proper hearings. And I recall one
instance in which a young man was presented as a problem so they wanted to
transfer him to a maximum security facility but no one wanted to do his hearing
because they were afraid of him. So I took it upon myself to do it.
When you say they were afraid, was he, because of his criminal past, or because
Judge Reid: Because they thought he would assault them. It was to me the most amazing
thing. So I decided I would conduct the hearing personally, which I did. And as I
got into his case, it became very obvious that the boy was traumatized because
both of his parents had died, as I recall one from cancer and one very suddenly, so
he was at sea, and he was rebelling, and hitting out at all kinds of people because
of his grief mainly. And so what I did was to suggest – there was a cleaning
woman at the facility where he was then housed – and I suggested that there
should be greater contact between him and this lady, the cleaning lady, at the
facility. That worked out well, and then ultimately we were able to place him
with a relative in the South.
Ms. Curry: Let me ask you – why did you suggest there should be greater contact between
this young man and the cleaning woman?
Judge Reid: Because somehow he seemed to relate to her. Whether or not she reminded him
of his mother, or what, I’m not sure, but there was something that she could say or
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do for him that had a calming influence on him. And I was able to distill this
from the hearing, the hearing process and just talking with him.
Ms. Curry: Did he react in a hostile manner during the hearing or attempt to assault you
during the hearing?
Judge Reid: No, not at all. Not at all. And in fact, after the hearing, some time later, as I was
walking through the hall taking care of some other business, I saw him, and he
remarked to a young man with whom he was walking, “She’s a lawyer.” So I
don’t know whether or not he was impressed with the fact that I was a lawyer and
I was interested in his case, I’m not sure, but there was absolutely no acting out
during the hearing.
Now, I think I Ms. Curry: know the answer to this next question, but I’d like you just to state
it on the record. I’ve made an inference, at least, from your earlier answers, and
that question is: was Peter Edelman a good supervisor in the sense of did working
for him enhance your development in the legal profession?
Judge Reid: Yeah, Peter was great to work for. Urn, while I did some of the preparation for
his appearance before the legislature when the legislature was considering bills
that would affect our agency, he did the presentation, and it was just remarkable
to sit in the room with him, to listen to him field the difficult questions that he was
getting from the legislators. Peter was a good study, a quick study, and he was
able to feel out people, urn, to know what to say and when to say it, and he had a
remarkable capacity to retain facts in his head, statistics in his head, and it was
just impressive to sit there and to hear him defend our requests or to attack
legislation that was being considered by the legislature. He also was very good
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when it came time to defend the budget, and his presentations in support of the
budget were always very well documented and very well conveyed to the
legislators so that – I can’t recall an instance in which we were not successful in
terms of the budgetary requests. Peter was also very supportive, and we rarely, if
ever, had a disagreement over policy or how to proceed with some of our work,
and this is one of the reasons why, coming up to present day, I recommended him
to head our Access to Justice Commission, and this Court did appoint him to take
on that task.
Ms. Curry: Oh, so that was your recommendation?
Judge Reid: Yes, but it also came from other quarters, which was very interesting. Some of
the legal service providers also wanted him, not even knowing that I knew Peter,
so that was good, we all, from different quarters, we pegged him as the proper
person to head this commission.
Ms. Curry: Who brought you first to his attention? Was it Marian Wright Edelman from your
time with her at Yale?
Judge Reid: Yeah. Evidently, um, Peter had discussed with Marian the possibility of trying to
find somebody to become his general counsel, and she must have suggested my
name. Because at that time I did not know Peter personally, although I knew he
was married to Marian.
Ms. Curry: Now, how many staff attorneys did you supervise in that job?
Judge Reid: I’m not sure I can even recall at this point. I guess I want to say there were at
least ten in the Albany office, and as I recall there were others out in the field.
Did you meet with any resistance from any of them, either to your being a woman
or your being an African American in supervising?
No, we got along extremely well together, and I can not recall a single time in
which I had a personal problem with any of the attorneys on my staff. I mean I
spoke earlier – I mentioned earlier – this, um, child sexual abuse case which I had
the responsibility for investigating and then calling the employee in to let him
know that charges would be filed against him and then trying to work out a
solution with him, and his reaction was an interesting one at the end, after we
finally resolved it and worked out a solution, um, he shook my hand and thanked
me, and it was as though he were relieved that he had been discovered, but he did
a lot of damage to some of those young men, so we had to –
So this was male-on-male abuse?
