An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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David I. Tevelin
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Interview Transcript

timecode Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions for the OVC Oral History Project. I'm interviewing Dave Tevelin here in Washington, DC. Welcome, Dave, and tell us, and spell, and all that good stuff.

timecode Tevelin: My name is David I. Tevelin, T for Tom, E-V for Victor, E-L-I-N. There's a whole story behind that but I won't bore you with that right now. Right now I'm the Executive Director of the State Justice Institute in Alexandria, Virginia.

timecode Seymour: Great, thank you Dave. Thanks so much for being part of this project. We want to start out by asking you today how did you first get involved in issues related to crime victims?

timecode Tevelin: Well, at the time which was about 1983 I was the--I had the exalted title of Acting Deputy General Counsel in the Office of Justice Assistance Research and Statistics which meant there were about three attorneys in the office at that point 'cause we had been... our funding had been pretty much decimated at that point. (clears throat) And Lois Herrington came in to be assistant attorney general probably early '83 and her first order of business was to have the administration get behind a Victims of Crime Act to get passed by the Congress. And I to this day don't know how the moving finger of fate pointed at me but it did and, um to be the sort of point guy to draft the Bill and then go to Congress and try to get Congress to pass it. So that was my entry into the field.

timecode Seymour: Wow. When you first got involved specifically in VOCA what was the field of victim assistance like in terms of organizing and supporting for the victims of Crime AcT and also, perhaps, Dave, a little bit about the context of the era, which was '83, 20 years ago.

timecode Tevelin: I had very little familiarity but I had to catch up pretty quickly if I was gonna start dealing with all these players from the different organizations. And my sense was that there was an awful lot of energy at that point because people finally understood (clears throat) that based on the President's Task Force Report and Lois's ascension to that position that there may actually be a Bill that would get passed and funding would be made available. (clears throat) I think prior to that time the sense was that there was opposition maybe on both sides of... of the political divide on the issue of victims. And it... and that did a complete 180. The opposition from liberals was that you gotta be wary of this stuff because (clears throat) it's really conservatives trying to take rights away from criminal defendants and give additional rights that they don't deserve to the victims of crime who weren't or even a part to these criminal proceedings.

timecode Conservatives were against it because it was seen as another government handout program. Here we are, we're gonna create another multi- $100 million dollar, billion dollar fund to assist a new group of people. And what was interesting was the way the politics turned on it is that you could sell this program, and Lois was extremely adept at doing this, to both conservatives and liberals. Conservatives you sold to on the counter of the other argument which was this is a way to restore balance to the criminal justice system, this is way to make sure victims of crime get everything that criminal defendants get in terms of benefits and rights. And liberals could be seen as supporting it because it... it did create some government assistance for a needy class of people out there who hadn't been recognized as one before.

timecode Seymour: And who--yeah--you just--I think what I want you to talk about is sort of the history of the President's Task Force 'cause no... no one today knows about that, amazingly, kind of how it lead to the creation of OVC and VOCA.

timecode Tevelin: Yeah, it was a direct lineage.

timecode Seymour: If you could just sort of go linear with us on, uh... Lois' Presidential Task Force.

timecode Tevelin: My recollection of it somewhat reflec--uh refreshed by recent visiting these notes and documents at the time was that the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, which was President Reagan's Task Force, was chaired by Lois Herrington. It produced a report that was ultimately published I want to say late '82. Lois became Assistant Attorney General of what was then OJARS -- and I gave you that act--the acronym of what it stood for before -- later became the Office of Justice Programs (clears throat). And she came in in early '83. And shortly aft--very shortly after she came on board she made Victims of Crime Act Legislation implement the Crime Victims Fund provisions of the President's Task Force Report top priority. As I said, there're only a few of this in the general counsels office who had any experience with legislative drafting. I was probably the only one in that day but for whatever reason my boss, Charlie Lauer or Hank Oltman who was Lois's Special Assistant at the time, thought I might be the right guy to do it. So she called me up and interviewed me and said, "Okay you got (claps hand) the job."

