Flynn, Mary 2018

Last modified: 2021-02-02 03:29
Storyteller: Flynn, Mary
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2018-11-10
Length: 1:00:39

Topics: Access to justice, Access to justice commissions, American Bar Association (ABA), Civil legal aid: State Funding, and IOLTA
Geo, US: CA
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NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.000
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Georgetown notes: summary, bio note, keywords
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Video status: Large File
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Transcript link: Transcript
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Leader in the Access to Justice Movement who was the longtime director of the Office of Legal Services of the State Bar of California. Previously directed the Public Interest Clearinghouse.



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Bio note
She was the Director of the Office of Legal Services of the State Bar of California. She was a leader in the Access to Justice Movement. She recently authored the definitive study on Access to Justice Commissions referenced in the ATJ section of the CNEJL website. See Access to Justice Commissions: Increasing Effectiveness Through Adequate Staffing and Funding by Mary Flynn (https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_aid_indigent_defendants/ls_sclaid_atj_commission_report_exec_summ.pdf)

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Mary Flynn
Conducted by Alan Houseman
Nov. 10, 2018

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history with Mary Flynn. The interview is being conducted in San Diego on May 10th, 2018. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library.

Alan Houseman:
Mary, let’s start with an overview of your career. Where you grew up, where you went college and law school, and the jobs that you’ve held. Then we’ll come back and talk much more about all the legal aid, bar, and corporate work that you’ve done.

Mary Flynn:
I grew up in Detroit. No one in my family had gone to college, so it didn’t occur to me I could go to college. I went to a business high school in downtown Detroit and worked as a legal secretary, paralegal, for a year after high school. Then most of my friends were in college and I decided I would do that. So I did go to college after a year off.

Mary Flynn:
I went to Eastern Michigan for two years. After that I got married, and my husband was going to go to graduate school. In 1969, women did things like stop going to college and work to put their husband through school, so that’s what I did. I worked as a legal secretary in Ann Arbor for awhile, and then went back to college in 1972 at Michigan, and got my undergraduate degree there. I was very active with the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, PIRGIM. I helped get that set up when I was still an undergrad, and I negotiated with the Board of Regents to fund PIRGIM. So my interest in funding started very early.

Mary Flynn:
I then got into Michigan Law School. I think it was on the basis of my PIRGIM activity, as well as the fact that while I was working I was serving as an ombudsman handling complaints against the police in Ann Arbor. I did human rights work. I also volunteered on a major criminal case in Ann Arbor for two Filipino nurses who were charged with killing patients at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor. I gave up a paying job to volunteer on that case. We turned it into a Lawyer’s Guild volunteer activity. I really thought I was going to go into criminal law for a long time, until my clients were convicted, and that was the end of that. I didn’t think I could do that kind of work anymore.

Mary Flynn:
After finishing Michigan Law School I moved out here to California in ’77. After law school, I worked with a law firm in San Francisco as a summer clerk, and they offered me a job. I said, “I really want to do public interest work. Let me look around.” There weren’t any public interest jobs, so I took the large firm job and did a lot of volunteer pro bono work. Joanne Garvey was becoming the President of the San Francisco Bar. She had been chairing a community involvement committee. She asked me to become the chair of that. I did that work and the San Francisco Bar gave me an award for that work signed by Tom Smegal. It was something I was very proud of early on. They knew me for a potential lifer. I have been involved with the Bar ever since that work. That was in 1979, I believe.

Mary Flynn:
In 1980, a job opened up as Executive Director of the Public Interest Clearinghouse, and I applied for it. The staff had actually typed up a rejection letter because they didn’t think somebody from a big firm would be an appropriate director for something like that. Luckily, I called somebody I knew who was on the board, who I’d done pro bono work with. She called the staff and said, “Somebody really good has applied for this job.” That was summer of ’80, and I’ve been doing that work ever since. I spent 12 years at the Public Interest Clearinghouse, and I’ll talk more about that later in detail.

Mary Flynn:
In 1992, I moved to the State Bar, to be the head of their Office of Legal Services. I stayed there pretty much until I retired. So, I’ve been doing statewide organizing for legal services, raising funds, working on statewide policy issues. That’s a capsule summary of my career.

Alan Houseman:
What factors led you to go into this public interest work? Were there religious factors, family factors, or other factors, or no factors?

Mary Flynn:
I believe that there were a number of factors involved at different stages. We were raised Roman Catholic, and the values that I got through the church really were a big motivating factor. My father was a very strong moral leader. He’s somebody who everybody listened to and followed. He had very, very strong values about equality, and acknowledging diversity. So he was a Protestant, and he married my mother, a Catholic. She was from Ireland, literally born in Ireland. Her family was not quite sure she should be marrying a Protestant. My dad’s family was very much opposed to him marrying a Catholic. So that’s the discrimination that we heard a lot about in our family. He converted, and so he really was a very strong person promoting equal justice in many ways, actually.

