Defenseless An investigation into how Maine represents its poorest defendants
The Maine Monitor and ProPublica found that more than a quarter of Maine attorneys disciplined in the past decade for serious professional misconduct were hired as lawyers for the poor. Sex crimes and felony convictions were among the most severe infractions overlooked in the only state without public defenders. Defendants paid the price.
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.
If confirmed by the Senate, lawyers Meegan Burbank and Matthew Morgan would help oversee the system they – and scores of other attorneys – violated.
Lawmakers delay decision again on whether to add money to the next state budget for legal services for Maine’s poor.
The Judiciary Committee opposed Gov. Janet Mills’ plans to flat-fund the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services in the upcoming budget and instead is pushing for the state to greatly expand its oversight of attorneys.
Gov. Janet Mills intends to recommend people to fill three vacancies and two expired terms on the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services as early as next month.
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.