timecode And so prior to the administration introducing a Bill, and this was seen as heresy by people at OMB and by conservatives who said we don't want to create another government entitlement program. The fact that the Reagan Administration would be proposing what would be seen as another Federal assistance program was totally heresy. Prior to that, the legislation, there had been legislation introduced in Congress by Peter Rodino who was the Democratic Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. That had been introduced for years. I think that legislation did not rely on criminal defendants fees for the funding or fines but on generally appropriated funds (clears throat). And it never went anywhere. So the idea was that if the administration was gonna come up with a bill we were gonna have to work with the Rodino people in the House and subsequently with... with folks in the Senate, too. But ultimately that did result in the Victims of Crime Act passing in October '84 as part of an omnibus. It was I think called the Anti Drug Abuse Act. It was a... it was the war on drugs was frontline at that point. And this was like Title Seven of a mammoth bill.

timecode Seymour: And part of this, Dave, to the best of your knowledge, how were victim service programs funded, I mean, pre-VOCA?

timecode Tevelin: Very... very spottily. My understanding of it was, and again I was not a frontline person, was that it was kind of a county-by-county, town-by-town thing. I don't even think there were state funded programs except for victims comp. That there were several states that had victims compensation programs. But as far as assistance, it was very chaotic.

timecode Seymour: When you were looking to introduce and pass VOCA, what do you think was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced, in terms of getting it passed?

timecode Tevelin: Well the most difficulty we had was getting it... getting a Bill out of the Administration. Once we got to Congress, it was pretty much clear that something was gonna pass. It became a... a discussion about what exactly was gonna pass. But the real difficulty came (clears throat) not so much out of the Justice Department because Lois's good buddy Ed Meese was the Attorney General at that point. And Meese was very supportive as I'm sure anybody watching this will know, he was a great supporter of victims' rights. But getting the Administration, that is the Office of Management and Budget, to say, "Yes we're gonna endorse this. Yes we're gonna subscribe to the idea that there's new funding for a new kind of entitlement program" was the real problem. And I have vivid memories of those meetings (clears throat) where I was dragged along as basically the spare tire for Lois who was the entire vehicle moving through those corridors. And she was very persuasive, and she was... she came at the... at the proposal in a way that they were not used to peop--people dealing with in those days.

timecode It was very passionate, very personal, very direct and it really with... without her the... this legislation would have never passed. And if it didn't pass then it may never have passed and I have to give her absolute total credit for it. She... she... she managed to get it through the Administration. And once that happened, there were other discussions and other points but it never looking back on it never then became an issue of we're doomed or this... this will never go. It was... it was sort of the typical legislative wrangling after that.

timecode Seymour: Were there any secrets or strategies you used to... to pass VOCA or any of the other early victims' issues?

timecode Tevelin: (clears throat) I think the... I mean Lois was strategy one through 48, okay. I mean that--without her...

timecode Seymour: (laughs) Secret weapon.

timecode Tevelin: ... there was nothing secret about it. You knew where she was coming from at all times. And she... she cleared the way. I think after that the issues became making sure that people who thought they needed to get credit for this thing passing were given credit. And I think that not only broke down on Democratic and Republican lines, but also people in the Senate, people in the House, making sure everybody was happy, making sure Lois understood who... who she had to give credit to, as well. And she was very good about that. But there was also a fractionalization in the field which may persist today in terms of you had people who were sort of pushing for general crime victims. And then you had people who were worried about the victims of sexual assault, the victims of family violence. And once it became clear that there was money on the table to be divvied up, the issue became what part's mine and what am I willing to yield to others. And then you had the compensation people against the assistance people. So, you know, everybody runs to a pot of money. That's the traditional Washington way, and the victims movement was no different.

timecode So that became a challenge. And fortunately I think because the momentum was on our side and (clears throat) and the Congressional people felt that they had a winner here. We could say "no" to people or say "yes" at the right times with the theory being that you want this to pass, you want to be on the train, you better get on board.

timecode Seymour: When you helped create VOCA -- and I think the first deposits were about 68 million, now it's gazillions. Did you have any idea of the impact of what you were doing?

