Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 - Page 30

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 beckoned. 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.” 30 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.