Last week, one of the few surviving decedents of the 1960s United States War on Poverty celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with an unprecedented award to the current director of CRLA Jose Padilla. A founder of the poverty program that has provided legal services to California Farm worked for half a century presented, in Marty Glick's words, the "very special and unique award."
Glick was greeted with smiles and cheers when he reminded the several hundred attendees that CRLA in 50 remarkable and amazing years has been and still is "the best of the best -- the gold standard for fearless and feared advocacy for farm workers and others who would be crushed by opponents but for CRLA intervention and protection." Glick noted CRLA's history of outstanding attorneys and community workers but saw one man standing out, standing far above all others for his truly incredible contributions. Only too aware of the few thanks given to CRLA's director, joined by former CRLA Director and Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and former CRLA director Alberto Saldamando, Glick honored Jose Padilla with the first and only award ever provided to a CRLA Director.
Making the award, Glick told about Padilla's "lifelong and selfless commitment to CRLA and his astonishing career:
• Jose was born to a farm worker family and grew up in Imperial County. He attended Brawley High School where he and others "formed a Mexican-American rights club and members wore a bandolier button in a classroom supporting the club. When the school ordered Jose to desist or face sanctions, he would not sacrifice principle to protect his own career path. He and the club found CRLA and they sued and prevailed against the District. Energized, Jose decided to make public service a career as a teacher or lawyer.
• After Padilla attended Stanford University obtaining a BA, he returned to the Imperial Valley where he taught pre-school migrant children with Camposinos Unidos.
• He attended law school at the University of California and joined CRLA where he spent the next six years as a staff attorney in El Centro. In addition to representing countless clients with their daily legal problems helped establish a credit union for the poor, a community radio station (Radio Sin Fronteras), and an immigration center for Central American immigration issues.
• He helped achieve passage of a migrant education law.
• In 1984, Jose became Executive director of CRLA. For 32 years, in Glick's words and with Glick's assistance, Padilla has led the program - - "navigating the difficulties of restrictive and complicated laws and appropriation conditions to stay both fully compliant without sacrificing one iota of the fearless representation of client communities with cutting edge work, still hiring first-rate staff and maintaining crucial contact with the communities served which he more than doubled from the nine regional offices" CRLA began with.
• Helped establish the Indigenous Worker Program aimed at helping workers from southern Mexico, understood early on the need for services to the elderly LGBT community in rural communities, and established at CRLA the first program of its kind to serve that group.
• Was Chair of National Legal Aid and Defenders Association in 2008 and for years been on that board of the Poverty Race Research Action Council and the Parent Institute for Quality Education for years.
• Jose has given important testimony in Congress many times and has won multiple awards including the Stanford Alumni Hall Multicultural Hall of Fame. The Daily Journal recognized Jose as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in California and Hispanic Business named him one of the most influential 100 Hispanics in this country.
• Jose has been an unbelievable mentor to not just CRLA staff but has made countless presentations to scores of school children around the state at all levels who might be unsure that they could have opportunities until they listen to and are guided by Jose's own life achievements. Thus he was selected as Visiting Mentor for the Stanford Haas Center for Public Service.
Glick told about CRLA recovering for farm-worker clients millions of dollars of unpaid wages from dairy farmers who thought they could short workers who feared for the status of relatives and friends. In retaliation, legislative friends of the dairy industry galvanized an intrusive, hostile and sustained review of the program by the Inspector General. That resulted in a legislative hearing which Glick represented Jose and watched him take apart the accusations and move the Committee in his direction, the investigation ending with a virtual clean bill of health" for CRLA.
Glick concluded by telling the CRLA supporters present that "this is the first Ever Special "Director's Award (and we are retiring it tonight) so we present the one and only CRLA Director's Award to the peerless CRLA leader and friend and thank, recognize and honor on this Fiftieth Anniversary, Jose Padilla."