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Watchdog gives damning verdict on Maine’s public defense system

A non-profit that monitors the way states appoint lawyers to help indigent defenders in criminal cases has given a damning verdict on the system used in Maine.

The report by the Boston-based Sixth Amendment Center raises issues of training, oversight, financial controls, effective denial of the right to a lawyer, conflicts of interests, monopolies of appointed and private counsel in some counties, and many other concerns.

The report is also critical of oversight by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, a three-person state entity created by legislation in 2009 to oversee Maine’s system of private lawyers who are appointed to indigent defense work.

The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers calls the report a “starting point for next steps.” MACDL rightly points out that while there can be short-term legislative measures taken now that require no appropriation of funds (such as barring prosecutors from talking to unrepresented clients without a written waiver of counsel), other measures will take longer To implement.

By contrast and for context, other states have a publicly-funded entity and staff lawyers (who are often poorly paid but dedicated) who take on indigent defense cases. In Massachusetts this is done by the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Read the full report here:

Needless to say, coverage has been brutal:


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