Maine’s new lead public defender resigned less than two months after taking the job of representing poor Mainers in rural parts of the state.

The surprise announcement Wednesday came as the state struggles to find enough private attorneys willing to take on these cases, and advocates push for more funding for the system.

Until late last year, Maine was the only state that didn’t employ traditional public defenders. The attorney who resigned, Seth Levy, had been hired as one of the first five on the state’s payroll.

Justin Andrus, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, said Levy left his role as the agency’s new district defender on Friday.

Levy confirmed in a voicemail Wednesday night that he had resigned. He has experience defending indigent clients, dating to before MCILS launched its rural defenders unit last year.

Levy did not return a message later Wednesday night seeking more information on his departure. Andrus and MCILS Deputy Director Eleanor Maciag did not respond to phone and email messages Wednesday seeking more information about Levy’s resignation and the names of the other defenders.


Commission members voted in an emergency meeting Wednesday to allow Andrus to take on the role and lead the newly hired public defense attorneys, for no more than six months, in addition to his existing responsibilities.

The group also agreed to allow Maciag to backfill some of Andrus’ executive director duties as needed.

Justin Andrus, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, speaks in front of Judiciary Committee at the State House on Jan. 17. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Andrus said he does not intend to take on indigent clients as their sole attorney – rather, he’ll work with the four other defenders in a supervisory role to provide any assistance they need. The role could place him back in the courthouse for hearings and jury trials.

Andrus took over MCILS in 2021 following the resignation of the agency’s first director, John Pelletier. Andrus previously ran his own law office and took on indigent cases.

“The goal is not for me to become the district defender,” Andrus told commissioners. “The goal is for us to renew our search … as soon as it’s reasonably practical to get the right person into the job.”



Maine lawmakers and the governor authorized MCILS to hire the state’s first five public defense attorneys last year. Those attorneys began their work in December, according to an annual report from MCILS.

Lawmakers had approved the positions in April. In June, MCILS submitted job descriptions and salary proposals to the state Bureau for Human Resources, but the positions weren’t posted until later in the year, as MCILS staff defended the requested pay rates.

Gov. Janet Mills recently recommended funding 10 additional public defender positions. But MCILS has said public defenders alone will not be enough to solve Maine’s crisis.

The number of private attorneys willing to accept new cases is dropping off fast. Andrus told lawmakers last week that MCILS had 147 attorneys representing indigent clients beyond their first appearances in court, and only 62 of these were willing to accept new criminal cases. There were more than 400 attorneys accepting cases in 2020.

There are portions of the state where there are no attorneys available to take these cases.

Andrus has advocated for raising attorneys’ flat hourly pay from $80 to $150. In the governor’s latest budget proposal, she instead suggested a tiered reimbursement system depending on the type and complexity of cases.

MCILS has been pushing for a much larger budget increase that would set up a more robust public defender’s system like those in other states, with four offices and more than 40 public defense attorneys and support staff such as investigators, social workers and paralegals. Two of those offices would handle yet-to-be-tried criminal defendants in Aroostook County and a central county, likely Androscoggin or Kennebec. A third office would handle appeals, while a fourth would handle post-conviction reviews.

MCILS also has been embroiled in a lawsuit since March 2021 from the ACLU of Maine, which alleges the state is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligations to provide effective counsel to low-income Mainers.

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