Mary Flynn:
Ed Vandenburg was the attorney I worked with in Ann Arbor. He’s definitely my mentor, and was really very supportive of me. He was in many ways my moral mentor. Early on, working with people like Joanne Garvey and Tom Smegal, I think they really inculcated their values that I took on and shared.

Alan Houseman:
So just for the record, Joanne Garvey did what after she moved up in the bar world and various other worlds?

Mary Flynn:
Joanne Garvey was a leader within the local bar and the state bar. She was the first women everything. She was the first woman president of the San Francisco bar. I think she was the first woman member of the Board of Governors for the state bar. She would have been the first woman president of the ABA, probably, but she had a big case coming before the national Tax Court, and she had to back out of contention. Joanne committed much of her life to supporting the bar and supporting legal services.

Alan Houseman:
I think she may have been at SLCAID, but I can’t remember that for sure.

Mary Flynn:
Right. Yeah, I think she was.

Alan Houseman:
Describe the Public Interest Clearinghouse, the work that you did there, its role, and some of its accomplishments.

Mary Flynn:
The Public Interest Clearinghouse was set up in the late 70s, by some people who were strongly oriented to consumer and public interest law. They were involved with law schools. They lined up funding from HEW and the Ford Foundation. The law schools themselves contributed some money to set up this thing that would encourage law students to go into public interest law and also support the local legal services and the public interest community groups. They were creating community so that the students coming through would volunteer with the public interest groups. The students actually had academic requirements and advisors, and they got a certificate in public interest law when they graduated.

Mary Flynn:
There were, at any one time, three to five law schools who were a part of it. Students could take courses at the other schools. It was a very interesting model. I was the first full-time executive director they hired once they got the funding set and going. We did a lot of things to support the community and avoid duplication. We put together a placement service. In those days, we mimeographed lists of jobs and mailed them out every week to people looking for public interest jobs. We put out a directory of public interest groups in the Bay area. We put on a statewide public interest conference every year. It was those kinds of things.

Mary Flynn:
Early on, I was in discussion with some of the legal aid directors and found out that there was some funding available from the Western Center as a sub-grant. They were at that point giving it to the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights to be a support center supporting the Project Directors Association, helping them learn from each other, share resources, and address issues of common concern. We had no money at all so I borrowed money to fly down to a project directors meeting in southern California and made a pitch that the Public Interest Clearinghouse should become that support center because the Lawyer’s Committee didn’t want to do the project anymore. I did get the contract.

Mary Flynn:
That was when the Clearinghouse really became much more legal aid focused than consumer law focused. We started many entities. We started a group of litigation directors. They started meeting and doing mutual training and support. We helped start the National Network Advisory Committee that set up a legal aid area and Hands Net so people could share sample pleadings and all kinds of things online. So I got in early on supporting technology and I really never went much farther. My own knowledge is not that great about the uses of technology. But I knew it was important, and I found the money and hired somebody to coordinate the computer project nationally.

Mary Flynn:
It was those kinds of projects I think that really helped cement the statewide legal services community and have access for the students to learn about them so they could pursue careers. One of the main things that I did there, on behalf of the Project Directors Association, was be a liaison to the state bar when it was setting up its IOLTA Commission. As we got our funding approved in 1980, it took maybe three or four years to go through the litigation that tried to stop it. Finally we got approval from the Supreme Court. We were going to go ahead with distributing the money. I was the liaison from the community as the bar decided what kind of regulations it was going to put in place to oversee the distribution of this money.

Mary Flynn:
One of my favorite memories was the board was finally going to approve all the regulations at a board meeting. We got word that one of the conservative members of the board wanted to implement a lobbying restriction. Ralph Abascal of California Rural Legal Assistance was not going to have that happen. Ralph drafted a letter as I was driving him from our office in San Francisco over to the offices of Nick Petris, the assemblyman who got the bill through in the first place. He got Nick to sign a letter saying, “Board of Governors, don’t you dare prohibit them from lobbying with this money. That’s not what we had in mind, and it’s inappropriate of you to add that.”

Mary Flynn:
We got him to sign that letter. We rushed back to the bar, gave a copy to every member of the board, and they decided not to go ahead and add that lobbying restriction. Ralph was one of my mentors in those years. I learned a lot from him, which was great. One of the other things we did at the Clearinghouse was support the establishment of the Legal Aid Association of California. The state bar had always been a coordinator of legal services in the state. But once the bar was going to become a funder, the project directors felt like they needed another outside organization to actually be a counterweight to the fact that the bar was distributing the money. There may be times when the bar did things we didn’t want, so we needed another player at the table.

