Maine defense lawyer charged with criminal OUI by grand jury

Suzanne Dwyer-Jones routinely defends indigent clients in court. The agency overseeing representation of the poor plans to suspend her.
An illustration of four overworked attorneys, as well as an inmate locked in a jail cell.
Illustration by Chloe Cushman for ProPublica.

A Maine agency that oversees court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants will suspend an attorney who was indicted on charges that she allegedly drove under the influence and violated restrictions on her drivers license that she not drink alcohol and operate a car.

A grand jury indictment filed in York County Superior Court earlier this week charges attorney Suzanne Dwyer-Jones, 58, with Criminal Operating Under the Influence, a felony, stemming from a police stop on May 10, 2021 that led to her arrest. She paid bail and returned to work as a lawyer for the state’s poor.

A grand jury indictment is not a finding of guilt, but rather that there is enough evidence for prosecutors to move forward with criminal charges.

Dwyer-Jones routinely represents criminal defendants on behalf of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, which is responsible for overseeing lawyers appointed by the court to defend adults and juveniles who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. 

Dwyer-Jones will be suspended and no longer eligible to work on commission cases starting on Monday, Executive Director Justin Andrus wrote in a suspension letter on Friday. 

Dwyer-Jones may continue to work on cases that have already been assigned to her, if she proposes a plan to safeguard her clients in the next week. Otherwise she will be told to withdraw from all appointed cases, according to the letter.

Andrus said what happens next “depends on the decisions she makes in response” to his letter.

Dwyer-Jones has been charged with driving under the influence at least four other times and been convicted twice of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in the last decade. A judge suspended her law license in 2013. Within days of being reinstated to practice law in 2015, she was given a job defending Maine’s poor.

MCILS suspended Dwyer-Jones and banned her from representing defendants on the state’s behalf on May 20, 2021 for failing to report her arrest to MCILS. She was reinstated on Jan. 4 because no criminal charges had been filed. Since then, she was eligible to represent indigent defendants in felony, drug offense, domestic violence, driving under the influence and misdemeanor cases, records show.

Dwyer-Jones did not return a call requesting comment on Friday. A man who answered the phone said she rented space at his office and he was not aware of the charges.

No court appearance was scheduled as of Friday. It was not immediately clear if Dwyer-Jones had a lawyer.

The Board of Overseers of the Bar that is in charge of attorney licensing in Maine said Dwyer-Jones has no grievance matters pending. The office has no comment on the indictment, said Board Clerk Melissa Littlehale.

District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck said his office does not comment on pending cases.


Samantha Hogan

Samantha Hogan focuses on government accountability projects for The Maine Monitor. She joined the newsroom as its first full-time reporter in 2019 with Report for America. Samantha was named the 2021 Maine’s Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association, and spent 2020 reporting on Maine’s court system through the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Her reporting on county jails recording and listening to attorney-client phone calls won the Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association and was also a semi-finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2023. Samantha previously worked for The Frederick News-Post and interned twice for The Washington Post.
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