Male-on-male abuse, yes.
And there was evidence that he actually did it; these were not just allegations?
Oh, absolutely, I mean I did a thorough investigation. Because at first blush you
don’t want to believe the young men who are saying “he’s abused me,” but as I
dug in deeper and deeper, it was clear that the children were not imagining that
they were being abused by this man.
Okay, we’re back on the record after abrief pause
Judge Reid, did you maintain a relationship with any of the attomeys you
supervised, or do you know if any of them went on to become noted public
As I recall, I maintained contact in the first one or two years after I left DFY, but
not thereafter, and I’m just not sure whether or not any of them did go on to
What would you say was the most valuable lesson or experience you gained from
Probably matters of policy’and how to approach matters of policy in changing
times, um. I recall, for example, that there was an issue as to whether or not
juveniles who repeatedly engaged in antisocial behavior should be treated as
adults at a younger age, and we went through a lot of discussion, policy
discussions, at that time as to whether or not the age in which one would have
discretion to treat a juvenile as an adult should be lowered, and that’s one of the
things that I think I recall most vividly is engaging in those kinds of policy
decisions for changing times.
And ultimately, what was decided with respect to how juveniles should be
Ultimately it was decided that, as I recall, that the age should be lowered so that
the juvenile could be treated at the prosecutor’s discretion as an adult at an earlier
And you didn’t have any problem with that?
No, no not at all, I did not.
What – or I should say – were there positive reform-types of programs that were
designed to assist the youth with being rehabilitated?
One of the things I mentioned earlier that we had responsibility for persons in
need of supervision and foster care, so one of the things we did was to concentrate
more on the treatment of persons in need of supervision and children in foster care
to make sure that they were receiving proper treatment, um, to make sure also that
they were getting the requisite educational assistance where they had special
leaming problems, and also to make sure that they were getting proper treatment
with respect to any kind of psychiatric problems so that there was an effort to
preclude them from re-engaging in those kinds of antisocial behavior
Before talking about your next job, let me ask – I noticed that you spent a lot of
time in New York. What was it about the city, or should I say, about the State,
because you actually spent some time in Albany, that made you stay?
Well, I enjoyed the challenge of New York. I liked what I was doing. I enjoyed
teaching at Columbi4 Barnard College, and City University ofNew York at ari
earlier point in time. I was also married at the time, and New York was a place
where my husband, who was from the West Indies, really wanted to be because he
had relatives there. One of his relatives was an ambassador to the United Nations
at the time, and he had other relatives in that particulau. are4 plus my twin brother
Always that connection to the twin brother.
Yes, but above all I think it was the challenge of the positions that I had in New
York because I really liked teaching in New York.
New York is a town, or city, much like D.C., where who you know is sometimes
as important as what you know. Did you make any contacts in New York that
have furthered your career or that otherwise have been valuable over the years,
other than, of course, Peter Edelman?
Yes. I would say that one of my valuable contacts was Dr. Elliott Skinner. At the
time, Dr. Skinner was a professor of anthropology, I should say the Franz Boas
Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University in New York, and I first met
him when I went out at an earlier point in time to participate in Operation
Crossroads Africa. Elliott Skinner was a man of tremendous intellectual powers,
and he encouraged me to continue to hone my intellectual skills, not to forget
about writing, to make sure I did proper research, and also, I think that was an
extremely valuable contact that I made in New York that I was proud of having. I
didn’t know any of the political people in New York so I can’t say that I made
those kinds of contacts while I was inNew York.
Although you spent a number of years in New York, you spent only one year at
the Division of Youth, why is that?
Well, one day Peter came to me and said, “You are going to get a request to go
down to Washington to work in the Carter administration.” It turns out that
evidently he and Marian had recommended me for a position in the Carter
administration. And sure enough, the call came from, as I recall, Joseph Califano
at the old Departrnent of Health, Education & Welfare, who asked me to come
down and discuss possibilities of working at HEW, which I did, and then he put
me in contact with the General Counsel of HEW at the time, who was Peter
Libassi. And Peter Libassi ended up offering me a position as a Deputy General
Counsel at the old Department of Health, Education & Welfare, which I ‘
Could you spell Libassi for this record please?
That is L-i-b-a-s-s-i.
What did your job as Deputy General Counsel – and I believe it was the correct
title, or the entire title, was Depufy General Counsel for Regulation Review at
HEW. What did that job entail?
