Judges in Maine should get a pay rise and security screening at courthouses should be fully funded, the state’s Chief Justice told legislators in Augusta.
“Maine trial judges are compensated for their work at the lowest rate in the country and far lower than their colleagues in New England,” said Leigh I. Saufley in her State of the Judiciary speech. “Now, I’m not going to tell you that Maine judges will work harder if you compensate them more fairly. They already work as hard as anyone I know. But by making that compensation more commensurate with their colleagues in every other state, you will acknowledge the importance and value of that excellent work. Even more important, your decision will tell the public that you recognize the value to this democracy of an independent system of justice.”
The salary of judges is set by statute, and has been adjusted, also by statute, for cost of living increases since 1998-99 - but to a maximum of 3%. Each judge or Supreme Judicial Court associate justice is appointed for a seven-year term.
The National Center for State Courts surveys the salaries of judicial salaries. It put Maine at the bottom of 51 jurisdictions for 2019. If funding is given for an increase, district and superior court judges would go up from $115,346 to $127,629. The salaries of the six associate justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would increase from $123,080 to $136,214. Chief Justice Saufley would get a raise from $142,298 to $157,475.
Chief Justice Saufley also asked that the salaries of legislators and the state’s governor should also be increased at the same time, recognizing (jokingly) that as a member of a separate branch of government it was “none of [her] business.”
However, she made no mention of the recommendations of the Sixth Amendment Center’s report last April that said criminal defense attorneys should also get an increase in compensation for indigent cases. The report said appointed attorneys should get $100 an hour, up from the present $60 an hour. In fact, the wider problems highlighted in the report about representation given to indigent defendants were not mentioned at all in her speech. The report came out after her previous State of the Judiciary address in February last year.
The Chief Justice also said additional funding of $1.5million was also needed to fully staff entry screening at a third of the state’s courthouses. That additional money, she said, would mean 19 additional marshalls. She said that at one courthouse marshalls found that a man about to enter was armed with two loaded firearms (one of which was cocked) and he had additional spare ammunition.
Chief Justice Saufley talked about the consolidation of courthouses over her tenure from 45 to 35 and the 'improved efficiencies' she has implemented during her time in office. These have shortened the period that civil and criminal cases are resolved, with family courts now also assigning a judge to a family for consistency.
New facilities are also planned, including a new courthouse for York county - Maine's second most populous county - in two years, with the aim that it is the first zero-emission judicial facility in the state. Digitizing of court records will begin with online access to dockets for attorneys in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties in a year, also subject to funding from the legislature. Rules are still being written about wider public access to these records. If the project gets funding, the plan is to enable text messages to be sent to criminal defendants to remind them of court dates, with an expectation it will reduce the number of bench warrants and arrests and lower expenses.
In drug courts, which are dealing with the opioid epidemic, she said participation is up, graduation is up, and rates of termination in the program are down. She also stepped into legislative territory by asking for improved housing and funding for it to help those in recovery.
In the juvenile system, detentions are also down year on year. She also said Maine detains juveniles and adults at one of the lowest rates in the country.
Chief Justice Saufley is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law in 1980, served as a deputy attorney general before being appointed as a district court judge in 1990, to the superior court in 1990, and the Supreme Judicial Court in 1997 by Governor Angus S. King. She became Chief Justice in December 2001.
Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander retires this week after 41 years on the bench, and having heard 6,591 cases in the state’s highest court.
The Chief Judge of the District Courts Susan Sparaco will retire in two months. She was appointed as a district court judge in February 2008. In her address, Chief Justice Saufley announced she will be replaced by Judge Jed J. French, nominated to the district court by Governor Paul LePage and confirmed in 2015.