Public defender system to more than double budget request

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 5:57 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s public defender system wants to more than double its budget to better represent people who can’t afford an attorney.

The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services voted to recommend a $62.1 million budget next year. The proposal would open four public defender offices in the state and raise the hourly fee from $80 to $150 for court-appointed lawyers.

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 but the number of lawyers willing to take court-appointed cases has declined in recent years.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is suing the state, contending there’s a failure to train, supervise and adequately fund a system to ensure the constitutional right to effective counsel.

The budget request, which will be considered by lawmakers, comes against a backdrop of states grappling with public defender systems across the country.