This was a job that was responsible for all of the regulations issued at the
Department of Health, Education & Welfare, so that if there were regulations in
the Department of Education – I mean, in the Educational Branch – or in the
Health Branch or in the Benefits Branch, they all had to come through me for
approval and revision if necessary, so it was an enofinous responsibility. In
addition, atthattime there was a venture under way to rewrite all of the
regulations in what was then called Plain English. So I was in charge of that
project. But just the sheer job of discussing the policy that was embedded in the
regulations was a huge responsibility.
Given your early grounding in writing, as you explained from elementary school
on, you were a good one to have that job.
It came in handy I must say.
Who was the general counsel?
That was Peter. Peter Libassi.
Oh that’s right, you said that. That that was his job, as general counsel. Where is
‘Last I know, after he left the old HEW, he went to connecticut, as I recall, to
work for Travelers Insurance, and he may still be there, but I’m just not sure.
Did you establish any lasting relationships in that job? And have you kept up
with Mr. Califano? Or did you have much dealing with him?
At the time, I had dealings with him. I can’t say on a day-to-day basis. Um, I’ve
kept up with him mostly indirectly because later in life I met and worked with an
attomey who subsequenfly became his son-in-law, so I kept up with him through
periodic conversations with that attorney.
And who is that?
Eugene Goldman. He works over at, uh, McDermott Will.
And where did you and Mr. Goldman work together?
We worked in the old Laxalt Washinglon law firm.
Oh, when you were in private practice?
When I was in private practice, yes.
Did you find your job at HEW gratifying?
Yes, yes. It was very challenging. Um, challenging not only from the point of
view of regulatory review, but I also had contact with others. There was a deputy
general counsel – I can’t remember his exact title – Dan Marcus, who
subsequently went to Wilmer Cutler law firm, it was a good contact that I had
with him because he really knew his law, and he was a very good attomey, so that
was a contact that I valued there at HEW.
Your next job was as Inspector General of the United States Environmental
Protection Agency where you were from December 1979 until January of 1981.
had the interview, I decided I really did not want the position and so I informed
the powers ttrat be, whoever whs the initial contact, that I had decided I was not
interested in the position. And then I began to get some pressure to reconsider.
And one of the people who called me, and I’m blocking onhis name, but you will
know the name, he was wheelchair-bound and atone time served as the –
D.C. Bar President, Chuck Ruff.
Chuck Ruff. Chuck Ruffcalled me, and I explained to him- and as I recall we
had a face-to-face contact, and I explained to him that I didn’t think it was a job
+}ratl could do because it was a job that required supervision, not only of criminal
investigators, but also of the audit staff.
Why did you decide to take that job, and what in your experience led you to
believe you were qualified for that position?
Actually, it’s a position that I did not seek, nor did I really want the position. As I
recall, I received the contact one day from White House personnel informing me
that I would get a contact from –
Now, you say you received a contact – you mean you received a call?
Yeah, telling me that I would receive a communication from the head or the
deputy head of the Environmental Protection Agency about the position of
Inspector General. At that time, the Inspector General Act had been enacted, but
an office had not yet been created at the EPA – Environmental Protection Agency.
So sure enough, I did receive the call, and I went over and talked to, as I recall it
was Blum who was the assistant administrator of EPA atthattime. And after I
How did you come to be offered the job in the first place? I mean, why do you
think the initial contact was made with you?
I’m not sure, unless it was a recommendation out of HEW through someone who
thought I appeared to have the capacity to do the job. So, to this day, I really
don’t know who initialiy recommended me for the position. But Chuck explained
to me that he thought, from his perspective, that I could really do this job and that
I should not be scared off by the audit responsibilities or by the criminal
investigative responsibilities. Now, the thing that he had going for him was that I
did have an interest in environmental law and the environmental problems that
were facing the country. So he asked me to go through another interview at EPA,
which I did, and as I recall,I think her first name was Barbara,BarbaraBlum put
the full-court pressure on me, saying that she really wanted me to accept the
position. And in the final analysis, if you’re called upon to serve, I guess you
can’t refuse to serve, so given that point of view, and my interest in environmental
law and environmental problems, I finally succumbed and agreed to take the
position and to set up the offrce of Inspector General of EPA, which I did.
