A tireless advocate for the causes in which he believed, Senator Edmund S. Muskie was undaunted by the challenge of calling public attention to the legal needs of poor and elderly Mainers when asked to serve as Chair of a newly formed Maine Commission on Legal Needs in 1988. Over the course of the following year, he personally presided over eight public hearings around the State, from Presque Isle to Portland, designed to allow poor Mainers the chance to describe their legal problems and the difficulty of finding despair and frustration at not being able to access the courts or to receive a fair hearing only because they lacked funds to pay for counsel. When he presented the report of the Commission on May 1, 1990, he was joined by Governor McKernan and Chief Justice McKusick and the legal needs of Mainers suddenly became news.
For many, presentation of that report would have concluded their involvement in the issue. Instead, Senator Muskie remained fiercely attached to the cause, returning to Maine every May 1 to remind the public of these issues and to repeat his call for increased access to justice. Many doors were opened for him so he could speak from the heart on the importance of equal justice: a joint session of the Maine Legislature, a Congressional hearing, editorial Board meetings of all the major daily newspapers in Maine. His willingness to champion this issue gave it fresh credibility each time he spoke.
It was natural for his friends and colleagues in this battle to want to formally recognize his invaluable contributions to the cause through some permanent means. In late 1995, Senator Edmund S. Muskie agreed to the creation of a special award in his name to honor his lifelong commitment to justice for low-income and elderly Americans. With his approval, the Muskie Fund for Legal Services was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization to support the provision of direct legal services in Maine.
Today the Muskie Fund remains a standalone nonprofit whose mission is to celebrate the commitment of extraordinary Maine Citizens to access to justice for all Maine residents while raising money to support legal services in Maine.
The Fund is staffed on a volunteer basis by Pine Tree Legal Assistance to minimize program expenses and is administered 5 person Board of Trustees. Donations to the Fund can be made throughout the year and are used to provide support for Maine's legal service providers.