Herman and Thurman Davis were two very gutsy people
Courage of Deputy Davis
Professionalism and ethics of Texas Ranger
Effects of jury refusal to convict
Racism and climate in East Texas
Normal people turn out to be super human beings
Doe v. Plyler
Beginning of case
Rodriguez v. San Antoniowrongly decided
Education required by international treaty
Levi's closing profitable plants
Failure to abide by plant-closing rules
Switch to privately held corporation
Selling pension plans
Conversion from jean jacket plant to Dockers plant
Claim of retaliation for filing workers compensation
Video 4of "Interview with Mr. Larry Daves."
A very brief tribute to juries and the jury system. Less than two minutes.
A ten-minute segment about the beginning of
Doe v. Plyler, the federal lawsuit in which immigrant families in Tyler, Smith County, Texas challenged the state law barring undocumented immigrant children from public schools if they
did not pay tuition. Mr. Daves emphasizes the courage of the immigrant families and the role of Judge William Wayne Justice.
A seven-minute segment with Mr. Daves' reflections on
Plyler v. Doe: factors leading to success, effect of U.S. Supreme Court's prior wrong ruling in
San Antonio v.Rodríguez(1973), international law argument advanced but not taken seriously by courts.
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RAYMOND: And you just stopped telling us—stopped telling us about the trial and why are we telling it to the tape, if you didn't think it was worth it?
LARRY DAVES: Well, the Davis case is a very unusual case. And I think the fact that it was unusual, and I think there are several reasons for that. One, I
am—I will be convinced to the day I die that I was representing an absolutely innocent person.
DAVES: There's no question whatsoever. And regardless of our ethical responsibilities I am sure, or I feel like, there is probably a real—that lawyers feel a
lot more powerful affinity for someone that they really believe is innocent
DAVES: Rather than in—as opposed to where they're being charged with the responsibility of representing somebody who's done some really horrible crime, okay.
So I think that's one thing.
DAVES: I'm convinced and I'll be convinced to the day I die that neither Herman nor Thurman committed any crime whatsoever in regard to—on this one.
DAVES: Second, the other thing that I think is—what I think we observed there in San Augustine County in that case was a rare case of some pretty gutsy
DAVES: I'm thinking about two criminal defendants who were locked up six to eight months, whatever it was, and stuck by their principles, you know what I
DAVES: They refused, and so many times people in jail or in that—in any kind of criminal justice system, do whatever they have to just to get out of it. So I
think that was unique. You had two very gutsy guys who just wouldn't admit to doing something they didn't do, okay.
DAVES: And I think that was—I think it also was some pretty powerful professionalism. Deputy Davis was unbelievably courageous. This was one of the first
Black men to actually get into law enforcement,
DAVES: where what you—and law enforcement has a code of conduct, an unwritten code of conduct, where you are loyal first of all to the uniform and to law
enforcement and nothing else is of any consequence.
DAVES: He was—he knew exactly what he—when he testified that "If I thought it once, I thought it a hundred times," he was violating a code. He was—and I have
no idea whether or not he was able to stay on as a deputy or whatever—
DAVES: And again, this was really, again, the first Black man to get into a position of law enforcement in San Augustine County.
DAVES: And that is not gonna happen very often; when, to somebody, it is so important to be able to get into some of these careers so that was unusual, I
DAVES: Then you had an extremely professional, honest law enforcement man. The fact that this Texas Ranger took notes, was professional enough and ethical
enough that he didn't destroy them— I thought—I think that was an important thing.
DAVES: The fact that they would— the fact that anywhere they would try to prosecute a case where they had no business whatsoever prosecuting— I can't imagine
that kind of thing happening in Texas, at all. I don't understand how it could have happened then.
DAVES: I know that the judge called me in. I'm not sure when it was during the trial, after the second or third day, and sort of lectured me about it, that
he felt like I was too zealous. He felt like— he got after me for being— for trying so hard.
DAVES: He said, "You don't have to do this," you know what I mean? "You don't have to do this." And whatever that meant, or whatever, but my obligation was
to represent my client, and I had no respect for that judge anyway, you know what I'm saying?
DAVES: But the court can have a huge impact on how a trial is run. And it's really hard for a lawyer when you're in one of these situations to remember what
their loyalty has to be to, which is to the client.
DAVES: I mean, it is especially, in a very coercive environment and for whatever reason they were motivated—and I can't for the life of me forget how that
case was— to understand why it was so important for them to try to prosecute these two young men, because—
DAVES: But at any rate, but they did and it didn't work for them. But I think the other thing that is unusual is, and I think it's— but—and I'm not sure how
unusual it is.
