Weeks, Tom 2018

Last modified: 2021-02-25 04:46
Storyteller: Weeks, Tom
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2018-11-03
Length: 1:01:47

Topics: ADR, Civil legal aid: General, Employment law, LSC: General, Pro bono, Self-represented litigants, and Technology
Geo, US: OH
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NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.000
Georgetown status: Add oral history
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Video status: Large File
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Transcript link: Transcript
Transcript status: DeleteMeSoon
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Longtime Executive Director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA). Previously worked at the Cleveland Legal Aid Society in 1975. Leader on employment law.



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Bio note
From https://www.columbuslegalaid.org/about/staff/thomas-weeks/:
Thomas Weeks serves as the Executive Director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA), which is the umbrella organization that includes The Legal Aid Society of Columbus. Tom has been involved in Legal Aid since his career began. He started out as a Staff Attorney at the Cleveland Legal Aid Society in 1975, managed a neighborhood office for several years, then served as the Director of the Civil Division where he managed a staff of 35-40 attorneys. In 1985, he became the Executive Director of OSLSA. He is responsible for leading Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS), which serves 30 counties in Ohio Appalachia through six offices; the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC), a statewide advocacy organization; and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC).

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Tom Weeks
Conducted by Alan Houseman
Nov. 2, 2018

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Tom Weeks, who’s Director of Ohio State Legal Services Association. The interviewer in Alan Houseman from the National Legal Justice Library, and this is Friday, November 2nd, 2018.

Alan Houseman:
Let’s begin, Tom, by going through your background, where you grew up, where you went to college, and a quick review of your resume. Then we’ll come back and talk about your work in Cleveland and in Columbus.

Tom Weeks:
Sure. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1949. the immediate post war baby boom. My parents were both in the military. My father was in the army. My mother was a Wave in the navy. We lived in a little neighborhood with a lot of other returning GI’s and their kids. It was an idyllic upbringing. I went to public school in Ann Arbor and then went to Oberlin College like Alan. It was a time of political ferment at Oberlin, although maybe all times are that way at Oberlin College. The Vietnam War was going on, the civil rights movement, the riots, and all sorts of other upheavals.

Tom Weeks:
I was an English major at Oberlin. When I was near the end of my time at Oberlin, I realized I was really not qualified to do anything with the passable exception of teaching English at the high school level, which I didn’t want to do. I did take the GRE’s and the LSAT. I did badly on the GRE’s and well on the LSAT, which was not a very good reason to go to law school, but it was definitely a reason. went back to my home town to the University of Michigan Law School and graduated from there.

Alan Houseman:
You did pretty well at Oberlin and Michigan.

Tom Weeks:
I did. I graduated from Oberlin with honors despite part of the educational upheaval at the time is that we thought grades were evil and so most of my classes were credit no entry. I had a fairly small number of actual grades, but they were fairly good, and good enough to let me write an honors thesis and graduate with honors there. At Michigan I found the beginning of law school very confusing. I didn’t really know what lawyers did. I actually had more reasons for going to law school than the LSAT. I did have an idea that I could do something progressive and useful. But law school certainly at Michigan did not seem oriented that way. I also was fairly baffled by things as minor as the way case citations were written. Everybody else seemed to know how that worked and what it was about, to me it was just numbers. It didn’t mean anything.

Tom Weeks:
Fortunately we did not get grades at the end of the first semester because I really had not figured things by the end of the first semester. But by the end of the first year when the exams came it was very different. For Oberlin the exams were blind graded, it was all very objective. But I did do well and graduated magna cum laude from Michigan, which was good because it gave me options. After I got to Legal Aid, it gave me credibility with particular people in the private bar that I was trying to convince that we knew what we were doing, that they should work with us.

Alan Houseman:
After law school, where did you end up going?

Tom Weeks:
Well the important thing is what happened at law school really. In that first I was very unhappy. I didn’t really see the point of what I was learning or what I was doing. In the summer after my first year I volunteered at the Washington County Legal Aid Society. I worked half time as a carpenter. I then volunteered half time at Legal Aid where, having done just one year at law school, I couldn’t do that much. But I did things like try to streamline the system for handling family law cases in the office and it just felt like part of an important mission. I saw what the lawyers were doing and everything jut clicked for me. I really thought that’s what I wanted to do.

Tom Weeks:
Then during my second year Cleveland Legal Aid was one of the few legal aid programs that went to law schools and recruited people. They were recruiting for summer clerks and so I applied for a job as a summer clerk in Cleveland. Then in the middle of the year at Christmas I went to visit the woman I was dating at the time who was living in Germany, in Berlin, for a short visit. While I was there I had a very good time and decided to stay in Berlin for awhile. Also, not being that happy with law school I dropped out of law school although I asked them if they would let me come back if I changed my mind.