Where was Chuck Ruffat the time when he contacted you? What was his
llh, I want to say he was at the U,S. Attorney’s Office, but I’m not 100% sure, but
that’s my recollection at the moment.
But evidently he had some dealings with the Carter adminiskation.
Yes. In fact,l think he had a position earlier in the Carter administration, and in
fact, it may have been the U.S. Attorney’s position. I actually may have come
across him, in fact I know I did later when I was Corporation Counsel.
You mentioned the audit responsibilities and the criminal investigations. What
else did the job of Inspector General entail?
Well, the overall framework was to weed out fraud, waste, and abuse. And one of
the ways of doing that was to look at all of the grants which EPA had made and
the expenditures with respect to those grants and the achievements; in other
words, did they actually accomplish the work that the grant was designed to do?
U:n, it also had responsibility for looking at all of the employees to make sure that
they were abiding by the rules and regulations, for example, that they did not take
time off without getting leave, that they did not abuse the travel regulations, that
they were abiding by the standards of conduct. So it was kind of a far-ranging
position, and it was a unique position in that there was a lot of independence
attached to it.
To whom did you report?
Technically I reported to the Assistant Administrator, Barbara Blum. But in
reality, it was really an independent position. And my dealings were a lot with
the Congress of the United States, when they were doing the hearings and
investigations on some of EPA’s programs.
Did you have to testify?
Yes. Yes, in fact I did testiff. One of the things I did early on was to decide that
we had to take a look at the waste water treatment grants. These were the grants
designed to create waste water treatment systems across the country to treat waste
water, and it became very clear when we were doing both the audit side and the
criminal investigation side that there were real problems. So that’s one of the
things that I had to testiff on the Hill about. Um, and it was extremely
controversial. I recall one of the places where we had to do criminal investigative
work was down in Louisiana.
And what would have been the crime? I mean, who would have committed the
Persons who were given the grants. There may have been some political
influence in the implementation of those grants and the construction of the waste
water treatment plants, for example. So, we indeed discovered this was the case
in Louisiana and conducted a firli-court press with respect to criminal
investigation, and ultimately a grand jury was convened. And I recall getting a
call from a congressman’s office, um, it was a heated telephone conversation in
‘ which the message clearly was “you better back off, and back off now.” In
addition, the criminal investigators in the field were getting threats. And in fact,
they were actually frightened.
These were investigators from your offrce?
From my office. And so, um, I was called to testifu on the Hill, and I recall at the
end, astaff member said to me, “You know, you have a lot of courage,” and I
won’t use the expression that he used, but it was to s’ay that you have more
courage than the men have because evidently some people were too frightened to
go and testiff on the Hill.
Did he say that in a commendable way, or was it –
Oh yes. No, no, clearly it was a compliment. And also I think it was said out of
frustration of not being able to get some of the people who should have been
testifring because they were witnesses first hand to the violations that were going
on, that they were simply reluctant to testiff because they feared for their lives.
How did you staff this office? You mentioned setting up the office, and then you
just mentioned the investigators were from your office. Talk a bit about your
process of stafErng the office and who some of the people were who worked for
Well, I inherited – EPA had an auditing staff. I inherited all of those auditors.
They had just a few criminal investigators, and that side had to be built up. But
the unique thing was that they were being brought together under one umbrella, in
one office, because previously, the auditors had not had communication wilh the
few investigators that EPA had on staff and there were very few at the time that I
walked in. So we had to hire more investigators. And then we crossed the work.
For example, the audit results gave us an appreciation of where some of the
problems were, and so we would take the audit reports and hand them over to the
criminal investigative side, and then the criminal investigators would go out into
the field to work the case, then where the situation warranted, we would work
with the Department of Justice. I think it was the – I can’t recall the exact section
which we worked – but those attomeys would work with us and then we would, at
least in the instance that I’m talking about now, begin the grand jury process for
the presentation of the evidence to the grand jury. How all of that ended up, I
don’t know because the administrations changed, and then I went out of business
as the Inspector General.
Did you – Did you actually hire the criminal investigators yourself, or –
And how did you go about that process? Through applications? Were they
referred to you?
Through applications. Some of the referrals came from men who were already on
staff who knew other criminal investigators who might be good for the job.
Now, Judge Reid, you talked a bit about testifying on the Hill. Um, that was
before a congtessional committee, correct?
That is correct. Yes.
Do you remember which committee?
No, I really don’t remember.
Do you remember the congressperson, or any persons you testified before?