Mary Flynn:
We got LAAC set up, I was one of the early presidents of LAAC. With a lot of the old Reggie fellows such as Peter Reid and Toby Rothschild we all worked together to get LAAC established. The Clearinghouse took a contract with them for awhile. The Clearinghouse provided administrative support for LAAC as well. We didn’t have a lot of money at the Clearinghouse. I remember keeping a bottle of whiskey in my drawer for the days when I could not make payroll. We eventually always made payroll, and Joanne Garvey always did make sure our taxes were paid. But it was life on a shoestring for sure.

Mary Flynn:
I also, at that time, served on the local Barristers Board. I always stayed involved with the local bar. I was on the Barristers Board, I was Vice President of the Barristers. Then a couple years later they asked me to go to the senior board, so I was on the San Francisco Bar Board for a couple years. I always felt like working closely with them was very important. Jack Londen of Morrison and Foerster chaired a legal services committee. He and I worked closely through the ’80s drafting comments on regulations. There were many, many draft regulations circulated that were not what we supported, so we worked closely with Jack getting comments in on those regulations. I was a contact in the national network of contacting people when there were deadlines coming up, such as regulations that were being proposed. That’s the focus of my work at the Clearinghouse in the ’80s.

Alan Houseman:
So then you went over to become director of the Office of Legal Services of the California Bar. Discuss what that office does and what you did. I think you also had some involvement in the California Access to Justice Commission.

Mary Flynn:
The Office of Legal Services has two main focuses. One is distribution of IOLTA. Most of the time there were about 20 staff people at OLS. Half of them were working on IOLTA distribution and monitoring, and all those things. The other half were doing pro bono support — supporting the Access to Justice Commission when it was established, supporting the pro bono committee. There were a lot of things that we did. The office also did lawyer referral service certification. We did alternative dispute resolution support for a long time, and Board of Governors support. I always made sure I had a seat at the table. I knew who was on the board, so we could keep them knowledgeable about what was going on with legal aid. When issues arose, they came to me because I was there on all of their issues. Then, when we needed them, they were also there over time.

Mary Flynn:
There were three different periods of time in which I think about my work at the state bar from ’92 to when I retired in 2014. The first era was from 1992 to 1998. The month I was hired, October of ’92, there was a new state bar president who really supported legal services, Harvey Saferstein. Harvey was a pretty good friend of Earl Johnson. So he asked Earl if Earl would set up a committee on Access to Justice that would look at what we needed in the state to improve access. So the Access to Justice Working Group was set up. It had Laurie Zelon, Jack Londen, Ralph Abascal, and Earl Johnson. It was dream team to work with.

Mary Flynn:
We did a study of what was happening in the state, and looked at what we would recommend to improve it. It really started working in early 1993, and we finished our report in 1996. The report had a series of recommendations, including of course pushing toward the right to counsel, and establishing an Access to Justice Commission to work toward and actually implement the recommendations in the report. Another recommendation was increased funding for legal services. There was a whole range of the kinds of recommendations you often see in those reports. But the fact that we actually set up the Access to Justice Commission as one of the key recommendations was very important.

Mary Flynn:
In that time also, I worked with Terry Friedman. He had been the executive director at Bet Tzedek legal services. Then he was elected to the Assembly, and he was chairing the Judiciary Committee. He asked me if I would help put together a hearing on funding of legal services. We did that probably in the summer of ’93 or ’94. Right after that there was a change in the control on the legislature. Terri was going to lose his Chair of the Judiciary Committee. He had been told that all of the projects that were in the works were going to be stopped immediately, right after the election. We ended up working around the clock to publish the results of his hearing on funding of legal services.

Mary Flynn:
There were a lot of good ideas in that set of hearings too, so they all fed into the Access Commission Working Group to see what areas should be pursued. We worked on loan forgiveness. I mentioned ADR, we also established the California Legal Corps. This was interesting. It was the pipe dream of the state bar president to do something like that. Very Clintonesque. Unfortunately, there was no money for it. The idea for funding the California Legal Corps was that it was going to be si pres money that would be earmarked for the Legal Corps. Ralph Abascal worked with us to develop the wording and the statute, and we negotiated with the governor’s office.

Mary Flynn:
We actually never got any money for the California Legal Corps. But what we did was codify the right of legal service programs to receive si pres money. It had always been there, but this was the first time that it was in the statute. So that was very nice that we got that done even though we never actually launched the California Legal Corps. Every year I would do a report to the legislature, “Nope, no money yet. We haven’t implemented it.” So that was something that took some time and did not go where we’d hoped. There are always lessons along the way.

