ACLU to honor Maine law professor Deirdre Smith

Posted March 01, 2016, at 11:53 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Maine School of Law professor Deirdre M. Smith will be honored with the 2016 Justice Louis Scolnik Award, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine announced Tuesday.

Smith of Pownal is director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, one of the oldest continuously operating law school clinical programs in the country.

Established in 1989, the Scolnik Award is named for former Maine Supreme Court Justice Louis Scolnik, a co-founder and the first president of the Maine Civil Liberties Union — now the ACLU of Maine.

The award honors members of the legal community who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the protection of civil liberties.

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“Professor Smith has dedicated her life to helping Mainers who too often face barriers to justice,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “She is a fierce legal advocate who truly embodies the spirit of the Scolnik Award.”

Through the clinic, student attorneys are specially licensed to practice law and represent clients with low incomes in matters ranging from child custody disputes to immigration matters to criminal cases. Under Smith’s leadership, the clinic has expanded to include innovative clinical courses in the areas of juvenile justice and refugee and human rights, according to the release.

Among other efforts, Smith was a founding board member of KIDS Legal and plans the Justice Action Group’s Biennial Access to Justice Symposia.

She will be honored at a reception on April 28 at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. Dennis D. Parker, director of the national ACLU Racial Justice Program, will be the featured speaker that night.

The ACLU Racial Justice Program focuses on racial profiling, affirmative action, indigent representation, felon enfranchisement and the school-to-prison pipeline, according to the release. The program seeks to remove barriers to equal opportunity for communities of color through litigation, public education, community organizing and legislation.

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