Legal Staff and Program
The ACLU of Montana Legal Program is located in Missoula with a three person staff: Jon Ellingson, Legal Program Director; a staff attorney specializing in Jail and Prison advocacy; and Krystel Pickens, our paralegal and intake officer. In addition to this core staff, the Legal Program relies upon a diverse and dedicated system of cooperating attorneys who work with us on a pro bono or partial pro bono basis, and works closely with National ACLU legal staff who specialize in the various specific National ACLU Projects.
Because of its location in Missoula and proximity to the University of Montana School of Law, the Legal Program is able to offer a clinical program to law school students. Through this clinical program, law students work closely with the legal staff to review and investigate complaints, write demand letters, and attend and participate in court cases-- all done for academic credit rather than pay. Also, through the generous gift of Mary Ann Mott, in honor of her late husband, Herman Warsh, the Legal Program is able to hire summer legal interns who provide assistance to the program while building a basis in civil liberties advocacy.
What type of cases do we handle?
The Legal Program handles only cases that involve infringements upon constitutional rights and civil liberties. We are not a general legal aid organization and do not handle disputes between private individuals or entities. We represent individuals or classes of individuals whose cases will either serve to create new precedent or will result in general system-wide reform in favor of protecting and defending civil liberties. Main categories of civil liberties we defend:
- First Amendment Protections. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, association and religious liberty, as well as the requirements of separation of church and state. A recent case in which we defended the freedom to speak was Brandborg et alia v. Bull. Important voting right protections are also based in the First Amendment. Kelly v. Johnson
- Criminal Justice Reform. The Legal Program has a special Montana Prison Project. Of the 50-80 complaints per month that we receive, most of them are from inmates. While we cannot take on representation of many of their cases, we continue to advocate strongly for humane conditions, proper medical care, and constitutional protections for inmates. In the past, the ACLU of Montana brought suit to reform the public defender system in Montana, White v. Martz. We have also brought suit to challenge the constitutionality of the lethal injection procedure used in executions. Smith v. Ferriter.
- Protect Privacy Rights. The right of privacy includes not only the right to protect personal information, but also fundamental liberties, such as the right to choose what we do with our own bodies with respect to reproductive freedom, to choose medical care or deny medical care for the terminally ill, and the right to form and protect familial and parental bonds. With respect to informational privacy, we helped Representative Brady Wiseman in his request concerning the government’s intrusive actions with respect to Fusion Centers. With respect to the right to protect familial and parental bonds, and successfully represented a woman who sought to maintain the parental relationship she developed with two children she helped raise with her ex-partner. Kulstad v. Maniaci. We advocated for the right to make compassionate end of life choices and choose medical care. Baxter v. State and we are suing the state for legal recognition of same-sex relationships with the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. Montana.
Filing a Complaint with Us
The Legal Program receives between 50 and 80 written complaints per month. Most of the complaints we receive do not fall within our mission either because they do not involve constitutional issues or do not involve system-wide reform issues. Some of the types of cases we do not handle are:
- employment disputes;
- housing disputes;
- individual criminal defense cases; or
- family law cases.
If your case fits within our general mission, please go to our complaint page and submit a claim.
Jail and Prison Conditions
If your complaint involves jail or prison conditions, please go to our Montana Prison Project page, where you will find a Know your Rights brochure for inmates in the Montana State Prison system.