No, I honestly don’t recall at this point.
Okay. What was the general reaction to having an Office of Inspector General at
Oh, the reactions were interesting, not only inside EPA, but outside EPA. Um, at
first there was curiosity – what is this all about. As the work proceeded, there was
kind of a fear that arose – afear in the sense of o’will I be caught doing something
that I should not be doing.” And so you were kind of isolated within the agency,
and those outside the agency who worked with EPA, who had grants from EPA,
of course wanted to know what your plans were, and why you were doing certain
kinds of investigations. Now, this position was supposed to be a position that
would be isolated from politicians, the whole political scheme of government.
And so the intent of Congress initially was that it didn’t matter whether or not a
new administration came in. The inspectors general would continue on and not be
replaced with every new administration. Well, President Reagan ended that intent
very quickly when he demanded the resignation of all of the inspectors general as
he came in. I was – actually I found out about it by looking at Walter Cronkite, a
CBS News telecast, and he announced that the president had fired all of the
inspectors general. I was urged to take on the administration and to fight for the
position. I chose not to because I didn’t think it was something that I really
wanted to do. But at that point, that ended the idea that the inspectors general
were insulated from the politics of the day.
So you were watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite when you found
out yourjob had been abolished?
Yes, and then the next day some underling showed up in my offrce and said,
‘oYou’ve been fired; get your things and get out.” And that was it. I had, uh,
virtually no time to collect myself, just to collect my things and to move on.
There was no elose-out period? No wrap-up?
No. No. That very same day, I was out. I mean the way they did it was kind of
an incredible way to do it. I mean it’s not the way that I would have done it.
When you say you were urged to fight for the position, by whom?
People on staff within EPA. And then I recall I had a number of interviews with
television stations who were interested in the factthatthe president had fired all
of the inspectors general. My general thrust as I recall was simply to discuss the
type of work that I had done, but to make it clear that I would not fight for the
And you didn’t engage in the politics of the day.
No, absolutely not.
Judge Reid, we talked earlier about the courage of Judge Constance Baker
Motley, for whom you worked, in going down to Mississippi and working on
behalf of James Meredith, and you later ended up in a position where you had to
show tremendous courage, and I just want to ask you, where did you summon that
cowage? Because you were in a position that certainly there were a lot of hostile
people out there, and as you testified, just, I’m sorry, said, some of the
investigators were afraid to testiff. Where did you get your courage?
Some people probably would say that I was just too naive to be afraid. Um, but I
suppose it’s from growing up imbued with notions of religious precepts and that
there was no need to be afraid, as long as one had a spiritual outlook on life.
Well, having gone through all of that at the Inspector General’s office, I guess you
were well prepared for your next stop, which was the Corporation Counsel’s
Office, actually it is now called the Attorney General’s Office. You were there
for over four years, beginning in February 1981, where you began as Chief of the
Legislation and Opinion Section, and you rose through the ranks to become the
Chief Legal Officer – that is, the Corporation Counsel, where you supervised over
200 attorneys. Tell me why you decided to go to the Office of the Corporation
Well after this, um, abrupt firing by President Reagan, I had to sit down and say
to myself since I had no job, Well what is it that you would like to do next? I
made a few phone calls just to get ideas from a few people. Those calls weren’t
that helpful. So one day I just said to myself, ‘owell, I’ve worked in the federal
government, I’ve worked in state govemment, in New York, but I’ve never
worked in local govemment. So one day I just decided I would make a hip to the
Office of Corporation Counsel, go to the offrce that was responsible for hiring
people, and leave my resume, which is what I literally did. I went there, and I left
my resume. Then, very quickly, I received a call from Judy Rogers, now Judge
Rogers over in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and
she asked me to come in for an interview. So I went down and I had the interview
with her, and she offered me the position. She let it be known to me that I would
come in as an attorney on staff, but I would quickly move to the position of Chief
of the Legislation and Opinion section because the current Chief was on his way
out. And so I did that, I accepted the position and went there. That’s how I got
Now, what was entailed in your position as Chief of Legislation and Opinion, and
did your work at HEW in any way help prepare you for that position?
