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.
Hard-fought reforms to Maine’s public defense system were enacted on July 15 without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills.
In a scathing court motion, Amy Fairfield accused the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services of launching a “targeted campaign” against her law firm.
Three bills cleared a major hurdle in the state House and Senate on Thursday and gained unanimous support of legislators. The reforms could change how Maine provides legal services to its poor and pays court-appointed attorneys.
The Legislature faces a vote on a $21.8 million package to overhaul the state’s criminal defense system, but Gov. Mills has yet to signal approval.
Suzanne Dwyer-Jones was charged with impaired driving on May 10. She continued to represent the state’s poorest defendants — until she was suspended Thursday.
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.