Justice, William Wayne (Judge Justice) (U.S. District Judge, E.D. Texas)
Richards, David (Dave)
Spring, Gilbert M.
Introduction and background
Opposition to expansion of military training site at Piñon Canyon
Unusual coalition of ranchers, peace activists, archaeologists, environmentalists, and others
Environmental impact studies
Deprive federal government of right to take property through eminent domain
Legislation to cut off funding
Extent of U.S. Army plans
Size of tract of land
Reasons: training to fight terrorism and staging for land war in China
U.S. Constitutional Article III provision requiring state approval of federal use of land
Move to East Texas
Starting a legal services office as a law student
Role of Arthur Weaver and Roy Mersky
David Richards and ACLU
Judge William Wayne Justice
White v. Regester
Effects of voter registration and voting
Jail conditions lawsuits
of "Interview with Mr. Larry Daves."
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RAYMOND: June 28th, 2008 in Austin Texas, at the Texas After Violence project office. Gabe Solis is behind the camera. Mr. Daves has just signed the consent
form after having driven a trailer –
LARRY DAVES: Eight hundred miles.
RAYMOND: From La Junta, Colorado.
LARRY DAVES: To big Austin.
LARRY DAVES: To help my derelict daughter make one more move.
RAYMOND: This is the last one you're going to help her with.
LARRY DAVES: I don't know. We'll see. She is my daughter. That's all I can say. For life.
RAYMOND: Larry, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you came from, what egg you popped out of?
LARRY DAVES: From the beginning? Or do you just—
LARRY DAVES: Or just two days ago? Two days ago— two days ago. Well, I came from La Junta, or La Junta. But it's called La Junta up there in southeast
DAVES: I'm practicing law with Colorado Legal Services— heading up the, what they call, the Southeast Colorado Project. I work a ten-county area
providing free legal services to very poor people. So that's what I do now.
RAYMOND: Well since you're in Colorado, maybe you can tell us about the other Colorado project you're working on? The one you're doing pro bono?
LARRY DAVES: Okay. I, for the last at least two years, I have been serving as a pro bono legal advisor to the— to a coalition of ranchers and local
scholars and environmentalists and peace activists
DAVES: who are opposing the expansion of— the Feds want to expand a military training site at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver located between Trinidad and La
Junta. These— the people who live in the area are pretty adamantly opposed to the expansion
DAVES: so I've been helping them put together a legal strategy and legislative strategy for how to organize to, fight the military on the thing.
RAYMOND: Tell us about that strategy.
LARRY DAVES: Okay. I've helped in terms of the— anytime the federal government want to do a major project it's got to do an environmental impact studies, and
so I've been involved in doing the— you'll request a privacy request to get information about the site and the history of the site
DAVES: and help people get ready for the environmental impact hearings. There's been just a series of those over the last year and a half.
DAVES: And then I assisted our local state representative in putting together some legislation to try to deprive the federal government of the sort of
constitutional basis it needs in order to exercise eminent domain to take any property.
DAVES: Wes McKinley, state representative, put forward some legislation to withdraw the consent of the state of Colorado to the acquisition of any
property for the purpose of expansion this Pinon Canyon Maneuver site.
DAVES: We got that passed this last year by the Colorado legislature and signed by the governor and we're now in a period where, once that passed, it
was clear that across the state there was so much opposition to this expansion that the army declared a moratorium
DAVES" and our U.S. congressman moved forward legislation to cut off funding for this last fiscal year. And it's just been extended now to this
fiscal year to deprive the Department of Defense of any funding to fund any expansion.
DAVES: So we're in that phase at this point— just continuing to organize. And then after this legislation was passed, the army went ahead and
declared what acreage it wants, declared about four hundred nineteen thousand acres lying just to the east and sort of northeast of the present site.
DAVES: Previously, they had released maps that really, essentially, shows almost a million and a half acres possibility for the expansion.
DAVES: And the original map they leaked had a twenty-year plan that would have included taking this property that they're now focusing now— is the first
four hundred nineteen thousand acres as part of what they call Phase One.
DAVES: Their plan, at least in terms of the internal documents they submitted to the Department of Defense to get approval before the purchase— they
want a piece of property that is seventy-five kilometers by seventy-five kilometers.
DAVES: Being a huge, huge tract of land, practically all of southeast Colorado is pretty adamantly opposing the expansion. The army came in twenty-five
years ago and took the site, the Pinon Canyon site.
DAVES: When they took that land, they said this is all they're gonna want or need, and that they wouldn't ever engage in live fire and then they
backtracked on life fire issue about seven or eight years ago.
