Governor Janet T. Mills hosted a tea reception at the Blaine House on October 7th to officially acknowledge and express her appreciation to a group of Maine banks and credit unions that support legal aid for poor and vulnerable Mainers.
William S. Harwood, president of the board of the Maine Justice Foundation, welcomed representatives from Maine’s financial institutions that take part in the state’s “Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts” (IOLTA) program. “We are so grateful to all the participating credit unions and banks for their support of this important program and for helping the Maine Justice Foundation advance our mission of equal access to justice,” Harwood said.
Speakers at the reception included Governor Mills; Hon. Warren Silver, retired Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine; Charles Soltan, managing member of Soltan Bass, LLC and president of the board of Legal Services for the Elderly; and Mr. Harwood, a partner at Verrill Dana.
Soltan told guests, “It is not age alone causing more Maine seniors to need access to free legal help… It is poverty. Twenty-nine percent of Maine seniors live below the poverty level, and record numbers of them are being preyed upon by family members and scammers. In addition, seniors often need legal help for more than one reason. A recent Legal Services Corporation study found that 56% of low-income seniors experience at least one legal problem a year, and a stunning 10% experience six or more problems.”
Founded in 1983 as the Maine Bar Foundation, the Maine Justice Foundation has collected and disbursed the state’s IOLTA funds since the program was created. The organization has over $5 million in assets under management and annually disburses over $1.5 million. Through the IOLTA program, small amounts of client funds, and client funds held by lawyers for a very short time, are placed in single, pooled, interest-bearing accounts and used for charitable purposes. Since 1986, IOLTA has provided over $27.5 million in funding for poor and vulnerable Mainers who need legal help.
Financial institutions are a key partner in the important work of providing “justice for all” regardless of income. Forty banks and credit unions take part in Maine’s IOLTA program. Some banks choose to pay interest on IOLTA accounts that are well above their usual rates, voluntarily providing additional funds for civil legal aid.
IOLTA income in the Foundation’s last fiscal year rose to $996,000, an increase of a quarter of a million dollars over the previous year. The Foundation grants IOLTA funds to six providers of civil legal aid in Maine: Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, Immigration Legal Advocacy Project, Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Equal Justice, Pine Tree Legal Assistance and Volunteer Lawyers Project. These six agencies serve more than 30,000 clients each year.