The only state in the country with no public defenders will still need an estimated $51 million to provide the service to indigent defendants in all 16 of Maine’s counties. It’s “not a solution, it’s a patch,” says the agency’s director.
Frustrated by a lack of progress, a “last resort” lawsuit on behalf of poor criminal defendants alleges a state commission’s public defense system violates defendants’ constitutional rights.
As the Maine legislature considers a cash infusion to its public defense system, the state’s governor has yet to signal approval of the proposal, which critics say is not enough to fix the struggling agency.
For nearly two weeks after her arrest, a Maine lawyer continued to be contracted by a state agency with a record of mismanagement to serve as legal counsel for Maine’s poorest residents.
Lawyers Who Were Ineligible to Handle Serious Criminal Charges Were Given Thousands of These Cases Anyway
In the only state with no public defenders, people charged with murder and other serious crimes can get assigned attorneys who are legally ineligible to take on their cases. The state claims it was unaware.
The state’s defense agency for the poor lacks the oversight structures and staffing to provide high-quality representation, a report found. The governor says more money won’t fix accountability problems.
Amid mounting criticism of his management of attorneys, finances and the quality of legal services for Maine’s poor, John Pelletier stepped down as executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. His last day will be Dec. 11.
Lawyers proposed opening Maine’s first two public defender offices and a substantial pay raise for court-appointed counsel in a $35.4 million budget approved by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services.
Gov. Janet Mills publicly called for a bipartisan effort to reform Maine’s defense system for poor people accused of crimes in response to an investigation by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica.
Leah Kerwin started receiving daily texts and videos explicitly requesting oral sex or intercourse. They came from her court-appointed attorney, who had already been suspended for other misconduct.
Maine is the only state in the country with no public defender system. Instead, legal services for the poor are left to private attorneys, who face disproportionately high amounts of discipline, and an office that doesn’t supervise them.