The Maine Commission of Indigent Legal Services announced Tuesday that the state’s first public defender’s office is up and running in Augusta.

The Capital Region Public Defender’s Office officially started accepting appointments for indigent clients on Nov. 27. It is the state’s first brick-and-mortar public defender’s office.

Jim Billings, executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, at his office in Augusta in June. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The Augusta office said Andrew Dawson, Hilary Knight and Daniel Lawson have been hired as staff attorneys. Two more positions are being filled.

Frayla Tarpinian was the first lawyer hired for the office at the beginning of November. Tarpinian, who has worked in the Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney’s Office for more than a decade, will lead the Kennebec County public defender’s office.

“She’ll be in charge of the first brick-and-mortar public defender office here in Maine located in Augusta,” Jim Billings, executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, told the Kennebec Journal in October. Besides the attorneys, the office will hire two paralegals and an office manager, Billings said.

In Maine, which has been the only state in the nation without a public defender’s office, the court system has relied on appointing lawyers in private practice to represent people who cannot afford their own lawyers. Those lawyers work under the supervision of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. Because of the relatively low pay, fewer lawyers have been willing to accept such cases. While that number has recently increased, the problem has not been solved.

The MCILS is seeking funding to open six more offices by 2025, including locations in Aroostook County and Bangor in the near future. The agency also wants a Down East office, a Midcoast office, a southern Maine office for Cumberland and York counties, and another central Maine office to serve Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

Maine had been the only state in the nation that relied exclusively on private lawyers, overseen by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, until the Legislature agreed to create the state’s first public defender positions in 2022.

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