Officials at the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS) have offered initial approval for an $8.8 million proposal that would create a statewide network of public defender offices, reports Samantha Hogan for the Maine Monitor. The proposed expansion would enable the hiring of more than three dozen public defenders and mostly mirror the state’s existing prosecutorial districts. The proposal comes as Maine faces a critical shortage of available criminal defense lawyers and a backlog of hundreds of cases. Until recently, Maine was the only state in the nation without state public defenders, relying instead on court-appointed lawyers contracted with MCILS whose numbers continue to dwindle. Current estimates suggest MCILS will save money in most counties by opening full-time public defender offices instead of continuing to rely on contracted private defense lawyers.