Mary Flynn:
Another thing that we spent a good deal of time on — myself, other people at the state bar, the Office of Research worked with us a lot — was we reached out to the judiciary and we set up something called the Bench Bar Pro Bono Project and the Benchmark Coalition. They worked side by side. The lawyers were stepping forward to make sure the courts had enough funding for the courts, and the courts were there to support the bar and bar leaders on some of the issues that they cared about. That started in about 1993, and it continues to this day. The Benchmark Coalition is quite well-established now. They lobby Sacramento for funding or for the courts for specific things when it’s needed, like language access when that became something important.

Mary Flynn:
The involvement with the courts started early in those first few years at the bar. The Access Commission had its first meeting in 1997. Laurie Zelon became the first chair of the Commission. We put the details in our report about how we thought the commission should be set up. Earl Johnson believed that we really needed a diversity of entities involved. We talked about the commission early on as being quasi-state bar. The state bar agreed to staff it and fund it. We had appointments from the Supreme Court, the legislature, the governor’s office. We put in appointments by the Assembly and by the Senate. The governor came back and said, “Well, if the legislative branch gets two appointments, we want two appointments.” We were more than happy to give them two appointments. That was great. They didn’t really fill them right away, but that’s another story.

Mary Flynn:
So we set it up that way. I know most commissions now have the Supreme Court establishing the commission, and they may make most or all of the appointments themselves, but this had been one of the early ones. I think we were the third, maybe, Access Commission that was set up around the country. I know Washington state was early on. So we took about a year working with all these different appointing entities that now had this appointment power in order to figure out who they were going to appoint and why. It took a while to get that going. So the Access to Justice Working Group report was adopted unanimously by the state bar board in September of ’96. The first meeting was in ’97.

Mary Flynn:
That was the first time that the Board had adopted anything unanimously. We really worked hard on that. It was a very contentious board off and on. It has been for years. It was supportive of this, and that was really, really important. The first meeting started in ’97. We came up with a series of things that we wanted to accomplish. We started working right away on a variety of things. Unfortunately, a year later the state bar had its funding terminated by the governor, and over 500 people were laid off, including me. I got to lay off half of my office. Not the IOLTA staff because they were separately funded. But I laid off everybody else and then myself. I was laid off for two years, ’98 to 2000.

Alan Houseman:
Who was the governor then?

Mary Flynn:
That was Pete Wilson. So it took quite a while for the bar to get a bill through to get funding back. The Supreme Court stepped in and ordered lawyers to pay a minimum amount so that the discipline system would keep going, and some of the other basic functions kept going. But anything additional was shut down. I took the Access Commission work to my house. My little bungalow was turned over to supporting work for the commission. In that time, I also started doing consulting work because I needed to pay my mortgage. I’ll talk about the consulting work later. But I working about half time with no pay for the commission to keep it going.

Mary Flynn:
Right then, at the same time, Gray Davis was elected. We finally thought we had an opportunity to get state funding for legal services. We set up a committee out of the Access Commission that was going to plan this. We met once a week by phone, we figured out how we were going to coordinate a lobbying campaign and what materials we needed. We did all of that. I had a donated fax machine and everything. The bar had 500 computers sitting idle, but they wouldn’t let us use any of those things. So I had to go out and buy things to mirror what we had there. Everybody kept volunteering, the private firms hosted meetings. Everybody just pitched in. So we kept the commission going during those dark days.

Mary Flynn:
Because I wasn’t running the Office of Legal Services, I had the freedom to give as much of my attention as possible to coordinating this lobbying campaign. We got 10 million dollars in the Equal Access Fund. I think it’s about 230 million dollars that we’ve distributed so far from Equal Access Fund since then. When were lobbying and designing the Equal Access Fund, we worked closely with Villaraigosa, an assemblyman at the time, and John Burton, who was in the state senate. Villaraigosa wanted us to have 25 million dollars, but that was too much. Nobody knew how to make that happen.

Mary Flynn:
John Burton said, “I will get you 10 million, but I don’t want you talking about it. I’m just going to quietly get it into a budget, and it will be there for you.” We worked with his office and the courts. He said, “You can’t have a new recipient of state funds. You have to pick an existing recipient of funds, and they can subcontract to whoever to distribute the money.” But they were not going to add the state bar as a recipient in the state budget. We didn’t have a line item, and we weren’t going to get one now. That was impossible politically. The Access Commission wanted the the Judicial Council to be the recipient of the funds, which would be distributed through them. We had incredibly supportive leadership at the court. That was Chief Justice Ron George and the head of the AOC, Bill Vickery. The two of them were a force to be reckoned with. They changed the face of the judiciary in California. They really supported legal services.

