AUGUSTA — Maine’s system for providing attorneys for people who can’t afford them lacks the safeguards to ensure adequate representation for clients and to prevent against overcharging, according to a study commissioned by the state Legislature.

Maine is the only state that relies solely on private attorneys, with no public defender’s office. Instead, attorneys are provided to the poor through the Commission on Indigent Legal Service, which has a staff of only three people. Created in 2009, it has a roster of nearly 600 attorneys.

Former Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly proposed a public defender’s office but was rebuffed.

The 118-page study by the Sixth Amendment Center, presented this week to the Judiciary Committee, concluded the current lack of oversight leaves “serious concerns” about potential overbilling, inadequate performance by some attorneys, and potential conflicts both in assigning attorneys and in the financial screening of clients.

The study took a broad view of the system and didn’t delve into the performance or billing practices of individual attorneys. But it noted that there was no way for the commission to verify hours submitted by attorneys.

“Vouchers over the past five years generated serious concerns in some instances about whether limited taxpayer resources are being used effectively,” the report said.


Rob Ruffner, an attorney involved in reform of the system, said few would find fault with the report’s findings. But he said it’s unfair to heap criticism on the understaffed commission. Some past efforts to make improvements have been rebuffed by the Legislature and the defense bar, he added.

“Given the enormity of the actual system that they’re charged with overseeing, nobody should feign surprise that they were not able to do it all,” he said Friday.

The study recommends that steps be taken to ensure rigorous attorney qualification, training, supervision and workload standards. The recommendations also call for boosting pay from $60 to $100 per hour and putting another agency in charge of financial screening of clients.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Cardone, a member of the Judiciary Committee, has submitted a bill that would implement the study’s recommendations, the Bangor Daily News reported.

“Even more than ponying up money, we’ve got to take a radical step in the way we look at these services and the quality of these services,” Cardone said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.