Tom Weeks:
Then Cleveland Legal Aid sent me an offer of a clerkship. They sent it by surface mail so it arrived shortly before I was supposed to start as a law clerk at Cleveland Legal Aid. But I phoned them up and arranged to go there and left and came back here. I had a wonderful summer in the west side office of the Cleveland Legal Aid Society. The law clerks did a lot of real hands-on work. We interviewed most of the clients and worked closely with the lawyers and it was wonderful. So I went back to law school reinspired and finished out law school. I also married the woman that I had been visiting in Berlin. Then I moved to Cleveland to work for Cleveland Legal Aid. That’s how that happened.

Alan Houseman:
You worked at Cleveland Legal Aid and then Ohio State. You were at Cleveland Legal Aid for how many years?

Tom Weeks:
Ten years. I was there for 10 years. I started off in the Hough office of Cleveland Legal Aid as a staff lawyer, which was an east side, all-black, horrible, miserable slum. This was shortly after the riots that happened in Cleveland and there were still lots of damage from the riots. There were burned out buildings that were still standing. When I showed up for work in Hough I was afraid to get out of my car. I’d never been any place like that before. The scene was that the office, it’s a storefront, the door was locked and didn’t have any windows, it had a peephole and they would look and see who was outside and decide whether to let them in. The building across the street had burned out in the riots and was filled with garbage up to the level of the bottom of the windows where it spilled out onto the street. But I screwed my courage to the sticking point and knocked on the door and they let me in.

Tom Weeks:
I worked in that office for about a little less than a year before I got transferred to the near west side office where I had been a law clerk, which was just a wonderful, very mixed neighborhood with significant white Appalachian population, moved up from West Virginia and Kentucky, African-Americans, especially in the projects along the flats on the near west side of Cleveland, and then a very sizable Puerto Rican community. It was a really interesting mixed neighborhood. I spent seven very happy years there.

Tom Weeks:
Things were very different then. I had three managing attorneys within my first year and a half at Cleveland Legal Aid. At that point they had run out of candidates so I became the managing attorney with a year and a half of experience. I really didn’t know much about what I was doing. I certainly knew nothing about management and only about law what I’d figured out in that short time. But that was … I don’t know, do you want me to talk about that experience?

Alan Houseman:
Yeah sure.

Tom Weeks:
The Cleveland Legal Aid Society at the time was a great legal aid society. It was split into neighborhood offices and a law reform unit and some other specialty units. But the model was that we saw a volume of clients in the neighborhood offices and then law reform would work on overarching issues. There was a lot of disagreement within the lawyer staff about whether that was the right way to do things and whether the law reform unit was just pulling the interesting work out of the neighborhoods. I never thought that was quite true. But I worked hard at getting to stay involved in interesting cases that had either come out of my office or other offices. I was doing general practice, so consumer cases, housing cases, a little bit of domestic, not so much, and benefits cases. I got very interested in unemployment compensation while I was in that office. Nobody was doing much representation in that area and so I did a lot of individual cases which, when we lost, we would appeal first to the common pleas court and then to the court of appeals. There really wasn’t much case law in the area so we really made some very good law there. I also worked with an organization called the Cleveland Council of Unemployed Workers, CCUW, that was affiliated with National Lawyers Guild and worked out of CWRU Law School.

Alan Houseman:
CWRU is Case Western-

Tom Weeks:
Western Reserve. Yeah. The students ran the organization, so they would arrange trainings for students who would then handle hearings and we would give them support and preparation for the hearings. What that did was generate even more cases where then we could decide whether they were worth appealing. So I would, along with others, take those cases and appeal them up to court. We made a lot of good law that way. We also figured out then that there were some real problems with the way that the program generally was administered. We started filing some class actions in federal court dealing with delays and procedural problems primarily. We were very successful with that. We prevailed to some degree in almost every case. There’s only one that I can think of that we didn’t get anything out of. We made a lot of good law there. That was a very rewarding part.

Tom Weeks:
I got interested in consumer law. I did some neat consumer cases. The Truth in Lending Act was new. The lenders hadn’t figured out how to comply with it. There were lots of technical defenses. I worked a lot on that. Another thing that I got interested in was — as the managing attorney I could control this — is at that point parentage, issues of parentage were determined in paternity trials and there was a right to a jury trial. There were no genetic blood tests available. There was an ABO test that could sometimes exclude the man as the father, but could never confirm that he was the father. So those would go to jury trial and they would be usually a day to two days of jury trial. So I grabbed all those that came into my office and took them and got to try maybe 10 or 15 jury cases of those. They were very fact intensive and it was a great way to get some jury experience.

