PORTLAND — Back in the 1970s, I was a kid growing up in Portland when I first heard about Jack Simmons. He was already a courtroom legend, the consummate trial lawyer who took on the biggest cases – criminal and civil – and won almost all of them.

Later, as a young lawyer myself, I got to know Jack as a colleague in the profession. I had much to learn, and he always spared time to offer advice.

Although he is no longer actively trying cases, his legacy continues to inspire. Among his admirable qualities, one trait stands above the rest: Jack is a champion of the people.

Whether he was defending someone who’d been accused of a crime, or standing up for the rights of an injured millworker, Jack served as the great equalizer, giving a voice to the voiceless.

When I learned that Jack had been selected by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine as the 2014 recipient of the Justice Louis Scolnik Award, I thought it was a fitting tribute. The award, which was presented to Jack at a dinner in Freeport on May 1, honors him for his “lifelong commitment to defending and advancing civil liberties and civil rights for all Mainers.” I couldn’t agree more.

The public knew Jack Simmons as one of the leading trial lawyers of his generation. Lesser known is his work in the advancement of civil rights and liberties.

In the realm of criminal defense, he fought for Miranda rights, the presumption of innocence and criminal justice reform. He has been an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, helping to repeal Maine’s sodomy laws, and has also been a key contributor to recent debates about the right to privacy.

Just last year, on behalf of the ACLU of Maine, he testified before the Maine Legislature in support of a pioneering bill to protect the privacy rights of Maine residents. The bill, which was passed into law, prohibits police from tracking a person’s cellphone unless a judge has issued a warrant.

Jack retired from actively representing clients, but his fearlessness and sense of duty to the public carry on at Berman & Simmons, a plaintiffs’ firm that turns 100 this year. As a leader of that firm, Jack demanded excellence from his fellow lawyers, and he instilled the philosophy that all Mainers deserve access to justice, no matter their wealth, background or the power of their legal opponent.

Jack was one of the lawyers who personally inspired me when I founded the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in the early 1990s. We were driven by the desire to create a more consistent and fair criminal justice system, providing a voice for the accused and criminal defense lawyers alike.

While criminal law gets most of the news headlines, the provision of civil justice is equally important to a functional democracy. Civil justice encompasses areas of law that have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives, such as housing, health care, personal injury, divorce and parental rights and responsibilities.

For example, imagine a disabled veteran fighting for benefits that were denied; an injured worker taking a company to court for failing to provide safety equipment; an elderly woman facing foreclosure because of a mortgage broker with questionable business practices, or a family seeking justice for a loved one killed by a defective product.

Unlike the criminal system, these cases don’t involve the possibility of incarceration, but the stakes are often high, and the results can be life-changing.

Jack Simmons is that rare breed of lawyer who moved effortlessly between the criminal and the civil justice systems. He understands that, ultimately, clients with both types of cases have the same needs. They need a smart, creative and tenacious advocate who will put the interests of the client first, and will not waver from that commitment until a successful resolution is achieved.