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Head Of Criminal Defense Commission Announces Plans to Leave Post

Justin Andrus of MCILS

The head of Maine's agency that oversees criminal defense for the poor in the state has announced his plans to leave the job.

Justin Andrus, executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS), sent an email to rostered attorneys to say he will not stay in post past June 30 of this year.

Mr. Andrus served with the Board of Bar Overseers after a long period as a criminal defense attorney in private practice. In early 2021 he then took over as interim executive director of MCILS after the departure of his predecessor, John Pelletier, who resigned.

Mr. Andrus initially intended to be in the position temporarily but ended up staying in the post as Mr. Pelletier's permanent replacement.

It was recently announced that he had secured funding to increase the pay of court appointed counsel from $80 an hour to $150 an hour - albeit temporarily, unless the amount gets permanent funding for the legislature later in the year.

There have been a small cadre of salaried public defenders appointed, and MCILS now has supervisory staff to coordinate training, audit functions, and oversight standards.

At the end of an email entitled "Changing of the Guard" sent to MCILS counsel late on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Andrus said: "Two years ago, the MCILS office consisted of three people. We were scrambling to process invoices and do the best we could to meet the other expectations on us.  Today, we are a fully featured legitimate public defense organization.   That “we” includes not only those of us drawing a paycheck from the State, but every one of you.  Two years ago our future was completely opaque.  Today, you will be paid fairly and, with your work and the work of the defenders who have joined us internally, we are much closer to ensuring quality counsel for all entitled to it.


"Getting here has not been easy for any of us.  I agreed to serve a brief interim while the Commission found an Executive Director, and ended up staying through a whole new chapter.  My chapter is at and end, however.  Last night I formally advised the Commission that my last day as Executive Director will be not later than June 30, 2023.


"I look forward to seeing what the next chapter looks like for indigent defense in Maine.  Thank you all for being part of it."


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