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.
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.
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.