In a sense, in that my work at HEW helped me to become acquainted with a body
of law that pertained to health issues, education issues, and social benefit
assistance issues. So in that sense, yes, that work at HEW was quite helpful. The
Legislation & Opinions section was responsible for generating all of the
Corporation Counsel’s opinions on a variety of legal issues. It was also
responsible for reviewing all of the work of the legislature. In other words,
legislation that had been introduced and on which the mayor was asked to
comment. We had to write memos in support of or against the legislation, also
had to suggest amendments to the legislation of the counsel. So that was very
important. Also, the Legislation & Opinion section had to work in collaboration
with some of the other sections of the office which were responsible for things
such as the administrative arm, the civil litigation arm, and the criminal and
juvenile justice work. But basically it was writing opinions, reviewing legislation,
testiffing before the Council of the District of Columbia on various legislative
Had you had any dealings with Judge Rogers, not a Judge at the time, before
applying for a job at the Corporation Counsel and working there?
No. In fact, I did not even know who Judith Rogers was. That was my first
contact with her.
Describe your experience in working with her.
Working with Judy Rogers at the time was extrernely interesting. She, of course,
had been within the Mayor Washington’s administration early on, and she, of
course, had that experience. So she was deep into the issues confronting the
District of Columbia. As I recall, she worked very hard and wanted to make sure
that the work that was done in the Offrce of the Corporation Counsel was quality
work, and that we gave the proper advice to the mayor, and to make sure the
mayor was on the right track. So there was a lot of hard work. She was
demanding in terms of the quality of the product, and in terms of the extent of the
work. Particularly when we were preparing to go before the Council on some
sticky issues. And the work required us also to collaborate with the Office of the
United States Attorney. In addition, we had to interface with a number of the
community groups, a number of the different bar association groups. And I recall
in particular working on issues pertaining to intrafamily offenses that ultimately
led to legislation in that particular area. Also working on issues pertaining to
pretrial detention, which called for collaboration with the U.S. Attomey’s Office.
So in all of that work, she was very demanding, wanting to make sure that the
legislation was properly structured and that we had the right positions voiced for
Ms. Curry: I’m certain that in having reviewed your resume, and noting your impeccable
credentials and your dedication, she thought it apparent from your resume and
jobs, that she knew you would be the right person for that position, which is why
she called you, having read your resume. So, you didn’t have any difficulty in
meeting the demands of the job? You said she was very demanding.
Judge Reid: No. No, I didn’t. And I was able to hire a couple of people whom I knew could
churn out good, good work with respect to legislation and opinions. One of the
persons I hired was Erias Hyman, who had been a professor up at Rutgers Law
School. I also was asked to hire the first gay employee, who turned out to be a
Harvard law school product and who was extremely good in terms of crafting
opinions and in reviewing legislation. And I got a lot of flack for agreeing to hire
the first gay person in the office because there was a lot of opposition to the hiring
of gays. This is when I rose to the position of Corporation Counsel.
When you say you were, you were, um, asked to hire the first gay, what do you
mean by that?
That to our knowledge, there had not been a gay person in that office.
Who was this person?
I knew you were going to ask me his nuune, and I’m blocking on his name. He’s
no longer with the office.
Okay. Now, in all the positions you held at Corporation Counsel, I believe you
dealt with policy issues and litigation, is that correct?
Yes. After having a stint as Chief of Legislation & Opinions, I was asked to
move to the position of Deputy Corporation Counsel. I can’t remember the fuIl
title. But I took on that Deputy Corporation Counsel position, which had
responsibility not only for legislation and opinions, but also for the administrative
law section and for the personnel and labor section of the office.
I believe the title would be Deputy Legal Counsel Division. Does that sound
LegalCounsel Division. Yes, that is correct. So, I took on those responsibilities
which were broader. Broader in the sense that I was supervising sections of the
And you talked a bit about your job, your fust position there as the Chief of the
Legislation & Opinion section. Can you talk a bit more about your job as the
Deputy Legal Counsel?