DAVES: They do use it for live fire now, and of course they've also obtained the approval of the Department of Defense to expand it. So, we just feel
like they— like the Army can't be trusted with regard to this particular land.
DAVES: Plus they already have close to twenty-five million acres around the world, plus fifteen million acres here in the country, where they can fire
training. They really don't need it.
DAVES: It's just the— we think it's just sort of part of the fanciful imagination of some borderline bureaucrats that were in power during the Bush
administration and we hope that time will help expose just how borderline those folks are in terms of their ambitions.
DAVES: It was very frightening to see some of the paperwork that they had developed. They talked about the need for this training to fight
international terrorism, and also to plan to actually start staging for a land war in China.
DAVES: It's so contrary to traditional military thinking that it's just— it's hard to imagine what these people were on when they were coming up with
these projects. What grandiose notions they have of American power, no understanding of the limits of American power,
DAVES: and certainly no understanding that the people of southeastern Colorado aren't interested in that kind of a world, where their land can be taken
away and be used for a military base to make those kind of preparations. Or almost a perfect kind of world war.
DAVES: So we're pretty united in opposing this thing, and I'm trying to do the best I could to help them in terms of legal strategy to get ready in the event
that the army does move forward with the expansion.
RAYMOND: Larry, speaking of legal strategy, you mentioned a constitutional provision that I had never heard of until you told me that, and I'm sure people
who watch this, many of them will not know that either.
LARRY DAVES: Okay. Well, originally, when the present constitution was formed, and there had been a period, of course, of the confederation where the states
had all power, and the states were so jealously fighting each other and fighting any sort of federal influence, or any sort of federal power.
DAVES: But there was sort of an acknowledgment during that time— not just acknowledgment. In fact, they ended up holding the constitutional convention
because there— they knew there was going to be a need, if there was going to be one country, for there to be— for the federal government to be given some greater power
DAVES: than what they had been given previously. And so in the debates, and as they put together the new constitution, in article one, section
seventeen, or eighteen— I really can't remember right now—
DAVES: in the same provision that allowed the congress to have exclusive jurisdiction over what eventually became the District of Columbia, to purchase
a ten-square mile area that would not be— that would be outside the jurisdiction of Maryland and Virginia, they authorized the federal government to acquire other property in the states,
DAVES: particularly for military purposes, for military posts, for post offices, for courthouses, for exclusively federal facilities.
DAVES: But even though they had gone through a period where there was some— where they realized that the federal government did not have sufficient
power, these same people also very wary of giving the federal government too much power.
DAVES: And because they had all also developed their understandings of politics and their understandings of the nature of the state, from a period
of just unbelievable tyranny, and so they were very concerned about allowing the federal government to have too much power.
DAVES: So during the debate about giving the federal government the right to acquire property for federal purposes, the issue was raised: well what
would prevent the federal government from dominating the state by buying up the whole state or too much of the state?
DAVES: Or what would prevent the federal government from either placing a fort in the state or refusing to place a fort in the state in order to try to
subordinate that state to the federal power?
DAVES: So they reached a— they said, "Okay," understanding that we will then only allow the federal government to have the authority to acquire property
within the state with the consent of the state's legislature of the state where the land's situated.
DAVES: That provision, for some reason, has not— not a lot of attention's been paid to it. Possibly because in 1876, after the Civil War, the Supreme
Court pretty well issued a decision that looks like it pretty much wiped out that provision.
DAVES: The Supreme Court was faced with a case where the state of Ohio wanted to buy a post office and some other federal lands. Legislation was passed
by the U.S. Congress authorizing the purchase of the property, purchase or condemnation.
DAVES: They actually got the state of Ohio to also enact legislation authorizing the acquisition by either purchase or condemnation.
DAVES: Folks who owned the site where the federal government wanted to put the post office got upset because, instead of going through state court,
which had been where these takings had traditionally been taking place for over one hundred years, the federal government would pass the legislation.
DAVES: And then, out of deference to the state, would then use the state procedure and get the state legislature and the state government then to do
the condemnation proceedings. And then the condemnation would be done under state law and in a state court under state procedural processes.
DAVES: Well, this time the federal government moved forward in federal court without really the legislative authority in Article III to do it.
DAVES: There were really no condemnation proceeding and no authority really mentioned in the constitution for the federal government to move forward on
DAVES: But the Supreme Court— and in that particular case all of the parties agreed, one, that the federal government had the power—inherent power to
use eminent domain for essential purposes.
DAVES: They all agreed that both the federal and the state legislatures had authorized this thing. The whole issue was really an Article III issue.
DAVES: However, the decision came down saying that it doesn't matter whether or not you have the state's consent or not, because it said that the
inherent— the right to exercise eminent domain is an inherent right— doesn't need a constitutional basis or whatever.
