With 120 days to make a difference, Justin Andrus has proposed top-to-bottom changes to get Maine’s struggling public defense agency back on track.
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.
On the same day the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services selected a new interim director, Gov. Janet Mills’ $8.4 billion budget excluded funds for public defense reforms that lawmakers say are needed.
The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services is nearing a vote on a sweeping overhaul of requirements for attorneys who represent the poor. Members were stunned to learn existing rules for protective custody cases have not been enforced for nearly a decade.
Once seen as a critical first hurdle to clear, the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services is now pivoting to building confidence in a fraught system as Gov. Janet Mills bypasses adding new funds for defense reforms to her biennium budget proposal.
After a decade at the helm, John Pelletier will step away from his role as executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services on Dec. 11. There will be a national search to find his replacement while the commission presses forward with a major overhaul to its rules and qualifications for attorneys.
Maine’s defense agency lacks the oversight structures and staffing to provide “high-quality representation” to the state’s poorest defendants. Maine’s democratic governor says more money won’t fix accountability problems.
Ineffective financial oversight, missed obligations of Maine’s public defense agency detailed in new report
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.
Help us expand our in-depth and enterprise reporting.
SEND US A TIP
Many of our stories have been based on tips from readers.