President Reagan told The Washington Post yesterday that he has asked the Office of Management and Budget to investigate whether large consulting fees charged by the board of the Legal Services Corp. represent "extravagance" or simply an "increase in the workload."
Reagan ordered the investigation Tuesday after a congressional oversight hearing disclosed that the 11 Reagan board members have collected $156,201 in consulting fees for their part-time jobs during the first 11 months of 1982, more than twice the yearly fees of any other board in history.
"I know these individuals did not really want to come to government. They came to government only at our begging and at a sacrifice to themselves," Reagan said in an interview. "But what we want to know is: is that overall figure one that represents extravagance on their part or does it represent an increase in the workload? In other words, did they do twice as much as the previous administration?"
At the same time, in a stormy meeting yesterday, the Legal Services board ratified the contract of its new president, Indianapolis lawyer Donald Bogard, who conceded in a hearing before Congress this week that he has no experience in poverty law.
The contract was ratified even though board members have charged that Chairman William F. Harvey, a former law professor of Bogard, negotiated the contract on his own, without input from any of the other 10 board members, in direct violation of an earlier order of the board.
The board attempted to conduct much of the session in executive session, despite protests from several board members and a ruling from the corporation's council, Mary Wieseman, that certain matters must legally be conducted in public session. But the executive session was held up when Mary Lanier, a stooped, elderly woman from Washington, D.C., wedged herself in the doorway and, leaning on her cane, refused to budge.
When it became clear to the board that they could not handle the crowd of legal services advocates and poor people gathered at the door, District police and hotel guards escorted the board through a back hallway in the Hyatt Hotel and led them to a secure room.
Shortly afterward, board member Howard Dana, the Portland, Maine, lawyer who managed Reagan's 1980 campaign in Maine, emerged from the locked room, red-faced and shaking, to say that the board had taken up the controversial Bogard contract in the closed session in spite of rulings from the counsel that it is a public matter.
"Our lawyer has told us we should be discussing the terms of the Bogard contract in public, so I decided I'd come out," he said, adding that he considers the contract "unduly generous under the terms and circumstances."
Shortly after Dana walked out of the closed session, the other board members emerged and Harvey announced that they had decided to discuss the Bogard matter in public.
But despite widespread protests from advocates at the meeting, his contract was approved on a 7-to-3 vote with Dana, Ann Slaughter, and Harold DeMoss voting against him.
Meanwhile, the board will reconvene today to consider new regulations proposed by Harvey to limit the type of cases that Legal Services lawyers can handle. One of the chief targets will be the class-action suits lawyers have filed against governments over welfare rights, housing and conditions in prisons and mental institutions.
Reagan has twice asked Congress to eliminate all funding to the program. He was not successful at killing it altogether, but has persuaded Congress to cut the budget to $241 million, 25 percent less than it was in 1980.
But Reagan said yesterday, "This idea that our opposition to the legal service as a autonomous and outside corporation is not because we don't want legal help for the poor--that's not true. We want to provide, and are ready to provide, $100 million block grants to the states for legal help to the poor."
Reagan said one of his major objections to the program is that "this autonomous corporation . . . wasn't really doing the things for individuals who had a legal problem and were too poor to have legal help. They were busying themselves out there under the guise of class-action suits trying to get what belongs in the legislative process--trying to get it through court decisions and with the taxpayers' money."