AUGUSTA, Maine — A judge is considering a motion by the state to throw out a lawsuit over the system that provides attorneys to those who can’t afford them.
The class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine contends there’s a failure to train, supervise and adequately fund a system to ensure the constitutional right to effective counsel for defendants.
But an assistant attorney general told the judge Thursday that the ACLU of Maine failed to show that rights were violated.
Maine is the only state in the nation without a public defender’s office for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
The state relies on private attorneys who are reimbursed by the state. And the number of lawyers willing to take court-appointed cases has dropped from 410 in 2019 to 236 today, a decline of 41 percent, said Justin Andres, executive director of the Maine Commission for Indigent Legal Services.
The commission is seeking more funding for supervision and to nearly double defense attorney fees from $80 to $150 an hour to attract attorneys and achieve parity with prosecutors.
“We have to provide that parity. Our people need to be paid at a rate that allows them to have staff, benefits, to take a reasonable amount of time off,” Andrus said.