The Muskie Fund for Legal Services’ annual Access to Justice Award does two things – inspires the legal community with stories of individuals with a passion for justice, and raises money for nonprofit legal aid organizations.

“When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, we close with the words ‘liberty and justice for all,’ yet we know that’s not a reality,” said Steve Rowe, the 2023 Access to Justice honoree. “That’s why we support the critical work of these legal aid organizations.”

Many of the 250 people who attended the June 7 award reception at Ocean Gateway represented one of the beneficiaries of the Muskie Fund: Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Equal Justice, Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc. and Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project.

“This event carries on Sen. Edmund Muskie’s mission of promoting access to justice for the underserved in Maine by raising funds for six nonprofit legal service providers,” said event co-chair Rachel Green of Unum. “And each year we honor an individual who has been willing to do the uncomfortable or difficult things needed in order to drive change through a commitment to public good and a passion for justice.”

Rowe, 70, served in the Maine House of Representatives beginning in 1992, including as House Speaker in his fourth term, and was Maine’s attorney general from 2000 to 2008. He retired as president of Maine Community Foundation in 2021 and volunteers as a lawyer for survivors of domestic abuse.

“Every step of his career, he has dedicated himself to partner with people and to innovate to make change – social change, racial and economic justice change, and to achieve environmental justice,” said Mary Bonauto, the 2022 Access for Justice honoree. When Bonauto was pursuing a change in law in the early 2000s so that same-sex couples could jointly adopt in Maine, Rowe was attorney general.


“There was a problem that parents couldn’t both have a legal relationship with their child,” Bonauto said. “Steve supported an upstream solution, a way to prevent problems, to provide more security for people. He was happy to innovate, even though this was not the conventional wisdom.”

Judge Charles Dow, a longtime aide to Rowe in the attorney general’s office, talked about how Rowe worked closely with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to come to a consensus so that Maine could ban weapons in cases with a temporary protection from abuse order. “It was a Muskie-sized legislative win for justice in the Muskie style of patient persistent persuasion,” Dow said.

The Access for Justice reception, supported by dozens of host committee members and event sponsors Bangor Savings Bank, Idexx Laboratories and Martin’s Point Health Care, raised $47,800 for civil legal aid in Maine.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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