Request for Legal Assistance

Before submitting your request for review by the ACLU of Vermont – using the link provided below – please carefully read ALL of the following information.

Our Legal Department reviews all written requests for assistance we receive, but because of the high volume of requests, we regret we won’t be able to let you know if we’re not able to help. We will contact you only if we believe we can provide assistance or if we need additional information. Unfortunately, we can’t promise that the information you provide to us will lead to any specific action.

The ACLU of Vermont receives hundreds of requests for assistance each year, but because of limited resources only a very small percentage actually become ACLU of Vermont cases. Our Legal Department only handles legal claims that involve violations of civil liberties and civil rights. We are unable to take most cases, even those concerning real injustices. If your complaint is not pursued by our office, it does not mean it is without merit.

The ACLU of Vermont cannot provide legal assistance if the matter did not take place in Vermont. You can find information about other ACLU affiliates here.

Types of Cases the ACLU generally does NOT accept

The ACLU is not a general legal services organization and we normally cannot provide emergency services. Unless there is a clear civil liberties violation, we generally do not accept:

  • Employment-related cases, unless there is a significant First Amendment issue or discrimination-related matter;
  • Landlord-Tenant cases, unless there is a significant First Amendment issue or discrimination-related matter;
  • Criminal cases
  • Family law cases (related to divorce, child custody, child support, etc.);
  • Environmental law cases;
  • Property disputes;
  • Tax problems; or
  • Appeals of building code violations.

If You Are Already Represented By An Attorney

Our ethical obligations limit our ability to discuss legal issues with people who are represented by other lawyers. If you already have an attorney, please have your attorney contact us if she or he feels that a constitutional issue is present and would like our assistance.

An Important Note About Deadlines.

All legal claims have deadlines, called statutes of limitation. The deadlines may be different depending on the type of claim, who violated your rights, and which rights were violated. For some kinds of legal claims, you must file a claim with a government agency and complete their entire complaint process before you can sue. These agencies have their own 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. Because of the time involved in reviewing complaints, please be careful when requesting assistance for an issue with an upcoming deadline. If you are facing an upcoming court date or similar deadline, you should continue to seek legal assistance elsewhere while we review your complaint.

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 deadlines may apply to your case. Please understand that unless and until the ACLU agrees to take your case, you are solely responsible for any and all statutes of limitations or other deadlines that might apply to your specific situation.

 

SUBMITTING A LEGAL COMPLAINT

If you have read through all of the above and feel that your case meets our criteria, you are welcome to submit your complaint.

The best way to get help is by completing our online form.

We do not currently take intake by phone or email. In-person interviews are generally not possible, although translators and ASL signers can be arranged.

The online form is the preferred way for you to submit your complaint. If there is absolutely no way for you to submit your complaint online, please complete the printable complaint form and mail it to: ACLU-VT, PO Box 277, Montpelier, VT 05601.

Puedo Conseguir Servicios En Español?

Si necesita comunicarse con un hispanohablante puede escribirnos a la siguiente dirección: ACLU-VT, PO Box 277, Montpelier, VT 05601.

What happens after submitting a complaint?

Our staff will review your complaint and, if we determine that we can assist you, we will advise you by e-mail or postal mail.

The ACLU generally pursues cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. 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?

Please note that receipt of your complaint does not imply any agreement to undertake representation on your behalf. If your matter is urgent, please seek private counsel.

There are many cases of unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive hundreds of requests for help each year and cannot accept many of the cases that fall within the guidelines discussed above.

If you have additional questions, please review the following Frequently Asked Questions for more information. THANK YOU for contacting the ACLU of Vermont.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Encounters with the Police

Q:    What should I do if I've been stopped by the police?

A:    See our complete answer -- whether you've encountered the police on the street, in a car, on in your home -- here.

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Q:    I am not an American citizen. What if I am asked questions about my immigration status?

A:    See our complete answer.

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The Census

Q:    Do I have to answer census questions?

A:    See our Census FAQ on the web here.

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Government Holiday Displays

Q:    What kinds of holiday displays are permissible by government entities?

A:    See ACLU's Christmas materials here.

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Arrested and/or Charged with a Crime

Q:    I've been arrested and/or charged with a crime and I need a lawyer. Can you help me?

A:    If you meet certain income eligibility guidelines, you may qualify for the services of a court-appointed defense attorney.