DAVES: The problem with that is that it's totally dicta. And I think that Colorado is the first state to, and I think most states since then have just
sort of laid back, thinking, Well, you know this constitutional provision doesn't have any substance to it.
DAVES: Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't, you know what I mean? The dicta is it's dicta.
RAYMOND: I don't think everybody knows what that means.
LARRY DAVES: Dicta is when the court resolves an issue that really isn't before it. And it sort of renders an advisory, which they don't normally do or
shouldn't do. Dicta is not sound authority is the problem, and so we decided to test it.
DAVES: I decided once I got into the research, and it took a long time for me because these are hard issues, but I became convinced, one, that when you
actually look at the history of acquisitions by the federal government in the states,
DAVES: even if there was a need to acquire property that is not specifically enumerated or listed in Article I and Congress passed legislation, it almost
invariably included, "Federal government has the right to do this but only with the consent of the state legislature."
DAVES: And that was the Wicks Act and the whole authority of the federal government to buy land for forest lands— for various projects. And so I
became kind of emboldened when I saw that.
DAVES: I thought that Congress apparently realizes there is still something to this or they wouldn't be continuing to include in this requirement to
DAVES: But most states in the country just sort of did what the state of Colorado did in 1876, and that is they enacted a statute that just gave
universal consent really to the federal government to acquire any property whenever it wants for whatever reason it wants.
DAVES: And so a lot of states did that, and I think it was just, that was just in a different time. I think now there are a lot of people, these
ranchers, if you know much about ranchers— I know the ranchers here in Texas the same way.
DAVES: They are a very conservative group of people but they don't— they really get upset about what they consider their basic rights, including their
right to— many of these ranchers up there, they're people three or four generations who've homesteaded this land.
DAVES: This is land that is very hostile— very dry. You have to— very few cattle— all of this land is used for cattle raising, and this area in the
late 20s was actually part of the American Dust Bowl.
DAVES: And— in fact, the federal government bought back six hundred thousand acres of the land in this area in order to re-grow grass because there had
been a federal policy before the 20s in terms of homesteading that if you got land by homestead you had to farm it,
DAVES: which meant they planted wheat up there, cut down the grass, used huge tractors to plow the fields. And when the droughts of the late—
early 20s— late 1919 developed, there was no way to hold the soil down and so this area was just— became part of the Great American Dust Bowl.
DAVES: And a lot of the people who live there now, it was their people who lived through that period and were able to keep their land and they hadn't
plowed it under. They had used it for cattle grazing as opposed to trying to raise wheat on it.
DAVES: It's just not land where you can raise wheat, there's not enough water. But is it land that, because they put— it's land that is so delicate that
by and large they ranch this on horseback. They don't even take vehicles on there.
DAVES: And here's the U.S. military talking about using, expanding this training site so they can practice with tanks. And it's just preposterous; it's
a preposterous notion. This land is not suitable for it. This is not the land to be doing it; they know that.
DAVES: One of the reasons they even justify the expansion is because they have messed up so much of the prior land and it takes so much for the land to
restore than what they had originally thought. So it's not just an appropriate place.
DAVES: There are other places where they really should do this training for tank warfare. But not there.
RAYMOND: You are part of kind of an unusual coalition, it sounds like.
LARRY DAVES: It's unusual, but the conditions are really unusual too, you know what I mean? This is, again, this is my own personal
DAVES: But I have to believe these people who came up with this notion are putting together this unbelievably huge tract of land, which would be the largest
military training site on earth— had preposterous notions of what the limits of American power are or should be.
DAVES: And they had a doctrine that they justified by that really is essentially arguing for this unbelievable huge piece of land so that they could do joint
exercises— the air force, the army, whoever else needed to, but it lacks sanity. It just lacks sanity.
DAVES: It's not an appropriate place. And then they tried to claim that they needed this for tank warfare, and we know that that's not possible
historically. They know it's not possible, so it must be something else that they want.
DAVES: Well, the something else that they can't— they can't possible need this much acreage to do it. That's part of the problem.
DAVES: And what it did is when the map leaked out that they had a twenty-year plan to take over a— from a million and a half to two and a half million
acres of land, the people pretty much rose up in, universally they rose up there,
DAVES: because they had already gone through the experience twenty-five years earlier, of the army saying this and saying this and saying that, and then
breaching all those promises.
DAVES: They— this part of the country had also been going through a long battle with the big cities of Colorado Springs and Denver in terms of
DAVES: Colorado Springs in that area had been buying up water rights from farmers during droughts in order to use that water in order to expand the
cities, and leaving that part of the country impoverished in the sense that even the agriculture existing needed some water.