DAVES: I think that the fact that you would have jurors who would stand up to the system the way they did, because their basic argument and their final
argument was, "You're not going to let these outsiders come in here and tell us what to do."
DAVES: And that essentially was their argument, because we didn't live in San Augustine County. But that was their basic argument. "You're not going to let
these— you can't let these outsiders come in here and interfere with our business."
DAVES: And yet you had this group of jurors, white jurors, in a white courthouse, still refuse to go along with the power— the seat of power in that
DAVES: And just as an incidental matter, I came back in—I went back into San Augustine County some years later and really saw the impact of it. That
particular attorney who had—the—the guy that had been attorney general before had dominated politics in that area.
DAVES: This particular case apparently ruined him. They ended up— the city council, within—I want to say three years because I was there four years
DAVES: within three years, you had Blacks on the city council, you had Blacks on the school board, you had— their whole system that tied that area together
for all those years collapsed.
DAVES: And probably not just because of this case but this probably was part of a number of things that must have happened but it was symbolically a powerful
thing. Where they just—and it shows you how one little thing can have an impact.
RAYMOND: What happened to the Polk sisters? Do you know?
LARRY DAVES: Oh, that's even more tragic. We ended up—they dismissed those charges eventually. They didn't get prosecuted. That was a sham, from the— I went
to federal court before Judge Fisher, who was a—do you know Joe Fisher?
LARRY DAVES: Boy, Judge Fisher. I had to deal with him and be in his court a number of times. He was an old East Texas judge who had—he was—who had a—he was
powerfully lenient toward the person who injured—
DAVES: He was powerfully opposed to any lawyer who had anything to do with trying to vindicate somebody's civil rights. He hated my guts. He treated me like
a dog, I'm gonna tell you. He really hated me.
DAVES: He couldn't understand, I'm a plaintiffs' lawyer yet I wasn't out there doing personal injury cases. He couldn't understand it. I considered myself a
plaintiffs' attorney even though I was a civil rights lawyer, so I was—I was—it hurt my feelings that he hated me so much.
DAVES: But we tried the case to him. He awarded damages against my clients; it was the doctor's. It wasn't much—a couple of thousand dollars, but it just was
outrageous; it was outrageous. He was an outrageous man, so we lost it.
DAVES: And—but I can make the statements I make about him because I did a number of other cases with him on whether it was representing people who had been
DAVES: They had a group of hippies out there who had been rounded up by a number of law enforcement people, put into cages, like sixty or seventy of them in
a—in one little jail cell.
DAVES: They were out on an island doing their thing, having a concert or whatever, and local law enforcement people had arrested all of them.
DAVES: There were three of four hundred of them with kids, women, children—locked all of them up, put them in cattle cars, took them into, put them in jails,
the middle of summer and it was so hot that it was just a horrible, horrible situation.
DAVES: Anyway I did a case against that and he threw it out completely. Another case where I was representing these Black railroad engineers who had not been
allowed to stay in a hotel outside Texarkana. So what? Who cares? That was his attitude.
DAVES: It was just—I had to appeal every single case that I tried in front of him, so it wasn't just that case. I had more respect for the bar, I mean for
the bench, than that.
DAVES: But I know that this man had no—he never saw a civil rights case that he felt was justified is all I can say about that. He was a very unusual
RAYMOND: Well, speaking of hating your guts, you talked about being afraid to stay in St. Augustine—for you and for the law clerks, Liz and Bruce. What gave
you—what was the basis for that fear?
LARRY DAVES: Well, San Augustine was a Ku Klux Klan county. It was one of those counties that had been under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan for some
generations. And I knew that from Mr. Weaver and from the clients.
DAVES: And just generally how it was known—this was known as a very dangerous part of the world.
DAVES: Some years later, I can't remember if it was Newton County, or whatever county it is right above it, that's the very same county where they— these
three white ex-inmates -drug this black man behind their pickup truck to death. And that was years later—
RAYMOND: Ten years ago this month.
LARRY DAVES: Huh?
RAYMOND: Ten years ago this month.
LARRY DAVES: And this was a very frightening part of the world and I wasn't used to it. Just to be really honest, I didn't grow up in that kind of a world.
And so I was frightened of it; it was a world I wasn't experienced with.
DAVES: I didn't have experience with that kind of a world, and I was just personally afraid of it.
RAYMOND: Were you ever threatened for doing civil rights work in East Texas?
LARRY DAVES: The first few years, I don't care what kind of work you do— I guess the people there didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing. I don't
have bad feelings toward anybody.
DAVS: I had my windows knocked out, I ended up getting physically assaulted in Nacogdoches County by somebody we'd sued for a black client.
DAVES: And— the problems I still have is not with the private individuals out there, and maybe it was because of the jail litigation we did, but I— law
enforcement did not care for me at all.