If you have been charged with a state crime, you should contact the Defender General (Vermont's public defense agency) at the office nearest you.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, you should contact the Federal Defender's Vermont office.

If you do not qualify for a court-appointed defense attorney, you may wish to hire a private attorney to defend you. To find a criminal defense attorney in your area, you may wish to use the Vermont Bar Association's lawyer referral service , which can refer you to a private attorney who will speak with you for a reduced initial consultation fee.

In any case, you should understand that we are generally unable to provide trial level criminal defense on account of our small size and narrow focus.

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Probation or Supervised Release

Q:    I'm on probation or supervised release in Vermont and I'm having a problem.

A:    If you are having difficulty on probation or supervised release, including questions about the conditions that you must comply with or questions about revocation, you should contact the attorney who represented you during your criminal trial. If you had assigned counsel provided by the Defender General or the Federal Defender, you should contact that attorney.

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Family Disputes

Q:    I am involved in a custody dispute, and a judge has awarded custody of my children to someone else. Can you help me?

A:    Generally, disputes between you and another person over the custody of your children is a private dispute, rather than a violation of your civil liberties by the government. If you disagree with a decision that a judge has made, the judge has not necessarily violated your civil liberties: your recourse is to appeal the judge's decision.

In any case, you should feel free to contact us, but you should understand that our work has a narrow focus on law reform.

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Q:    The State has started court proceedings to terminate my parental rights. Can you help me?

A:    If you meet certain eligibility guidelines, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney; you should contact the nearest Defender General's office  and inquire. If you do not meet eligibility guidelines, you may wish to hire a private attorney.

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Q:    I am representing myself in family court. Is there any information online about how to do that?

A:    The Vermont judiciary has placed answers to commonly asked family court questions online here. It has also launched a website that can help you fill out common family court forms, like those used to start a divorce, and those used in parentage disputes.

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Voting and Elected Officials

Q:    How do I register to vote here in Vermont?

A:    The Vermont Secretary of State's website has excellent information explaining eligibility, registration procedure, and downloadable forms.

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Q:    I am a Vermonter, but I am incarcerated or will be reporting to prison soon. How do I vote from prison?

A:    Vermonters may vote in state and local elections while in prison by casting an absentee ballot through the mail. You should talk to your home town clerk about obtaining an absentee ballot, or see the Vermont Secretary of State's online information about absentee voting.

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Q:    Who are my elected officials?

A:    You can look up your local, state, and federal elected officials by entering your zip code here.

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Landlord / Tenant

Q:    I rent my home and am in a dispute with my landlord. Can you help me?

A:    The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity publishes a helpful guide for both landlords and tenants called Renting in Vemont that you might find useful.

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Questions About Attorneys and Judges

Q:    I am looking to hire a lawyer, but I don't know how to find one.

A:    You may wish to use the Vermont Bar Association's lawyer referral service, which can refer you to a private attorney who will speak with you for a reduced initial consultation fee.

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Q:    How can I find out if a particular person is licensed to practice law in Vermont?

A:    The Vermont judiciary is responsible for attorney licensing and discipline. The judiciary's attorney licensing program has a list of attorneys who are in good standing and permitted to practice law in Vermont on its website. If you're looking to hire an attorney, you may also wish to check whether the attorney in question has any history of discipline by checking with the Professional Conduct Board.

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Q:    How can I make a complaint about an attorney?

A:    The Vermont judiciary's Professional Conduct Board handles attorney discipline. Instructions and contact information is available on the Board's website.

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Q:    How can I make a complaint about a judge?

A:    The Vermont judiciary's Judicial Conduct Board handles complaints about judges. Information is available on the Board's website.

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Public Records

Q:    Where can I learn more about public records laws?

A:    Vermont's public records law, governing records generated by the state of Vermont and any municipal government within Vermont, is codified at Vt. Steat. Ann. tit. 1, §§ 315-317a. The Vermont Secretary of State has a helpful website, including a dated but reasonable introduction to the law , complete with instructions and a sample request letter.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governs records generated by the United States government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation  and FOIA Advocates have created comprehensive websites that can guide you through making a FOIA request.

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Prison

Q: What rights to prisoners have?

A: See the ACLU’s prisoners’ rights web page for information about prisoners’ right to be protected against discrimination and abuse in prison and what to do if your rights are violated.