timecode Tevelin: No. I think when the Bill first passed one of the provisions was there was a lid on it. There was a $100 million lid on the Fund. The idea that anything over that $100 million would go to General Treasurer. And that was a way of keeping OMB happy too; that this wasn't gonna be an open ended siphon that they would never be able to tap into. So the idea's we were putting a lid on it, it was just gonna be restricted. That helped get it through the Administration. Of course then, you know, it became too popular to... to cut and everybody wanted to do more for victims. But I lost track of it after I left the agency.

timecode Seymour: And we're going to ask you about SJI a little later too. And any failures related to VOCA, Dave, in certain terms of passage, or, up to, you know, up to today, if you're familiar.

timecode Tevelin: You know I really... I don't see anything as a failure. I think that had we thought about it at the time and I'm not saying this from a pro-victims' viewpoint, I'm saying this from a good government standpoint, there might have been an effort maybe to sort of anticipate that the lid would blow off the Fund and try to figure out maybe some of these dollars should go elsewhere or maybe there should have been some training about U.S. Attorneys about you know you gotta understand if you're imposing a criminal fine, even if it's for securities trading, if it has nothing to do with violent crime, that money's going into the Crime Victims' Fund unless you say elsewhere. But for the victims' movement that's been great. So I don't see that as a failure.

timecode Seymour: Do you, um I'm going to ask this-- it's going to be sort of a leading question 'cause I'm specific on VOCA with you. Many people when asked what the greatest accomplishment of the victims field is to date have said, "VOCA."

timecode Tevelin: Yeah, I agree. (laughs) And I... and I do. And I think, I don't know if this is the right time but I... there... there are some key people that need to be recognized here. And Lois, of course, I've mentioned already. But Tom Hutchison who was the counsel for the Rodino Subcommittee on Crime (clears throat) that was the originator of that Bill in the House (clears throat) worked for probably five years trying to get people's attention to this issue before Lois came on the scene. And Tom and I would work together very closely. We had a friendship actually that predated the legislation. We had worked together on the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department. Then he turned up in Rodino's Committee and I turned up working on this and it became a labor of love. But we would (clears throat) there was... we still had institutional viewpoints and perspectives we had to bring to the table. But the Bill would not have passed and there would not have been the, I think wisely crafted piece of legislation it was without Tom's input.

timecode Um, another person was Deborah Owen who at the time was General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee which Strom Thurmond was the chair of at the time. And Thurmond and Debbie Owen were... were terrific backers of the bill. Race Metanko was the House Minority Counsel at the time. He worked for (clears throat) I think it was originally I'm gonna zone on the name but it was Charlie, the guy's a Federal judge, Wiggins and then became Mr. Fish, Hamilton Fish's guy. And it was just a very collaborative endeavor. People wanted to make sure this was not an open-ended (clears throat) giveaway, if you will. The people wanted to make sure that we weren't tipping the balance in the criminal justice system too far. So there was some artful little compromises. And then people wanted to make sure (clears throat) that there were sufficient funds out of whatever the pot was for this diverse group of victims, community representatives. And so all those folks brought something to the table.

timecode Seymour: Wow, thanks for being specific with names; that's very helpful. A lot of, how do I put this... newer professionals and volunteers in our field who don't know about or recall pre-VOCA days, what advice can you give to them, kind of looking at their future?

timecode Tevelin: That's a very good question. Wish I had a very good answer. I think the usual answer on something like that is don't take this thing for granted. (clears throat) it is subject to, you know, change at any time and directions you may not want things to change. And you should be vigilant and you should make sure that there's no scandal or fraud, waste, or abuses, we love to say in the government, that affects these funds. And that you administer the money correctly and use it responsibly because if it's seen that people are misusing the money or spending it for purposes nobody had in mind, it's only gonna (clears throat) hurt the whole field.

timecode Seymour: Good advice. I want to ask you about SJI now, Dave. You've been with SJI -- you can tell us -- but I know you've intersected with the victims field even though your focus is judges. Just give us a great overview.

