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Cynthia Dill is a lawyer, journalist and former state senator from Cape Elizabeth.
Sybil Ludington was 16 years old when she rode horseback all night in the rain through my birthplace in Putnam County, New York on April 26, 1777 to warn the good people that the British were coming.
Riding a horse named Star, Ludington galloped through the dark streets for 40 miles whacking shuttered homes with a big stick she waved like mad to awaken brave citizen soldiers who fought and founded America.
Paul Revere gets the credit, but Ludington is my favorite American Revolutionary hero. She reminds me of my client Lynne Nash, who for years has been galloping through the halls of state government warning us of potential fraud and incompetence at the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, the disgraced state agency charged with carrying out the constitutional obligation to provide legal representation to indigent criminal defendants. Nash works at the commission as the accounting technician, a job she has performed exceptionally well for 10 years and gets paid little to do.
At work for the commission, Nash saw investigators and lawyers abuse a weak system — and worse, witnessed her supervisors ignore and enable them — costing the taxpayers millions of dollars and depriving indigent criminal defendants adequate legal representation. When Nash presented evidence to the executive director and the commission in 2017, she was threatened and forbidden to disclose to the commission (at that time) records she suspected were fraudulent because they were “confidential.”
And this was not rocket science! Several lawyers billed the state for working far more than 40 hours per work, some earning more than $250,000 a year. Numerous lawyers billed the commission for more than 24 hours in a day.
Nash waved questionable bills around like Sybil Ludington waved her stick, banging on the offices of her boss, the commission, the governor’s office, the state auditor, the state police, her union, the state controller’s office, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the state budget office.
The commission has been an epic failure since its inception in 2009 and I regret voting for it as a state legislator, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the recently released report to the Government Oversight Committee from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. This report piles on what earlier reports concluded and corroborates what Nash has been saying all along.
Thankfully, Maine now has a “new” commission, and its members are working diligently to rectify the egregious harm done by an incompetent and inept government agency that was given free range and little oversight. I am cautiously optimistic the new commission’s proposal to implement a pilot public-defender office will be successful and grateful for their service and diligence.
Let the history books reflect, however, that it was the courage and tenacity of Lynne Nash who first awoke the state of Maine to the epitome of bad governance.