Mary Flynn:
Bill Vickery called me at home, and he said, “I’m having a little trouble selling this idea that the Judicial Council should distribute money to legal aid. We’ve never done that before. Does it happen in other states?” I said, “Let me get back to you.” So I called Meredith McBurney, who was doing work with the ABA. She was the one who had all the information about what was going on with regards to state funding around the country. Within one hour, I was able to type up a list of all the states where their Judicial Council distributed funds for legal services. I got that to Bill in his Sacramento offices. We went in for the afternoon hearing. They said, “Fine. As long as we’re not going to be the only one, and there are other states that do it, I’ll support it.”

Mary Flynn:
In John Burton’s office, at the last minute, there was a key staffer who was negotiating the deal. She thought all of the money should go into self-help, which is not what we had intended at all. But she was a key player in getting the money set up. She came down to 25% and I think we finally agreed that 10% of the funding would go for partnerships between legal aid programs and the courts to run self-help centers. The self-help centers would have to be court based. It would have to be a partnership, but the money had to go to legal aid. All of this was money for legal aid, defined as IOLTA recipients. We already were funding these programs, so the Equal Access Fund was going to be divvied up according to our formula, how we automatically distribute everything based on poverty population, all that, in the state.

Mary Flynn:
But we had this 10% set aside for partnership grants. It was really a key thing. We got the support of John Burton partly because we agreed to that. But it also ended up creating more of a community, a coordination between the courts and legal service programs because there had to be a partnership to apply for the money. As a result, the courts were seeing these self-help clinics set up in their courts because of this Equal Access Fund. I worked with our IOLTA program as a consultant at that time to draft evaluation guidelines for the partnership grants because that was the first time any IOLTA money was given out by discretion. Before that, since 1983 or 1984, when the first money was distributed, this was the first time there was any discretion. The IOLTA Commission, all the sudden, was more like a foundation board. We were able to attract people a little more because they had more say. It wasn’t a rubber stamp anymore, so that was how the partnership grants got set up.

Mary Flynn:
I said there were three eras. The second era for me began in ’98 when I was laid off, and ended at the end of 2004. For the two years I was laid off, I did this work on the Equal Access Fund primarily, but also kept the Access Commission meetings going, and continued to work with the courts expanding self-help centers. Bill Vickery spoke with us and said, “I believe we need rules for unbundling. We want to expand self-help. We want to expand the availability of limited scope legal assistance. But I think the courts don’t want to be in front on it because they’re worried that private attorneys might think that they’re losing business.” They asked us to work with the state bar to do a report on limited scope, how it would work in California, what roles we would need. Justice Laurie Zelon took the lead on that and we turned around a report in about five months time. The bar adopted our recommendation unanimously.

Mary Flynn:
We then went to the Judicial Council. They adopted it in theory, but they wanted written rules. We worked with the courts to design the actual court rules. Around this time was when Bonnie Hough was hired at the courts. She became my main partner in all of this work. We worked up draft language for how the court rules would function to implement limited scope rules. It was at about that time when there were self-help centers that were being set up all over the place. The Judicial Council had a committee that I worked with to set up rules requiring that self-help centers had to be staffed. It wasn’t a kiosk, it was a person. The lead person had to be an attorney. There was a whole set of guidelines and rules for how you would run self-help centers. Those are all the things that were coming together at the same time.

Mary Flynn:
When I was brought back to the bar in 2000, I was hired as a Special Assistant on Legal Services. It took a while before they went back to their old structure of having a full Office of Legal Services. That didn’t happen until 2004. So from 2000 to 2004, about four years, I continued to do the same kind of work, but as a Special Assistant to the Executive Director.

Mary Flynn:
Then the last era was 2004 to 2014. That was when we reestablished the Office of Legal Services. The Access to Justice Commission was since ’97 my main focus. Even when I was full-time running the office, at least half my time was on the Access Commission.

Mary Flynn:
The Commission was early to the game on language access. We came out with a report on the language barriers that existed in the courts. We had a private attorney who chaired our Language Access Committee and drafted the report. It was an excellent report. It really laid out the law about what language access should be available. The problem was it became really clear the court should be providing interpreters, period, and they weren’t. But they didn’t have the funding for it. So I worked really hard to have the language of that report be one the courts would not reject out of hand. We were not blaming the courts, we were saying they really should be doing this, they want to do this, and they don’t have the funding. We wrote it in a way that it could be used with the state legislature to get the money to do the interpreters. Every time I saw a draft of the report, if the litigator was there saying, “The courts are out of compliance” in a really nasty, negative tone, I kept modifying it. He’d understand. He’d go back and do another editing again. Oh, we went through so many drafts of that, but it really did end up being an excellent report. It got an incredible amount of attention. This was just before the federal government really started stepping in and pushing the language access need.

