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History Being Made As York County Superior Court Readies Closure

York County Courthouse in Alfred

History will be made on Friday April 14 when York County Superior Court in Alfred closes its doors as a courthouse for the last time.

The original building was constructed in 1807, remodeled in 1852, with fire proof wings added in 1819 and 1854. But the center structure was destroyed by a fire in February 1933 - 90 years ago - and was rebuilt the following year. Additional space was added in 1963.

The facade of the existing building copies the original courthouse, with a central portico with four large white colored columns rising to a pediment at the roof line.

However, a new judicial center is currently being constructed in Biddeford, which will merge all district courts in Springvale, York, and Biddeford, and bring with it the work being done by the Superior Court in Alfred. The first to close will be the Alfred courthouse on April 14. Biddeford will follow a week later, with Springvale and York following the week after that.

From April 14 until May 15 there will be no jury trials while courts move into the new building. After May 15 jury trials will then restart. A temporary certificate of occupancy is imminent and after six weeks a final certificate would be issued after furniture is moved in. That is expected at the end of March.

Last week the chief justice of Maine's Supreme Judicial Court told members or the Maine State Bar Association that the new judicial center is being finished on time and on budget. In 2016, $65mil was allocated for the project as part of a wider appropriation for other court construction projects.

The new building will effectively be a 120,000 square foot three-story judicial multiplex with ten courtrooms handling civil and criminal cases.

The fact that courts in York County are already merged administratively for criminal cases into what is known as a unified criminal docket, the distinction is also blurred between superior court and district courts and means matters are often dealt with interdependently. For instance, some district court judges step in to handle superior court matters. As each court moves, that minimizes the disruption for criminal defendants, such as those in jail.

There are also no plans to restart in-person hearings for certain criminal hearings such as dispositional conferences - an informal chat between prosecutors and defense attorneys with judges intervening to resolve cases before motions are filed (like a defendant potentially not getting all discovery because they are unable to litiate). These conferences, which the American Bar Association rules imply are highly problematic, will still mostly be done remotely by Zoom for the foreseeable future, except for defendants without an attorney (known as pro se). That is partly because of the shortage of defense attorneys available to take new cases and the workload for those attorneys still handling court-appointments.

The high case numbers post-pandemic and the shortage of defense attorneys are issues that have been covered extensively on this blog.


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