DAVES: And I'd never done anything, as far as I know, to cause them to dislike me so much But I was—I always had a very difficult time dealing with— one of
the reasons that I quit doing—quit representing people in criminal cases
DAVES: is because law enforcement people really disliked me so much because of the kind of work I was doing and I was afraid that was going to rub off. And I
didn't want my clients getting a bad shake just because of who they had as an attorney on cases.
DAVES: But I think part of it was just—I went into East Texas at a time where there was—dramatic change was taking place and should take place, and should
have taken place many years earlier.
DAVS: And I happened to be one of those people that sort of symbolized that and made it possible for people who hadn't in the past had a voice. I was one of
those people who kind of gave them a voice.
DAVES: So I ended up getting some of the ill feelings on part of the people who were getting offended by that. That's all I can say. So, but it certainly
didn't hurt me—certainly didn't make my life unbearable or anything. It just—it just wasn't—just— it's unpleasant.
DAVES: So I ended up moving up away from Nacogdoches up to Tyler, a little bigger city, where I didn't have to worry about my family's physical security and
things. And I'm glad I did. I love Tyler and Tyler's been very good to me.
RAYMOND: I'm really struck by, when you talked about the Davis case, the fact that there was this deep racism and—but—coexisting with— you recognized it, and
yet you looked for the honest people who were willing to recognize the extent of it within themselves.
LARRY DAVES: There always will be people like that, I think.
RAYMOND: Did you talk to any of those jurors? Afterwards?
LARRY DAVES: No, I didn't and I'm not to sure why. I rarely did talk to jurors after any case. Some lawyers just do it as a practice and I had— I felt like
they did their thing and I did my thing.
DAVES: And I'm just unusual as an attorney. Some attorneys really want to go back and see what did work and what didn't. I have a lot of respect for the jury
system, and I have a lot of respect for jurors.
DAVES: I really feel like the jury system is one place where normal people really get to be super human beings and they really normally turn out to be super
DAVES: And there is a chemistry that goes on in a lot of jury trials and people a lot of— most times in the cases I was involved with, and I was involved in
hundred of them—
DAVES: it seems to elevate humans to a somewhat higher standard than what we normally see in the everyday world. People take it seriously. They feel like
they are in fact are judges.
DAVES: They are—this is their—many of these people have said this time and time again in the jury trials: You may have chosen not to run for city council,
you may have chosen not to be a state representative,
DAVES: but the people who founded this country were determined that you be the one that finally makes the ultimate decisions as to what kind of a civil
justice system we have here in this country
DAVES: and whether or not we're going to provide equality of law and fundamental fair due process. If I've said that once I've said that a hundred time in
those cases. And they do. I really agree. Okay.
RAYMOND: We can stop now, or we— if you can bear it, if Gabe can bear it, maybe we can ask you about Plyler?
LARRY DAVES: Okay, sure.
RAYMOND: Turning to Plyler versus Doe. What in the world was going on?
LARRY DAVES: Okay, what do you want to know?
RAYMOND: Well, this is really—just tell us about how you got involved in that. What was going on in nineteen seventy--
LARRY DAVES: Okay. That was just after the Davis case and there were a group of folks there in Tyler, Smith County, whose kids had been going to school.
DAVES: I can't remember if it came up in ‘76 or— I get confused about the years—but they had been going to school some years there in Tyler. The state
legislature in Texas, at some point, maybe it was '76—
LARRY DAVES: —seventy-five—somewhere along that time—made a decision that undocumented children, noncitizen children in other words, could not attend the
public free schools of any of the public schools of Texas without paying tuition.
DAVES: And there in Tyler, for the first two years, the kids had continued to go to school and then, for some reason—and I don't really know to this day
what, even though I read your book and I should know by now what it was but—
DAVES: the school board there in Tyler decided to enforce the state statute. And therefore the kids were sent notes— their parents were sent notes: you can't
come—you can't attend school here unless you have— unless you can prove citizenship
DAVES: or provide the papers to prove that you're entitled to be here or whatever. And so— and they came to our office
DAVES: and I think what happened was Peter, no not Peter— the fellow who ran the immigration project for the Catholic Church contacted, by my understanding,
he contacted the Texas Civil Liberties Union to see about getting some help.
DAVES: They referred him to our office. I was trying a case out in, I think it was in Virginia, a Title VII case. And my partner at the time was Bobby Rodkin
and when these folks actually came in Bobby was there; she talked to them.
DAVES: She got—I've given you—left with you, in fact, the basic part of that original file that Bobby put together. (paper shuffling) No, it's all right,
it's all right.
DAVES: Bobby, at some point, contacted MALDEF in San Antonio, ‘cause we'd been working with MALDEF on some cases, told them we had a situation come up there
in Tyler about not letting kids go to school,
DAVES: the MALDEF office referred her to Peter Roos in the San Francisco office in San Francisco and about then is when I got back in town. We started
interviewed everybody trying to figure out who'd be plaintiffs and things.
DAVES: Peter Roos came in. We decided to go ahead and file. They had been looking and hoping to get a case before Judge Justice.
DAVES: We threw together some pleadings and got—had a hearing set on a temporary restraining—not a temporary, either a temporary restraining order or
probably on a temporary restraining order hearing and—and—and—started. Is all I can say is we went ahead and went on into court.
DAVES: And—the—we were concerned about trying to protect the identity. At that time, there was—we were really worried.
DAVES: We didn't have— the problem was there were only thirty kids at all there in Tyler affected by this, and probably ten families or so—ten or twelve
families. And so it would be very easy to retaliate against these folks.
DAVES: They were a readily identifiable group of people, and you always have to worry as an attorney.
DAVES: You don't—it's important to try to vindicate people's rights, but at the same time you always have to really be profoundly worried about what the
human consequences and costs are for the people.
DAVES: And I've always, with every client I've ever had, I've always warned people about, "If you're going to go to court, you are really making an
unbelievable sacrifice, because your whole life is going to be opened up.
DAVES: "You're going to be attacked like you've never been attacked. You're going to be—none of the presumptions are going to before you; they're going to be
all against you."
DAVES: "You really have to believe that going to court is the only thing you can do to try to change this bad situation or you shouldn't do it because going
to court itself is such a dehumanizing and difficult process.
DAVES: And you'll never be the same after you go through the process."
DAVES: And—but anyway—so we were worried about that, and we were worried about—that we were gonna need to protect the identity of these folks for fear
DAVES: they could be—that Immigration would arrest them and send them back to the places where they had originally come from or whatever.
DAVES: And so we told the clients that we would try to get protection for them, in terms of their identity, but we weren't sure what the judge was going to
DAVES: And so when we went before the judge with that issue—with the request for the protective order, he allowed them to proceed with an alias, which would
DAVES: And if you'll look at the papers, you'll see that he also allowed us to change the— to take the identifying information off the birth certificates and
title records and things like that so they couldn't be readily identifiable for public records.
DAVES: But he also said, "I'm a federal judge, I'm part of the Justice Department and I'm not going and I cannot interfere with normal INS procedures and
things like that. I can't do that."
DAVES: And—so, at any rate, he conducted a hearing very early in the morning. And so early that I remember it being dark still, and he did that really just
as an indication of how Judge Justice, what kind of a human being he was.
DAVES: He did it so that the media wouldn't be able to readily get photographs and things of these folks. And so he conducted the hearing prior to normal
court hours is what he did, or very early in the morning.
DAVES: I ran back downstairs after the judge refused—told us what he was going to do to protect the—our clients and the interpreter— I'm trying to remember
his name—it's on the front page of that. No, no the file.
RAYMOND: On the file. Michael.
LARRY DAVES: Michael—met with Michael. I'm sorry—too many years. My interpreter.
RAYMOND: That's okay.
LARRY DAVES: And so I met with Michael and—and it was back behind the courthouse, and I explained to him what the judge had done. And I made this a short
DAVES: "This is an important thing for your children, and it's important— it could be important for the school children here in the state."
DAVES: "But at the same time the judge is refusing to enter an order protecting you from being arrested for your participation in this thing. You may face
the consequences of being deported."
DAVES: They all stood there and kind of talked, huddled together and talked a little bit, and then one person said, "Well, Mr. Daves, if they deport us
today, we'll just swim back tomorrow."
DAVES: Essentially, that's what he said. I always thought that was tremendous. These folks had been there for some years.
DAVES: When you look in the papers, you'll see some of these people owned houses; they'd been taxpayers; they'd been living in this community, some of them
over ten years.
DAVES: They had children who were citizens. They had and couldn't be touched because they were citizens. They were just a very courageous group of
DAVES: So we went on in, and it was just so cute there in the courthouse. All those cute little kids, sitting there, and they're so well behaved. It's
amazing— it's just amazing. They sit there though this entire proceeding.
DAVES: We had these—Judge Justice required that the Justice Department be part of the proceeding, so he had the Justice Department attorneys up there and of
DAVES: John Ardienne, the attorney for the school board, at that time the Attorney General's office, I don't think was there at that particular hearing.
DAVES: They were later when we got down to the permanent orders hearing, but I always just remember how well behaved those little kids were.
