The Legal Services Corp. board of directors voted yesterday to offer the job of president to a lawyer who has no poverty law experience and who represents Stokely-Van Camp Inc. against migrant farm workers.
Donald Bogard of Indianapolis, who said he has not decided whether to accept the $57,000-a-year job, said yesterday in a telephone interview that he sees "no conflict" in having handled cases for the company against farm workers represented by legal services lawyers.
In an emotional and often angry meeting, the board members were berated by citizens and legal services lawyers demanding to be heard and charging that the board's makeup is illegal because none of the 11 members has been confirmed by the Senate and the board no longer includes the required two bona fide poor people.
The 11-member board sat impassively through the proceedings, despite continuing angry outbursts from spectators who jammed the hearing room. The decision to offer the job to Bogard was made on a voice vote with only two members making it clear they opposed him.
President Reagan named two new members of the board last weekend in what critics have called a last-ditch effort to "stack" the board.
The White House refused to provide any information on the two new members, other than their names: Frank Donatelli and Daniel M. Rathbun. Donatelli is a Washington lawyer who worked in the Reagan campaign and is a former member of National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and Young Americans for Freedom. Rathbun, 23, is a student at Christendom College, a 95-student school located in Front Royal, Va.
There were widespread complaints from critics of the board's philosophy that Rathbun, who has declared financial independence from his parents, is filling one of the spots on the board reserved for a poor person eligible for help from legal services.
Mary Lanier of Washington, a stooped, elderly woman leaning on a cane, told the board: "I'm a client. There's not one of you that is an eligible client. You do not feel what clients feel. You hardly know what it is to speak to a client, some of you. There are some of you all that have had a silver spoon in your mouth and all that you've wanted. How can you speak for poor people?"
"I'm poor," she said, asking the board members to "search their souls" and resign if they do not feel they can serve the nation's poor. If they don't, she warned, "God's going to move you off."
Earlier, legal services sources had said the two leading candidates to assume the presidency were Robert D'Agostino, a former Justice Department official who raised a furor in the department by writing a memo suggesting that blacks are more likely than whites to be emotionally disturbed, and Alfred S. Regnery, a Justice Department official who once called for the abolition of legal services.
Some of those sources said D'Agostino and Regnery were dropped from consideration because of an onslaught of negative publicity.
Bogard is a former law student of William F. Harvey, the Indiana Law School professor who is board chairman of the Legal Services Corp.
Referring to Bogard, Dennison Ray of the North Carolina legal services program shouted angrily, "He may be an expert in pork and beans law, but what does he know about poverty law?"
A number of legal services representatives asked the board to postpone the vote on the presidency until after a majority of the members are confirmed by the Senate. The president of the American Bar Association and a bipartisan group of 32 senators asked the committee to either postpone the vote or prevent the two new board members from voting.
"Do we have to sue you?" asked Mary Ellen Hamilton of Louisiana, questioning the rush in choosing a president. "You aren't confirmed and you might never be confirmed after this."
Clarence McKee, one of two blacks on the board, asked for a postponement of the vote on Bogard until the board could look into whether his current work constitutes a conflict of interest. He was defeated on a voice vote.
Only two members voted against Bogard, Howard H. Dana, who headed the presidential search committee, and Annie L. Slaughter, the only woman on the board.
The Reagan administration has made it clear that it wants to eliminate the Legal Services Corp., but it has not been able to persuade Congress to go along. Reagan made his first appointments to the board during the New Year's weekend last year, in a futile attempt to stop funding that had already been allocated.
The former board filed a lawsuit against the current board, questioning the legality of actions by unconfirmed board members in a semi-independent agency designed to be insulated from political pressures. That suit failed at the district court level but was appealed yesterday to the U.S. Court of Appeals here.