The Legacy of State v. Fox - A Look Back

Author: 
Dan Ford, Working Families Project

At a time of celebrations and remembrances of Cesar Chavez, we celebrate the legacy of struggle and progress for farmworkers in Washington state, and the advocates who represent them.

In 1973, the Washington Supreme Court decided State v. Fox, finding that residents of farm labor camps have the right to invite others into their on-farm housing.  The case came out of trespass charges against Michael Fox, a lawyer with Seattle-King County Legal Aid Bureau (a predecessor to Columbia Legal Services) and Guadelupe Gamboa, an organizer for the United Farm Workers.  Fox and Gamboa visited the Rogers Walla Walla labor camp in June 1971.  Workers had asked to meet with an attorney after telling Gamboa that they wanted information about their rights regarding a bonus and other problems they wanted to clear up before their return to Texas. The camp consisted metal Quonset huts that housed about 220 asparagus harvesters.

The lower courts convicted Fox and Gamboa of trespass because the two of them declined to leave the camp at the farming company’s request.  The Supreme Court overturned the convictions on the ground that labor camp tenants, like other tenants, have the right to receive visitors.  This holding secured the right of labor camp residents to decide who could come to their homes, and their right to receive information about community services, including free legal services for low-income workers.

From that point on, legal services attorneys have been equipped with the Fox decision, in the event that anyone questioned their right to enter camps to provide legal information to farm workers.  Most disagreements have been resolved when attorneys or sheriff deputies confirmed the rights of the farm workers and their visitors.  But in one case, Maberry v. Evergreen Legal Services (1987), Michael Fox, then in private practice, successfully represented a legal services program (another predecessor to Columbia Legal Services), in obtaining an injunction to prohibit a farming company from harassing legal services staff who entered the company’s camp.

Michael Fox went on to serve as a long-time King County Superior Court Judge.  He is now retired.  Guadelupe Gamboa decided to go to law school, and served as the Director of the Evergreen Legal Services Farm Worker Division.  Gamboa is now a Senior Program Officer on Worker Rights at Oxfam America.

For more information on State v. Fox, refer to the decision on Justia.com and a summary of the case on HistoryLink.org

Guadelupe Gamboa (left) and Michael Fox return to Rogers Walla Walla farm labor camp after trespass charges in June 1971