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INDIGENT LEGAL SERVICES COMMISSION

In her January, 2008, State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley announced that she planned to appoint an Indigent Legal Services Commission under the leadership of Associate Justice Robert W. Clifford. The Commission would be made up of members from all three branches of government and would conduct a thorough review of the manner in which indigent legal services are delivered in Maine, and make recommendations for improvements in the system. Chief Justice Saufley promulgated the Indigent Legal Services Commission Charter on May 12, 2008, creating a broad Commission that included legislators, members of the Executive Branch, representatives of stakeholder organizations, and qualified individuals from the legal and business communities. The Judicial Branch was well represented on the Commission. Chaired by Justice Clifford, the Commission also included Superior Court Justices G. Arthur Brennan and Thomas E. Delahanty II, District Court Judges Peter J. Goranites and J. David Kennedy, Family Division Manager Tracie Adamson, Esq., and Criminal Process Manager John D. Pelletier, Esq., who ably served as staff for the Commission.

Despite its lack of full-time staff or any funding, the Commission completed a review of the evolution and current state of Maine’s indigent legal services system and also explored how indigent legal services are managed and funded throughout the nation. In the latter endeavor, the Commission received the assistance of Robert L. Spangenberg and the Spangenberg Group, whose participation was made possible through a collaboration between the Maine Indigent Defense Center, headed by Robert J. Ruffner, Esq., and the American Bar Association Standing Committee of Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and its Chief Counsel Georgia N. Vagenas, Esq.

The Commission presented its unanimous report to Chief Justice Saufley in February, 2009. In it, the Commission concluded that Maine’s existing system—in which individual judges appoint lawyers for indigent citizens who are constitutionally entitled to counsel at state expense and determine the compensation and resources available to such counsel—runs counter to the prevailing national consensus that the provision of indigent legal services should be independent from the judiciary. The Commission also concluded that the current system of funding indigent legal services out of the Judicial Branch budget undermines access to justice for all of Maine’s citizens. Finally, the Commission identified the need to create standards for the training and performance of attorneys who provide indigent legal services.