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Pine Tree Legal Assistance Celebrates 45 Years

July 16, 2012

 

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2012

To schedule an interview or for more information:
Jim Britt, gBritt PR
207-775-2126 or 207-450-1385 (m)

 Pine Tree Legal Assistance Celebrates 45 Years

Portland, ME – Pine Tree Legal Assistance (Pine Tree), Maine’s oldest and largest civil legal aid provider for Maine residents with limited incomes will mark its 45th anniversary during the week of July 16 with a series of informal celebrations in the six Maine communities where it currently maintains local staff offices. Current and former staff and Board members, as well as representatives of state and tribal governments, the legal community and other stakeholders in the civil justice system will be attending.

Pine Tree has earned a reputation nationally for the quality and cost-effectiveness of its legal services. Pine Tree attorneys consistently win 9 out of every 10 cases receiving full legal service, and document a return of $2.50 for every dollar spent on program services on an annual basis.

Over the past 45 years, Pine Tree advocacy has impacted on virtually every area of law significant to Maine people, including the following:

  • An end to debtor’s prison;
  • The right to court-appointed counsel for serious misdemeanors;
  • The right to a waiver of court fees when indigent;
  • The right to notice and a hearing when the State takes custody of one’s children;
  • Legislation establishing the implied warranty of habitability in rental housing;
  • “Do Your Own Divorce in Maine” self-help materials and resources
  • The right of married students to participate in extracurricular school activities;
  • The right to unemployment compensation when religious beliefs bar work on Sundays;
  • Stopping the denial of public benefits to the families of enlisted service members;
  • The elimination of solitary confinement on bread and water in the Maine State prison;
  • The tribal land claims suits filed on behalf of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Indian Nation;
  • Consent decrees regarding conditions in State institutions for those with developmental disabilities and mental health needs;
  • Enforcing “truth in lending” requirements in consumer transactions;
  • Formal procedures for determining liability in car accident cases;
  • Successful challenges to  “foreclosure by publication;”
  • Employment discrimination cases on behalf of female police officers
  • Basic field sanitation conditions for migrant farmworkers;
  • The State’s first domestic violence attorney;
  • Enforcement of hospital ‘charity care’ provisions for those without insurance;
  • The right to a jury trial in eviction proceedings;
  • The Aroostook Band of Micmacs Settlement Act;
  • The launch of the country’s first legal aid website with  detailed self-help materials and explanations of common legal rights;
  • Access to Medicaid funding for children’s dental care;
  • The first statewide project addressing legal services in IRS disputes;
  • The role of guardians ad litem in family law proceedings;
  • The first statewide enforcement project  providing legal assistance to victims of housing discrimination;
  • The first statewide children’s law project (KIDS LEGAL);
  • The first national website providing legal information and referral resources for veteran and military families (www.statesidelegal.org);
  • Litigation calling national attention to the practice of “robo-signing” in foreclosure documents;

Originally organized by local attorneys troubled by the lack of legal assistance for Maine residents with limited incomes, the program opened its doors on July 19, 1967 in Portland.  It was the first statewide legal aid program launched with funding support from the Office of Economic Opportunity as part of the War on Poverty.

The original staff consisted of 10 attorneys working from offices in eight Maine communities, supported with funding from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity.   Funding levels have fluctuated widely over the program’s history: it reached peak staffing levels (85 employees statewide) in 1981 and today employs only 51 staff members.  In addition to handling 10,000 – 12,000 cases/year, the program also operates five websites addressing various legal communities (www.ptla.org, www.helpmelaw.org, www.kidslegal.org, www.statesidelegal.org and www.vlp.org) which are among the most popular legal aid websites in the United States.

Pine Tree employees have received numerous awards and worked for an average of 14 years in their field; because of their expertise, they have been appointed to numerous statewide and local commissions, including the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, the Maine Commission on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, the Family Law Advisory Commission and numerous local collaborations.

Local staff, Board members and alumni will act as hosts for each event, for which underwriting support has been provided by the following law firms:

  • Verrill Dana
  • Preti Flaherty
  • Rudman Winchell
  • Brann & Isaacson

In addition, the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein are donating use of the Time and Temperature Building sign in Portland to promote “PTLA ORG” during the week of July 16.

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