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.
Please read this information carefully to find out the kinds of cases we accept and how to have the ACLU consider your problem.
The mission of the ACLU of Montana is to defend, preserve, and advance civil liberties in Montana. If your issue did not arise in Montana, you should contact the ACLU office in that area. To find the address for the appropriate affiliate, please go to the National ACLU website at www.aclu.org and click on States.
How to file
If your issue did arise in Montana, to file a complaint with the ACLU of Montana, you must fill out our complaint form and send it to our legal staff in Missoula. Fill out our Printable Form and mail it to the address at the top of the form. This document is available online in Adobe Acrobat PDF format for ease in printing. Download Acrobat Reader.
Our legal staff will review your complaint to determine whether it raises an issue that we can address. You will be sent a letter indicating if the legal staff accepts, declines, or decides to investigate your complaint further. You may be asked for additional information. The ACLU of Montana receives more than 700 complaints each year, so it may take 4-8 weeks to receive a response letter from us. If you need immediate help, please contact an attorney. Please be sure to read the information about deadlines.
There are several ways in which you may contact the ACLU of Montana for legal assistance:
You may write a letter to us at:
ACLU of Montana Legal Intake
P.O. Box 9138
Missoula, MT 59807
You may email us by using the Intake Form on our website.
You may call our Intake Complaints line at 406-443-8590, hit the # key, and enter extension 106 from 9:00 – 11:00 am on Thursdays. If you leave a message be sure to state your name, daytime telephone number, and a brief description of the issue you wish to discuss. Your call will be returned by one of our intake officers. Please note that the intake officer is not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice to you. Walk-ins are not seen – you will be asked to call the Intake Complaints line or write to us.
What Does It Cost?
Attorneys represent ACLU clients free of charge. Our cases are handled by staff counsel, sometimes working together with attorneys in private practice who volunteer their time for ACLU cases.
What Are Civil Liberties and Civil Rights?
Civil liberties include freedom of speech, press, religion, and association; due process; equal protection; and privacy. Civil rights include, for example, voting rights; discrimination based on disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or national origin; police reform; and workers’ rights.
How Do We Choose Cases?
The ACLU of Montana generally files cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. Almost all of our cases involve constitutional issues and because the United States Constitution and Montana Constitution protect only against unlawful government action, we rarely take on disputes involving private companies. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are: (1) Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue? (2) What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client? (3) Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?
What Cases Affect Others?
Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we sometimes challenge a policy or practice that directly impacts many people. For instance, if the state cut Medi-Cal funding for abortions from the annual budget, thousands of poor women would be affected. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others when it establishes or expands legal protections. For example, a lawsuit challenging the denial of health care at a clinic to one HIV+ person, if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of patients in the future.
We Prefer Cases Without Serious Factual Disputes
We tend to take cases that do not involve complicated disputes of fact, and prefer cases that involve questions of law only. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case in which the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim, but the employee disputes the evidence.
We often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes because: (1) if a court resolves the facts against the client, it may never reach the civil liberties or civil rights issues; (2) if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case, the case is less likely to have broad impact on many people; and (3) we have so few staff attorneys that it is difficult for us to devote attorney time to resolving factual disputes.]
Types Of Cases the ACLU Generally Does Not Accept
The ACLU does not generally accept these types of cases:
- Employment law: being fired from a job without a good reason or just cause
- Workers’ Compensation: being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits;
- Criminal cases: complaints about private criminal defense attorneys, length of sentence, or probation and parole issues. We consider accepting criminal cases only in limited instance
- Family Law: divorces, child custody
- Landlord-tenant disputes
Why the ACLU Turns Down Cases Which Fall Within Our Guidelines
There are many cases of unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive more than 700 requests for help each year. Because the ACLU of Montana has a limited budget and staff, it is impossible to represent every person whose civil liberties have been violated. Instead, we try to select cases that will impact the greatest number of people — those cases that have the most potential to break new ground or establish new precedents to strengthen the freedoms all of us enjoy.
Can the ACLU Advise Me About My Case?
If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case, answer questions, or provide other types of assistance – for example, reviewing papers or conducting legal research to assist you. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases we do accept.
Important Note About Deadlines
All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights and which rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and these agencies have their own time deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statute of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court. Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, and will not stop the statute of limitations from running.
The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadline may apply in your case.
State Bar Association’s Lawyer Information and Referral Service (406) 449-6577
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Montana Legal Services
Office of the Public Defender