AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Maine is joining more than 40 other states with independent panels to provide legal services to the poor.

Gov. John Baldacci gathered with the bill’s supporters in his office Monday to mark enactment of the bill, which took effect upon his signature June 17.

Under Maine’s previous law, the Judicial Branch paid out money for legal services for people who could not afford them. The state spends more than $10 million a year for such services.

That system created the appearance of a conflict of interest by putting judges in the position of ruling on compensation and expenses for only one side in court cases.

The new law places those decisions in the hands of an independent, five-member commission, which oversees other legal defense issues as well.

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