Tom Weeks:
We did some other jury cases. The other main area being housing area. That was very rewarding. Well one other thing that I did that was interesting is one of the suburbs, Parma, had a practice of evicting people on doorknob service as summons, which was illegal. They would just hang the summons and complaint on the door. This was so formalized that on the service return they had a stamp that said “Service made by hanging on the doorknob”. It was right in the record that the service was no good. One of those cases in Parma, I went out there and I had my client there. But I had her hide someplace while I went in to make the motion to dismiss. Then I would have her there just in case something happened and I needed her. We didn’t appear out there very much. The judge was furious and asked me what I thought I was doing. I know this because when Peter Ishkin who was the housing lawyer at Cleveland, who you probably knew, Alan-

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Tom Weeks:
Yeah, he was a great lawyer. He retired a few years ago and he had a transcript of that hearing which he sent me when he retired. The judge asked me who I thought I was and what I thought I was doing. I said, “I’m Thomas Weeks and I’m defending my client here and I don’t need to have her here do it, I’m ready to proceed.” He said, “If you don’t change your attitude, we’ve got a place for people like you. You’re going to jail right now if you don’t straighten up and cut this out.” So I just continued to advocate and I was not sent to jail. There was an order of eviction made and we had to deal with that. But I also then, with help from the people in the law reform unit, sued the judge and the bailiffs and the clerk of the Parma Municipal Court for doing doorknob service in evictions. That was successfully concluded and we got an order against that.

Tom Weeks:
One of the things that’s hard to understand is how seat of the pants some of our representation was at that point. It was almost like we didn’t have adult supervision out in the neighborhood offices. So one of my ideas for this case, and one of the things I demanded in the settlement was, I wanted that stamp that they used to put on the summons saying “This service was made by hanging the summons on the door”. It just infuriated the Parma defendants, the judge in particular. It was a very stupid thing to do. It was completely unnecessary to the case, it was just like counting coup to try to get their stamp. Somebody should have been there to tell me, “No, don’t do that. That’s not … you don’t need to do that.” Eventually cooler heads got involved and we took care of that.

Tom Weeks:
Another example of that is another housing case that I did. We had a brand new eviction statute in Ohio at that point. There was a provision where you could counterclaim for damages in non payment of rent eviction. If you got a judgment for conditions, for example, and it netted out in favor of the tenant then there was no eviction. Even if it netted out in favor of the landlord you could probably pay the difference to stay, but that was not being implemented at all. The courts weren’t allowing the counterclaims to be raised in the first cause. So I went down to the eviction court. All evictions happened in the same place in Cleveland. I just waited around until I saw somebody get screwed that way and followed them out into the hall and said, “You know that wasn’t right what just happened to you. Would you like me to represent you. I’m a legal aid lawyer. It’d be free, and we’ll appeal it.”

Tom Weeks:
We did. In that case when I wrote the brief I was trying to argue that the new statute needed to be viewed in the context of what was happening in the country at that time. So one of the authorities that I cited in my appellate brief was Stevie Wonder, who in one of his songs had a line that said, “We live in a house the size of a matchbox. Roaches with live us wall to wall. I don’t have to do nothing to you, you cause your own country to fall.” That went in the brief that was filed. I ended up arguing in front of an unfortunately fairly conservative panel. I lost. One of the judges was very reactionary and just lit into me about how stupid my argument was, not including that quote. But it was a great example of something where there should’ve been somebody who had said, “Tom, that’s really cool, that’s a great idea. Don’t do that. Take that out of there.” But there wasn’t and so it went in that way.

Tom Weeks:
Another case that I worked on in Cleveland was the City of East Cleveland v. Inez Moore. It was a perfect example of the way we got impact cases in Cleveland Legal Aid then. We were doing misdemeanor defenses. Inez Moore was charged with and convicted of the misdemeanor crime of living in her apartment or house — I forget if she owned it or not — with her two sons and two grandsons. That violated the extended family prohibition that was a municipal ordinance in the city of East Cleveland. To us, the ordinance had clearly been adopted to try to prevent African-American extended families from moving into East Cleveland, which was experiencing white flight at the time. A neighborhood lawyer tried that misdemeanor case and lost, and appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed Moore’s conviction. They appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court which found that there was no constitutional issue.

Tom Weeks:
Then a legal intern, not even a lawyer, was the main person working on the motion to certify to the U.S. Supreme Court, which amazingly enough was allowed. So then all of Cleveland Legal Aid’s heavy hitters swung into action putting that brief together. There was a great lawyer there named Rick Stege who was the head of the law reform unit. He argued and won many cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. I believe this was his first. He did some police cases and some other really powerful cases. Anyway, as like a second year lawyer I got to work on the brief in the Inez Moore case.

Tom Weeks:
As a recent law school graduate I had strong ideas about how the case should be handled. It seemed clear to me that it was an equal protection case. It seemed like a slam dunk equal protection argument to me. I was the primary drafter of the equal protection argument. The Supreme Court, by the way, was completed splintered on that case. There may have been nine separate opinions. There were at least seven. But one thing that they agreed on and the opinion of the court held, is that the equal protection argument was dismissed because, in a footnote, they said this is a substantive due process case and implicates family rights. Therefore they ruled in favor of Inez Moore. Many of us from Cleveland went to the argument in Washington, DC. Inez Moore came with us and sat in the gallery with us and watched her case being argued. She was an older lady. That was a wonderful experience in Cleveland.