DAVES: So there was whole problem of— because the army was justifying this need for this training center so they could bring additional troops to the
Colorado Springs area.
DAVES: And it just looked to most of the folks in southeast Colorado as if there was no real concern whatsoever for them, their livelihood, their lives
and whatever. And this area is very serious; there's a very serious historical interest in this area.
DAVES: The Santa Fe Trail goes through there. So you have the National Santa Fe Association, the Regional Santa Fe Trail Association, and the Santa Fe
Trail is the trail that was made.
DAVES: It really is a series of trails and tracks of where the wagon trains came across the West. They'd go down. One route went down in towards Santa
Fe; it was the Southern route to California, and then another route went up into the Northwest.
DAVES: And so hundreds of thousands of people in the 1800's came across this area going west, and where you could still see those wagon tracks in this
area, the soil is so sensitive that over a hundred years later you still find remnants of this.
DAVES: Plus, the settlers came in, built small homesteads.
DAVES: This area, of course, the Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years. So this area is archeologically very sensitive and also
very important in terms of numbers of tribes that have lived there
DAVES: and the relics that are there and the remains of human beings that are still buried there, and you have some of the finest dinosaur tracks in the
country located in this area.
DAVES: And so you had a group of, particularly scholars, archeologists, scientists, historians, who already had a very significant interest in this
area, who are situated with the various museums and associated with the junior colleges and the colleges in that area
DAVES: and they are a powerful part of the coalition at this point, and have been publishing and working with their interest groups across the
DAVES: They've now designated this part of the country as one of the most threatened historical areas of the country in terms of the need to preserve
the Santa Fe Trail and the archeology of the region.
DAVES: You had peace activists in Trinidad and in Colorado Springs who, from the very beginning, were opposed to it because of the sort of the
grandiose-ness of the army's plans. You would really have to see their documentations and it is really scary.
DAVES: They have a— the military, whoever the people were— the architects of this division, that tried to create this new thing, in southeast Colorado,
were— it is not a vision shared by most Americans. It's just not even close.
DAVES: These people have a grandiose notion of American power and no understanding whatsoever of the limits of American power. There's no question
about that. It's scary, and it's scary for the people in the peace community, particularly in the state.
DAVES: That their state would be taken over to become the largest military base in the country for a type of warfare that the army is even unwilling to
even describe publicly.
DAVES: And would even yet have the nerve to move forward until we got this legislation passed, they had gotten to the point where they actually had the
Department of Defense's approval to do this thing.
DAVES: It was just a matter of finishing the EIS process and moving forward with the land acquisition that we've been able to hold them back. But,
again, we don't know what the final outcome will be.
DAVES: I mean a lot depends on who wins the elections and what direction this county goes. If we continue in the same direction we're going now, we may
all get wiped out there.
DAVES: But we happen to think, and our hope is, that a group of people who have some sanity, about themselves still— that there is enough semblance of
democracy in this country,
DAVES: that people will come to their senses, and say, "No, it's not necessary. It's not needed. Let's get back to it and put together a vision of
America and a role for our military that makes sense as opposed to letting them practice to take over the world or whatever they're wanting to do out there."
DAVES: And we'll see. We're very hopeful, but power is power. We'll see.
RAYMOND: So, Larry, you're taking on frankly the U.S. military using a provision of the U.S. constitution that people have thought since 1876 was dead—
LARRY DAVES: Yeah. Essentially, yeah.
RAYMOND: And there's not many people, perhaps, who would do that. But this is not your first fight. I wonder if you would go back and talk about where you
came from and your early experience as a lawyer. We'll get to that. I want to move a chair real quick.
LARRY DAVES: I went to— when I was still in law school, I got involved in working in East Texas. It's a rural area.
DAVES: I went out as a second-year law student and we had— there were four— three other law students and I, and we went out on a civil rights project
for the summer.
DAVES: And we worked in Nacogdoches with Arthur Weaver, the NAACP and the Voters League of Nacogdoches County and spent a summer really trying, taking
statements from people, trying to find out what little we could as students—
DAVES: of what kinds of problems poor people were facing there in East Texas and trying to find attorneys to represent folks on these problems and doing
just some basic education.
DAVES: We went to many of the small churches in the area, talked to people, listened to their stories and talked about some basic rights: employment
discrimination issues, right to vote, the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, some basic rights and issues.
DAVES: Then as a result, at the end of the summer, we all went back to law school, and with a couple of other law students, we put together a set of
bylaws and tried to get funding to set up legal services out there in East Texas because there wasn't a legal services program out there.
RAYMOND: What year was this?
