The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services lacks established financial policies, a strong oversight structure and adequate staffing to meet its constitutional obligations to provide high-quality representation to criminal defendants who are too poor to afford an attorney, the state’s watchdog unit detailed in a report released on Monday.
Amid mounting criticism of his management of attorneys, finances and the quality of legal services for the poor in Maine, John Pelletier is stepping 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.
The lawsuit alleges the largest provider of inmate telephone services in Maine violated state and federal wiretapping laws when it recorded calls between inmates and attorneys. Public records obtained by The Maine Monitor show Securus’ system recorded at least 161 inmates speaking with lawyers at three county jails.
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 began receiving daily texts and videos explicitly requesting sex. They came from her court-appointed attorney, who had already been suspended for other misconduct. When she spoke up, the situation got worse.
Maine is the only state in the country with no public defender system. A nine-month investigation by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica found that 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.
Maine lawyers sued the jail phone provider Securus Technologies on Thursday amid mounting evidence that confidential communications are being recorded and released to law enforcement and prosecutors in the state.
Maine defense lawyers were routinely recorded by four county jails in the past year while having confidential conversations with clients. The majority of county jails, however, are refusing to hand over call records.
The coronavirus has caused an “unprecedented” economic downturn in Maine. Spikes in unemployment claims have broken the formulas economists use to predict what may come next. The Maine Monitor spoke with four Maine economists and one finance professor about vulnerabilities in the state economy and how it will get back on track.
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