James Tierney was born on April 27, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in Brunswick, Maine and took advantage of the proximity to Bowdoin College by sitting in on classes and studying in the library. He earned his B.A. at the University of Maine, Orono, then married and attended University of Maine Law School while also serving in the Maine House of Representatives. He started a law firm, primarily representing labor, and was appointed State Attorney General in 1980.
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Burnham-Bestor, Marisa, "Tierney, James oral history interview" (2000). Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection. 385.