FROM THE KENNEBEC JOURNAL/MORNING SENTINEL BY BETTY ADAMS. View original story here.
James A. McKenna III and four others were honored at a Katahdin Counsel award ceremony in Augusta.
AUGUSTA — For the third year running, attorney James A. McKenna III received a special award for volunteering five mornings a week with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a nonprofit agency offering civil legal aid to the poor.
McKenna, 72, of Hallowell, started handling consumer complaint cases at the agency in 2013 after retiring from heading the Consumer Protection Division at the Office of the Maine Attorney General, where he authored the “Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Law Guide.”
“I got a repaired refrigerator,” said Superior Court Associate Justice William Stokes, one of three judges sitting on the bench with Hjelm.
The remarks brought chuckles from the more than four dozen people watching the proceedings where McKenna and a handful of others were honored for their pro bono work with “Kathahdin Counsel” awards.
The Katahdin Counsel Recognition Program honors those attorneys who provide pro bono representation and aims to inspire more attorneys to volunteer to help low income people in civil litigation matters, according to the website of the Maine court system.
At Thursday’s ceremony in Augusta, Hjelm said that more than 100 attorneys this year were being recognized as Katahdin Counsel and that they and law students provided 11,000 volunteer hours, which would translate to about $2 million of pro bono legal services.
Four other attorneys from Central Maine were also recognized as Katahdin Counsel at the ceremony: Dennis Carrillo, who is president of the Kennebec County Bar Association, and Teresa Cloutier, both from Doyle & Nelson in Augusta; Danylle Carson, of Boothby Perry LLC, in Turner, who works as a special advocate for the CASA program. It was her third such recognition; her first came when she was a law student. Jarrod Crockett, of Siegel and Brockett, in Bethel was also honored but was unable to attend Thursday’s event.
Late last year McKenna also received the Pine Tree Legal Assistance Award for Pro Bono Service. “Pine Tree Legal Assistance is an inspiring place to be a volunteer lawyer,” McKenna said. There are other volunteer lawyers with Pine Tree; however, they are not in the Augusta office which also employs lawyers full-time.
McKenna, who graduated from law school at Georgetown University in 1974 and was first admitted to the Maine bar in September 1978, naturally takes the consumer complaints.
He said the clients are “people who have problems with products they bought, or they think they were unfairly taken advantage of, landlord-tenant cases, and some car cases. I do have a lot of used car cases,” he said last week.
He said that the consumer cases might involve a couple hundred dollars, which likely would be the fee to hire a private attorney.
“You’re being useful in helping people who really (need to) navigate the legal system and can’t afford to get a lawyer to help them,” McKenna said. “When they get summonsed to court and you read what they read, you just can’t understand how they really can understand what’s going on. It’s complicated and not phrased very helpfully.”
While he was unsure of the exact number of hours he volunteers, he noted, “I come in basically every morning.” He occasionally represents clients at trials in district court.
In good weather, McKenna still rides a bicycle to the office, just as he did when he worked in the Cross State Office Building. “I go right down the rail-trail from Hallowell,” he said.
When he’s not volunteering his legal services, McKenna spends time writing poetry, much of it about the law and some about everyday life. He’s published “The Common Law” book, a compendium of his poetry, and occasionally submits his poems to other outlets, including newspapers. “I submit them with regularity and they get rejected with regularity,” he noted. “It’s the fate of all poets, I’m afraid.”
Here’s part of one of his latest poems, “Hands”:
“List the workers you meet / on Water Street: the clerks, / the waiters, police, cleaners…. / But whom do you remember? / The barber who gently holds / your restless head. The clerk / who eases your foot into / the soft walking shoe. / The tailor who pats your shoulder, / tugs your sleeve until / the coat nicely drapes.”