LARRY DAVES: This was in 1971. And we found some attorneys who'd be willing to serve on the board, we did the bylaws, we did the sort of basic
corporate organization for a nonprofit you have to do, and it took us—whatever— some period of time to get that done.
DAVES: We got it done, but we couldn't get funding. And so the other two students who worked with me, we'd sort of made a pact among ourselves to try to
move forward on this thing.
DAVES: If we couldn't get funding for legal services, maybe we'd go out and try to set up some sort of practice. But it turns out that the other two
folks just really could not, without funding— just could not really go out to a rural area. So I ended up going out on my own.
DAVES: What I did was I got a couple of other law students, and so we did like the second year of the project with some other law students, and I went
ahead and put together a beginnings of what turned out to be my law practice in Nacogdoches.
DAVES: And with the help of, first, a couple of students with this civil rights project, and when they left, I got my bar card and I just started filing
RAYMOND: What made you start going out to East Texas in the first place?
LARRY DAVES: I think mainly that Arthur Weaver had sent a series of statements to the law school and somehow, Roy Mersky who was the law professor who ran
the library— was in charge of the library. Whatever— they somehow got to him.
DAVES: And Roy Mersky was somehow associated with the Texas Civil Liberties Union. Or at least he knew Dave Richards; he knew those folks.
DAVES: So Roy got word out to the Texas Civil Liberties Union that there were some folks in East Texas, in the Nacogdoches area, that needed some help
on investigating these issues of civil rights.
DAVES: And so Dave Richards got some money from the Texas Civil Liberties Union and also from the AFL-CIO.
DAVES: They got like a thousand dollars that they put together for our project. Dave had an interest because Dave, at that point, was at the beginning
of a project for the AFL-CIO—
DAVES: the Texas AFL-CIO that was attempting to take on the whole system— the whole way that people were being elected here in Texas, both at the Texas
legislative level and at the federal legislative level. He was very interested in getting some help in East Texas.
DAVES: Primarily, because at that time there was a judge in East Texas, William Wayne Justice, who had been there, who had been appointed by Ralph
DAVES: Judge Justice was, well, I don't know— there had never been anyone quite like him, particularly in terms of judges, who had quite as much
willingness to hear cases and then reach a resolution of those cases that really resulted in some fundamental change.
DAVES: And Dave Richards knew that. There were other judges, of course— federal judges in Texas, that— who had a similar bent.
DAVES: And so— but Richards was very interested in being able to get involved in East Texas so that he would have an avenue for starting to move forward
on what he felt were, in the long run—
DAVES: was necessary if we were going to have any hope of putting together a little bit more progressive base— a political base in the state at the
DAVES: And so one of the things we did was— while we were there, is just work with people who were also concerned about that issue.
DAVES: Diane Regester, with the Young Democrats Club there, at Stephen F. Austin State University, ended up serving as a plaintiff in the lawsuit which
finally went to the Supreme Court on this issue of challenging legislative districts at the federal level, and that was kind of the beginning.
DAVES: Remember back then the Voting Rights Act didn't apply to Texas and that was a real problem? Because I always felt like it was because Lyndon
Johnson was trying to protect his Texas friends because when the Voting Rights Act was enacted in, I think, 1963—
LARRY DAVES: —1965, yeah. Texas was the only state of the original Confederacy that wasn't included under the coverage of the Civil Rights Act.
DAVES: And as a result you'd go across the border of East Texas into Louisiana and from 19— from the time Justice probably got going, you actually had a
federal influence in the state of Louisiana. And yet, right across the border, nothing.
DAVES: You had African Americans being elected to the city council, to the various political offices all the way up the line from city commissioner to
county, commissioner's court— they call them something different over there—to the House of Representative, the state House of Representatives, state senate, but you had—
RAYMOND: In Louisiana?
LARRY DAVES: This is over in Louisiana. And then in East Texas it was still Jim Crow. And so it was necessary to take that one.
DAVES: Where Richards' genius was in the willingness to use the Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, and try to incorporate into the
Fourteenth Amendment much of the analysis that was statutorily part of the Voting Rights Act.
DAVES: And there, for some years, the Supreme Court accepted that because it was a recognition that there was a need to have, and it was such an
overwhelming need to bring the modern world into these states like Texas that were still under Jim Crow.
DAVES: And so, at any rate, this kind of fit in to what the AFL-CIO and Dave Richards and that group of people wanted to do and so we were out there to
try to help them the best we could.
RAYMOND: The kinds of statements that Arthur Weaver had been writing that had gotten to Roy Mersky and eventually to you—
LARRY DAVES: Most of them were about police brutality, about employment issues, some consumer issues, about lack of government, lack of basic things.
