Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) yesterday called George E. Paras, one of President Reagan's nominees to the Legal Services Corporation board, a "14-karat bigot" and said he considers the nomination a "disgrace."
The outburst was aimed at Paras, an attorney in Sacramento, Calif., and a former California appeals court judge, during a Senate Labor Committee hearing on the nominations of Paras and eight other men to the board.
The controversy arose over a letter Paras sent last August to Cruz Reynoso, first Hispanic judge nominated to the California Supreme Court. It said:
"Your problem is that you feel it your obligation to be a professional Mexican rather than a lawyer. Thus you must remain true to the ideals consistently tossed about by leaders of the so-called Mexican movement.
"You must ever champion the 'oppressed,' meaning those who so designate themselves, such as criminals, handicapped, welfare recipients, demonstrators, 'minorities' and miscellaneous other have-nots."
Earlier this year, Paras clarified that statement: "There are such things as professional blacks, professional Greeks, professional Dagos, professional Jews, people who put their ethnic origin ahead of everything else. That's what I meant."
Under intense questioning by Eagleton, Paras said he could not name any professional Jews, blacks or Dagos. He said he did know some professional Greeks but refused to identify them.
Eagleton said, "I think your quotation about professional Dagos has caught you as you really are . . . it captures you to a 'T'. I consider your nomination . . . to be a disgrace. You are a disgrace to the bar, a disgrace to the bench and a disgrace to President Reagan for having sent your name up. You are a 14-karat bigot."
Paras insisted that he is not a bigot and that he is being criticized only because Reynoso is a "sacred cow."
Reagan has tried in the fiscal '82 and '83 budgets to eliminate all funding for legal services, but Congress has refused to agree.
The seven nominees who appeared at the hearing claimed to be strong advocates for legal services and promised they would not bow to political pressure from the White House.
But representatives from several organizations advocating federally funded legal services for the poor charged that some nominees have specifically opposed legal services.
Bari Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Legal Services, said four of the nominees, including Paras, "have demonstrated outright opposition to access to justice for the poor, which should disqualify them for service" on the board.
Two of those men, William F. Harvey and Marc Sandstrom, did not attend the hearing.
Schwartz testified that Harvey, a law professor at Indiana University and acting chairman of the LSC board, personally vetoed establishment of a poverty law clinic at his law school and represented Indianapolis suburbs in efforts to block a regional school desegregation plan.
Sandstrom, executive vice president and general counsel of the Great American Savings and Loan Association in San Diego, is involved in lawsuits brought by legal services organizations in California.
William J. Olson, a nominee also criticized by Schwartz, served on the Reagan transition team and has been accused of approving a report urging the abolition of legal services. He said yesterday that he personally supports the program, but he has refused to release the report. He said he will let the White House decided what to do with the report.
Clarence V. McKee, a local lawyer who contributed $1,000 to Reagan's campaign and was financial director of the D.C. Reagan for President Finance Committee, is the only black nominee.