Attorney General Sues Maine Lawyer for “Negligent Misrepresentation” on Billing

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Amy Fairfield briefed prosecutors in April 2019, the first day of Jay Mercier’s appeal of his conviction for the murder of Rita St. Peter. David Leaming / Morning Sentry

Amy Fairfield, who was at the center of a 2019 Maine Monitor investigation into her law firm’s unusually high billing, is being sued by state officials for misrepresenting hours worked by attorneys on cases in order to to obtain a higher reimbursement from the state.

As of January 2016, Fairfield & Associates has received $ 6.8 million from the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, to represent adult and juvenile defendants charged with crimes who could not afford to hire their own attorney. . Fairfield asked to withdraw from around 200 cases in July, after the commission suspended it for failing to participate in an investigation into its law firm’s billing practices, The Maine Monitor previously reported.

A civil lawsuit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court on Dec. 2 alleges his Lyman-based law firm Fairfield & Associates engaged in unjust enrichment and conversion of public funds.

The complaint also alleges that Fairfield negligently made misrepresentation to MCILS about “non-lawyer time” on cases and billed the state for their work at the lawyers’ reimbursement rate of $ 60 per day. ‘time. The work of paralegals and support staff is not covered by the MCILS, unless it is pre-approved at the discretion of the Executive Director, in accordance with agency rules.

The State alleges that Fairfield failed to exercise reasonable care in the accuracy of its law firm’s invoices and knew, or should have known, that the invoices overestimated the actual time spent by lawyers, who had worked on court-appointed cases, according to the complaint.

“This is the result of a very thorough investigation by our director,” said Josh Tardy, chairman of the commission. “We have an obligation to hold lawyers to account. We have an obligation to the defendants the commission serves and the taxpayers of Maine as a whole. “

The state’s claims are unfounded, said Ted Dilworth of Dow’s law firm in Norway on behalf of Fairfield. Dilworth said it was a conflict for the Attorney General’s office to seek information on the criminal defendants represented by Fairfield & Associates as the agency opened cases against the cabinet.

“We just think it’s the Attorney General’s office chasing her,” Dilworth said.

Unique among the states, Maine does not have public defenders and instead contracts with private attorneys to provide legal advice to people who cannot afford it. State lawmakers increased the budget and added new posts to improve the agency’s oversight this year following joint investigations by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica, which found the agency to be in financial trouble. managed and worked with lawyers who had a history of professional and criminal misconduct. .

Commissioner Mike Carey said the agency had received complaints and information forcing it to take legal action against Fairfield and his law firm.

The commission voted 5-1 on Nov. 29 in favor of the Maine attorney general’s office bringing a civil action on its behalf. Bob Cummins was the only commissioner to oppose the recommendation.

Fairfield was once Maine’s highest paid public defense attorney. She billed the state $ 275,612 in fiscal 2018 for work on court-appointed cases, which former MCILS executive director John Pelletier said he knew included the work of several people from his law firm, The Maine Monitor reported in November 2019.

Pelletier reportedly investigated Fairfield’s billing practices in 2018, but ultimately took no action against it.

“We fully cooperated at that time. We did everything John Pelletier asked, ”said Dilworth. “He found there was no problem.”

A government watch report later revealed that Pelletier did not go far enough to find out whether lawyers correctly billed the state. Pelletier resigned at the end of 2020 following close scrutiny of his post by the press and the government.

This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a non-partisan, non-profit civic information organization.


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