SAN FRANCISCO — The California Rural Legal Assistance, which
represents low-income individuals and communities, recently turned 50
years old, according to a column on The
Each year, according to the CRLA website,
the nonprofit provides more than 43,000 low-income rural Californians
with free legal assistance and several community education and
Founded in 1966, the first CRLA board of trustees included Jim
Lorenz, Cruz Reynoso, Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Larry
Itliong, a group of attorneys who had a mission of providing free
legal services for the poor. Its first office opened on Aug. 10,
1966, in Madera.
During the founding of CRLA, Lorenz convinced President Lyndon
Johnson’s staff in Washington, D.C., to open nine law offices
around rural California to represent farm workers, which was part of
Johnson’s “War of Poverty.” From 1965 to 1981, it was funded by
the federal Community Services Agency.
Now with more than 20 offices from the Mexican border to Northern
California, the CRLA seeks to ameliorate the more egregious
conditions caused by rural poverty, meeting the legal needs of these
According to the CRLA website,
it has helped millions of low-income individuals, improving
conditions for farm workers, single parents, school children, the
elderly, people with disabilities, and entire communities.
In a report from The
Desert Review, the CRLA has taken on large labor and civil cases,
going after companies since it was founded. It has also been
instrumental in changing many laws within the state. Jose Padilla,
the executive director of the CRLA, is reported as saying that anyone
who needs help — whether it relates to housing, discrimination or
poverty — can utilize the services that the CRLA provides.
One such case that the CRLA has taken on and won includes the 1975
‘El Cortito’ case involving the banning of the usage of the
short hoe while weeding fields, which ultimately gave the workers
permanent injuries from having to stoop over every day in the fields.
that the CRLA worked on was getting rid of the practice of giving
Spanish-speaking students IQ tests in English and subsequently
placing them in classes for the mentally challenged. It also helped
to establish a bi-lingual, bi-cultural education program in Salinas.
The CRLA also represented
a legally blind man and his legally disabled wife in their 70s who
were taking care of their grandchildren, ages and 6, and they all
were trying to pick grapes in the fields. According to the CRLA, the
group sued for an injunction, subsequently winning the case after it
went all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Californian reported the results produced by the nonprofit
ruffled a few political feathers, which led to then-Gov. Ronald
Reagan making attempts to shut down the CRLA’s services across the
Reynoso was eventually placed on the California Supreme Court, the
first Hispanic to serve in that capacity, according to the University
of New Mexico School of Law's website.
Other CRLA lawyers worked
with Jerry Brown when he became California's governor.