DAVES: At that time in Nacogdoches County— Nacogdoches County— let's talk about Nacogdoches itself. Nacogdoches was a small town that was sort of
divided the same way it had been historically.
DAVES: You had three or four old slave-holding families in Nacogdoches. Bass, the Mizes, who— and their mansions and the slave quarters were still being
lived in just like they had been lived in back at the end of the Civil War.
DAVES: And so you would have, in the quarters, people with no electricity, no running water, no toilets or any of that stuff. You really had a way of
life that hadn't changed whatsoever in any way in over a— over several hundred years, literally.
DAVES: The people were no longer slaves, but the conditions they were living under were just really horrible. So some of it had to do with that. One of
our biggest projects in fact, that summer, was to go around and document that.
DAVES: And we did a— we used what was called at that time a
Hawkins v. Shaw type of case.
Hawkins v. Shaw was a lawsuit that had been brought against commissioners' courts to force the commissioners to start providing public services, like electricity, water, sewer, all
of that, to African Americans.
DAVES: So we began that process of doing that study because we were going to bring a
Hawkins v. Shaw. And instead, once we got into it, we said, "Well, why don't we also—"
DAVES: Well, we got to thinking and talked to Dave about this, and he said, "Why don't we also go ahead and do— let's apply what we've been doing at the
state legislative level— let's just do that at the county commissioners' level."
DAVES: So that was where that
Weaver v. McElroy case came from. We decided to go ahead and bring a lawsuit against the county commissioners for not providing services
DAVES: and use
Hawkins v. Shaw proof of what the effects were of having a sort of gerrymandered system where the African-American vote was split up, diluted to the point that they could not win
DAVES: And we took all that data that we put together that summer to use that to support— and stories and affidavits that we put together— to support
DAVES: And that lawsuit, of course, finally was tried before Judge Justice, and he ended up ordering the county commissioners to reapportion Nacogdoches
DAVES: And as a result of that you had the first African-American county commissioner elected in one hundred ten— one hundred twenty years in the state
of Texas. But that was sort of the beginning.
DAVES: And those were the kind of things we were doing in the very, very early period. I followed that up later by bringing— by using the same sort of
methods Dave Richards was using in—
DAVES: We did— I hate to even think the number of cases at this point—eight to ten cases— against various counties in East Texas, city councils in East
DAVES: We sort of redid the map of East Texas over the next five years; my first five years of practicing law, in terms of before the Civil Rights Act,
before the Voting Rights Act did become effective.
DAVES: Once the Voting Rights Act was amended to bring in Texas, the Justice Department started doing all that stuff, and it wasn't really a necessity
to have private attorneys out there trying to litigate these issues.
DAVES: Federal monies would be used to do something about those things.
RAYMOND: So you go out there as a lawyer for the first time in nineteen seventy—?
LARRY DAVES: Seventy-two. Yes, I was licensed on September 14th, 1972.
RAYMOND: But who's counting? No, I was just— exactly— a big moment.
LARRY DAVES: It was for me, because I'd been waiting to file a jail suit. As soon as I got that license, I was out at the jail that first day filing
RAYMOND: What was that?
LARRY DAVES: About jail conditions in one of those counties. While I was a law student, I had been active working with prisoners' rights groups, here in
DAVES: and at that time, across the nation, legal aid societies were bringing litigation against— about conditions in jails. I mean they were horrible.
They were horrible— conditions were horrible.
DAVES: And so I decided— I knew those conditions were horrible, that was what we were hearing from people— had been hearing for two summers now.
DAVES: And so as soon as I got my license I filed a federal lawsuit, against Rusk County, in federal court, challenging conditions there— another one in
Nacogdoches County, another one in Angelina County.
DAVES: And all we were trying to do was just try to force them to at least live up to their own state law in terms of segregating prisoners, juveniles
from adults, providing recreation areas, allowing access to libraries,
DAVES: allowing people to post bond instead of sitting there in jail, and trying to require them to allow personal recognizance bonds instead of
personal property bonds.
DAVES: Everybody in that particular time required personal property bonds, but poor people just didn't have access to property. They didn't have
or own property; they didn't have the money— couldn't pay the bail bondsmen so they just ended up sitting in jail forever.
DAVES: So I— we did a lot of that litigation. Again, that was the very early years—three or four years— first three or four years.
RAYMOND: And around the time that Ruíz is working on the prison suit?
LARRY DAVES: Ruíz came later. Ruíz— he was an inmate of the Texas Department of Corrections. He brought his own action. Judge Justice appointed an
attorney with the NAACP out of California to represent him.
