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Head of Maine's court-appointed attorneys agency warns legislators of "emergency" situation

Taylor Sampson
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this Monday, May 22, 2017 photo attorney Taylor Sampson addresses the judge while defending indigent citizens at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Maine. Maine is the only state in the nation without a public defender's office.

The head of the state agency that oversees Maine's system of court-appointed attorneys is calling on the Legislature to hold a special session to take up an emergency budget request aimed at bringing in more lawyers.

Justin Andrus, who heads the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, is asking for $13 million to increase the hourly reimbursement rate for participating attorneys from $80 to $150. Andrus said he hopes the additional money will encourage more attorneys to sign up to represent low-income defendants. And he told lawmakers that without the additional money, he doesn't know how many attorneys he'll have by January.

"I feel compelled to say as respectfully as I can that there is a mechanism. Ya'll could come back and do this as an emergency. Because it is an emergency," Andrus said. "I can't fix it. No philosophy of oversight, no degree of management is going get the bodies that I need."

The number of attorneys willing to take on indigent defense cases in Maine has fallen from more than 400 to just 163 during the past two-and-a-half years.