Tom Weeks:
Then for the last two years I was there I was the Director of the Civil Division, which was basically the Deputy Director to Lionel Jones, who was the long time Director at Cleveland Legal Aid. That was a great experience. I got to continue doing litigation, interesting cases. I worked with law reform. I worked with the neighborhood offices to generate good cases out of the neighborhoods. I continued working in the unemployment compensation field, which was very rewarding. But I also didn’t see eye-to-eye with Lionel in everything about the way the program was running. That’s not a criticism of Lionel, I mean he was always very inclusive and respectful of me. But I really felt like I wanted to try doing this on my own. Then the position opened up as Executive Director at Ohio State Legal Services Association. I probably wouldn’t have gone, but my wife encouraged me to go. She thought that I really needed to try that. We had two kids. Our oldest son was about to start kindergarten so it was perfect timing. We moved down to Columbus the summer before he started kindergarten.

Alan Houseman:
Describe the Ohio State Legal Services Association program.

Tom Weeks:
In 1985 when I went there, the biggest part of OSLSA was Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, SEOLS, which had I think at that time probably five offices in southeastern Ohio, which is Ohio Appalachia. I was completely unfamiliar with Ohio Appalachia and with southeastern Ohio. Actually I had been down there backpacking one time, but didn’t really know what in the world it was about. One of the things I asked for when I was interviewing for that job was the LSC form that was part of the application called the workforce analysis. Remember that? The workforce analysis shows you the demographics of the staff. I took a look at it and it was all white. In southeast Ohio there was not a single minority employee. I went to Lionel and said, “You know this looks like a big problem. What am I getting into if I go down there? It’s all white.” He said, “Let me tell you about southeast Ohio.” He had census data in his office and he pulled it out and started showing me counties in southeastern Ohio where there were no minorities. There were some where there actually were zero listed in the census.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway I moved from a very mixed clientele in Cleveland to an all white clientele in southeast Ohio. That was Southeast Ohio Legal Services. OSLSA had been formed by the Ohio State Bar Association in 1966 with the main purpose being to look at Ohio and figure out which parts of Ohio were not served by a legal aid program. So I found the records of that when I got there, county by county, describing what was out there. What it showed was that most of Ohio did have legal aid, especially the urban areas. But there was this huge area in southeast Ohio that was unserved.

Tom Weeks:
That’s how OSLSA got the responsibility for serving southeast Ohio. But they were also one of the first four original state backup centers. So they had a Legal Services Corporation grant to be a backup center. They did specialty assistance, brief banking, training, legislative and administrative monitoring, and advocacy. I think that was it primarily. So that was state support. That was small. There were three lawyers in that unit when I got there.

Tom Weeks:
But then there was also Core Four which was the computer-assisted legal research component for the state. Any legal aid lawyer in Ohio could phone in a research request to Core Four and they would run a Lexis or West Law search on it. I was already using Lexis when I was in Cleveland, Cleveland got it early among the legal aid programs and we had a dedicated Lexis terminal. But most of the legal aid programs did not have access to computer-assisted legal research. Core Four did that. That went on for five or six years after I got there, at which point it was not necessary any longer. We also had a relationship with the Ohio Clients Council and they had an office in our building. That was OSLSA in 1985.

Alan Houseman:
How would you describe some of the accomplishments and achievements that you and OSLSA have had since you’ve been there?

Tom Weeks:
It was a gradual process of just trying to make the program better, trying to raise the level of impact work that we’re doing. There wasn’t very much good impact work going on. There was also an enormous amount of routine family law being practiced. We had one office that was probably 95% family law cases. One of the first jobs was just trying to figure out how to make the work more impactful. One important thing was that we established a litigation director position and promoted somebody internally who was a very aggressive advocate to run that. He was very energetic, went all over the place.

Tom Weeks:
The kinds of things that were happening in southeast Ohio… the region was way behind the urban areas of the state in recognizing constitutional rights. Utilities were being shut off without any notice whatsoever, even though the Sixth Circuit had said you can’t do that. The attitude toward domestic violence truly was, “What did the woman do to deserve what happened to her?” That was the attitude of law enforcement and the courts. It was really horrible. We worked hard on that.

Tom Weeks:
The other thing that was very challenging was that the SEOLS offices were like separate independent fiefdoms. So I spent a lot of time and effort really trying to build the program into a more of a cohesive organization where the offices would help each other and we would be able again to lift the level of practice and also to make the lawyers feel more like they were supported. Right before I got there — you may remember this, Alan — there was a big brouhaha down in far southern Ohio where some girls, juveniles, were put in the adult county jail to basically scare them straight. They were raped by some of the prisoners and jailers. There was a huge lawsuit filed out of that and there was a movie made about called “A Crime of Innocence”-

Alan Houseman:
Right.

Tom Weeks:
Andy Griffith played the judge. So you know we were dealing with stuff like that and just trying to turn things around. By the way, when that happened, the Legal Services Corporation came out in force to support Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. I think the President of LSC came to that small Ohio town to show the flag for us. I worked on that.

