State officials and lawyers with the ACLU of Maine will start discussing next week a potential settlement to a lawsuit that alleges Maine provides ineffective legal services to low-income people who need a lawyer at the state’s expense.
Four settlement meetings between the Maine Attorney General’s Office and ACLU of Maine are scheduled for Wednesday through Nov. 7 to potentially resolve a class action filed in March 2022 that alleges Maine does not adequately train, pay or supervise lawyers for the state’s poor. Similar cases in other states brought by the ACLU have taken multiple years to resolve and a settlement could put an early end to costly litigation.
“I’m thrilled to sit down with the ACLU and hash out ways we can continue to improve our program,” said Justin Andrus, executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, which is being sued.
Maine is being sued by potentially thousands of men and women who were charged with a crime and appointed a defense lawyer at the state’s expense. Court-appointed lawyers are supposed to be trained and supervised by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, but the ACLU alleges the state has not implemented rules, trained lawyers or compensated attorneys properly, which has denied or creates an “unreasonable risk ” that defendants will be denied their constitutional right to counsel.
Maine is the only state that employs no public defenders and instead exclusively on private attorneys to defend the state’s poor against criminal charges and other legal matters. Defendants were assigned lawyers with histories of professional misconduct or who didn’t meet the state’s low standards to be eligible to work on serious cases, investigations by The Maine Monitor and