Gov. Janet Mills intends to fill multiple vacancies on the state commission that oversees the public defense system as early as next month.
Mills has the authority to appoint nine people to a board that oversees the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, which is responsible for monitoring private defense attorneys who represent people who are charged with crimes and cannot afford to hire their own lawyer. There are three vacancies on the commission and two members’ terms have expired but they continue to serve.
“The governor believes that it is important that the commission operate with a full contingent of experienced, highly qualified individuals who can contribute to solving the serious issues that the commission is facing,” said Lindsay Crete, press secretary for the Mills administration.
Sarah Churchill, a criminal and civil defense attorney from Windham, was the first to depart the commission in late January. Churchill was nominated by Mills to serve as a District Court judge.
Churchill volunteered to defend Maine’s poor against criminal charges early in her career. In 2019, she accepted a role on the commission to try to reform MCILS and improve representation for the poor.
“Fun wouldn’t be the right word, but it has been an honor to serve and help get this system (that) I have been a part of for a very long time headed on a much better track,” Churchill said at her final meeting on Jan. 27.
The Judiciary Committee unanimously supported her nomination earlier this month, and the Senate approved her appointment Thursday. Mills is seeking recommendations from Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to fill the vacancy.
Bob LeBrasseur, the commission’s sole practicing attorney working on the behalf of indigent defendants, also left his position overseeing the state’s public defense agency.
LeBrasseur ran a law firm in Portland focused on criminal defense and was nominated by the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, or MACDL, to be appointed by the governor to the commission in 2019. A second commission seat for a practicing court-appointed lawyer was never filled by Mills. Both non-voting positions are now vacant.
LeBrasseur’s new job as a hearings examiner with the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles disqualifies him from staying on the commission in his current role.
“Ultimately, it is up to Gov. Mills and the legislature on how fast the vacancy will be filled,” LeBrasseur wrote in an email to The Maine Monitor.
Mills received lists of potential appointees from MACDL on Dec. 18, and the Maine State Bar Association for the other vacant seat on Dec. 31, Crete said. Mills is reviewing the submitted names and intends to submit her recommended appointees to the Senate for its next round of confirmations that may occur in March.
Mills is also soliciting recommendations from the Speaker of the House and the Senate President to fill two commissioner terms that have expired. The existing members will stay in those seats until they are filled.