Well, my work in Legislation & Opinions continued as part of that job. But I also
had additional responsibilities. For example, the Administrative Law Section
came under the Deputy General Counsel for Legal Counsel, and I had to have
ultimate supervision over all of the administrative agency work of the office,
whether or not that was in hearings or in advice which was given to the heads of
agencies. Aad then I had responsibility for the Personnel &Labor Relations
section, which was quite demanding because at the time, the District was in the
process of rewriting all of its personnel regulations to implement the
Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act, so there was a lot of regulatory work there,
and certainly my work at HEW was very important to the work that I was doing
with the regulations. And also my work at EPA because some of the regulations
pertained to environmental issues
Ms. Curry: What did you find most rewarding, and what did you find most challenging about
Judge Reid: All of the time that I spent in the Office of the Corporation Counsel, but the most
challenging thing was that we were still on the cutting edge of some of the policy
decisions and legal decisions that had to be made for what was then a relatively.
new government because we achieved self-government under the Act of 1970,
which was implemented as I recall in1973. So at the time I was in the Office, it
was still a relatively new government, and everything was new. Newpolicies,
new laws. And that was the challenging part because often there was no
precedent, and you really had to establish the precedent. Some of the legal
opinions that the Corporation Counsel’s Office wrote were then referred to in
cases that appeared in court. So, as statements of the Executive Branch’s view of
the law, and the ihterpretation of those laws, that was very important to have those
opinions come up to the court and to have the court to consider those opinions as
they were writing decisions for the cases.
Then also rewarding, and also my guess, was responsibility for employees,
making sure that they understood the standards of conduct. And, in fact, we
revised the standards of conduct at the time. Then interacting with the U.S.
Attorney’s Office where there were problems that had to be investigated.
Subpoenas had to be issued, and all of that. That was also very challenging and
rewarding work. So, there was an awful lot of work because it was so new still as
a govemment, and there were so many problems, whether or not it was in
housing, whether or not it was cutting-edge education, educational issues, even
though there was independent Board of Education, some of those issues still came
to us. There were wholesale contracting issues, contracting violations. I mean,
you name it, we had to deal with it. The whole prison system was at issue at that
time, and there were cases in the courts. Particularly regarding the operation of
Lorton and the operation of the D.C. Jail that had to be dealt with. Then we had
the whole issue of the fire department, and now I’m swinging into the work that I
was also doing as Corporation Counsel. Occasionally I would get called to come
to court and actually take over the case, and this was true with respect to the
lawsuit that had been filed regarding the fire department and the difficulty African
Americans were having in getting promotions within that department. But am I
now getting ahead of your questions?
No, actually, that fits in nicely because when I was talking about your experience,
what you found most rewarding and most challenging, it was dwing your entire
time at Corporation Counsel, so that fits in nicely. And I did want you to talk a
bit about some of the litigation, because I recall when I clerked on this Cour[, the
Court of Appeals, yow appearance before this Court. Generally you would let
someone else argue the case, but you would come as the Corporation Counsel. So
if you want to talk a bit about some of those cases, that would be great.
Mmmm hmmmm. Let me continue with the fire department. This was a case that
was before Judge Richey over in the United States District Court, and one day, the
attorney – I think it was George Valentine- who was responsible for the case,
came to me and said that Judge Richey was going to order me to appear in court.
And so he did, and I appeared, and he said to me, “I want you to take over this
case.” So I ended up arguing the case, as I recall, it was a sunmary judgment
Let me ask you, when you say he wants you to take it over, take it over from
Take it over from the Assistant Corporation Counsel. And actually be responsible
for doing the major hearing. There was going to be a major hearing on the
firefrghters’ lawsuit, and involved in this case was Joan Burt who was
representing the firefighters. And then there was the FOP attomey, and then the
Why would he order you to take it over from the Assistant Corporation Counsel?
He was not pleased with that person?
To this day,I’m not sure, except that I think he wanted the top lawyer for the
District to be present. At the time, there were threats of violence, and I seem to
get into these positions where there are threats. [laughter] And the issue was
extremely important because it had to do with the examination for promotion to
lieutenant and captain, and whether or not those exams were equitably strucfured,
and whether or not African Americans had an opportunity to take those exarris
under the same conditions as some of the white members of the fire department.
But it was just so fraught, the issue was just so fraught with controversy. That
may have been a reason that he asked me to come in. And indeed I did come in.
The day that the hearing was held, the courtroom was packed. And indeed a
threat c€lme, and enhanced security had to be called for the courtroom at that time.
But we got through the case. We argued it, and the case, of course, continued on
beyond me, because there was just so much to it that had to be addressed.
When you say beyond you, beyond your tenure as Corporate Counsel?
Beyond my tenure as Corporation Counsel, yes.
Now Judge Reid, normally as the Chief Legal Officer, you’re not involved in the
details of cases like that. You know what’s on the docket. You know them
generally. What did you have to do to prepare at the point that Judge Richey
ordered you to step in?
