Lawyer Pay

Law firm earned $6.8M for indigent defense since 2016, according to state's overbilling suit

  • Print

billable hours on clock

Image from Shutterstock.

A lawyer who was once the highest-paid public defense lawyer in Maine is facing a state lawsuit contending that she and her law firm misrepresented the hours that they worked on behalf of indigent defendants.

The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services alleges in a Dec. 2 lawsuit that lawyer Amy Fairfield and her law firm, Fairfield & Associates, overstated attorney hours spent on matters assigned by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. The Maine Monitor covered the suit in a story published by the Press Herald.

Since January 2016, Fairfield’s firm has received $6.8 million for indigent defense, the suit says. The commission pays attorneys $60 per hour to handle cases for indigent criminal defendants.

According to the commission’s suit, Fairfield and her firm billed nonattorney time as attorney time to receive the attorney rate. The suit seeks an accounting of amounts paid by the commission for nonattorney time. It alleges conversion, unjust enrichment and negligent misrepresentation.

Fairfield was taken off the indigent defense attorney roster in July after she failed to cooperate in an investigation of her firm’s billing practices, according to a prior story by the Maine Monitor and published by the Press Herald.

She withdrew from nearly 200 assigned cases in a motion that said requested billing records were “highly privileged.” The motion said the commission was seeking five years of case management data for all firm clients that included appointed and private cases.

The motion said Fairfield thought that she was being targeted because she and her firm “frequently takes on some of the toughest and most contentious cases that oftentimes provoke rigorous and unpopular fights against some of the highest-ranking law enforcement agencies in the state.”

Fairfield billed the state $275,612 in fiscal year 2018 for work on court-appointed indigent defense, but the amount covered time spent by other attorneys, as well, the commission’s former executive director has said.

The commission reportedly investigated Fairfield’s billing practices in 2018 but took no action. Fairfield’s lawyer, Ted Dilworth, told the Maine Monitor that the firm did everything that was asked, and no problems were found. He said the allegations in the new suit are unfounded.

According to the Maine Monitor, Maine is the only state that has no public defenders. It instead contracts with private lawyers to provide indigent defense. An investigation by the Maine Monitor, conducted with ProPublica, concluded that the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services was financially mismanaged.

Following the investigation, state legislators increased the commission’s budget and added new positions to improve oversight.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.