by Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq.
Pro Bono Profile:
Attorney Ellen Kreitmeier
From landscape and garden designer
on the Cape to solo attorney in Westminster, Vermont, Ellen Kreitmeier has crafted changes in her life. She grew up in upstate New York, then migrated to Massachusetts where she lived and worked for 20
years. An injury started Kreitmeier thinking
about another line of work—one less physically demanding than gardening, but more
mentally challenging. She also wanted to
do more to tackle social problems. The law
Kreitmeier earned her undergraduate
degree at Smith College, studying political science and environmental law while
honing an interest in social justice. She
had always had her own business and liked
the idea of owning her own law practice.
So when the time came to make a career
change, Kreitmeier enrolled at Vermont
Law School and graduated in 2011. She is
a member of both the Vermont and Massachusetts bars.
While at VLS, Ellen did an externship
with the Springfield office of Vermont Legal Aid. She then clerked with Legal Aid
and built a case load helping with the low
income tax program, and gradually developing expertise in migrant farm worker tax
issues. That is the mainstay of her practice
today. “There is a need for migrant farmer
legal assistance”, Kreitmeier said. “There
are thousands of them around.”
Kreitmeier was brought in on Legal
Aid’s migrant farmer cases because she
had worked on the land, too. She traveled to farms where the migrants came to
know and trust her to deal with the IRS on
their behalf. Many of the workers could
not read. Others have low literacy and
because there are no taxes in their home
country, they tend to not understand taxes, or the demand letters that came in the
mail. Some overpaid their taxes, responding to duplicative tax letters. They did not
understand how to apply for a refund, or
take advantage of the deductions to which
they were legally entitled. Others did not
pay taxes, and did not know they had to.
When the IRS came after them for payment, they were facing penalties, interest,
fees and back taxes on very meager earnings.
Ellen created charts and cartoon figures
to explain the system to these non-literate
workers. She helped them to get into compliance, negotiate the fines and penalties,
and receive substantial refunds.
When Kreitmeier finished her clerkship at
Vermont Legal Aid and started on her own,
she kept all of the migrant farm worker cases she started, finishing them pro bono.
Attorney Christine Speidel with Vermont
Legal Aid in Springfield nominated Ellen
for the 2015 VBA Pro Bono Award because
of this unswerving commitment to her cli-
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL • SUMMER 2016
ents. “Ellen spent over 110 hours representing Low Income Taxpayer Project clients in 2014. At the same time, she took
several low bono cases through the Windham County Low Bono Project. In the fall
of 2014, Ellen stepped up to become the
coordinator for that project.”
Speidel praised Kreitmeier’s work. “Ellen has an exemplar commitment to equal
access to justice. She has not only made
time to take on pro bono clients, she has
gone to creative lengths to help those
most in need. “
Ellen Kreitmeier has successfully woven
pro bono and low bono cases into her solo
practice. She concentrates on assisting migrant workers in obtaining tax refunds, and
it is a niche that has earned her steady and
growing income. Her satisfied clients are
quick to pass on her name and number to
other workers in need of assistance. Christine Speidel notes that “Ellen’s story demonstrates that pro bono can be a major
part of practicing law, even for attorneys
who are just starting out.”
Mary C. Ashcroft, Esq. is a private practitioner in Rutland, and the Legal Access Coordinator for the Vermont Bar Association.
Mary has developed and coordinated pro
bono and low bono projects for the majority of counties in the state.