Assistant District Attorneys Danielle Pocock, Chelsea Lynds and Joanne Lewis. Maine got $300,000 to help prosecutors take a consistent approach to domestic violence cases. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

Maine has received a $300,000 federal grant that will allow three district attorneys to review how they’ve handled domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases, and bring a consistent approach to prosecuting the cases, whose victims are primarily women and children.

The three district attorneys will use the funds to hire an additional prosecutor each to focus intensively on those cases. The funds come from a one-year grant awarded under the federal Violence Against Women Act meant to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to violence against women and enhancing services for victims.

The one-year grant can be renewed.

The three district attorneys — Maeghan Maloney, Marianne Lynch and Andrew Robinson — plan to compare practices in their districts to create a more consistent and coordinated approach statewide for handling domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

Lynch is the district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, Maloney is the chief prosecutor for Kennebec and Somerset counties, and Robinson serves Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

The impetus to apply for the grant was not an abnormal increase in domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, but a need to improve services to the victims of those crimes and ensure a consistent approach to them among prosecutors, Maloney said.

“This is a rapidly changing area of the law, and this grant will make it easier for us to keep on top of it and to implement the best practices,” Maloney said.

For example, Maloney said, one goal is to take more cases involving an alleged attempted strangulation, which makes a domestic violence assault a felony, to trial rather than to offer a plea agreement in which the charge against the alleged perpetrator is dropped to a less serious misdemeanor domestic violence assault.

The court system’s current paper filing system does not allow for statistics to be compiled, so assistant district attorneys in each district will start their work by going through five-years’ worth of cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to determine how their offices have dealt with the cases in the past, Lynch said.

In Lynch’s district alone, that means reviewing more than 2,500 cases in the designated time period, between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2019.

The prosecutors will look at how their offices handled each case, what charges were dropped in plea negotiations, how many went to trial, what sentences were imposed and how many defendants reoffended. After that review, they’ll make recommendations on handling those cases more efficiently and achieving better outcomes for defendants and victims, according to Maloney.

In Bangor, Joanne Lewis, 56, has been hired to lead that effort. She will work with Assistant District Attorneys Chelsea Lynds, 29, and Danielle Pocock, 27, while also handling other types of cases.

Lewis, who grew up on Long Island, New York, spent her legal career in Florida. She had visited Maine often over the past 30 years to spend time with her sister, Amy Lewis Faircloth, who is now the probate judge for Penobscot County.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Maine to live but this definitely was a COVID move,” Lewis said. “I was caring for my mom in Florida and Amy was here, so we decided to move. Finding this job was just the icing on the cake. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.”

Lewis was a prosecutor in Broward County, Florida, where Fort Lauderdale is located. She had a bigger caseload there than she has in Maine. She has experience prosecuting domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases.