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Running Out of Money : Legal Center Started by Meese to Vanish

July 19, 1986|JIM SCHACHTER | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Its founder is the nation's No. 1 lawyer. But that prestigious lineage is not enough to save a legal research center at the University of San Diego from extinction.

The Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management, founded by U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III when he was a USD law professor in 1977, will cease to exist this fall--a loser in a fierce battle for funding prompted, ironically, by the austere policies of the Administration that Meese serves in Washington.

"It just died out, and not for lack of trying," said Judge Richard Huffman of the San Diego County Superior Court, who became director of the center after Meese left USD in 1981 to serve first as counselor to President Reagan and then as attorney general.

Peak Budget of $300,000

At its peak, the center--which has hosted seminars, conducted research and published studies on major issues in criminal justice--had an annual budget of about $300,000 and a full-time staff of six, Huffman said.

Now, a staff of two is winding down a few last research projects, he said. A final-year budget of $70,000 will run out in September or October.

From its inception, the center's primary financial backer had been the conservative Scaife foundations of Pittsburgh. But the foundations withdrew their support last year, amid a general consolidation of their activities.

That left the center to compete with other criminal justice researchers for a share of federal money sharply reduced by Reagan Administration budget cuts--National Institute of Justice grants have been slashed 22% since 1980--and for private grants that became ever tougher to win.

"There's been such a drying up of public funds that the demand for private funds has just been enormous," Huffman said. "It takes more skillful hands than I at grantsmanship to make it run."

Conflict of Interest

Meese, though aware of the center's terminal condition, has not taken heroic steps to save it, Huffman said. As attorney general, he is in charge of the National Institute of Justice, and he judged it a potential conflict to appear to be intervening on the center's behalf.

"I've told Ed several times in the past that, as I see it, we're going to close," Huffman said. "He recognized that problem and felt--and I agreed with him--that there's nothing, really, he can do."

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