BRAWLEY — The California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) firm recently celebrated working 50 years in the state of California providing legal service to those who would not otherwise have a voice.
Members of CRLA spotlighted the agency’s achievement Friday night with a dinner and special recognition for individuals and organizations in the local community at Hidalgo Hall in Brawley. The festivities included a visit from Brawley native Jose Padilla, the executive director of CRLA.
Created in 1966 by Jim Lorenz, a Los Angeles corporate lawyer, CRLA was one of the first agencies of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” movement. Lorenz believed that “A corporate law firm should be for poor people, just like there is a firm for the wealthy.”
The founding members and first CRLA board of trustees included Jim Lorenz, Cruz Reynoso, Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. All were individuals who had a history with field labor and the vision to help the farm laborers in California.
According to Padilla, CRLA has taken on large labor and civil rights cases and gone after powerful, big companies since the beginning, and has been instrumental in changing many laws in the state. He claimed the organization is considered the firm of the farm workers since many of their clients are farm laborers. Anyone who is in a bad situation, be it due to poverty, no housing, or discrimination, is free to call up the services of CRLA, Padilla said.
Some of the cases the firm has taken and won include the famous 1975 “El Cortito” case that banned the usage of the short hoe while weeding fields. The group also was instrumental in stopping the use of the DDT chemical in the fields in 1970.
In addition, they were the ones who forced President Ronald Reagan to reinstate $211 million in Medi-Cal for the sick and elderly. In 2008, CRLA took on the first sexual harassment case on behalf of Latina women in the fields. These are just a few of the cases that the firm has taken to help improve the lives of the people of California and the nation as a whole, according to Padilla.
Today, CRLA continues that message by helping 42,000 impoverished people throughout the state of California with 60 lawyers, 35 community workers, and 20 offices in the rural towns and cities of California. According to Padilla, El Centro’s firm was one of the first CRLA offices created.
Typically, those who work in CRLA have a background in farm working or have come from a family of farm workers. Often, they will move on to attend law school outside of the valley, but return to give back to the community from which they came.
Lupe Quintero is one such individual who works for the CRLA El Centro office as the Director of Community Workers. “I liked the fact that I was going to be able to help people,” she said.
Beatriz Garcia, the directing attorney of the El Centro office, learned her trade in Los Angeles, but chose to return to the Valley to help others.
“It’s powerful that people can come to us when they need justice,” said Garcia. “People know they have been wronged and they come to us to see what can be done.”