Pluralistic: 06 Oct 2020

Today's links

Maine's drunken, thieving, bumbling, child-porning public defenders (permalink)

Maine's years under the racist, lying, corrupt governor Paul LePage (2003-11) weren't just a lost decade – they were a decade of looting and starving the state and its capacities, so that, a decade later, Maine is still a laggard, its institutions a national disgrace.

Front and center: Maine's public defender system – or rather, its lack of one. Maine is the only state in the union without a Public Defender's Office. Instead, they pay private attorneys rock-bottom prices to represent indigent Mainers facing criminal charges.

Perhaps you've heard horror stories about overworked, underresourced PDs in other states. They're true. But compared to Maine's system, even the worst PD's office in the union is a white-shoe law-firm of the sort you'd expect to find repping Trump or Epstein.

Maine's rapsheet and the evidence against it are laid out today in a devastating Propublica/Main Monitor piece by Samantha Hogan: "Maine Hires Lawyers With Criminal Records to Defend Its Poorest Residents."

Hogan reveals a system whose lawyers are child pornographers, fraudsters, sexual harassers, flashers, drunks, and felons, some of whom can't even visit their clients in jail because doing so would violate their probation.

The system came about after Maine lawmakers under LePage passed "tough-on-crime" bills that turned everyday misdemeanors into felonies, packing state courts with people facing hard time.

Simultaneously, Maine's austerity-crazed state-house choked the court's budget and put the state judicial branch in charge of a single (wildly inadequate) pot of money to pay both prosecutors AND defenders.

This system was so untenable that anything else looked good by comparison. That "anything else" is the Commission on Indigent Legal Services, run by John Pelletier, a LePage-era ideologue who insists there is nothing wrong with his Commission.

He claims the beauty of his system is that it lets poor defendants hire the same lawyer they'd get if they could afford one.

Since the Commission's founding, 161 Maine lawyers have been "disbarred, suspended or reprimanded for misconduct."

Pelletier hired a quarter of them.

Now, Pelletier might say that this system is working great. After all, his own office has produced no documentary evidence of problems with it! But perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the system has no oversight mechanism?

The state legislature understands that something is horribly wrong here – if the gross miscarriages of justice weren't sufficient evidence, then perhaps the runaway billing fraud convinced them. They told Pelletier he needed to hire eight more staffers. He hired two.

The legislature has continued to investigate Pelletier's Commission, calling him to testify to a bipartisan body. Pelletier "repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete information to the commissioners."

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of some of the defenders Pelletier has hired:

  • Peter Mason: repeatedly accused of exposing himself to female clients, pled guilty to indecent conduct (Mason is cleared to work on sex offender cases!)

  • Seth Carey: Criminally investigated for sexual assault. Disciplined by judges for "blatantly disingenous" courtroom conduct. Accused of attempting to force a female client to perform oral sex on him, offered her $1K and his car note in exchange for an NDA

(Pelletier kept Carey on despite all this, and he'd be defending indigent clients today but for the fact that his law license was suspended for three years)

  • Lawrence Winger: a self-described "pornography addict" who did time for possession of (a lot of) child pornography. Winger discovered his interest in criminal defense while serving his prison sentence.

(He is not allowed to visit some of his clients because entering a jail violates his probation; he "simply hopes" that none of his clients are rearrested after he is assigned to them)

  • Suzanne Dwyer-Jones: DUIs, previously lost her license after a judge said her addiction and mental health issues were a "substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public"

(Dwyer-Jones bailed on a client with dementia and a recent stroke who couldn't understand a restraining order requiring him to stay away from his girlfriend's house; once he switched lawyers, his charges were dismissed after he was ruled incompetent to stand trial)

In Pelletier's system, it's not just your lawyer who represents a threat to your safety: Nicholas R Moffo evaluates petitions for a publicly funded defender on behalf of the Commission.

Moffo has been previously convicted of third-degree larceny related to workplace theft.

During the police investigation of his crimes, Moffo threatened to "burn down the home and kill the family" of a colleague he was worried would talk to police; he showed his guns to another and threatened to kill anyone who "ratted" on him.

Moffo was forced to surrender his guns – more than a dozen of them! – after a "domestic incident" with his ex-, who told police she was "deathly afraid" of him.

Pelletier knows about Moffo's past: a former commission employee, Pamela Slye, told him about it.

If you are indigent and need a lawyer, Moffo is the guy who reviews your case: he gets unsupervised access to your bank details, your SSN, your phone number and your home address, and whether you live alone.

The states are sometimes called the "laboratories of democracy," where experiments in better government can be tried and evaluated. Maine's privatized, Republican, austerity-crazed, "free market" public defense experiment is an unmitigated failure.

It's past time to shut the experiment down, decontaminate the lab and put the lab's chiefs in front of a tribunal for gross misconduct and criminal negligence.

(Image: Fox/The Simpsons)

America's wild hog "pig bomb" (permalink)

America's feral hog problem has become a "pig bomb." Wild pigs have mated with escaped farm pigs bred for high rates of reproduction producing a hybrid that is growing like crazy.

Hybrid vigor is scary: these pigs are super smart, learn to avoid gunfire, switch to a nocturnal schedule if they are hunted. They harbor a multitude of human-infecting pathogens and do $2.5b/year of damage to crops and livestock and have laid waste to habitats and preserves.

They roam over a 19 mi territory, which expands when they are actively hunted. Add to that dumbasses who've imported and released wild pigs into new territories for "recreational hunting."

After several brushes with pig-based crises, Montana licked its pig problem (for now) with stiff penalties, extensive surveillance, and a high-dollar "Squeal on Pigs" tipline.

Other states – and Canadian provinces, which are seeing surging wild pig populations – are looking to Montana for guidance.

There's an estimated 9m feral hogs in the US, and their territory has expanded from 17 states 30 years ago to at least 39 states today.

Their territory is expanding at 35,000 miles/year and they've reached crisis levels in Florida, California, Georgia and Texas.

(Image: TSR/D&D;)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: multidisciplinary hymn to diversity, openness and creativity

#5yrsago Genocide, not genes: indigenous peoples’ genetic alcoholism is a racist myth

#5yrsago EU top court: NSA spying means US servers are not a fit home for Europeans’ data

#1yrago Hi-rez, open-licensed recreation of the 1968 Disneyland souvenir map

Colophon (permalink)

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