Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Lawyers Who Were Ineligible to Handle Serious Criminal Charges Were Given Thousands of These Cases Anyway

with 4 comments

The US increasingly seems like a shoddy country. Example. And another example: “In the only state with no public defenders, people charged with murder and other serious crimes can get assigned attorneys who are legally ineligible to take on their cases. The state claims it was unaware.”

That’s the blurb for a report in ProPublica by Samantha Hogan, The Maine Monitor, and Agnel Philip, ProPublica, which begins:

Soon after receiving his license to practice law in Maine in May 2015, Jeremiah McIntosh, 36, began a new career as a small-town lawyer in the northeast corner of the state’s rural Aroostook County.

McIntosh advertised online that he had spent almost a dozen years working as a civilian employee for the Defense Department. Now, he quickly fell back into life in his hometown. He volunteered for the town planning board, helped the library register as a nonprofit and opened a rural law office in the small, close-knit community of Washburn, where fewer than 2,000 people live.

Among McIntosh’s clients were poor residents of the county who had been accused of crimes. Unique among states, Maine has no public defenders. Instead, private lawyers like McIntosh contract with the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, to represent impoverished defendants in criminal cases and other legal matters.

The agency is supposed to screen attorneys to make sure they have enough legal and trial experience to represent their clients, especially those charged with violent felonies or complex criminal matters. Under the agency’s rules, McIntosh, as a new lawyer, lacked the required years of experience to handle dozens of cases in which he served as counsel.

In an interview, McIntosh said he felt qualified to work on the cases even though state rules said he wasn’t eligible to take them. At a certain point, McIntosh gained the appropriate amount of experience to apply to MCILS to work on more complex criminal cases, but he never did.

“If you look at the amount of trials and other experience I’ve had, then am I the most experienced up here? No. Am I brand new? No,” said McIntosh, now six years into his career. “Do I have the experience to handle these cases? Sure.”

McIntosh was one of scores of attorneys in Maine who represented clients when they did not have the training or experience required by state rules, according to an investigation by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica based on state records, court files and interviews. The news organizations identified at least 2,000 case assignments — ranging from murder cases to children charged with felonies — that had been handed off to ineligible lawyers over a period of five years.

This means more than 1 of every 8 case assignments that required specialized representation was given to an attorney who was supposed to be ineligible to serve, the analysis found. In some cases, the attorney lacked experience and could not have qualified to represent clients under state rules. In other cases, they had the necessary expertise, but they failed to apply to MCILS to represent defendants facing serious charges.

Maine’s top judges and court clerks claim they were unaware of the problem until contacted by the news organizations.

“That shouldn’t have happened. Period,” said Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Mullen, who oversees Maine’s trial courts.

No single person or agency is responsible for enforcing Maine’s court appointment rules. MCILS, judges, clerks and individual lawyers all play a role in making sure that a private attorney has met the requirements before representing a defendant.

To work on serious cases, such as drunk driving or domestic violence, an attorney must have at least a year of legal experience and have represented people in two trials and hearings. As the severity of the crime climbs, lawyers need additional trials and experience. The executive director can grant waivers for either requirement.

MCILS’s standards for attorney qualifications are . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2021 at 4:34 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I’ve been noticing that sentiment — “Why can’t we do anything right as a country anymore?” — increasingly trending over the past year or two. (Obviously, America’s catastrophic failure in handling COVID has played a part in that.) In any case, this all reminds me of a blog post by Claire Berlinski, a right-leaning writer who, like David Frum, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, and others, has grown wary (to put in lightly) of the shape of the American right following Trump’s rise. The post is here: https://claireberlinski.substack.com/p/incompetence-and-doomsday

    I suspect you’ll disagree with the claim this is a “bipartisan” failure, at least in terms of where the blame primarily resides, but she — or, more specifically, the ideas by Philip Zelikow she references — brings up some good points.

    (Here’s a separate link to the essay she references throughout the post: https://tnsr.org/2019/09/to-regain-policy-competence-the-software-of-american-public-problem-solving/ )

    Damon

    25 February 2021 at 3:14 pm

  2. Extremely interesting essay, and I think she’s absolutely correct that the problem is the degradation of competence, which affects not only government but (quite obviously) the private sector as well — she offers the example of the collapse of the housing market under the weight of subprime mortgages and credit default swaps — esoteric software — but there’s also the collapse of General Motors in the very specific hardware of making automobiles that people want to buy (and more recently the collapse of the Texas power grid).

    I blame hypercapitalism to a great degree: the drive to maximize profit regardless of the consequences leads to shoddy planning and workmanship and planning (in order to cut costs) and considering only the very near future (the next fiscal quarter, for example). And government is affected as corporations and many on the right work to cut back taxes to the point the government is underfunded and cannot do its job, so that the FAA asks airplane manufacturers to do inspections for them, the USDA asks meat producers to inspect their own products, and the IRS is so understaffed that it cannot collect the taxes owed and indeed cannot even detect how many are underpaying taxes (because of having to cut out random audits, which provide that information by statistical extrapolation).

    And I agree that the US does a poor job of education people for a role in public service, which stems in part from the zeitgeist in which entrepreneurship is viewed as the route to riches, the only worthy goal. And Iwould say education is also failing to educate Americans on how to be critical consumers of public services and demand higher standards from their politicians.

    I’ll blog that essay soon so that more may see it. Thanks for pointing it out.

    LeisureGuy

    25 February 2021 at 4:04 pm

  3. Here’s a good example of hypercapitalism crippling competence.

    LeisureGuy

    25 February 2021 at 4:57 pm

  4. On the other hand, to be fair there is also this initiative.

    LeisureGuy

    26 February 2021 at 9:16 am


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