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How to survive Maine’s 2014 elections

It’s not easy being a voter these days. You’re inundated with flyers, emails and TV and radio advertisements about where candidates stand or don’t stand or will never, ever stand on issues whose complexities are belied by the emphatic and categorical statements issued almost hourly by campaigns. Who can you believe? What’s real and what’s not? Our role at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is to help citizens understand what is really going on in state government and elections. Continue Reading →

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Pah-tay with the pols

Today, we introduce our readers to “Political Party Time” — or, as our colleague Kathy Kiely from the Sunlight Foundation calls it, political “money porn.” It’s a window into how politics really work in Maine, where readers can get the inside view of the soliciting that goes on behind the virtuous image promoted by many Maine politicians. Continue Reading →

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Chief judge: Restitution “system is imperfect and we know it”

Kennebec County Courthouse, Augusta

A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting investigation has found that the state system for compensating victims of non-violent crimes is overburdened, uncoordinated and promises what it can’t deliver.

“The system is imperfect and we know it,” said Judge Charles LaVerdiere, chief judge of the Maine District Court.

He said that as a judge in Maine, he’s found that the “vast majority” of people who come to court and agree to restitution payments find out later that they don’t have the ability to pay as promised. Continue Reading →

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Crime victims have little help getting their due from the system

Justice test

For Linda Descoteaux of Saco, the last nine years have been full of calls, letters and promises from Maine courts that go unfulfilled.

When a man defrauded her of $4,000 in 2005, the York County district attorney’s office sent her a letter saying he’d pay her back part of what he stole by 2009.

“[H]e will pay you restitution in the amount of $1,500 by the 46th month of probation,” wrote York County Courthouse Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon in a letter dated September, 7, 2005.

Since then, she said she’s only received a single $110.66 check. Continue Reading →

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‘Fundamental reality’: State’s system for helping crime victims a failure

Geoffrey Rushlau, district attorney for Sagadahoc, Waldo, Lincoln and Knox counties

District attorneys from across the state are as frustrated as crime victims with the fundamental reality of the restitution system in Maine: it's broken. Maine crime victims are waiting for millions of dollars – perhaps as much as $12 million – in payments ordered by the courts from the people who stole their money, broke into their car or burglarized their home. Continue Reading →

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Veterans’ group victimized by $50k fraud — and then by justice system

Members of the York American Legion Post 56. Left to right_ Jim Fitzpatrick, Kandace Minihane, Bill Hallisey, Commander Robin Greene, Chuck Arboch, Pete Doe, and Robert Seeley

In 1977, the Maine legislature amended the state criminal code to require courts to consider ordering restitution because it can “reinforce the offender's sense of responsibility,” let him pay back his debt to society and the victim, and “ease the burden of the victim.” But 37 years later, this has long been easier said than done, with those assigned the task of collecting restitution pointing to the futility of trying to get money from poor offenders. They cite a variant of the cliché: “It’s like trying to get blood from a turnip.” Continue Reading →

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Tax law allows billions in business property taxes to be diverted from paying for local services and schools

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Put an addition on your house, and the town assessor will come around, increase the value of your house and your property taxes will go up. Get a TIF, and you, too, have to pay taxes on that new warehouse or factory – but the taxes don’t help pay for the schools, plowing and cops. Continue Reading →

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Newfound wealth allows Rep. Pingree to pay her ‘dues’ to House Democrats

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree

From 1994 to mid-2011, Chellie Pingree’s total contributions to candidates running for national office were $2,950.

But from June 2011 to last November — a period of only 17 months — the Democratic congresswoman from Maine’s first district donated $105,600 to Democratic candidates to Congress and to the party committees that funnel donations to candidates.
Continue Reading →

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