In part I, Hester Honda helped introduce Virginia Legal Aid Society to the many rural communities around Halifax, as VLAS got up and running.
Hester Honda and Joel Cunningham Sr. filed for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court on behalf of a high school student. The student had been suspended for 10 days, they argued, without anything resembling a fair hearing. The student, like any other American citizen, deserved due process. It was an argument that rarely, if at all, had been applied in the area to disciplined students in federal court.
The strategy succeeded. The court issued the order, which allowed the student to return to school immediately. The school chose not to pursue the case further.
From there, Hester and other VLAS lawyers began bringing actions on behalf of clients designed to bring additional special education services into the schools.
It didn’t involve a legal case, but Hester also became involved in a successful effort to start a community-based credit union in Halifax. “Banking was very bad there,” Hester said. “Poor people couldn’t get services.” The credit union, which opened in 1981, not only gave many people access to some financial services for the first time, and made other services, such as car loans, more affordable. Halifax County Community Federal Credit Union exists to this day.
One day, Hester packed three Charlotte County clients into her car to attend a lobbying sessions in Congress. (A few years later, Congress barred legal aid societies that receive funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation – such as VLAS – from engaging in lobbying activities.)
The women were joining in the effort to maintain Congressional funding of food stamps. The women had never been to Washington, or even east of Richmond. At the end of the day, Hester took the women to Chinatown and introduced them to Chinese food. They liked it, Hester reports.
Hester left Virginia in 1982 for positions at legal aid offices in Minnesota and Florida. But she kept her license to practice law in Virginia active, and in 1985, she called David Levy, who had originally hired her in 1978 and was still VLAS’s executive director. Her timing was excellent. “The senior attorney in Farmville just left,” David told her. “Are you willing to go there?”
She was. At the same time, VLAS was transferring and expanding its phone line to make it easier for potential clients to contact us and begin the process of getting legal assistance.
This time, Hester stayed with VLAS through 1992, before moving to California for personal reasons. She worked for another legal aid society in Orange County, before losing her job in the wake of severe budget cuts in 1995.
Still, she would remain a part of legal aid for years to come. She went into private practice, setting up shared office space with a legal aid colleague who also lost his job.
A year after her departure, Legal Aid Society of Orange County contacted her. It was setting up a hotline similar to the one she had supervised in Farmville, so she wound up supervising Orange County’s on a contract basis, in addition to her work on Social Security and SSI disability benefits, conservatorships and simple estate planning and Medicaid.
While finishing up a few cases, Hester is now retired.