Tom Weeks:
I think one of the most important things that I did for the program was just stay there a long time. So I think the stability of leadership and vision for the program was a plus. I mean it’s not the most conducive to change. But, especially in that region, I think it was important for the people to feel like we were established and they were secure there. That’s what I worked on at the program I guess. Then state support, if I jump far ahead-

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Tom Weeks:
The state support unit actually kept on doing what it was doing for a good long time. Then in 2009, for reasons I’ll talk about in a second, we reorganized the program and formed the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC) which took over the work of state support. OPLC was not LSC-restricted after that restructuring. We set it up as an LLC with a board of directors selected by the OSLSA board. It was a single-member LLC with OSLSA as the sole member. Then, partly at the urging of our state funder, we started focusing much more completely on legislative advocacy as the mission of OPLC. So at this point just recently we’ve completed really the giving the last vestiges of training responsibility away from OPLC to OSLSA generally. The sole focus of OPLC is on legislative and administrative advocacy. It’s being very successful. It’s really been well received. The other programs are very supportive and have worked closely with us to do that.

Tom Weeks:
I mentioned that that was part of something else important for OSLSA that happened. In the summer of 2008 I was contacted by the President of the board of the Columbus Legal Aid Society because they were having some problems with the management there which was troubled. They were really on the outs with both LSC and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation and were being threatened with defunding by both. So they contacted us to see if we would affiliate with Columbus Legal Aid and take over responsibility for running the program. So we had a long negotiation between representatives of the two boards that ended up with a similar arrangement to OPLC. Columbus Legal Aid still has its own board. It’s still a 501c3. But OSLSA is the sole member of that corporation. We appoint their board members, which is the control mechanism. We can dismiss them if we want to. So now OSLSA consists of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Columbus, and Ohio Poverty Law Center. Each of those has a Director that answers to the Executive Director of OSLSA. It’s an interesting structure. It’s been a gradual tightening of the bonds among all of those components. It’s still a work in progress.

Alan Houseman:
I think you have some vague relationship to Pro Bono Net, isn’t that correct?

Tom Weeks:
We have a TIG. Most of the money we just pass through to Pro Bono Net. Jim Daniels, the Director of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services is the person who’s worked on that. So yeah, that’s been a big deal, but our role in it has been fairly small. Jim has put some time into it, but the work has been done by Pro Bono Net.

Alan Houseman:
As you think about the future of civil legal aid, what do you see as the role of full representation, pro bono, various aspects of all these new things that are occurring — self-help centers, technology and all that?

Tom Weeks:
Well I would say that most of those are not new. They’ve been ongoing. I think it’s been an important issue in the legal aid community nationally about how to deal with some of those things. Let me talk about individual things. I don’t see this as something new. I see it as something that we’ve been dealing with all along and it’s manifesting in different ways now. Take as an example technology. When I started at Cleveland Legal Aid we didn’t have a photocopier in our office. We had to go down the street to the Rite Aid if we wanted a copy of a client’s papers or something like that. We were using Selectric typewriters with whiteout. When I went to OSLSA we got Leading Edge Model D computers because that’s what Consumer Reports recommended right after I got there. So we’ve been moving forward with technology and trying to figure out how fast to go.

Tom Weeks:
The issue of self-represented litigants has been an issue for years. Early on, we got a NAPIL grant to have a fellow look at self-represented litigants. Partly as a result of that I got to go to a national conference as as representative of the Ohio Supreme Court talking about self-represented litigants. So you know we’ve been struggling with that, looking at that for many years. I think there’s still deep divisions in the legal aid community about what are attitude should be toward self representation. Obviously having poor people going to court representing themselves is not ideal and they’re not going to do as well as if they had lawyers. Some of the purists in the community, not including me, think that we shouldn’t have anything to do with this because we’re just facilitating what’s basically an unsatisfactory, unjust, probably unconstitutional system.

Tom Weeks:
But the statistics on the number of people who are unrepresented show it’s a huge part of what’s happening in the courts. We have to play a role in that. That’s an intersection of an old specific issue in self representation with the technology issues and how those come together. So we’re working on those and trying to make it work better. One of the things I worry about the most is that I think some people who are looking at self representation focus too much on just whether or not the papers that were produced got the person into court, which I think happens fairly frequently, sometimes pretty routinely. But I don’t think we’ve done nearly enough at looking at what happened to them after they got there and whether the outcome was comparable to what they would’ve gotten if they had a lawyer, whether or not justice was really done. So getting through the courthouse doors is great. But unless you get justice when you get in there I think it’s unsuccessful. I worry about that.

Tom Weeks:
I worry about that, as money goes into, like in Ohio we’re starting a huge web portal. There will be a lot of resources poured into that. I worry what it will result in a second class justice.

Tom Weeks:
You mentioned full representation and you know that’s another thing that we struggle with — how do we make decisions about how much effort to put into individual cases. I think that we need to continue to see a lot of clients, to get involved in their cases, and then to make decisions about what we can achieve through those cases. Not just for the individual, but in terms of changing the system and the way the system affects those individuals. Again that’s not a new issue either, that’s just a continued issue.

Tom Weeks:
You mentioned pro bono. You know the PAI Regulation came in I think in the post-Reagan period as a way of cementing relations with the private bar. Is that right?

Alan Houseman:
Well it came in in ’81, ’82. Yeah.