Mary Flynn:
We expanded the Equal Access Fund about that time with filing fee money. That’s something that Ron George and Bill Vickery supported. It brought in another five million dollars. That brought in significantly more money for legal services. We got the Shriver Civil Counsel Act approved in 2008, which was pilot money for representation. Yes, we need self-help centers, but yes we need attorneys representing people. That continues to this day. We got IOLTA comparability through the legislature just before the economy tanked. We actually never saw more money because the interest rate went to zero. But we did get that in the books, and at some point it actually may bring in more money for the IOLTA program.

Mary Flynn:
About the same time, the state bar did a reevaluation and restructuring of itself. The new executive director, Joe Dunn, had been a state senator. He was very supportive of legal services. He redesigned the bar, and clarified — working with the board — that there were three main goals of the state bar. One of them is the regulation, admissions and discipline. The second one has to do with training and other things to make good lawyers, and ethics support, and all that. The third is access. So from an org chart that was an entire page, and we had one little box down at the bottom you couldn’t even find, the Office of Legal Services became one of the three top parts of the bar org chart. That was pretty exciting to see that happen. I think the bar has been very, very supportive of access. Unfortunately, they had too many internal political problems and weren’t able to achieve as much as we’d hoped.

Mary Flynn:
Throughout all those years, I spent a lot of time in Sacramento working with OGA, the Office of Government Affairs, of the courts. They helped on Shriver. They helped on IOLTA comparability, all of these things we did jointly with them. Here are some of the other things that the commission did. We — and I mean the Commission — set up an award for the judge who’s done the most to promote Access to Justice, named after Benjamin Aranda who was a much loved judge in Los Angeles, who died much too young. The Aranda Award is quite sought after, and I’m really glad that we did something like that, and it’s so easy. It’s given out one year when all the high-level judicial awards are given, so that’s something that we were really glad that we put into place.

Mary Flynn:
I guess I’ve mentioned most things. I haven’t mentioned two things that the Access Commission has done. One is the Incubator Project. We started this just before I retired, so I have not been real involved with it. Justice Goodwin was very interested in helping establish this project. He was appointed to the Access Commission right around 2012, I think. He was on it a couple years before I retired. He had been on the Public Welfare Foundation board before he went on the court. He really believed that we could set up a small fund that would go to law schools to have them set up incubator projects that would help new lawyers come out and work in a setting where they were working with peers.

Mary Flynn:
They have basic office equipment set up. They have peers to work with them. They had mentors. The whole thing was designed to have them set up a modest means career. How do you hang out your shingle and serve a people with modest means who can’t afford a lawyer traditionally. But if you can be really efficient in the way you practice law and have support, then hopefully more lawyers can pursue those kinds of careers. It’s what I thought I would do when I was in law school, but it didn’t go that way. So for the Incubator Project, we did line up some money, and they do give out grants to law schools. That’s been thriving, and I’m really glad to hear that.

Mary Flynn:
The one other project that I would mention is CLAIR. We followed the lead of Karen Lash, who set up the LAIR project at the Access to Justice Office at the US Department of Justice. We did one for California. I think they have 10 million dollars that they brought in in the last year because they got legal services included with the VOCA grant so that legal services could be recipients of funds. They’re looking at other agencies that might give grants to legal services. So I think that’s really great that that’s happened.

Alan Houseman:
Since you retired and prior to that, you’ve been doing some consulting work. So what kind of consulting were you doing, and were there any accomplishments that weren’t mentioned?

Mary Flynn:
There were two periods when I did consulting. When I was laid off in 1998, I thought the sky had fallen and Guy Leschault talked to me and said, “Do you think you would be willing to be a consultant for the Legal Services Corporation because we need to do an evaluation of Wayne County, and you’re from Detroit.” Well, I also worked there. I used to work for the old Mayor, so Guy asked me if I’d be willing. I agreed. That was my first consulting thing that made me realize that I’m not going to go into foreclosure, I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage and live, and be part of the greater world out there. It was a real eye-opener. It was very good

Mary Flynn:
So I was on the evaluation team in Wayne County. That was the merger mania time, when state planning was going on around the country, and programs were merging. I had two other entities who paid me to be a consultant. The IOLTA programs in Ohio and Michigan both hired me to be part of teams that went and met with the program and did a week-long evaluation. It was really great to be part of those teams. I often would be the one sent off to talk to the judges locally and look at their self-help center connections and things like that. I did that in several places in Michigan and Ohio.

