Bill aims to provide access to legal counsel for lower-income Mainers

Democratic Representative Charles Skold introduced the bill. “Financial resources should not be a barrier to accessing justice,” he said.

MAINE, USA — Legal representation can be a heavy burden for low-income Mainers, but one Maine representative aims to change that.

Rep. Charles Skold (D) of Portland introduced a bill that would help low and moderate-income Mainers to attain legal counsel regardless of their financial capability to pay an attorney.

“Financial resources should not be a barrier to accessing justice,” Skold said.

Current Maine law requires all parties in a legal case to pay their attorney fees, regardless of who wins the case. The bill would change the law to allow people with certain income levels to recover costs associated with obtaining legal counsel “from businesses and other organizations in the state if the individual wins the case against them,” according to a news release by the Maine House Democratic Office.

Skold said the legal system is challenging to navigate, especially for low-income individuals.

“This legislation is a huge step forward in closing the justice gap and ensuring people are able to have their voice heard and exercise their rights, regardless of their financial situation,” Skold added.

A recent report by the Legal Services Corporation shows 92% of low-income Americans can’t afford an attorney and usually have inadequate or no representation in their legal challenges.

The Maine ACLU, Southern Maine Workers’ Center, Maine Employment Lawyers Association, Southern Maine Labor Council, and Maine Center for Economic Policy and Disability Rights Maine all submitted testimony to support the proposed legislation.

In testimony, Donald Fontaine, former executive director for Pine Tree Legal supports the bill, “because so few low-to moderate-income litigants have access to a lawyer, we need not just one, but diverse solutions to the access-to-justice crisis that affected so many individuals in Maine.”

Former Maine District Judge Patrick Ende said: “This is the first time, since the late 80s, that I’ve had some hope that Maine’s legal access gap may finally be reduced.”

According to the news release, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee plans to hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

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