Governor Mills Signs Legislation to Create Public Defenders Offices in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis Counties

Governor and Legislature continue to expand availability of public defenders with signing of new legislation

Governor Janet Mills today signed legislation to create new public defender positions across three Maine counties.

The legislation, LD 653, formally renames the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services as the Maine Commission on Public Defense Services and creates 22 new positions, including 10 new public defenders across Aroostook, Penobscot, and Piscataquis counties. The bill is consistent with the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal that expanded the network of public defenders in Maine with 22 new positions.

“This legislation creates new public defender positions across communities in rural Maine and advances my commitment to improving the delivery of legal services to low-income people to ensure their Constitutional right to counsel,” said Governor Janet Mills. “The right to counsel is one that I deeply value and have personally delivered myself, having represented low-income clients many times during my own legal career. I thank the Legislature for passing this bill, which is consistent with my budget proposal, in such a timely manner.”

Under Governor Mills' leadership and in partnership with the Legislature, Maine established for the first time ever five public defender positions. The Governor and Legislature later expanded the number of public defender positions by 10 for a total of 15. With the enactment of this bill, Maine will now have a total of 25 public defenders.

The Governor also signed into law a budget that authorized Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS) to raise its hourly rate from $80 to $150 per hour for rostered attorneys, building on a previous increase in the hourly rate from $60 to $80 per hour under her Administration.

The Governor’s last budget also provided $2.6 million in ongoing funding to create six trial court judgeships to address the backlog of cases, along with nearly 40 new positions including deputy marshals and clerks to help facilitate court operations, fulfilling the Governor’s promise from her State of the Budget Address last year. The budget also provides $4 million in one-time funding to be distributed through the Civil Legal Defense Fund, which supports civil legal services in Maine.

In all, Governor Mills has increased funding for MCILS, including the creation and expansion of public defenders, from approximately $20 million per year to $45 million per year, or nearly $90 million for the biennium in total (an increase of $30 million over the previous biennium).

LD 653 passed the legislature as an emergency measure and took effect upon Governor Mills' signature.