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Report Says More Judges And Clerks Needed In Maine Courts

Cumberland County Court in Portland

A report looking at the functioning of Maine courts recommends more judges and court clerks to deal with the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic.

The report was commissioned by the Maine Judicial Branch and conducted by the National Center for State Courts. It said judges and staff are overworked and understaffed.

The study effectively said there needed to be an additional nine judges or family law magistrates (judicial officers) and more than forty additional court clerks for the current workload when the system does not account for existing vacancies.

The need for new judges needs legislature approval.  For clerk positions, the study said the understaffing was particularly acute for larger offices. Additional clerk positions would need extra funding from the legislature. The report recommends an annual assessment of staffing need, and a five-year review of the models it used to assess caseload. These models were used to assess staffing.

A survey was also conducted of judges and clerks. For criminal cases, most district court judges (72%) felt they had sufficient time to get work done, but less than a third of superior court justices (32%) felt the same. For all cases - civil and criminal - the numbers dropped off among district court judges (36%) and superior court justices (36%) and family law magistrates (43%), and that was particularly noticeable for civil cases (51% among district court judges and 24% for superior court justices).  The report said: “[r]espondents said they could issue more, thorough, thoughtful, and timely orders with additional time…” indicating that some of this work is done at evenings and weekends.

This quote assumes that written orders are even issued to begin with. Some important decisions - such as those about the suppression of evidence for a potential constitutional violation - are delivered orally by a judge at a hearing and not even written.

Among clerks, only 14% of respondents said they had sufficient time to get their work done on a regular basis. One of the causes, according to the report, was the “ongoing understaffing of clerk’s offices throughout the state.” Tasks are also prioritized to the “most essential” while others get “neglected.” 

The number of cases is up between 55% and 60% on pre-pandemic levels - an issue covered extensively on this blog. The backlog is particularly acute for felonies, which are much more likely to go to trial. Some counties have doubled or nearly tripled in unresolved felony cases.


This report merely suggests a bigger bandage to solve a problem created by prosecutors. Lots of cases need to be dismissed. Assistant district attorneys need to get much more selective about cases they insist on litigating. It has become far too easy for prosecutors to slap fancy paperwork on awful cases, sit back, and not answer for the quality of work they decide to prosecute. Judges need to push back more and insist on - or at least strongly urge for more - dismissals. The backlog of cases is not just the problem of the courts. Defense attorneys, defendants, AND courts bear the burden.

Some cases are absolutely woeful in their pettiness. Ask any defense attorney.

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