DAVES Oh my goodness gracious, it was just such a cute little group of kids. But they sat up there and listened to the whole thing and I never heard a peep
from any one of them. It was amazing, just amazing.
DAVES: At any rate, Judge Justice did what Judge Justice normally does; he heard the evidence, and cracked the whip. Let justice prevail.
DAVES: And later on, about three months later, Bobby was already leaving. She had gotten a job in Boston or somewhere. I had a problem with partners that
first couple of years.
DAVES: They were all from the East and they couldn't deal with these rural areas. But Bobby Rodkin, she was a sweetheart. She had already—she left within a
few weeks of that first hearing and went up to Boston.
DAVES: The last I heard from her, she married an Indian doctor and was working refugee camps somewhere in India or Pakistan or something like that. She was
quite a character herself.
DAVES: But she had practiced law with Martha McCabe when Martha— Bobby and Martha were the first female lawyers in East Texas and they had a practice in
Nacogdoches when I had my practice there.
DAVES: I actually—they had come through and were undecided about coming to East Texas. They were law students at Northeastern and asked for my advice.
DAVES: And I said, Oh yeah, it's gonna be hard. But if you go anywhere, go ahead and try Nacogdoches.
DAVES: Particularly because Nacogdoches has had a, though the law enforcement folks were very severe,
DAVES: Nacogdoches had a very loving community, particularly of the students and the professors and the people with the Voters League and stuff like
DAVES: So in terms of a real life and a total life, Nacogdoches was a much better place to live then. These—they would have like their own music
DAVES: There'd be a full life, and not just being in court and fighting all the time. I mean, you'd actually, on weekends, have a social life too. And so I
DAVES: I said, "You're going to need that, too. You need to also have a regular, normal life to be helpful."
DAES: And so they had set up in Nacogdoches first, and then for some reason Bobby and Martha ended up splitting up over Bill Ozosky, I think—over their—over
DAVES: Bobby didn't like Bill; she couldn't get along with Bill. And so she asked whether or not she could come to Tyler and we could work together, and we
DAVES: We formed a partnership and she was very good. She did a good job, but it was time for her to move on. It was very difficult to live in this rural
world. Even Tyler was rural for her.
DAVES: But we went on. Peter and I tried the case in, I want to say November or December. And—we had a series of experts from San Antonio who came up
DAVES: and, I think probably, the keys really to the
Doe versus Plylercase was one, Judge Justice, as always, the more important thing; two, the fact that the Justice Department was on our side, from the very beginning.
DAVES: That was during the Carter administration, and so the Justice Department took the position that the kids were entitled to equal protection, they were
entitled to go to school,
DAVES: and it was just wrong to prohibit them from getting an education. And the experts from the civil rights establishment in San Antonio, they were great.
God, they were good.
DAVES: And I think that ultimately is what kind of carried the day.
DAVES: I read your thesis on it, and I agree that
Doe versus Plylerdoesn't stand for a particular legal proposition that is very helpful,
DAVES: but what it does stand for and what we thought it stood for, even at the time, was not really an expansion of the law so much as a—
DAVES: we felt like—that the justices were going to have a impossible time if they found against us, or against these kids.
DAVES: Because what they would have to do is, to find against us—would be essentially to be making a statement that it is okay in an egalitarian society to
intentionally restrict a whole population from the critical role of education in a free society.
DAVE: And we had problems with whether— we had real doubts as to whether or not a majority of the justices on the court would be willing to say that we are
now at a point in this society where we are just like those European societies that we've moved away from—the class-based tier.
DAVES: We just didn't think they'd do it.
DAVES: And so, though—and so—and factually, it is so difficult, and what they were dealing— the problem is they were dealing with the
Rodríguezcase, which was wrongly decided in the first place.
DAVES: And that's what happens a lot of time.
Rodríguezshould have been resolved in favor of the plaintiffs in that case.
Rodríguez, of course, what they were arguing is that one school system that is totally impoverished—it's not a fair fight where you've got these really rich school districts out
DAVES: What they—unfortunately, what happened in
Rodríguez, is the race issue, which is not the issue that should have been litigated, and it really was.
DAVES: These San Antonio schools were ninety-nine percent Hispanic and Black. This is—to this day, the San Antonio schools are still segregated, you know
what I mean?
DAVES: You have lily-white students out there in these exclusive school districts out on the side, rich school districts, but anyways—
DAVES: But unfortunately, the Supreme Court was having to deal with
Rodriguezand trying to justify a wrong result. The
Rodríguezcase was decided—was—it had the wrong result in it.
DAVES: They should have found a violation of equal protection, and they didn't and they should have, you know what I mean?
DAVES: And they did it, unfortunately, without dealing with the reality of the situation, and the reality of the situation is racism. And the
deal—unfortunately, the court didn't deal with the reality of racism.
