Jessica Gleason, center, urges for systemic change within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on July 1, 2021 at a gathering outside of the agency's Rockland office following the death of Maddox Williams. Maddox's paternal grandmother and aunt, left, were also in attendance. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. We’re holding a listening session for politics readers on July 29. Register here. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Every turn we took seemed to reveal a new mystery and the clues we received were ambiguous and tainted by agendas,” said Sonia Kennebeck, director of a new documentary on an Indiana man who claimed he was a political prisoner in the Penobscot County Jail, alleging child pornography charges he faced were a ruse to punish him for his work with hacker group Anonymous and attempts to leak CIA documents to Wikileaks.

What we’re watching today

The Legislature is set to focus more on its long investigation of the child welfare system after the death of a boy in Waldo County. Maine’s embattled child welfare system is back in the spotlight after the death of 3-year-old Maddox Williams of Stockton Springs. Police have charged his mother, Jessica Trefethen, with murder and court records have revealed two instances in which police contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services about the boy potentially being neglected while in his father’s care.

The system has been the focus of a two-year probe by the Legislature’s watchdog committee that began shortly after the deaths of Kendall Chick in 2017 and Marissa Kennedy months later in 2018. Changes were made under both Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage, including more caseworkers in a state budget passed two years ago, but implementing them has been difficult and the COVID-19 pandemic led to more kids in state custody before a decline.

A report from the state’s child welfare ombudsman has noted lingering problems with initial investigations into child safety and assessing whether children should be reunited with parents. The Mills administration has resisted those findings, noting progress in tamping down turnover and ensuring its workers keep up with licensing and training. But a state report from January also says the department would need 42 more caseworkers to handle cases before it.

It leaves the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee with lots to consider as it dives back into the system. Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, issued a letter last week asking the panel to identify how to implement past recommendations to improve the system, while some of Maddox’s family members attended a recent Rockland protest calling for changes.

The panel will take testimony on Wednesday from ombudsman Christine Alberi, Director of the Office of Family and Child Services Todd Landry and top state homicide prosecutor Lisa Marchese, and may request a state review of child-safety policies.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Lawsuit challenges Maine’s secret court decisions in medical malpractice cases,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The lawsuit challenges only one aspect of the proceedings, arguing that in cases where the panel asks a Superior Court judge to decide on a legal issue, the decision should become a public record. It argues that the sealed opinions violate the right of public access to court documents under the First and 14th Amendments.”

— “Lawyer withdraws from nearly 200 cases after not complying with state investigation,” Samantha Hogan, Maine Monitor: “Maine is the only state that relies entirely on private attorneys to provide legal services to defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The fallout from the decision to suspend [Amy] Fairfield is the latest example of how complex it is for the state’s public defense agency, known as MCILS, to oversee the private attorneys it hires. Lawmakers are demanding enhanced auditing of payments to attorneys, but that requires law firms to be willing to participate.”

— “Cancellation of Christopher Columbus ship replica tours reversed despite tribal objections,” Lynne Fort and Bill Trotter, BDN: “Dick Campbell, a former Republican state legislator from Orrington and lead organizer of a tall ships festival put on by the Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association, said Sunday that festival organizers and officials with the replica ship, named Nao Santa Maria, decided to resume giving paid tours that morning. He said that there has been a lot of demand on Sunday by people interested in taking tours of the ship.”

The ship’s previously scheduled Bangor appearances remain canceled. Organizers initially said they “failed to appreciate the symbolic significance of bringing the replica of the Santa Maria to port.” Tribal leaders said they were “disheartened” by the use of a replica of a Christopher Columbus ship, characterizing the event as “offensive in numerous ways, as well as historically inaccurate.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...