A national group long known as the legal arm of the civil rights movement has opened an office in downtown Los Angeles as a Western base to pursue more jobs for blacks and women in defense industries and to provide decent public housing for the poor.
The group--the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund--initially has placed two attorneys in the office at 634 S. Spring St. The Fund's headquarters is in New York City with a second office in Washington.
In a telephone interview from Washington, William T. Coleman Jr., the fund's board chairman and the former transportation secretary in the Ford Administration, said Thursday that establishing an office in Los Angeles will give the group an opportunity to tackle major social problems in the West from one of the country's major financial and population centers.
For example, Coleman said, "public housing needs some looking at" and so do "schools and employment problems in California." Moreover, he said, "you don't find enough women and blacks in the defense industry" here.
Coleman said he was not implying that the problems of California's minorities are worse than in other areas of the country, but "California is a major state" from which to attack such problems.
"One of the unsolved problems of this country is how you can take care of the 10% to 15% of the people who haven't made it into the American dream financially and in every other way," he said. "We think that race and other forms of discrimination play a part in why these people haven't had advantages."
Additionally, locating in Los Angeles "will permit us to attract some awfully good lawyers" to handle civil rights cases, said Coleman, a senior partner in the Washington office of O'Melveny & Myers, a Los Angeles-based law firm.
The Legal Defense and Educational Fund began in 1939 as the legal arm of the NAACP and obtained tax-exempt financing for its activities. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall headed the agency from its beginning for more than 20 years.
The fund has provided legal representation for a number of emerging major civil rights court tests in education, employment, voting, housing, health and the administration of the nation's criminal justice system.
Then in 1957, to preserve its tax-exempt status, the group parted company with the Baltimore-based National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, establishing its own office in New York City. In 1982, the NAACP filed an unsuccessful court suit against the fund, charging it with unauthorized use of the NAACP's name.
Heading the Los Angeles office is Theodore M. Shaw, who served with the Justice Department's civil rights division between 1979 and 1982, and Patrick Patterson, a former UCLA law professor.
"We're already getting complaints from black citizens alleging discrimination in employment and housing and a number of people have called us on criminal matters," Shaw said on Thursday.
The office, which has been open for about a week, will work closely with the Mexican-American and Asian-American legal defense funds, Patterson added.