Reply from Maine’s Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees

On March 20, 2016 we queried the Judicial Branch on whether or not they were aware of a recent letter published by the Department of Justice.The Judicial Branch responded a day later that they know but – the issues brought forth in the letter did not apply to Maine.

From: “Mary.Ann Lynch”

Sent: Mar 21, 2016 2:52 PM

To: J & M Coll

Cc: Justice Andrew Mead , “Stephen D. Nelson Esq” , “Avery Day Esq.” , Hank Fenton , Sen Burns , Beth Ashcroft , Barry Hobbins

Subject: Re: DOJ letter to State Judges re practices that run afoul of the US Constitution: 3-14-16

Dear Dr. Collins:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter regarding the recent U. S. Department of Justice March 14, 2016 letter.

First, an identical letter went to all 50 state courts. These letters were sent without regard to the state of the law in the individual states. As a result the public has been seriously misled at least with respect to the law and  fine default procedures in Maine.

Maine is not among the states or court systems that jail defendants for the non payment of a court fine. In Maine, a person will only end up in jail if:

1) they are seriously in arrears on fine payment AND they have disobeyed or ignored a court order to come to court and explain why they are in default under 17-A, Section 1304; or

2) The court finds that they have the ability to pay, and intentionally and knowingly refused to pay, otherwise known as an “unexcused default.

An unexcused default finding can only be made after a hearing in court under Section 1304.

I cannot tell you how much time Maine judges spend working with defendants who are in default of their criminal penalties. The time and resources spent working with defendants on their fines is considerable. The courts will order payment plans as low as $10/month, and permit community service, where appropriate, in lieu of fines.

Frankly, Maine judges are diligent in carrying out the laws enacted by the legislature, which sometimes include minimum mandatory fines that some defendants will have great difficulty ever paying. (Try paying a $1000.00 fine plus surcharges, if you are living on a disability or SSI income of  $800/month.) The judges use as much discretion as they are allowed by law to work with defendants to come up with individualized payment plans, and still maintain respect for the law.

It is discouraging to see the US Department of Justice paint all courts with the same broad brush that they have painted Ferguson, Missouri. One would hope that federal officials would research the facts first, before aiming a broad missive at courts which are working hard to uphold the law.

Mary Ann Lynch, Esq.

Government and Media Counsel

Administrative Office of the Courts

Maine Judicial branch

P.O. Box 4820

Portland, ME 04112

“The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government” –  George Washington

It should be noted that “unexcused default” seems to be a term only related to the State of Maine. When a search for what a legal definition of the term was done all we could find was related either to the purchase and sale of an item or Title 17.

With the first paragraph after the two line items we are told that the courts take great pains to work with consumers of Justice. While this may be true it has been witnessed just the opposite. We have numerous stories from people which contradict what the Judicial Branch are telling us.

MeGAL is a grass roots group working to educate and promote legislation to reform Family Court and Guardians ad litem (court vendors). You may get involved by emailing us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

2016-03-30 To Maine’s Judicial Branch on DOJ Letter Concerning Illegal Enforcement of Fines and Fees