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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, March 2, 2006. Interview U-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Summer internship with an ACLU lawyer and admiration of Judge James McMillan

Fillette describes his summer internship with ACLU lawyer George Daly in Charlotte, North Carolina, during his first year in law school (1971). Fillette describes the work he did that summer, focusing specifically on an attempt to consolidate several individual suites about police brutality, as an especially important learning experience. In particular, he stresses his admiration for Judge James McMillan, who he helped present a case to, and notes that the opportunity to see "what a difference a courageous federal district court judge could make" was especially important in his decision to use his legal degree to help disadvantaged people.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, March 2, 2006. Interview U-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
So how did you make it back down to North Carolina after you finished law school?
TED FILLETTE:
Well, that same organization was part of a national network that somehow connected law students with civil rights lawyers all over the country. Most of them were in the South and the woman that was the head of that organization selected me to be matched up with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] lawyer in Charlotte. So after my first year of law school, I came to Charlotte to work for him. They gave a healthy stipend of fifty dollars a week to live on, which was the same amount they paid in VISTA.
SARAH THUESEN:
Wow.
TED FILLETTE:
By that time, I had learned a lot about poverty.
SARAH THUESEN:
How long did you work with the ACLU lawyer?
TED FILLETTE:
That was just for one summer.
SARAH THUESEN:
And that was right after law school?
TED FILLETTE:
No, that was after my first year in law school. So I still had two more years of school to go after that. That was a very critical experience, because I got to come to a community and see what difference a courageous federal district court judge could make. We had the best one in the South. This lawyer had numerous cases with him and he let me argue a motion in front of the federal district court judge as a first-year law student. It was an enormous opportunity for me.
SARAH THUESEN:
Just to clarify, the judge you're referring to is McMillan?
TED FILLETTE:
Yes.
SARAH THUESEN:
And who was the lawyer?
TED FILLETTE:
George Daly.
SARAH THUESEN:
What did the case involve that you worked on that summer?
TED FILLETTE:
It was an attempt to consolidate four or five individual suits against the city police for police brutality in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The procedural motion that I was arguing was whether or not it was proper to join all of those suits into one big suit, versus leaving them as separate cases to be tried individually. So it was a big strategic question.
SARAH THUESEN:
What was the upshot of that case?
TED FILLETTE:
Well, the upshot of it was that the judge denied our motion to combine them, which surprised me greatly and surprised the lawyer. But the lawyer later explained to me that the reason the judge must have denied the motion is because we had made a stupid strategic decision to join them. The judge was actually probably making a better decision, strategic decision, because one of the four victims had been a drug dealer and he had shot at the policemen before they shot and paralyzed him. The lawyer I worked for realized in retrospect that if that case had been part of the bigger presentation, that the three other victims, who were much more sympathetic and innocent-looking, probably would have lost, because they would have been guilty by association with the drug dealer who was the fourth plaintiff.
SARAH THUESEN:
So McMillan was sympathetic with your cause in fact, even though initially it appeared otherwise?
TED FILLETTE:
I think so, not that he said it in any of those kinds of terms. He just did what he thought was the right thing, even though we probably had a good legal argument to combine them. So I learned a lot from that.