DAVES: That's all I can say, and, I think, if the courts are not dealing with the real situation, the world—they're gonna make things out there that have
nothing to do with it,
DAVES: and then like in
Doe versus Plyler, they're having to use something that has no real relationship with the universe or rational relationship with the universe and use that, and try to use that as a legal
foundation for them to make a decision.
DAVES: They finally said—when you finally read what they finally did, it makes no sense whatsoever. You've got opinions going here and there. It makes no
DAVES: All they really finally said, the majority of the court said, "It ain't right. It ain't fair. You can't treat kids this way. They had nothing to do
with it. Their parents brought them over here. They're innocent."
DAVES: But the more powerful part of that was not that part, as far as I was concerned.
DAVES: The more powerful part of it was that, if we don't let these kids go to school and provide equal access to the public education system, we're going to
create an entire underclass of folks and essentially restore European feudalism as far as I'm concerned,
DAVES: and I think that was what they really—that was the core of it.
DAVES: I think they had an opportunity, but Judge Justice hadn't seized it either.
DAVES: We had originally argued, in the preliminary hearing, that the duty or obligation for Texas and the United States to educate these kids is
DAVES: There are international treaties that required the students— Americans in Mexico have to be educated, Mexicans in the United States have to be
DAVES: That was a much simpler solution but nobody wanted to go there, at least in the courts, because it would have been allowing international treaties and
international legations to have some content to them.
DAVES: And that is sad, because it would have a much easier resolution in this case than what they finally ended up doing, and what they finally ended up
doing ended up not being very helpful in terms of precedent.
DAVES: It would have been a powerful precedent to have said, "We have to live up to our international treaty and responsibilities." That would have been
much, far as I'm concerned, that would have been better.
RAYMOND: And you argued that in the hearing?
LARRY DAVES: Yeah. It was in there. Yes.
RAYMOND: I didn't know that.
LARRY DAVES: We did argue that. That was one of the original issues we briefed and argued. Yes.
DAVES: But Judge Justice discounted it, and they mentioned it in the argument—in the final—in the Supreme Court decision, they mentioned it, but just sort of
DAVES: But at any rate, it was—to me, that would have been far more effective.
RAYMOND: Have you tried to use international law in other cases?
LARRY DAVES: No. I've honestly haven't had it come up. No. I've never had it come up, that I know of, that I can think of anyway.
RAYMOND: One of the cases that we've talked about before and when you spoke at the law school recently, you talked about—it was the creative lawyering in the
case in San Antonio with the women who worked at—
LARRY DAVES: Fuerza Unida. Yeah, that was a rough one.
DAVES: The last—I did a lot of age discrimination work. The last ten years or so that I was in East Texas, we had a number of like oil companies and steel
companies and big companies that were laying off people.
DAVES: And in almost all these situations they were laying off the people who had been there for some years
DAVES: and where there was kind of a—a pretty significant relationship between the economic need of the company to get rid of these people in order to cut
pension costs, in order to cut benefit costs and things like that.
DAVES: And so I had worked on that a little bit, doing age discrimination, strictly age discrimination litigation, just using the age discrimination act but
providing—getting some evidence of these broader issues
DAVES: to show why the companies were motivated to terminate somebody and try to link that in with age. Okay.
DAVES: Well, when I got to San Antonio—I went there in 1987 and I think that in 1989—that Levi-Straus decided to shut down this Zarzamora Street plant.
DAVES: We had a group of individuals there in San Antonio that we had organized into what we called the Workers Defense Coalition.
DAVES: We were—there were members of the Progressive Democrats, Teamsters, other A.F.L. trade unionists, Ruben Solis with the Southeast—ah, so many years—an
independent union. I can't think.
DAVES: The Southwest Workers Union or something like that. And anyway, we had a group of people who were interested in both labor issues and political
issues, but particularly labor issues.
DAVES: We were somewhat frustrated by the fact that organized labor was not taking a more militant position or a stronger position about some of these
DAVES: The Zarzamora plant was not a union plant; it was not an organized plant. That, to us, was one of the reasons they were picked on because they weren't
organized; they didn't have a union out there.
DAVES: And so, at any rate, somebody, somehow, heard about or read that this plant was being shut down and that the Levis had given notice, a ninety-day
notice that they were going to shut it down.
DAVES: And so we got our group together and said let's go out there and put up a picket line and protest this thing. This wasn't the first plant we'd done
DAVES: Our whole theory was—is that we can't just sit around and wait for people to come to us when we know, by our common experiences, that something bad is
DAVES: We can't just sit back here and wait for those people to hope that they find out that there's a group of people that might try and help them. We
really need to affirmatively go out there and try to address some of these things.
