He couldn't understand the case against him.

Timothy York has been at the Aroostook County Jail since Oct. 11 on burglary and theft charges, according to court records. At his first appearance in court that day, a judge agreed he was eligible for an attorney at the state's expense. A month later, York is still locked up and waiting for a lawyer.

York described the stress this has caused him to a Supreme Judicial Court justice Tuesday, who was considering whether York's constitutional rights to a lawyer are being violated and if he should be released from the jail.

York is one of two remaining men in Aroostook County who are named in a petition filed by two southern Maine defense attorneys in September. The petition has been amended several times, and it has included as many as eight others being held in custody longer than a week without an attorney. The woman who was first named on the case, Angelina Dube Peterson, went more than 80 days before she was appointed counsel and released on a new bail amount.

York said he has received no documents from prosecutors supporting their case against him – materials that a defense attorney would normally fight for. York can't call his own witnesses because he can only make collect calls from the jail and those are recorded and could be used against him. And he can't afford bail.

He meets with a temporary "lawyer of the day" whenever there's a hearing to reconsider his bail, but that lawyer is often responsible for several other defendants in court that day and only has a few minutes with each person.

"I don't know what's being said, what the accusations actually are, who's saying that," York told Supreme Justice Wayne Douglas on Tuesday. "I don't know anything about this case at all, whatsoever, and it's incredibly stressful."

Maine has a constitutional obligation to provide lawyers to any criminal defendant who can't afford their own legal representation.

Douglas has agreed to consider the petition and Tuesday's hearing set out to hear directly from the two remaining petitioners who still need lawyers – York and William Ofria, who has been at the Aroostook County Jail on charges of manslaughter, driving to endanger and operating under the influence since Oct. 10.

Douglas did not make a decision on Tuesday. Instead, he's allowing the attorneys to submit their arguments in writing. But he said that his decision depends not on whether York and Ofria have a right to counsel, and whether that counsel would benefit them, but whether their constitutional rights are being violated.

"We all know there aren't enough lawyers right now," Douglas said. "The question is, what does the Constitution imply. And if there is a violation, what is the remedy?"

Robert Ruffner and Rory McNamara, the attorneys who filed the petition, argued Tuesday that even going a week without a lawyer hampers a criminal defendant's ability to assemble their case and therefore violates their Sixth Amendment rights to effective legal representation.

Defense attorneys can ensure prosecutors comply with laws for sharing evidence with the defense. They can preserve evidence that prosecutors might not have and that would support someone's defense, such as surveillance footage or witness accounts. They can order mental health evaluations for their clients. They can analyze prosecutors' evidence for discrepancies, including witnesses who aren't credible or results from state labs that might not be reliable. They can talk directly with prosecutors and renegotiate charges against their clients.

Ruffner and McNamara named Aroostook County Sheriff Peter Johnson as a respondent in their petition because he oversees the jail where Ofria and York are being held. They have argued that even though it's the judge's responsibility to find an attorney for any defendants who qualify, the jails should be releasing people if those obligations are not met.

An attorney for Johnson was in court Tuesday but didn't weigh in on the arguments.

The state of Maine, which Douglas allowed to join the case as an interested party, opposed the petition Tuesday. Assistant Attorney General Sean Magenis argued that Ruffner and McNamara haven't proven any constitutional violations. Magenis has also argued that the petition should not be allowed to continue because by calling for the release of all "similarly situated" defendants, it's too broad.

Maine has an obligation to provide counsel for "critical stages" in a person's criminal case, Magenis said. That's what lawyers of the day are for.

"It's understandable that not having counsel is problematic," Magenis said. "It's not the state's position that it is anything but. The question here is, what does the Sixth Amendment require?"

Ruffner and McNamara said Tuesday they couldn't delve into the specifics of Ofria or York's case because they didn't want to hamper their defense when they do get an attorney. So instead they introduced evidence and testimony from other cases.

Mackenzie Daveau, one of Maine's first five public defense attorneys to represent criminal defendants in rural Maine, was assigned a client in late October who had been in jail for more than a month without an attorney.

The Rural Defenders Unit, the state's first public defense agency, takes over some cases when no private attorneys are available. Deveau told the judge Tuesday that most of her clients are in Aroostook County.

One of her clients, Joseph Maile, was named in Ruffner and McNamara's petition last month. He had been in jail on felony charges but less than two weeks after she was appointed, Deveau was able to renegotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge to a low-level misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, Deveau said. Maile was released on Nov. 7 on time served.

Ruffner asked Deveau if she believes she could have resolved the case had she been appointed to Maile's case during his initial appearance.

"Yes, I do," she said Tuesday.

"In a short amount of time?" Ruffner asked.


Ruffner and McNamara argued that Deveau's testimony demonstrates the importance of having an attorney in between "critical stages" in a defendant's case. Ruffner said all defendants have a constitutional right to representation at all stages of their case.

Magenis argued Maile's case had no bearing on Ofria and York's and shouldn't be considered.


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