Maine’s Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley has stepped down to become dean of Maine’s only law school.
Chief Justice Saufley graduated from the University of Maine School of Law (Maine Law) in 1980. She returned to the law school on Wednesday April 15.
She served as a deputy attorney general until 1990 when she was appointed to the district court - following the route of many judges who join the bench from a background as a prosecutor.
The former Chief Justice was then appointed to the Superior Court in 1993 and was picked as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997 - taking the position of Chief Justice in 2001. She has been appointed to three terms in that role, the last by Governor Paul LePage in 2016.
On their website, University of Maine's Chancellor Dannel Malloy said: “Chief Justice Saufley is nationally renowned for her accomplishments as a jurist and her commitment to public service. Next week we will have much more to say about how these attributes fit into our future plans for legal education and service in Maine.”
She has a tough job ahead. Maine resident applications to any law school dropped by nearly a third between 2011 to 2017 - and that has affected the quantity and quality of student applicants to Maine Law. That fall in the number of Maine students looking to go to law school has also led to a decline in revenue and even deeper cuts to attract good students with scholarships - which bites into the law school’s bottom line, leading to unfilled faculty positions and core first-year courses that every law student must take being taught by non-faculty tutors.
Maine Law is a tier three law school, and in the most recent ranking was 122nd nationally. It achieved tier two status for one year (100th), 2009. There are 194 law schools in the United States that are accredited by the American Bar Association, and of those 147 had a place ranking, including Maine Law. The rest (148-194) did not. In 2019 Maine Law graduated 75 law students, down from its peak of 96 in 2013 and 2014.
Chief Justice Saufley’s ability to balance a budget and improve facilities will stand her in good stead for the challenge ahead. The viability of Maine Law, which has taught around half of the state’s practicing lawyers, is at stake.
Comment: Many lawyers will not say what they really think, and after considerable thought, I will keep my opinion to myself - except to say this. Perhaps civil rights and tackling egregious state action against people charged with criminal offenses (affecting all of us) will take a higher priority in a Law Court without her on it.