Mary Flynn:
Then, Ohio hired me to facilitate the drafting of their state plan. I wrote the Ohio state plan. I do remember John McKay, LSC President said, “We thought Ohio was going to be a train wreck. This is a really good state plan.” I was really happy to be part of that process. It was a really good effort. Texas was talking to me about helping them do their state plan right when the California bar was getting back to operation, so I wasn’t able to take that on. I ended up going back on staff at the state bar. Those were the consulting things I did at that time, as well as some consulting with the California IOLTA program because I was no longer on staff.

Mary Flynn:
Then, when I retired, I spent several months recuperating. I thought I was going to want to work right away. I expected to go back and just start volunteering on Access Commission projects because that was my life and love that work. I had no idea how burned out I was. So I retired in January, and I think I billed 16 hours the entire year. Bonnie Huff at the courts asked if I would be willing to work with her on the Shriver project. There was a report to the legislature that was required under the statute, and she wanted me to work with them to prepare and get the legislative report ready. So I started doing that at the end of that first year. I worked with her. I still am working with the Shriver Implementation Committee, chaired by Justice Earl Johnson and Laurie Zelon. It was an unbelievable lifetime commitment, and all these people I’ve been able to work with over the years. So I’m working on that.

Mary Flynn:
The thing that I probably was most proud of was we did the report to the legislature. It was due in January of 2016, but we did not have enough of the evaluation data available yet to do the kind of report we thought we would be able to do. I believe we needed to get a report on file by the end of January, which was the deadline. Other people said, “Why don’t we wait. They’ll give us an extension, no problem.” I wanted one on file because we had a sunset clause facing us, and I didn’t want anybody to say they didn’t file their report on time. So I drafted what is a process report. We had this much money, we have these programs that were set up. Here are the issues, here are many people they were able to serve so far, and we’ll get more evaluation data to you when we get it.

Mary Flynn:
We filed that on time and got it approved by the Judicial Council. Then about three months later we had the opportunity to get the sunset clause eliminated, and it was. It was taken away. So no longer are we facing the elimination of the money. Somebody asked, “Well, did they do that report?” Somebody looked and checked, “Oh, yeah. They got the report.” They just wanted to know it was done. They didn’t care really what it said, unfortunately. But I felt really good that I pushed to make sure that we got that submitted.

Mary Flynn:
Then, at the same time, I’ve been doing work with the ABA supporting Access to Justice Commissions. One year, I helped plan the annual meeting of Access Commission Chairs. I had a sub-grant with the Self-Represented Litigants Network to set up a structure of commissions who wanted to look at what they were doing around self-help and helping self-represented litigants. I got that in place. We thought there would be eight or ten commissions interested, and we got 25 commissions. So I set up a structure where there were three groups, and Judge Fern Fisher agreed to chair the whole thing. We had three subcommittees so that each of the states could be in a smaller group. There was a whole series of substantive topics and training and materials that were developed. So I worked with them to set the structure up on that.

Mary Flynn:
What I’m doing right now is finishing a report on the staffing and funding of Access to Justice Commissions. There really wasn’t anything in one place that reflected how these commissions were supported. So over the last year I’ve been working on a report. I’ve got draft results that I’m going to be reporting on tomorrow at the plenary session, and I’ll finish the report in the next few months. It showed that there are actually about 10 or 12 Access Commissions that have at least two full-time staff people or more, and they are funded at over $200,000 a year. They’re really functioning very well. Then, there are another similar number that are funded at the level of about $100,000 a year, with one full-time staff person. But then, there are a lot of them that have maybe a half-time staff person or less, and some of them have no staff at all. So looking at where their funding comes from, hopefully some of the ideas can be borrowed from other states.

Mary Flynn:
We also are looking at making recommendations moving forward of how to strengthen the national movement of Access to Justice Commissions. Are there ways to tie them together in a stronger way. I look at the NAIP model. The IOLTA programs around the country have a national organization, and they really coordinate themselves through that organization. We have nothing like that for the Access Commissions. They go through the support they get at the ABA, but that staffing is dwindling. We really need to be looking at how we’re going to keep the movement functioning and get the support that they need on an ongoing basis.

Alan Houseman:
Given your work in California and on this broad array of Access to Justice Commissions, what is your ideal or idea vision for the future of Access to Justice? What roles do the courts play in this, and what role should other stakeholders play in this?