DAVES: And so we showed up at the plant and put up some signs and leaflets, and just generally complaining about— that Levi's had no business shutting down a
DAVES: because they had doubts that they were going to shift to the Caribbean where this was a plant that was making money.
DAVES: This was not a plant where there was any question whatsoever about profitability.
DAVES: This was a plant that was being shut down entirely for greed just so they could make more money and use the labor of people even more oppressed than
these women there in San Antonio.
DAVES: And so—we offered to help them put together an organization and a few days later we had a meeting over at the Catholic church and just a whole bunch
of folks showed up.
DAVES: I don't know—fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty people, who knows how many? A huge group of people.
DAVES: And Ruben Solis, since he took the lead and ‘cause he was a community organizer, and just did an unbelievable job—
DAVES: he just did a fantastic job of talking to people and saying, "Look, you've got a little bit of time, and they're not going to shut down the plant for
ninety days, but let's just start doing things."
DAVES: And so they, the women, first went ahead and put together an organization and called themselves Fuerza Unida and they started planning actions.
DAVES: They—one week they would show up at city council and complain about the fact that the city had not used the money they were supposed to use for plant
closings and they used it for something else.
DAVES: Another time they went up to Austin and complained about the state agencies diverting money from the issue of retraining workers and all—
DAVES: But each week they would put together a different public— do a thing publicly to get information out to the media about what was—why this plant was
shutting down and closing down.
DAVES: Our involvement, our office's involvement in all that was really—we started doing some investigation just through the literature that's available
DAVES: And I became concerned as I started doing some research on it that there might be a linkage between this particular plant closing and the other
general issue that I'd been looking at in East Texas of doing away with pension plans.
DAVES: And I found some articles that really actually sort of caused me to be—think there might be a linkage there.
DAVES: Because back some couple of years earlier, Levi's had been counseled to go private.
DAVES: Instead of being a publicly held corporation, they went through a buyout where they became a privately held corporation, and a lot of corporations
were doing it back then in order to escape the public eye.
DAVES: Maybe some of them were doing it in self-defense, who knows?
DAVES: Because—but, at any rate, the thing that bothered me was that when they did their—when they, in order to finance their buyout, they didn't have the
funds to buy out.
DAVES: What they had to do— they took a fully funded pension program, and that pension was over funded. That meant there was too much money in it.
DAVES: And so they raided the pension fund and then bought an annuity through this big insurance company to still protect the workers, only if the insurance
company is good later on.
DAVES: But they took a fully funded pension program, raided the money, used that money—it was their collateral—and then they borrowed money in order to do
DAVES: And then, over the next three years, shut down thirty-three plants in America. So I thought, Hmm, I wonder if there's any connection between that and
what's going on here.
DAVES: So, at any rate, I ended up filing a lawsuit and originally that was the heart of the lawsuit.
DAVES: That and the plant-closing law, in terms of, Are they getting the—all the benefits they're supposed to be getting under the plant-closing act?
DAVES: I'm just trying to remember—it was so many years ago. I think that was the original theories of the lawsuit were there.
DAVES: Once we got it filed and I started doing discovery and, by the way, Levi's, even though it's an unbelievably progressive company, they were vicious in
terms of their defense.
DAVES: They made me go all the way to San Francisco for every bit of discovery, to get all their documents; their offices are in San Francisco.
DAVES: For most of their depositions of their officers I'd have to go to San Francisco; they wouldn't provide them in San Antonio.
DAVES: And so I ended up spending a literal fortune in order to prosecute this case.
DAVES: In the end, once I got into the documents, I found that not only was the pension fund an issue, but the thing that was really up front in their
thinking was that they had experienced a very, very high rate of injuries.
DAVES: They had just converted this plant from being a jean jacket plant to making Dockers. And jean jackets require one person to make most of the
DAVES: Whereas Dockers, each person does just one small part of the Dockers—m maybe just this, just one thread. And so with Dockers they were having a lot of
repetitive motion injuries.
DAVES: Again, because it was a changeover from what the women were used to doing. And with the other thing, they were doing a lot of different movements and
it wasn't so much repetitive motion.
DAVES: But by moving, by changing over to Dockers, they had injured a lot of the women.
DAVES: Almost a third of the workforce had filed— had already sustained the injuries, and many of them had filed worker's compensation's claims.
DAVES: So I started looking at the worker's compensation part of it.
DAVES: In their internal documents, there was no question that was one of their rationales for closing the plant was because of the high injury rate and the
future worker's comp insurance cost.
DAVES: Oh, I went ahead and amended the lawsuit to bring in that worker's compensation claim because, at that time, and it still does, Texas has a statute
that makes it illegal to discriminate in any way against a person who has filed a worker's compensation claim.
