Class Status Granted To Lawsuit Over Public Defender System

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A judge has granted class status for an American Civil Liberties Union of Maine lawsuit over the system that provides attorneys to those who can’t afford them.

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

It originally named five defendants. The ruling by Kennebec County Superior Justice Michaela Murphy late last week means it'll become a class action with plaintiffs numbering in the thousands in the state.

“We're extremely gratified that the case is going to move forward. The judge refused to dismiss the case. She's now certified it as a class action so we can move ahead,” said Zachary Heiden, chief counsel for the ACLU of Maine.

Maine is the only state in the nation without a public defender’s office for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Instead, 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 Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services is seeking more funding for supervision and to nearly double defense attorney fees.