DAVES: That ended up taking several years, but that ended up finally, in the huge, huge, huge remedy against the Texas Department of Corrections. I
actually got involved, really my interest in the jail thing again started as a law student.
DAVES: A couple of lawyers from Dallas in the legal collective up there had brought a lawsuit called
Morales v. Turman, where they were challenging the conditions of the Texas juvenile penal system,
DAVES: and I had not firsthand knowledge, but my two brothers had both been incarcerated in the Texas juvenile prisons while I was still in college.
They had both been sent up while I was in high school, right at the beginning of my senior year of high school.
DAVES: And so I knew, from them, what an unbelievably horrible, horrible jungle it was in those juvenile prisons. I mean they— these units were so
brutal, and it's just amazing that they were allowed to exist.
DAVES: But at any rate, these lawyers from Dallas decided to—they had developed a— Ed Cloutman— I'm having to recall names I haven't thought of for
years— but Ed Cloutman, a couple of the lawyers up in Dallas had put together a legal collective
DAVES: and they decided to take on this whole juvenile prison system in Texas. Their case was later inherited by the legal services program there in
DAVES: One— or both of them, or some of them— moved up to work for legal services, so legal services ended up litigating that kind of thing back when
the regulations allowed that kind of aggressive litigation.
DAVES: And while I was a law student—and I think it was the beginning of the second year of law school, though it may have been the third year— they
needed law students to go to all these units,
DAVES: and to interview both the girls and the boys on the juvenile units to get the evidence that the court was going to need in order to deal with
DAVES: And so we went— oh my goodness— to whatever there were, eight or ten different units across the state, we spent weekend after weekend. They would
pick us up here in Austin, take us out to wherever these units were, and we'd be there four—six—eight hours.
DAVES: There were using usually fifteen or twenty of us, get— start getting affidavits from these kids. We were trying to find out how they got there;
were they represented or not— the whole thing, the whole due process issue.
DAVES: How they got there, for what, how long they'd been there, and how they were treated. And the stories were horrible. I mean, it was a ghastly
DAVES: But as a result of that litigation, Judge Justice— that was his very first case sort of trying to take on the criminal justice system here in
v. Turman, he found unconstitutional the conditions and forced the state of Texas to adopt a community-based correctional system for juveniles. And it probably was, as far as I'm
concerned, it was one of the greatest things Justice ever did.
DAVES: It was literally amazing that a place so cruel could exist.
RAYMOND: So Larry, you were doing that—
LARRY DAVES: It was really the case that made me decide to go to East Texas.
RAYMOND: Were they worse in East Texas or was it—
LARRY DAVES: Well, no, it was because of the judge. (long pause) If the law had the capacity to do good, then let us do the best we can to take
advantage of that and try to put together a world that operates a little more fairly.
DAVES: So I got out there and besides doing the jail work and the political reapportionment work, I think the heart of what we did those first few years
was really employment discrimination.
DAVES: It was kind of based upon what I'd learned as a student; those were the issues that the people felt the strongest about.
DAVES: They felt like they were really being victimized on a daily basis, in terms of hiring opportunities, promotion opportunities, being first fired,
last hired kind of thing.
DAVES: And if you spent much time in East Texas, or at least my impression of East Texas and what I thought about what we were trying to do—
DAVES: I saw as voting rights and jail litigation and employment discrimination and all the other work that we were really doing—I saw us as really— we
were dealing with the legacy of slavery.
DAVES: The continuing problems in terms of how counties functioned, how government functioned, how employers functioned, how the world functioned out
there. And so we just dealt with different aspects of the legacy of slavery in that part of world.
DAVES: Unfortunately, government was involved in a lot of it. But in terms of private enterprise, our concentration was on trying to do something about
employment discrimination. Of course, that was a very long, long-term thing.
DAVES: And it took many, many years to litigate some of those things. We did a lot of class actions, hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits. But it took— I
think by the time I left East Texas we'd suited essentially every major employer out there.
DAVES: Not by going out and hunting for cases, but by having an office and people hearing about us and us going into court and trying to achieve some
justice for people. Going on individual cases or class basis. And there were a bunch of them.
RAYMOND: I want to ask you a little bit more about these employment cases, but before we go, do you want to stop for a little bit?
LARRY DAVES: I'm fine. I'm sorry.
RAYMOND: No apology. I just thought if you wanted we could go get a tissue. I should have some.
LARRY DAVES: No, I'm fine.
RAYMOND: You'd been doing— so you're doing voting rights cases, you're doing employment cases, you're doing jail conditions. Doesn't sound like you're
doing a lot of criminal work.