Tom Weeks:
Yeah. So there was a lot of disagreement about the wisdom of that. I think it’s proven to have been a great idea. We depend on the private bar for political support obviously. I don’t think we would be here without the support of the private bar back in that era and other eras when we’ve been under attack. With respect to pro bono more generally actually representing clients, I’ve had the experience of working in Cleveland back in the ’70s and ’80s where there are lots of private lawyers and we had a pro bono program and they did some work for us. But it wasn’t very effective. But we had a program in the west side office where a new lawyer from the big Cleveland law firm Squire, Sanders and Dempsey came. We had a case load that was covered by a new SS&D lawyer coming each month. That went on for enough years that I worked with over 100 new SS&D lawyers, many of whom have gone on to very influential roles in the legal community and in that firm. The worldwide managing partner at one point was somebody who’d been a legal aid lawyer in my office for a month and so had a very positive recollection about legal aid and feeling about legal aid. That program was ended because people decided it wasn’t efficient. I think that was short sighted.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway I moved from Cleveland to southeast Ohio where there are very few lawyers. They’re barely making a living, many of them. They’re not very interested in doing pro bono. They think that when they don’t get paid for a case that should count as pro bono, or when they do a favor for a client and represent their kid in a traffic ticket or something that’s pro bono. So we mostly used our 12.5 percent PAI money to hire private lawyers to do especially domestic violence cases, get protection orders for people. Even that was fairly efficient because we were covering big distances and sometimes hiring a private lawyer out in a small town that could be as much as an hour away from our office was cheaper than sending somebody out there to do the work. But it wasn’t a particularly significant part of our delivery system.

Tom Weeks:
When I got involved with Columbus Legal Aid in 2008 they had a fairly weak pro bono system. But we really pumped that up. We put somebody in charge who was very energetic and creative and really worked to develop relations with the big law firms in particular, but also the courts and the smaller practitioners. Now the pro bono program there is a significant part of the delivery system.

Tom Weeks:
One of the best programs we’ve there right now is the Tenant Advocacy Program where we have a table outside the eviction court for Columbus. We have an inordinately high number of evictions in Columbus — way out of line with other cities all around the country. We had mostly focused on defending subsidized housing cases. We just didn’t have enough resources to be very active in private evictions. But so now we have this Tenant Advocacy Program that uses private lawyers. Some of the big firms are staffing a position down there so when people come to eviction court they can see us you know as they’re going into court and we evaluate whether they’ve got a defense. If they do we can provide a lawyer for them on the spot to defend the case.

Tom Weeks:
I mean the big firms, there’s this huge change in law practice that people don’t go to trial very much anymore. The big firms are dying for opportunities for their lawyers to stand up in front of a judge and examine witnesses. They love these eviction cases. They’re quick, they’re over shortly. I think we’re having a big impact through that program and I’d like to see us do more things like that to really build up the pro bono function. Also the law schools. I mean, we’ve been collaborating with them. But I think there’s more potential there to bring lawyers, law students, into our pro bono program. I’m wandering around here, Alan.

Alan Houseman:
No, you’re fine. Didn’t you work on ADR?

Tom Weeks:
Yeah, right. it’s hard for me to put this in the right timing context, you would be able to do this better than I can. But maybe 25 years ago when people were starting to get interested in ADR, the attitude in the legal aid community was that that was second class justice for our clients. They should not be forced into these alternative methods of dispute resolution. We were amazingly ignorant. I mean we didn’t know the difference between mediation and arbitration — just we were against it and we knew it was bad for our clients. I felt that way too really. Nancy Rogers who was on the LSC board, maybe at the time that this was happening, was a law professor at Ohio State University. She by the way started as a legal aid lawyer in Cleveland. She and her husband, Doug, were there … I overlapped with them for a short period of time.

Alan Houseman:
She was the daughter of the former Secretary of State.

Tom Weeks:
Actually, her husband was the son of the Secretary of State. Nancy was-

Alan Houseman:
That’s right. Nancy was-

Tom Weeks:
Nancy was the daughter of the Secretary of Agriculture-

Alan Houseman:
That’s it, that’s it.

Tom Weeks:
… under President Nixon. So they were Cabinet kids who met through that.

Alan Houseman:
Yeah. Just to get clear who they were.

Tom Weeks:
I know. So then they ended up at Cleveland Legal Aid. It was great. Cleveland Legal Aid was a wonderful. There were a lot of really great lawyers at Cleveland Legal Aid back in that period. Cleveland Legal Aid was a wonderful place to work.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway, Nancy’s specialty was alternative dispute resolution. She and I had talked about it some. She thought we were totally missing the boat on that. I think she was the chair of the Ohio Supreme Court’s committee on dispute resolution. She asked me if would be willing to serve on that committee to try to represent the interests of legal aid type clients. So I did that. I was appointed to that committee and served on it for many years. It’s on my resume, but it was a long time. I became completely convinced that alternative dispute resolution was a tool that we should be using for our clients. I mean we’re still fighting against mandatory arbitration clauses for example so there’s still problems with it.