Mary Flynn:
I think we’ve made amazing progress in the last few decades, recognizing everything that’s involved with achieving justice. It’s funding legal services, it’s having pro bono lawyers, but it’s also working with the law libraries. That’s where a lot of unrepresented people show up and they use the libraries or the public libraries. For so many years, they were not at all connected to anyone else so they would try and help people. But now, through the Access Commission movement, I think we are pulling other stakeholders into the mix — business leaders and social services — and having it more a societal obligation to achieve justice. I think we need to look at a whole array of solutions.

Mary Flynn:
I convinced myself a few years ago that this is all a process and we just need to make progress instead of feeling like we’re going to try and reach nirvana, and achieve equal justice, and it’s going to be wonderful. There are always new issues that come up, but having the courts as partners … This morning our Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye talked about what she’s been doing on trying to protect undocumented people in our courts, and deal with the cash bail that’s so harmful to vulnerable families. These are all issues that weren’t on the table at all even a couple of years ago. I think we’ve been building a community of people focused on working together to address the issues as they arise, and I think that’s amazing.

Mary Flynn:
There also is the recognition that there is a range of ways that you can fill the legal needs of low-income vulnerable people. We need to make sure that we have a continuum of service in place that functions well, that makes sure that people get to the level of service they need. They come into a court, they go to a self-help center, they talk with someone, and they are triaged so that they get referred to a program for actual representation if they need it, either because they cannot themselves self-represent or because the issue itself is so difficult that they need to actually have a lawyer. There may be self-help, there may be a limited scope lawyer who can help them with part of it.

Mary Flynn:
We need to make sure that the range of services are there, so that we can show the legislature that we are being efficient with your money. We don’t spend more than we need to. We’re really handling many cases at this level, and where you need a lawyer, we’re doing it here. Through the Shriver Project we learned that mediation in the housing law area has made a huge difference in one county where it was really working. We want to study that in other counties now, see if we can expand, get judge-led mediation, and have that be available to really help cut down on evictions.

Mary Flynn:
So there are a number of things that we’re learning through that evaluation that can add into this continuum of service. So I see the continuum of service and then the continuum of entities working together to solve the problem.

Alan Houseman:
Your resume indicated some awards that you’ve won. Is there any of these that was particularly meaningful to you?

Mary Flynn:
I would say two. Early on, Tom Smegal when he was President of the San Francisco Bar, gave me an Award of Merit for my work running community clinics. That meant the world to me. I had been doing pro bono work for about two years at that point. My firm was not tied into bar associations at all. All the partners showed up at the luncheon that year because I was getting an award. That really meant a lot to me.

Mary Flynn:
Then, in 2013 I think, when I was retiring, the Judicial Council decided that I was going to be the recipient of the Bernard Witkin Award that year. It’s the only award they give every year to someone not part of the judicial branch for services to improve the judicial branch. The Witkin Award was something I was quite, quite moved by. Because I was close to retirement, I was very happy to be recognized by that award given to me by the Chief. She called me from her cell phone to my cell phone, really very good.

Alan Houseman:
You were on the board of the Volunteer Legal Assistance Program. That has, of course, quite a reputation and some incredible leadership. Unfortunately, one of those great leaders is dead. That obviously is somewhat of a unique program. What do you say about that?

Mary Flynn:
Yes, I worked with that volunteer group for many years. Jen Terrell was there when I first was working on it, and she’s the one who helped me start doing volunteer work. The San Francisco Bar is so progressive and so supportive. That program served unbelievable numbers of people and was always creative in how they trained the care and feeding of volunteer lawyers. As I recall, they had 700 non-lawyer volunteers. The law firms would get other people in their office to get involved. They really did wonderful, creative things to make sure that people in San Francisco got represented when they needed it. So they had one chair year after year. He really went to bat to make sure they got adequate funding. The staff was creative, they really trained their volunteers. There was a real sense of community. They recognized the volunteers. The judges always showed up at the recognition events, so it was definitely a model program, one I was really happy to be part of for sure.

Alan Houseman:
As we end this, is there anything else you want to add to this oral history?

Mary Flynn:
I was also on the board of what is now Bay Area Legal Aid. I was on the board of the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance. One of the things that I am most proud of there is that, when we had the opportunity to hire a new executive director, the board was ready to hire somebody whose resume they had seen and somebody who had worked at the program. It had been a troubled program and they were going to hire somebody internal. Ramón Arias had just applied for the job, but he’d missed their deadline. He’d missed the deadline because … I think it was IRCA that had just come … the deadline was May 1st … Anyway, he was working hard for his clients. All of sudden he realized, “Oh, maybe I should apply for this job.” I put my body in front of that train and said, “You cannot not consider this person. He is so important, and you can’t just make a decision based on some random deadline.” So I convinced them, and they did hire Ramón. It’s behind the scene things that people don’t know about, but I would often tell Ramón, “You’re part of the reason I do what I do.”
END