Portland attorney honored for focus on social, economic justice

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PORTLAND — Local attorney Jerrol Crouter received this year’s Equal Justice Hero Award from Maine Equal Justice Partners for demonstrating “an unwavering commitment to equity and justice.” 

Crouter is a partner at the Drummond Woodsum law firm, was one of the founding members of Maine Equal Justice Partners and for the past 20 years has also served on its board of directors.

The hero award is given “to someone who has made a significant contribution to strengthening access to justice in Maine,” the organization said in a press release, and “is reserved for those whose efforts seek to bring equal treatment before the law to Maine’s most vulnerable.”

At Maine Equal Justice Partners, “(We) strive to find solutions to poverty and improve the lives of people with low incomes in Maine,” said Robyn Merrill, the organization’s policy director.

“We focus on issues that affect people’s daily lives – access to health care, food, housing, employment opportunities and education. For over 20 years, people across Maine have relied on (us) for our legal and public policy expertise,” she added.

Merrill said Crouter was chosen to receive the Equal Justice Hero Award because “his extensive legal expertise, quick and sharp mind, and focus on the role of advocacy to create social and economic justice have been great gifts to Maine Equal Justice and the people we represent.”

Crouter said winning the award “is a great honor.”

“Maine Equal Justice Partners is a great organization, and its staff members are completely devoted to providing access to justice to Maine’s neediest residents,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my 20-year involvement with this organization.”

Crouter stepped down from the board of Maine Equal Justice Partners last winter, but said his passion for the organization’s work is based on the fact that “less than half the people in Maine who need legal services are able to afford (them).”

Specifically, he said, Maine Equal Justice Partners represents “the interests of Mainers who live in poverty. Without (us), Maine’s neediest residents would have no voice in our political and administrative institutions,” like the courts and the Legislature.

When asked why equal justice is important, Crouter said, “I believe our society and our government work best when all of the people have their interests represented.

“If Mainers living in poverty have no voice, then our state government is not truly a government of the people and by the people. Only with equal justice can we really have a government that is representative of all of us.”

Crouter said over the past couple decades, Maine Equal Justice Partners has become “the leading expert in the state on federal and state policies for Maine’s anti-poverty programs.”

The organization also works in partnership “with people living in poverty to organize and advocate together for just laws and policies,” he said, while also providing education and training “on law and policy that directly impact individuals and families living on limited means.”

Crouter first came to Maine to attend Colby College and, after law school, he and his wife, Mary Jean, returned to the state to “work and raise our family,’ he said. “We would not want to live anywhere else.”

Merrill said the Maine Equal Justice Partners board chose Crouter as this year’s hero because he’s “guided the organization with both reason and compassion. For 20 years, we have relied on his sound counsel.”

In addition, she said his “deep and lifelong commitment to social and economic justice have been great gifts to Maine Equal Justice and the people we represent.” Merrill also called Crouter “a gem.”

She said the Equal Justice Hero Award is important because it recognizes those “who give their time and expertise to assist people who are less fortunate than they are. People like Jerry, who give so much of themselves to help people in need, are special” and should be honored.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.