Tom Weeks:
But in an example of what where I think the potential lies is that, as part of the Tenant’s Advocacy Program that I was just describing, we’ve arranged for an organization called Community Mediation Services to have a table near ours. So that when we talk to tenants who are being evicted, who really don’t have a defense, they’re behind in their rent, no conditions grounds, they just need some time to catch up or there’s some other dispute going on. We refer them to CMS and then Community Mediation Services has mediators who will try to work out something between the tenant and the landlord. The tenants can end up getting much more through that than they could’ve gotten through us. We might have been able to delay things with some begging or some technical defenses. But this sometimes can succeed in repairing the relationship and the person stays. I think we’re in a pretty good place on that actually. I think we’re using systems that are helpful to our clients in fighting against systems that are not.

Alan Houseman:
You’ve received a number of awards for your work. What was the most meaningful of those awards?

Tom Weeks:
The most meaningful of those was I got a few years ago the Ohio Bar Medal, which is the highest award that the Ohio State Bar Association gives. Actually to explain this I need to back up and talk about something else that you have asked me about before, but not this time. When I came to OSLSA a big difference from where I’d been in Cleveland was that OSLSA, since it was formed by the Ohio State Bar Association, was considered an affiliate of the OSBA. That meant that we had a special relationship. They actually appoint our board members, which was an arrangement they made to comply with the LSC board composition regs. Because we had all these scattered bar associations in 30 some counties, we focused on the OSBA.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway, I decided to really put a lot of effort into trying to develop relations with the Ohio State Bar Association, which I did. So my wife and I got invited to the annual Christmas party which was the muckity mucks at the OSBA getting together and celebrating themselves and it was actually fun. I got to know people. I worked on heading what was called the Legal Aid Committee, which was the committee of the bar that tried to get legal aid people and our supporters active in the Bar Association. We had mixed success over the years. I worked hard on that and just tried to develop relationships with people at the bar.

Tom Weeks:
Then about probably 10 years ago I had a friend who worked there who was a former employee of ours, a lawyer, who told me that I should run for the OSBA, Ohio State Bar Association, Council of Delegates, which is like the House-like body as opposed to the board of governors which is the Senate-like body. So there are maybe as many as 30 people from the Columbus area who are on the Council of Delegates and they’re divided into two classes. The terms are two years. 15 people run at a time. At the time this happened we had not yet affiliated with Columbus Legal Aid so I wasn’t representing Columbus, I wasn’t interacting with the lawyers in Columbus. But my friend said I should run, so I did.

Tom Weeks:
Nobody else did much of this, but I actually campaigned and called whatever friends I had in private firms and stuff and asked them to support me. I think there were maybe 17 people running for 15 slots and I was one of the two people that lost. Which was a very humiliating and humbling experience and made me feel like I had just lost a student council election in seventh grade. Not that that happened, I don’t think it did happen. But I felt like that. I said to my friend, “I’m never doing that again.” She said, “Well sometimes there are only 15 people running for the 15 slots.” I said, “Well if that happens you can put my name in and I’ll run.”

Tom Weeks:
The next time, or shortly after that, she called and said, “Well we’ve only got 14 people for 15 slots. Can I put your name in?” I said, “Yeah, but if one more person signs up, I’m dropping out. I’m not going to lose again.” But they didn’t so I was elected to the Council of Delegates and I have been reelected many times since then. Once you get in people know your name and now I know a lot of people in Columbus because of the affiliations with LASC. In any event, the Council of Delegates is a pretty active group. It reviews legislation for the OSBA to help them decide whether to take a position on laws that are up for passage. So that’s my history with the OSBA. Through that I got to know people in the OSBA pretty well.

Tom Weeks:
Now back to your question after a very long detour. In 2016 I got a call from the President of the Ohio State Bar Association telling me that I was the Ohio Bar Medal award winner for 2016. I was just terribly moved that the organization thought of enough of legal aid and the work that we do to recognize the person who they thought of when they thought of legal aid. I am self aware enough to understand that I received that award as a representative of the legal aid community. It was a very gratifying, wonderful experience to get that award. The award is presented at the annual convention of the Ohio State Bar Association. It was a big, very well attended event in a big ballroom in a hotel. This was in Cincinnati that year.

Tom Weeks:
I was extremely nervous about it, but I had to address them with a short acceptance speech. Preparing for that, what I realized was what had meant the most to me after, at that point, more than 40 years in legal aid was the clients that I had represented when I was in Cleveland. That’s what I remembered. When I thought of what have I done that was the most meaningful to me personally it was that. So I told them about two cases that I remembered well. One of them was the Inez Moore case, which is a pretty interesting story.

