Maine Judge Rushes Solution To Lack Of Public Defenders

spotlight on gavelGideon v. Wainwright cemented a person’s right to counsel in criminal matters, even if the accused cannot afford a lawyer. For years now, Maine has been struggling to enforce that right — the state is so desperate for lawyers that someone resorted to using Reddit like LinkedIn. Things looked up when they hired public defenders in 2022, but five people could only do so much statewide. While there’s no overnight solution to Maine’s lack of public defenders, a judge is rushing someone to figure out an answer. From the Associated Press:

A judge has rejected a second proposed settlement for improving Maine’s system for providing attorneys for residents who cannot afford them, and she won’t be waiting for a third try.

Justice Michaela Murphy gave the ACLU of Maine until March 8 to file a new civil complaint to include new claims as part of a two-step process. The first phase would focus on helping defendants who are currently without lawyers, while a second phase will focus on systemic changes needed to meet obligations going forward in future years.

In her decision, dated Tuesday, Murphy chided the parties for presenting her with another settlement proposal that didn’t guarantee attorneys to 393 indigent clients who currently lack them. Of those, about 100 are currently in custody in jails across the state.

A major part of the problem is the high cost of entry. Law school isn’t cheap and delving into debt so you can snag a low-paying legal job with gravitas and a backlog of people in prison who need your help is a hard ask. Also, you’d have to live in Maine! The easy long-term solution is much more robust funding. The short-term answer is a lot harder to find.

Judge Rejects Settlement Aimed At Ensuring Lawyers For Low-Income Defendants [Associated Press]

Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s.  He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at and by tweet at @WritesForRent.


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