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Letter from Daniel Meador to Ronald Sokol, Tuesday, January 31, 1978

United States Department of Justice
Office for Improvements in the
Administration of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530

January 31, 1978

Mr. Ronald P. Sokol
Avocat Américain
Conseil Juridique
13540 Puyricard
Aix-en-Provence FRANCE

Dear Ron:

I am happy to move your admission to the Supreme Court
and I have signed and mailed the papers today.

This is in great haste as I am leaving for the airport
to go to Boston for another eye examination. I will re-
port to you later as to the exact status of matters.

Sincerely,

Daniel J. Meador
Assistant Attorney General

[included copy of newspaper article]

WORKS TO REFORM U.S. SYSTEM OF JUSTICE

“Loss of Sight Doesn’t Stop Assistant Attorney General”
by Ronald J. Ostrow

WASHINGTON—The opportunity
to conceive and try to carry out
sweeping improvements in the nation’s
system of justice seemed ‘’irresistible”
to the University of Virginia
law professor.

“I could not have designed a position
that suited me any better anywhere
in government,” recalled Daniel J. Meador,
assistant attorney general
for improvements in the administration
of justice.

But four months after he obtained a
two-year leave from the university
and accepted nomination by President
Carter to the new Justice Department
post, Meador made the first
of several offers to resign.

At age 50, Meador had lost his
sight, probably permanently, as the
result of a detached retina.

“I always assumed from the beginning
that if I didn’t recover any sight,
I ought to give up the job,” Meador
said in an interview.

But he has changed his mind, bolstered
by unflagging support from
Atty. Gen. Griffin B. Bell and aided by
subordinates who now record on tape
or read directly to him matters they
used to put in writing. He also has
overhauled his writing and speaking
techniques.

Next Thursday, Meador will hold
his first press briefing since taking
office to outline the details of what he
considers the most ambitious program
of civil and criminal justice reform
the Justice Department has ever attempted.
The proposed revisions vary
from developing alternatives to time-
consuming class-action lawsuits to
new proposals for handgun control.

Meador speaks openly about his
struggle to deal with the trauma of
losing his sight.

He still uses the vocabulary of the
sighted—for example, telling a visitor
he looks forward to “seeing” him
again and speaking of things being
“emblazoned in neon lights.”

But he is realistic about the chance
to see again.

Having undergone four unsuccessful
operations last May and June for a
retinal detachment in his right eye—
he lost the sight of his left eye two
years earlier—Meador faces one more
operation.

That operation has a success rate of
only 5%. “If it is not successful, it is
the end of the line,” Meador said.

Even if he beats the odds, doctors
have told him he cannot regain reading
vision. He is hoping for “a minimum
getting-around vision.”

“If I could get just enough vision to
go around myself—walk the halls and
sidewalks and go here and there
without having to have the assistance
of somebody—that would be an enormous
asset,” Meador said, “There is a
chance, but I think it’s slim.”

Despite the detachment and good
humor Meador is able to muster now
he acknowledges some bleak hours
and days during his two-month hospital
recovery period.

For a while he thought of resigning
his government post and also of not
returning immediately to the univer-
sity. He went so far as to submit an
undated letter of resignation, which
the attorney general refused to accept.

Meador’s wife, Janet, and others
strongly urged him not to go without
a job, but Mrs. Meador took no position
on whether he should go back to
the university or keep his new post.
He finally made what he now calls
“a tentative” decision to resume his
Justice Department work for two rea-
sons.

“It was a new kind of exciting enterprise
that might absorb me more,
that might serve to keep my mind off
my own problems,” Meador said.

Secondly, he said he realized he
would have “more help and support”
at the Justice Department than he
would at the university.

One form of assistance he got was a
“reader,” who also performs “a seeing-
eye dog function if I have to go to
Capitol Hill and see a senator,” Meador
said.

The aide is Susan Porter, who, be-
fore joining the department, had
served as appointments secretary for
former first ladies Pat Nixon and Betty
Ford.

Besides reading to Meador and
helping him get around, Miss Porter
assists him on what once was a favor-
ite task of his—editing first drafts of
speeches and testimony into finely-
honed, finished products.

“This is rather slow and tedious
(when done) through somebody
else,” Meador said. “But I’m develop-
ing a facility for it.”

Meador has found that concentration
and memory are crucial to coping
with loss of sight.

“You’ve got to have them to survive,”
he said. “You don’t have any
crutches—no notes to glance at. You
can’t just flip back a few pages and
refresh your memory. You’ve got to
get it as you hear it and retain it.”

Meador is taking Braille instructions,
but has learned that “it takes a
long time to develop a quick facility.”

Since August, he has made several
speeches and testified twice before
congressional committees. In preparing
for these appearances, Meador has
his material tape-recorded. He listens
to it two or three times, making a
mental outline of what he hears.

There are setbacks sometimes. One
occurred on his flight to Boston in
September when the airport’s electronic
security mechanism apparently
erased a tape of dictated correspon-
dence he was carrying.

Seeing his frustration, Miss Porter
reminded him: “It could have been a
whole briefcase filled with tapes.’’

“A lot of times, I don’t feel I’m coping
very well at all,” Meador said.
“There are a lot of people who say
that they think I am. It’s a terribly
awkward situation, and there are a
number of times I don’t feel comfortable
in circumstances of one kind or
another.

“But I’m just going on, you know,
from day to day, which is all I can
do,” he said.

The way many of his Justice Department
colleagues see it, that is a
great deal.

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