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Mel Eichelbaum--Bexar County Legal Aid

Identifier: NEJL-061


  • 1968 - 1972

Biographical / Historical


Mel Eichelbaum was employed as a staff attorney for The Bexar County Legal Aid program in San Antonio, Texas from August of 1968 through December of 1972, a total of about 4 ½ years. At that time, he was very active in the administrative law area and what our Director, Frank Christian, called “law reform” cases. It was his idea that aside from the routine individual client cases that we handled as attorneys, we should be actively engaged in major class action type cases, designed to help as many of our clientele population as possible in order to maximize our effectiveness and impact with respect to the “War on Poverty”. During this time my wife, Marlene, kept a scrapbook and has many of the Press news stories (some with pictures) dealing with some of the major cases done by the Bexar County Legal Aid Association, in which I was involved, either as one of the attorneys of record or in an advisory capacity. Below are the cases and a brief description as to what each case was about:

1. Alverez v. Hackney: This was a federal case attacking the 1 year residency requirement for eligibility for welfare benefits. 2. Machado v. Hackney: This was a federal case challenging termination / reduction of State welfare benefits without affording the beneficiary a prior fair hearing. 3. Davila v. Hackney (consolidated with Jefferson v. Hackney): This was a federal case in which our involvement began with a demonstration and protest by welfare mothers at the San Antonio office of the Texas State Department of Public Welfare. At issue were the devastating A.F.D.C. cuts of 1969. The 2 cases were consolidated and argued before a 3 judge federal court in Dallas. 4. The Concerned Tenants’ Union (CTU) v. San Antonio Public Housing Authority (SAHA): This was an administrative case filed before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It dealt with multi-conformity issues and funding. 5. Gaytan v. Cassidy: This was a federal case that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. It dealt with the automatic driver’s license suspension under the Texas Safety Responsibility Act of a driver who did not have auto liability insurance (which at that time was not mandated by the State of Texas) upon that person being involved in an auto accident, without affording such individual a prior fair hearing inquiring into the issues of fault concerning the accident in question. 6. Migrant Transportation Project: This was an administrative case filed before the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) concerning the establishment of a pilot bus service project through federal grants for a south-side migrant residential area. 7. Felder v. Hackney: This was a federal case challenging the “step-father” regulation by the Texas State Department of Public Welfare, which assumed “other available income” in step-father situations. 8. The McCollum H.S. student demonstrations and Principal Pat Shannon incident. This began as a student demonstration and protest, involving a mass student walk-out. The so-called designated “student leaders” were then automatically suspended from school without adequate notice and a prior fair hearing. During this period of time, they missed some major exams in some key subjects, which resulted in their getting failing grades. These were good students, who had maintained A / B grade averages. A federal case was filed. There was a lot of pressure brought to bear on Legal Aid by the various School Board members and School Administrators, local Bar officials and prominent San Antonio lawyers, as well as the press, questioning Legal Aid’s involvement. The case was settled and as part of that settlement, the students were allowed to make-up those missed exams. Even though it was understood that the exams would be harder, the students felt that they had done well. So when some of the students received failing grades, it was somewhat surprising. One courageous teacher came forward, and indicated that she had been instructed to give the students failing grades regardless of their performance. That resulted in an enforcement action that was settled under a “gag order”, but the students’ permanent records were correct and cleaned up. 9. Galindo v. Vowel: This was a federal case dealing with N.O.L.E.O. regulations by the Texas State Department of Public Welfare, calling for welfare recipients or potential welfare recipients to notify law enforcement officials and to file “criminal charges” against a “responsible parent” as a requisite for their receiving AFDC benefits. 10. Gamez v. Vowel: This was a federal case regarding the mandatory “Legal Guardianship” requirement by the Texas State Department of Public Welfare for APTD adults disabled on mental grounds. 11. Vasquez v. Vowel: This was a federal case regarding the mandatory “Legal Guardianship” requirement by the Texas State Department of Public Welfare for APTD minors disabled and receiving benefits on mental grounds. 12. Vela v. Vowel: This was a federal case attacking the alteration of the needstandard under the vendor drug program, Medicaid cut-backs, and discrimination toward the elderly and severely ill individuals by the Texas Department of Public Welfare. 13. Murray v. USDA: Unlike all the other federal cases mentioned herein, which began as Western District federal cases filed in San Antonio, Texas, this particular case was a co-operative effort, whereby the Bexar County Legal Aid combined with a number of other Legal Aids throughout the country, and this particular case was filed before the D.C. circuit court. It was a constitutional challenge of the “Tax Dependent” rule of the 1971 amendments to the Food Stamp Act. (I believe the case was decided in Aug. 1972) 14. Rodriguez v. Vowel: This was a federal case involving the Texas State Department of Public Welfare. It dealt with a challenge to regulatory application of the need standard to AFDC caretakers, assumption of available income, and intra-category discrimination based on monetary source. Although this case was initially lost at the District court, it was won on appeal at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. 15. Gomez v. Perez: This case began as a State District Court case and went all the way through the Texas State appellate system up to the Texas State Supreme Court, which held against us. From there it went by a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case constitutionally challenged the Texas Child Support laws which required a father of a legitimate child (one born inside of marriage) to provide support for such child: however no such duty was placed on the father of an illegitimate child (one who was born outside of wedlock). The case was won 7-2 on equal protection grounds. 16.*there is also a published article entitled “Economic Development in Poverty Areas”, Case & Comment (a legal magazine) , March—April, 1970, Vol.75, 2.


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Processing Information

Mel Eichelbaum corresponded with KH in 2013/2014. Marie Failinger has interviewed him for her chapter on Jefferson v. Hackney. Marlene, his wife, kept a scrapbook with news clippings etc. about the cases was involved with. Mr. Eichelbaum still owns the scrapbook, but has send me a package with reproductions from the scrapbook, some of it laminated. These materials are currently kept in a vertical file, along with the correspondence with Mr. Eichelbaum, which includes the background information that is copied in the historical/biographical note.

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Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

Georgetown University Law Library
111 G. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20001