"Maine is at the forefront of addressing the legal needs of low- income Mainers," Sally Sutton, executive coordinator of JAG, said Tuesday. "But three out of four people still don't have access to legal services. The people at this meeting recognize something has to happen to change that. The question is how do we close that gap."
The state provides an attorney to low-income defendants charged in criminal cases who could face jail time. Mainers involved in civil litigation have no such constitutional right, but legal aid agencies such as Pine Tree Legal Assistance and Legal Services for the Elderly do offer free legal service to one out of four individuals and families whose incomes are at 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or below. According to information provided by JAG, about one-third of the state's residents qualify for free legal assistance, but there simply aren't enough services to meet the need.
Today, 41 percent, or $2.7 million of the $6.6 million spent annually for civil legal aid in Maine, comes from Washington, D.C. The state contributes more than $800,000, or 12 percent; court fees and fines make up about $950,000, or 14 percent; more than $1 million, or 16 percent, comes from private grants and contributions; and the rest of the funding coming from contributions from lawyers and the interest on money lawyers hold in trust for clients.
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