timecode Tevelin: Yeah. The State Justice Institute is an organization that was created by Congress. It... it all--it had a gestation period similar to the Victims of Crime legislation. It took about five years of work to even get a Bill out and then another two years to get an appropriation. And the mission is to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts nation wide. State courts hear about 95 percent of the cases in this country even though Federal courts get about 95 percent of the attention. But what it also means is that state courts (clears throat) see all the family violence cases, all the criminal cases, all the cases where there are generally gen--uh, generally victims of violent crime. And so for those judges to be educated about how to treat victims sensitively, what are appropriate sentences, how do you keep victims in the loop, how do you keep (clears throat) victims of sexual assault in the loop, how do you make sure the police are doing the right things. It's really caused a sea change in the way state courts are... are funding and the victims movement have caused a sea change in the way state courts respond to these crimes. There used to be horror stories from all of the victims about how they were victimized once by the criminal and then again by the criminal justice system. Judges seem to be right in the sights of that kind of criticism.

timecode It's changed an awful lot. (clears throat) I think one of the things we're proudest of at SJI was about ten years ago there was the first National Conference on Family Violence in the Courts. Teams came from every jurisdiction appointed by the Chief Justice. There were trial judges, there were victims advocates (clears throat) DAs, defense counsel, sitting down at the same table at the same time with their colleagues from 50 other states. And it really caused just a tremendous change in the way courts address these cases and the... and it... it really made a big change from the way judges perceived themselves. The role of judges changed at that time not just because of this conference, but because of the drug court movement, community court movement where judges now saw they had a leadership role to play in the community, to play in the criminal justice system, and sometimes that meant stepping down off the bench, going to a meeting on a Monday night where they would chair a group of people who all of a sudden were saying, "Hey, we have to figure out a better way to serve women who are rape victims, women who are family violence victims in this community." And the judge by virtue of his perceived independence, his or her, leadership could take the reins of that kind of committee and make it move off dead center and get people to show up the next week with that new policy, with that new idea where funding was gonna come from. And a lot of that, I think, that people would track its genesis to that conference. And we gave grants, numerous grants over... over the years. Not so much in the general victims area, but more in those specialized areas where women were the victims.

timecode Seymour: How did judges take to the concept of the leadership role because there are a lot of victim folk -- I work in all 50 states -- who want judges to take more of a leadership role. There are some judges who think that may affect their objectivity.

timecode Tevelin: Yep. It's an ongoing issue and it's a serious issue. And people on both sides are right. It really depends on what you perceive as your role as a judge. And it also, frankly, I think depends on whether you're an elected or an appointed judge. In over forty states in this country judges at some level or another are elected. And so when you have to stand before the voter, whether it's a retention election or a a... an election where it's, it's contested you... you need, I think, to be more sensitive to what your community is telling you are their concerns. And if you're an elected judge and you're in a community where you see judges doing the insensitive thing to a victim and that makes headlines in a local newspaper, I think you're more likely to say, "You know what, I need to take the reins here," than if you're a judge appointed for life who maybe doesn't feel that pressure or doesn't respond to that pressure.

timecode Seymour: This may be a hardball question but I'll ask it anyhow. We're talking to people from 30 years ago and we've heard stories from survivors who weren't allowed in courtrooms and children who weren't allowed to have a support person while they testified about child sexual abuse. Judges have changed significantly in 30 years. Can you just sort of end this morning by talking about some of the things that have helped and I think SJI is one of them, what's facilitated that change in the judiciary?

timecode Tevelin: I think SJI will give us a little credit for I think the victims movement generally (clears throat). I think the horror stories that have been in the press that I'm sure you've heard from people have gotten people's attention. And it's just been sort of a cumulative thing and I don't think you also, should rule out the fact that it... it's been a generation since 30 years ago. And the people who have come up to be the DAs, be the judges, are now people who've come up in a different climate politically, legally. Victims, you never heard about victims when you were in law school when I was there, which was 30 years ago and I'm sure you hear about it now. And I'm sure there's case law that didn't exist then. So, I think just with the passage of time, there's been more of a sensitization. And I just think it's good government now where in the past it wasn't seen as a government role to worry about it.

timecode Seymour: That's great. Anything I didn't ask you that you would like to add today, Dave?

timecode Tevelin: No. I think this is great. Congratulations on doing this.

timecode Seymour: Thank you. Thanks for participating. We appreciate it.

timecode Tevelin: You're very welcome.