ETHICS, MONEY, POLITICS, TRANSPARENCY
Maine spent more than $21 million to provide free lawyers to its poor in 2018, but the state’s oversight of the spending was so lax that they paid some attorneys as if they worked more than 80 hours a week for the entire year.
A three-month investigation by Pine Tree Watch into the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services found that attorneys’ invoices are frequently incorrect, resulting in them often being overpaid for representing Maine’s poor. For nine years, the commission’s director has uncovered these inaccuracies on a daily basis, but he did not change how attorney payments are approved even as the agency’s spending nearly doubled.
Lawmakers began to question the commission’s financial oversight earlier this year after a report by the nonpartisan Sixth Amendment Center revealed that 33 attorneys could have over-charged the state $2.2 million between 2014 and 2018 by billing hours that greatly exceeded full-time work.
The highest paid attorney was Amy Fairfield, who personally billed the state $275,612 in fiscal year 2018. At the state’s flat $60-an-hour rate for court-appointed attorneys, that would mean she worked approximately 88 hours a week, excluding a small amount of expenses.
If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden.
– Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Getting Sharon Turner to sit down, even for an hour’s interview, can be hard. As a gardener and teacher, she is always on the move.
Never mind that she’s 75 years old.
Of late, she’s been juggling design consultations for clients, teaching three adult education classes, getting in a fall planting of softneck garlic and preparing to sell a raft of shrubs to Fedco Trees, a cooperative in Clinton with an annual spring sale that includes thousands of Maine-grown shrubs, trees and perennials.
Turner lives in a cabin – with no electricity or running water – at Crystal Lake Farm and Nursery, an 80-acre mix of fields and woods on a ridgeline in Washington that she manages with her son, Eli Berry. She first came to the land in 1955 when her father purchased the property, intending to run the boy’s camp that had operated there.
That plan never materialized, but the land remained in her family. When she retired from a job in Brunswick 15 years ago, she decided to spend a summer on the land while deciding her next step.
“The summer was lovely so I stayed for the fall, and that was lovely,” she recalls. “I stayed through the winter, and that was lovely. Then in spring, I planted a garden. I’ve been here ever since, and I’m still gardening.”
The Maine Trust Project
INSTALLMENT 15: INNA BEZBORODKO
In our mistrust-filled world full of political contention and both fake and devastating news, mustering the courage to have authentic conversations with people can be a challenge. Finding common ground and engaging in civil discourse about important issues facing our communities, our state, our country and our world can seem elusive, if not sadly impossible.
This concerning state of affairs prompted Pine Tree Watch to examine the concept of trust. In this series called “The Maine Trust Project,” we sit down each month with a Maine resident to discuss this precious commodity. We’ll see which people and institutions Mainers trust and how the concept of trust drives their thought processes and actions.
INSTALLMENT 14: JEAN VERMETTE
As soon as she was comfortable in her own body, Jean Vermette found happiness.
INSTALLMENT 13: DANA CHANDLER
In his line of work, trust creates community.
INSTALLMENT 12: JANE OGEMBO
From Kenya to Washington County, Jane Ogembo believes her ability to trust in the basic goodness of people allows others to feel at ease with her.
INSTALLMENT 11: KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE
Topsham resident Kathleen Swinbourne resisted doing anything with and wanted to deny her psychic abilities for most of her life – until she got an enormous sign.
INSTALLMENT 10: BOBBY BERGERON
For Bobby Bergeron, trust can depend a lot on where you live and how comfortable and confident you are with yourself.
INSTALLMENT 9: DONA EMERSON
Dona Emerson picks up hitchhikers. Most people, especially women, have been schooled in the dangers of giving strangers a ride, and Dona was no exception. “My (85-year-old) mother,” she said, “would kill me if she knew how many I’ve picked up.”
And yet, she still does it.
Why? Because Dona Emerson understands the importance of reaching out to people to create connections, and she values the role of trust in that endeavor.
INSTALLMENT 8: DEON LYONS
Deon Lyons has cancer. It’s advanced and the outlook is anything but cheery. But he’s not letting that get him down. His attitude is not surprising given one of his favorite words is “opportunity.”
“Opportunity” is a much better way of looking at what life has handed you then, say, “challenging,” which is the word most people would use to describe what he has faced over the course of his life.
Get to Know Deon Lyons
INSTALLMENT 7: AMANDA HUOTARI
When physical comedian Amanda Huotari was about 10 years old, in her hometown of South Paris, she saw an ordinary man transform himself.
You could argue that this man – the late master mime artist Tony Montanaro – was anything but ordinary. But, alone on the stage, dressed totally in white, without props, there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.
Before Amanda’s young and amazed eyes, and without uttering a word or sound, he morphed from human-ness to rooster-ness.
Get to Know Amanda Huotari
INSTALLMENT 6: JOE REAGAN
Joe Reagan was just 22, a new graduate of Norwich University (a private military academy in Vermont) and had just completed 10 months of training as a second lieutenant in the Army when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there with the 10th Mountain Division.
As a leader of a platoon of 28 men (women weren’t allowed in combat roles at the time) that scouted locations in advance of the rest of the division, he felt “extremely underqualified” for the role, he says. He was in a place that was unlike anything the Massachusetts native had experienced before.
Get to Know Joseph Reagan
INSTALLMENT 5: MYRON BEASLEY
When Myron Beasley moved to Maine 11 years ago to take a position teaching African American studies and American cultural studies at Bates College in Lewiston, he was determined to reach beyond the borders of the Bates campus to make connections with people in his new community.
As someone who has lived in and traveled to many places across the globe – Myron grew up in Israel, was schooled in Europe and the United States, and has done ethnographic field work in Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, and the United States, including here in Maine – he knows how to create community wherever he is.
Get to Know Myron M. Beasley
INSTALLMENT 4: MARIE HARNOIS
Four years ago – during the “coldest December ever” – Marie Harnois found herself doing something she couldn’t have imagined before: installing hoses to collect sap from sugar maple trees.
If you didn’t count the time as a child when she’d helped a friend’s family with their 30 buckets, Marie had not run a maple sugaring business before, and yet, here she was trying to do just that – and freezing her fingers in the process.
THE MAINE TRUST PROJECT, TRANSPARENCY
ENVIRONMENT, MONEY, POLITICS
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