LARRY DAVES: I started— I did a lot of criminal work, and again, from the very beginning because the whole point— the whole reality is that the criminal
justice system is not operating very fairly at that time in East Texas.
DAVES: I hadn't been a practicing lawyer for a month before I ended up taking on my very first murder case as a criminal defense attorney. I guess I
did two or three other fairly serious criminal defense cases, all involving murder.
DAVES: Over the next couple of years, and I don't know how it all happened, but I was very lucky in all those cases.
DAVES: The very first one, the Mac Cole case, I had the help of a young student there from college, Robin, and he went on to law school and ended up
becoming a personal injury lawyer eventually.
DAVES: But Robin Collins— Robin worked as a law student, an investigator for me, and we had a situation where Mac Cole was accused of killing, with
malice, this friend of his while they were on a fishing trip.
DAVES: They had— these guys had gone out on a boat out there in Nacogdoches County to check the catfish trot lines.
DAVES: The guy that—my client—they said had maliciously killed, had been in prison for fairly serious felonies, and because they were out on the boat
getting catfish, they had—some of these catfish could be sixty—eighty—one hundred pounds catfish—huge.
DAVES: And so they both had guns. That's what my client said. Mac had a gun; he had both a pistol and a rifle. And the other man— I can't remember
his name, had a rifle. And what my client said was that they got to arguing out there.
DAVES: They were drinking while they were fishing, and it was a lot. And as they were coming into the shore, they were fighting about a mutual
DAVES: And what my client said was that this other guy, who again had just gotten out of prison and had been in prison over some serious, aggravated
thing that he'd done— my client said that this other man pulled this rifle on him and said— threatened to kill him.
DAVES: So he went ahead and pulled out his gun and killed this guy in defense— in self-defense. Well, the law enforcement people didn't believe anything
and didn't really do much of an investigation.
DAVES: And so they went ahead and had— charged Mac Cole with murder with malice. Robin— anyway, lord knows how I had the nerve to take on some of these
cases with so little time.
DAVES: But anyway, Robin went out and we were already starting the trial and Robin went out to Reno, or wherever it was that this killing had occurred,
and just started scouting around and looking around and lo and behold, found the rifle that the other man had had.
DAVES: They found— they got Mac Cole's rifle but they hadn't found the other man's rifle. They just didn't believe him. They apparently didn't believe this
other man had a rifle. And even better than that, found a white witness who had seen the darn thing.
DAVES: These were two Black men, and this white witness said, Yes, he saw them out there arguing, saw that the other guy pulled a gun on our client, Mac
Cole, and so we brought in the witness, and brought in the gun, and didn't even have to take it to the jury.
DAVES: Because once the prosecutor actually talked to the witness, saw the gun—went ahead and dismissed the charges against the guy. But, again, I
probably shouldn't have taken on some of these things. In retrospect, I didn't know anything.
DAVES: I was just out of law school. I had very good —Professor Sharlot was the one who taught criminal evidence and things like that. And I— probably,
if it were to happen now and I were just coming out of law school— I wouldn't dare do it.
DAVES: But I came out of law school at a time where we had somehow— I had somehow developed the impression that we didn't have limits. That we could do
what we could do. And so anyway, we went and took the case. Turned out it was a good ending.
DAVES: It could have been just the opposite, but it didn't. I just had— I had help. If it hadn't have been for Robin being able to go out there
and actually find this witness, it probably would have been a different outcome.
RAYMOND: Thank you. We're going to take a break because the tape, we need to change the tape. (End of Disc One.)
In Video 1, Mr. Daves describes how he and small group of recent U.T. Law School graduates first went to Nacogdoches in the early 1970s to assist voter registration efforts in Black communities; the virulent anti-Black racism and poor material conditions the students observed in East Texas; how they started a legal services office; effects of single-member districting; and his first criminal trial. He also describes his current work with the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition as it resists U.S. Army plans to turn much of Southeastern Colorado into a training area for a ground war against China. In Video 2 and the first part of Video 3 he recounts the capital murder trial of Herman and Thurman Davis. In Video 3, Mr. Daves describes his successful representation of undocumented immigrant children barred by Texas statute from attending public school, a case that he filed in federal court under Judge William Wayne Justice, and that ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court as Plyler v. Doe. Video 3 also describes Daves' unsuccessful representation of Mexican American women workers who lost their jobs and organized as Fuerza Unida when Levi's closed its San Antonio plant. Video 4 concerns Daves' upbringing in New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle, including high school in Amarillo, his family's early encounters with law enforcement and juvenile incarceration, and finding his way to Washington University and then U.T. Law School.
1 of 4
Larry DavesRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel SolisRole: Videographer
Jorge RenaudRole: Transcriber
Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
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