LEWISTON — “I love this job,“ Maine Attorney General Janet Mills told a large audience at the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills speaks at Thursday’s Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library. Her talk was titled, “A Week in the Life of a Maine Attorney General. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

As she outlined her office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, she spotlighted several hot topics in her third term. High on the list were domestic violence, illegal drug trade, homicides, child protection and fraud investigation. One by one, she put those issues in perspective with statistics that sometimes reflected improvement but often indicated critical needs.

Mills said Maine is one of only a few states in the nation that puts homicide investigation under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s Office. Of more than 20 homicides in Maine in 2014, 14 had links to domestic violence, she said. She brought the homicide statistics down to a personal level by naming eight children who lost their lives because of domestic violence.

“We must never let this happen again,” she said.

Mills also addressed Maine’s approach to investigating incidents of deadly force by law enforcement officials, whether or not it results in a death.

“This is different from any other state” when there’s a death, she said. “It’s treated like a homicide scene. We take these incidents very seriously.”

Mills pointed out that policemen and other law enforcement officers “have rights of self defense.”

She said more attention related to felony drug cases is “being focused on the I-95 pipeline.” Illegal drug trade and substance abuse often play a role in cases of child abuse, she said.

“We are seeing people who cannot take care of their kids,” Mills said.

Child abuse cases last year resulted in judgments of $1.5 million against parents.
There are about 2,000 active child protection cases in which children are under state custody, Mills said.

“Sadly, that’s increasing,” she added.

Mills described discovery of meth labs where children were present or nearby. A new law increases the severity of penalties for conviction of meth lab operation when children are around, and Mills said she hopes awareness of that aggravating factor will have a positive result.

Prenatal drug use is another area of great concern, she told the audience.

“It’s a significant challenge,” Mills said, adding that 8 percent of all live births in Maine last year showed findings of drugs affecting the babies.

The Investigation Division of the Attorney General’s Office is also involved in fraud cases, and federal funding is making it possible “to go after fraud in a big way,” the attorney general said. She reported that successful prosecution of fraud cases has returned $5 million to state coffers in the past few years.

Helpful information about veterans’ and consumer protection is now going out over social media, she told the audience. Several lawyers of the AG office staff are involved in this work, and the office is seeking volunteers for active mediation service in consumer protection matters.

Thousands of consumer protection cases are handled each year, and $500,000 has been recovered recently for the benefit of consumers.

Mills said Maine and 19 other states have worked to uncover deceptive practices after two years of “pretty hot and heavy litigation.”

In response to a question from Margaret Craven, former state senator and member of the House of Representatives from Lewiston, Mills said the increased use of opiates has to be reined in. She said about one-quarter of Maine’s population is taking prescribed opiates, and this needs to be reduced.

“We have a culture of taking pills,” she said.

Mills called for physicians to be more conservative in making opiates available, and she noted that legal drugs kept in Maine homes can make them targets for theft.

Human trafficking was the subject of a question from Barbara Trafton of Auburn. Mills said statistics are “difficult to pinpoint specifically,” but it’s often directly related to illegal drugs.

“We tend to turn a blind eye and not admit that it can happen here,” Mills said.

Legalization of marijuana needs to be studied more, she said, noting that Colorado’s experience has led to “a bundle of problems.”

Mills said, “It’s not a constitutional right.”

She also expressed concern over e-cigarettes.

“We’re back to the Joe Camel days,” she said as she noted that controls of advertising for tobacco were put in place and similar restrictions may be needed for e-cigarettes.

A final question dealt with Gov. Paul Lepage’s recent assertion of “bribery” by lawmakers.

“We could not conclude that there was a crime committed based on the facts and solely on the law,” Mills said.

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