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Lawsuit over Maine's public defender system to proceed

The class-action lawsuit contends there’s a failure to train, supervise and adequately fund a system to ensure the constitutional right to effective counsel.

PORTLAND, Maine — Editor's note: The video attached to this story was published April 28, 2022. 

A lawsuit over the system that provides attorneys to those who can’t afford them is being allowed to proceed.

The class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine contends there’s a failure to train, supervise and adequately fund a system to ensure the constitutional right to effective counsel.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy late last week rejected the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Zachary Heiden, chief counsel at the ACLU of Maine, said Monday he was “thrilled” to see the case move forward.

"Maine is not meeting its duty under the Constitution to provide low-income people accused of crimes with access to quality legal representation. We are prepared to show this in court, and hold Maine accountable to its constitutional obligations," he said in a statement.

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. And the number of lawyers willing to take court-appointed cases has declined in recent years. The commission is seeking more funding for supervision and to nearly double defense attorney fees.

RELATED: ACLU of Maine sues state to encourage public defender system

RELATED: Judiciary committee votes unanimously to fund public defender office

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