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Maine To Overhaul Public Defender System Following Settlement With ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine has reached a legal settlement with the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services(MCILS) aimed at reforming the state’s indigent legal service system. The system provides legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford their own lawyers. However, advocates have criticized the current program due to staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, claiming that it fails to provide adequate legal representation, thus raising constitutional concerns.

Maine primarily relies on private attorneys who are contracted to represent low-income defendants. Although the state hired public defenders last year, understaffing remains an issue. In response to ongoing concerns, the state increased the pay rate for defense attorneys working with MCILS earlier this year.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against MCILS in 2022 on behalf of five defendants who alleged insufficient time with their state-appointed lawyers. The settlement reached on August 21, but announced recently mandates caps on caseloads to ensure attorneys have enough time for clients. It also introduces new performance standards, training protocols and evaluations to ensure attorney qualifications.

Link: WMTW


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