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The Latest on an Office of Public Defender in Maine

 

Now that LD 1433, a proposed bill to create an Office of Public Defenders in Maine, is dead, where is the state of Maine with regard to defending those who are too poor to afford an attorney? LD 1433 was a deeply flawed bill, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a large problem to overcome.

In today’s video founding Partner Merritt Heminway talks about the current state of affairs.

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Here is a transcript of today’s video:

The Latest on an Office of Public Defender in Maine

LD 1433 the governor’s bill that allegedly sought to create an office of public defender received an awful lot of opposition from members of the criminal defense bar, and because the bill really didn’t create an office of public defender, it created a contract system.

The judiciary committee of the Maine State Legislature voted unanimously for the bill not to pass. It appeared that the bill was dead at that moment. The bill has not come out of committee with a favorable ruling at all and we assume at this point that the bill is probably dead.

So, that idea of sort of rejiggering the entire process of how we provide indigent defense is on the back burner for now, or at least the legislature is not taking it up in any new form that we’ve seen.

An interesting side note is after LD 1433 was voted not to pass by the judiciary committee, Governor LePage decided that he would attempt to veto all funding for all indigent defense in the State of Maine. It turns out that technically he couldn’t veto, that that money had already been allocated and had already passed with his signature.

So, it was a little bit frustrating in that the governor seemed to striking back at those opponents of his bill to create an office of public defender by, it felt a little vindictive that perhaps he was attacking funding of political opponents. That veto had no real effect and our funding remains secure for now. This remains an ongoing political battle in Agosto and it’s an important battle to have.

It’s important that people continue to talk openly about what it actually means to represent criminal defendants who are too poor to afford their own attorney, because it really is one of the critical bed rock principles of our criminal justice system. Making sure that we do the best job we can representing those folks, it keeps our system and our institutions and our laws strong.

Regarding indigent defense in the State of Maine where are we now? We are where we have been for a number of years. That’s we continue to have a commission of indigent legal services that reviews attorney credentials and pays attorneys for representing the poor.
It continues to be a system that is underfunded, it continues to be a system that is stumbling along on the backs of individual attorneys and it really means that individual attorneys many of whom are solo practitioners are subsidizing the State of Maine’s constitutional responsibility to provide counsel.

Its imperfect, it’s frustrating and the glimmer of hope we had that governor’s bill and the legislature would prompt a radical re-figuring of it, seems to have disappeared for now. So, we’re back to where we started, an imperfect system that is just sort of limping along.

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