Criminal Defense Attorneys in Maine Facing Cuts

Maine Governor Paul LePage appears to be working to cut funding for criminal defense attorney appointed to represent indigent client. The proposed changes would apply to payment to lawyers appointed in cases involving indigent defendants, juvenile offenders, parents facing child protective services accusations who are unable to pay for their own attorneys, and potential wards of the state. 

In the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment requires states to provide legal counsel for defendants who are unable to afford competent legal representation.

LePage’s proposal would change the current system in which criminal lawyers submit vouchers to the state once a case has been resolved in order to be compensated. Currently, in Somerset County, a legal group is contracted for appointment to all indigent defense cases. The contract pays the group $272,250 per year, not including homicides.

Somerset County courts saw 2,521 criminal cases filed in FY2014, although not all defendants qualified for court-appointed counsel. Lepage’s proposal would create contracts for each county in the state, and an Office of the Public Defender. The measure, according to LePage’s office, is intended to achieve three objectives: better prediction and stabilization of costs of defense for indigent defendants, make a more efficient system by reducing the number of contracts with legal service providers, and ensure the quality of representation by providing training and oversight to lawyers representing defendants.

The proposal is opposed by a commission that oversees the training and payment of appointed attorneys. The commission would effectively be eliminated if the proposal were to be adopted by Maine’s legislature. Also opposed to the LePage’s proposal is the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

In a letter voicing their opposition, the association claimed there is no indication the current system is broken or that the proposal would actually save the state any money. Similarly, the proposal did not include figures showing the cost of implementing the program, or projected savings.

The Maine Prosecutors Association did not take a position on the proposal.