The Maine Monitor has been awarded a grant from ProPublica to continue its reporting on the unique way Maine provides legal defense to its poor citizens.
The Local Reporting Network position — one of 13 new ProPublica accountability projects awarded for 2020 — means Maine Monitor reporter Samantha Hogan will be able to focus exclusively on the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, which has been criticized in recent weeks for its irregular billing practices and inadequate legal representation of the poor.
Maine is the only state in the country that uses private attorneys — rather than a state-run public defender system — to provide the legal help that is mandated by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which in addition to a speedy and public trial, guarantees the right to counsel.
“Samantha has done a terrific job reporting on a complex story that touches on potential government waste and potential Sixth Amendment violations here in Maine,” said Dan Dinsmore, executive director of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting and editor of the Maine Monitor. “Being a part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network will allow us to continue reporting on this important story.”
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, which publishes The Maine Monitor, was founded in 2009 by two longtime Maine journalists who saw a need to provide long-form, investigative stories to Maine news outlets. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting relies on donations and grants to sustain its work, which appears on its website, themainemonitor.org and is shared with 28 media partners around the state.
ProPublica, a New York City-based nonprofit that specializes in investigative journalism, will provide editing, data and audience support, Dinsmore said. Hogan’s work will be published by ProPublica, Report for America and will be made available to the Monitor’s media partners.
“It’s heartening to see so many news organizations that want to dig into serious issues in their local communities,” ProPublica Deputy Managing Editor Charles Ornstein said. “We’re excited to give them the time, resources and support to do just that. At a time of cutbacks in our industry, we need more accountability reporting, not less.”
Hogan came to Maine in June as a Report for America 2019 corps member with a focus on education reporting. In addition to a series on charter schools, Hogan has written about a controversial appointment to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a Portland asylum seeker who has spent years stuck in the immigration system.
Although her original assignment was to write about education, Hogan soon realized there was another important story to tell.
“Constitutional rights rise to the top of things to investigate,” she said, “though, it has not been an easy story to tell.”
Hogan, 27, is a Connecticut native who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and environmental studies from American University in Washington D.C. as well as a master’s degree from American in investigative journalism. Before moving to Augusta, she spent three years at The Frederick News-Post in Maryland as an agriculture, environment and State House reporter.
Her reporting on Maine’s unique defense system expanded on the findings of a report released in April that uncovered irregular billing practices and instances of inadequate legal representation. Earlier this week, lawmakers directed the state’s watchdog agency to launch an investigation into the finances of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services.