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Courts and Crime

Legislature approves bill to create a public defender's office to represent low-income clients

Indigent Defense
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this Wednesday, May 31, 2017, file photo, a court-appointed "lawyer of the day" explains a legal implication to a person charged with a crime at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Maine.

The Legislature gave final approval on Monday to a bill that would create a small public defender's office to represent low-income clients.

Maine is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the state is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to adequately represent criminal defendants who can't afford their own attorneys. And the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services has warned that not enough private attorneys are willing to participate in the program. So lawmakers approved spending $1.2 million to hire five full-time attorneys to serve as public defenders in rural areas of the state.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Janet Mills' desk.