DAVES: And we had, again, smoking-gun evidence that they'd shut down an entire plant because a third of the work force had filed a worker's claim or started
seeking benefits under worker's compensation.
DAVES: And I thought, if it's illegal to fire one worker because she's filed a worker's comp claim, it has to be illegal to fire—to shut down a whole plant
because a significant number of people have filed claims.
DAVES: But of course, I was in federal court and I couldn't get out of federal court at all. And because they make their—even if you abandon claims, once
you're in federal court they go based on the initial pleadings.
DAVES: So I was dead. I was stuck in federal court and the federal courts just were not receptive at all to anything at that time.
DAVES: It was a packed court, particularly at the Fifth Circuit level, and we just didn't have a receptive judiciary at the federal district court
DAVES: But we did—I was able to get significant information about what they were doing. I deposed every single one of their officers.
DAVES: I got to ask them a lot about their thinking in terms of why they would shut down a plant since they use all these other formulas and quasi-objective
criteria to make decisions.
DAVES: What value do they give to continue to have a U.S. work force manufacturing their own product? And things like that. Is that a factor? No, we don't
consider that whatsoever.
DAVES: Got to ask them a lot about the injuries and the system production that they were using and things.
DAVES: We actually had a settlement meeting with them, at one point, where in fact Levi's was willing to make some major changes. But Ruben was not willing
to do it.
DAVES: Ruben was—it was a "‘til death do us part" at that point.
DAVES: And it was his life and all that but we ended up, basically, because Ruben Solis was opposed to settling—to trying to reach a resolution, and it
wouldn't have been a bad resolution.
DAVE: It would have been—the money was not great. It would have been at least some money, a significant amount in total, but it would have been some money to
each of the people.
DAVES: But the more important thing is Levi's would have changed its mode of production to eliminate these kinds of injuries.
DAVES: And I thought that was very significant, in litigation to be able to accomplish that. That usually takes—and unions don't usually have the strength to
DAVES: But they knew from why they shut that plant down that they had a problem with that. They shouldn't have been doing that.
DAVES: They really needed to redo their production system to avoid these kinds of injuries.
DAVES: But at any rate, it didn't work out and we ended up getting dismissed out finally, and appealed it and got dismissed out of there, and filed another
lawsuit based on Title VII, and that's the one that got me in trouble.
DAVES: This one didn't get me in trouble.
DAVES: I filed another lawsuit, a Title VII lawsuit, while this one was still pending where I had the nerve to argue that Levi's was being racist in shutting
down a Hispanic plant where they had all these white plants that they wouldn't touch.
DAVES: And that didn't—they did. They had all these white plants there in other parts of the country they wouldn't—but they were union plants.
DAVES: And so—and what literally got me in trouble was not that, the legal theory literally could have finally made it there.
DAVES: What got me was we—I became convinced, based on the data we were getting, that we were not going to able to win just on the Title VII— up front on the
Title VII charge.
DAVES: And I made a recommendation that we go ahead and dismiss this case and move forward on the other, on our worker's compensation retaliation case.
DAVES: And because I made the recommendation—but they didn't want to dismiss; they wanted to continue with the case.
DAVES: But I'd made the mistake of calling the other attorney and telling him that I was going to make a recommendation that it be dismissed.
DAVES: Well, that was the whole core of everything they used against me. Well, people make recommendations all the time but they turned that into this is a
frivolous lawsuit because you made a recommendation to dismiss.
DAVES: Well, that's not why I did it. I did it because of the expense it was going to cost and I felt it was more important to continue the political
DAVES: Fuerza Unida had put together a tremendous nation-wide campaign that was having a lot of effect and I felt like we couldn't justify spending anything
else on this thing where—when we did not have a sufficient likelihood of being able to win it—to continue it.
DAVES: But at any rate, judge disagreed and zapped me a little bit.
RAYMOND: All right, you've been very generous. We've kept you talking and talking. Anything you want to say in the next couple of minutes?
LARRY DAVES: No. Going to Scholtz's.
RAYMOND: Going to Scholtz's? Will you talk to me about Amarillo some other time?
LARRY DAVES: Whenever.
RAYMOND: All right.
LARRY DAVES: You want to know about Amarillo? I'll talk, I'll tell you.
RAYMOND: Well what do you think, Gabe? Do you have time?
SOLIS: It's up to you guys.
RAYMOND: Well, all right. I'm buying the pitcher at Scholtz's. Okay. Do you want to change? Let's change so we can—
In Video 1, 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, 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.
3 of 4
Virginia RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel SolisRole: Videographer
Jorge RenaudRole: Transcriber
Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Proofreader
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:
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