I actually became the staff attorney for the case, so that meant I had to do the
research to make sure we had good memoranda,legal memoranda, in to the Court,
and had to prepare the oral argument. So it was doing everything that a staff
attorney would have to do, that an attorney in private practice would have to do,
that a govemment attorney would have to do who was assigned to handle a case.
In other words, I had to use all of my legal skill to get through that case.
But, ofcourse, relying on staffas necessary for research assistance and those
That’s correct, but I was the type of person, um, who really, in a case like this,
trusted my research and only my research, building upon what others had done.
But I read, I took down and read every case, Shepherdized them, and made sure
that I had not left a stone untumed in terms of preparation.
You actually did your own Shepherdizing?
Oh, absolutely. Yes.
IJm, now, Judge Reid, having to be involved to that extent in one case, and a case
of that magnitude, took a lot of time I would imagine.
Yes it did.
And, then, how did that affectyour administration, your supervision, of the
It meant, um, longer hours during that span of time because I couldn’t let things
go at the office, and I was the type of adminishator that needed to have regular
meetings with all of the deputy corporation counsels on a regular basis. I also had
worked with, other work that had to be done. So I simply extended the hours that
I was working.
What was a typical day like? Twelve hours? Fourteen hours?
I can’t recall. I always, as usual, started very early in the morning and just went
on, through as long as I could, and then I would take work home, and after dinner
start in againuntil I couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Now, it’s interesting that with that many attorneys under your supervision and
paralegals that you would find it necessary to do your own even Shepherdizing,
that you did not think that there was one person that, on whom, you could rely to
make sure that the cases were Shepardized accurately. And that leads me to my
next question –
Well let me just pause there a second to say, it’s not that I did not think that there
was a person on whom I could rely, certainly there were some very, very good
attorneys, particularly in the Civil Division, in whom I had great, great
confidence, but, as the person who would have to stand on her feet and actually
do this argument, I believed it was necessary that I know everything about the
case. And in order to know everything about the case, and to know all of the law
that was out there, the only way I could do that was by having hands on
Well, that’s certainly true. Um, but I’ll still proceed with my next question. As
you know, the Corporation Counsel Office and its attorneys have not always
gotten good reviews, but interestingly many of the attorneys use it as a stepping
stone to greater opporhrnity. What is your assessment of the quality and
professionalism of the attomeys who worked for you in the Corporation
Some of them are excellent, and I have to make an aside here. The public, I don’t
think and law firms, I don’t think, in the city, understood the conditions under
which people worked in the Corporation Counsel’s Office. When I arrived, we
had no computers, so therefore there were secretaries typing with carbon
paper. I’m notjoking.
Ms. Curry: There were no computers?
Judge Reid: We didn’t have computers when I first arrived in the Office. Eventually,
computers were introduced, but the conditions under which we labored were
really old-school conditions. In addition, the workload was simply enorrnous,
particularly for the litigators. Understand also that because of the workload, the
bumout was very high, and the turnover was high, particularly in the litigation
section, except for the very top levels of those who were able to endure through
the years. So when you have this kind of turnover, you have young attorneys
coming who get involved in the same cycle, that they have too much work to do,
they get burned out, so that an attorney may appear in court, be called to handle a
TRO motion. That attomey may not have had the time really to get into the case
to do the proper TRO motion. So from that, I think, a number of people got the
impression that attorneys in Corporation Counsel were not very capable people.
Some were not very capable, but most of those whor.n I hired and encountered
when I arrived at the Office, were extremely capable. They were simply
overworked and burned out working under these archaic conditions. So when
they turned in briefs that had errors because the secretaries couldn’t correct all of
the copies, then the impression was created, not only are they incompetent, but
they’re sloppy. So when I became Corporation Counsel, one of the things I had to
do was to meet with all of the judges and speak to the judges in the federal court
over here in the District of Columbia courts, and was able to explain some of
those things. But of course it didn’t excuse the office for having to tum in those
kinds of documents. So that’s why we worked very hard on improving the
infrastructure. And also in restructuring the office so that we could get some
relief from burnout.
When did the office become computerized?
I can’t remember when the first computer was introduced’ But certainly by the
time I left there still was a lot to be done in upgrading the equipment. And I ftink
now they are atthe situation where they have the proper equipment to turn out the
Judge Reid, I think we will conclude for today because this tape is almost near the
end. We will start the nexttime talking about your legacy as Corporation
Okay. Very good. Thank You.
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