THERE are new and troubling developments in the continuing struggles of the Legal Services Corporation, the quasi-public funding source for much of the nation's legal aid to the poor. Last Friday, the president's two new recess appointees to the 11-member corporation board participated in selecting a surprise candidate for corporation president. Donald P. Bogard received the nod after acrimonious protests flooded the board concerning the two most likely appointees. Top lawyer for a food processing company, Mr. Bogard has no significant background in poverty law. But he was a student of Board Chairman William F. Harvey's at the University of Indiana Law School. The best that legal services advocates will say about him is that he is better than the two candidates who didn't get it. True enough.
Perhaps Mr. Bogard is more qualified than his r,esum,e and available information suggest, so that the implication of cronyism can be discarded. If he accepts the post, however, he will start out under a special cloud: the 11-member board is composed of unconfirmed recess appointees, nine of whom have been serving since Congress' last Christmas recess. Five of these could face strong opposition on the Senate floor if their appointments are taken up in the lame-duck session. And those five made up most of the support for Mr. Bogard's appointment.
How did all this come to pass? The Reagan administration has tried various ways of abolishing or crippling the Legal Services Corporation. Congress has fended off the sharpest of the attacks, but the trench warfare continues. The year-old recess appointees remain unconfirmed because two or three are mired in controversy on the Hill, including that of Chairman Harvey. Several Democrats are rattling their sabers for a floor fight, and since the Republican leadership would like to avoid that, there may be no vote this session. The president will then be free in December to reappoint the same controversial people to continue serving without benefit of the Senate's advice and consent. This is an undesirable form of cooperation by the Senate leadership.
The two last-minute recess appointments by the White House appear well chosen to backstop Chairman Harvey on the board's conservative fringe, and they may well have been important in the selection of Mr. Bogard as president. That appointment is not subject to Senate approval, and, as a bipartisan group of 32 senators wrote Mr. Reagan, the events "create a disturbing suggestion that the responsibility of the Senate to approve nominations is being directly circumvented."
This is not just an objection on principle. The appointments controversy is rooted in the same legal services disputes that have divided the administration and its critics all along. Unable to win solid victories on the budget and policy fronts, the administration is now trying to hobble the corporation through the appointments process.