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Criminal Defense Commission Getting New Director

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A commission in charge of overseeing criminal defense for people accused of crimes but too poor to pay for their own attorney is getting a new leader.

James Billings will be the next executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS). He was admitted to the bar in 2002 having attended the University of Maine School and Law and is currently the chief counsel for the Department of Transportation in state government. He has past experience of criminal defense.

Mr. Billings will replace Justin Andrus, who has been in the role in both an interim and permanent capacity since the beginning of 2021. Mr. Andrus will step down on May 19, having previously said he wanted to leave by the end of June. It expected that Mr. Andrus will return to private practice, having publicly expressed an interest in doing so several times.

Mr. Andrus has secured funding to get additional staff to oversee attorneys, provide and organize training, and set new rules for how the commission will do its work. He has also secured funding from the legislature to increase the amount billed by attorneys from $60 an hour, then to $80 an hour, and now $150 an hour.

There has been a shortage of attorneys willing to take court appointed cases while there has also been a growing backlog of cases - up 90% in felonies and more than $60% for misdemeanors since before the pandemic. That has meant the existing number of attorneys have been overwhelmed, without any incentive for more attorneys to take cases. That situation is starting to improve, but the backlog is growing again.

MCILS is also currently being sued by the ACLU of Maine. It has been reported that negotiations are close to a negotiated resolution.

MCILS was established in 2009 and took up its current responsibility in 2010. It oversees indigent defense in Maine. This is made up mostly of court-appointed attorneys who operate privately. A rural defender unit of salaried public defenders are also employed to take cases and the unit was established last year. That unit will now also be overseen by a new head, Toby Jandreau, following the resignation of his predecessor just weeks into his role. Mr. Jandreau will assume his responsibilities on June 1.


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