Tom Weeks:
The other one was a totally routine case of a man who came into the west side office when I was a pretty new lawyer. He had gotten notice that his Social Security benefits were being terminated. He came in after having been through the administrative appeal process and he was coming to our office on the last day that he could appeal to the U.S. District Court. He had his medical records and I looked at them and it seemed to me that he was clearly disabled and still disabled. So this was in the era when we didn’t even have a photocopier. So what I did is I had a Social Security case that I was already getting ready for appeal to the District Court. I whited out the names and put in his name and the data for him and then drove downtown and filed that case. What I remember about the medical records is that his condition was there was something wrong with his feet and his doctor had characterized his pain as being exquisite. I thought there is nothing exquisite in this man’s life except the pain in his feet.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway I told those two stories to the people at the OSBA Convention and I felt so wonderful to be able to bring that to them and to say, “This is what we do. It runs the gamut from little things to big things, but it’s all important.” So that’s why that was a very meaningful experience for me.

Alan Houseman:
I know you’re on the board of directors of some organizations, one in particular that we talked about, National Employment Law.

Tom Weeks:
The National Employment Law Project, I went on that board … it was a long time ago. When did I go on that board? 1994. It had been a Legal Services backup center and I think it still was at that point, right?

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Tom Weeks:
They weren’t defunded yet. So they were working very closely with the legal aid community and they were responsible for the unemployment compensation area, which is the area where I had been very interested in practice. So I really wanted to get on that board. I got appointed to that board and still I’m serving on that. I’m the most senior member of the board at this point in terms of period of service. I may be the most senior in terms of years of age too, I’m not sure. But anyway, it’s been a wonderful experience because that organization reinvented itself when the LSC funding stopped, and as the need for advocacy in the employment area changed. It’s been a very nimble, smart organization in terms of fitting into the overall picture of advocacy in that area. We’ve had several Executive Directors since I’ve been involved. The current Executive Director, Chris Owens, has been there … Do you know Chris?

Alan Houseman:
Yes.

Tom Weeks:
She’s a hero of mine.

Alan Houseman:
She’s terrific.

Tom Weeks:
She’s just unbelievable. She’s been the Executive Director for many years now. She’s really the one who has guided them through most of the changes and improvements that they have done. So working with her has just been an honor and a privilege. I’m very proud of my association with that organization. It’s been great.

Alan Houseman:
So, is there anything you want to add that you’ve left out? Or points we should make that we haven’t covered?

Tom Weeks:
Let me look. You know one thing that you didn’t ask me about that you said you might was my views on the civil right to counsel.

Alan Houseman:
Oh yeah.

Tom Weeks:
You know the only thing that I want to say about that is I hate the name “civil Gideon” because I think it just invites the floodgates argument. I think that the only way we win that issue is incrementally. So we’ve worked hard on getting the right to counsel in Ohio in things like paternity cases, neglect and dependency cases, enforcing it in the criminal context. Now we’re working on the adoption defense issue. But when you talk about it as if it’s going to be this total switch to a right to appointed counsel in civil cases, I just think that it’s a terrible strategy. I love the issue and I don’t agree with that strategy. I haven’t told you that before, I don’t know what you think about that, Alan.

Alan Houseman:
I agree with you on this.

Tom Weeks:
Good. Another thing just to … Oh you didn’t ask me about the role of LSC-

Alan Houseman:
Yeah.

Tom Weeks:
I’ve been dealing with LSC now since 1975, including back in the very bad old days when it was a pretty adversarial relationship. You and I talked about Frank Booker, who was the law professor at Notre Dame who was sent out on some of the hit visits. We had a visit from him to state support back in my early days at OSLSA. He was a very smart man. Actually he was polite and it was not an unpleasant experience. But he was always just looking for ways to say that what we were doing was impermissible and we would have to stop doing it. Which he was not able to do.

Tom Weeks:
Anyway you know there have been ups and downs in the relations with LSC and our friends over on LSC from time to time and our not-so-much friends. But I do think that LSC has turned into a very professional, responsible funder. My relations with LSC for the last really many years have been I would say not just okay, but positive. For example, two things that I’ll point out. One was Bristow Hardin was sent out to Central Ohio Legal Aid many years ago, which was a weak program that served some counties that were surrounded by our counties. He did an evaluation of that program and then facilitated our taking over that grant. That would not have happened without LSC’s intervention in that positive way.

Tom Weeks:
The other thing is that, when we did the affiliation with Columbus Legal Aid, Althea Hayward was our program officer for that kind of thing at that time. She was a terrific resource in helping us figure out how to do it in a way that would work well with the Legal Services Corporation. They’re doing more different kinds of monitoring visits now and OCE has several different kinds they do. We just had a big compliance visit last spring. It’s no fun and there are a lot of people there for a week and it’s a huge expenditure of resources. I think it’s more than necessary. But that being said, the team was very professional and very actually friendly. I believe they’re sincere in their focus on trying to ensure that we’re in compliance with the regulations and to give us technology assistance and support in doing that.

Tom Weeks:
Jim Sandman’s work with the Congress and with others in supporting funding for Legal Services I think has been stellar and I appreciate that. I view LSC at this point as an ally and I like dealing with LSC.

Alan Houseman:
Anything else?

Tom Weeks:
I don’t think so. Can you think of anything else, Alan?

Alan Houseman:
Nope. I think we covered a lot.

Tom Weeks:
Good.

Alan Houseman:
Thank you.

Tom Weeks:
Thanks.