MARYLAND Gov. William Donald Schaefer has done a good thing. He has squelched a terrible idea that had taken hold in his administration. The governor is to be commended all the more because the idea was his own.
It had to do with state funding of legal aid for the poor. The governor said last month that he was for this only on condition that the lawyers for the poor agree not to sue the state. Why should the state continue to finance its own harassment? That's about the level on which he seemed to be approaching the issue, and never mind the broader purpose of the program, which is not to mete out aid in the normal sense, but to help poor people secure their rights.
Now, under much pressure, including from the bar, of which he himself is a member, the governor has backed off. A face-saving agreement has been worked out with the legal aid groups under which they promise to consult before they sue, which is what they do anyway. The funding will continue.
The governor was grateful to the legal groups that helped bring him around, for having done so for the most part quietly. "When I opened my mouth on this, you could have really let me have it with both barrels," he said at the announcement of the settlement. His critics on this matter -- we were among them -- had accused him of insensitivity to the rights of the poor. "I want everyone to understand it was not my intention to undermine the legal rights of our citizens -- the mentally ill, abused, elderly, retarded," he said, adding that he understood that sometimes they have no alternative but to sue the state. "That I am perfectly aware of and support," he said. Good.