Saufley recommended for new chief justice term

Posted Feb. 19, 2009, at 10:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Chief Justice Leigh Saufley was unanimously recommended for another seven-year term as Maine’s top judge by the 11 members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee at her confirmation hearing.

“I was really nervous,” she said after the panel’s vote. “These are so important to show the public it is their judiciary and you just never know what will happen, what will be asked.”

No one spoke in opposition to the nomination with leaders of several state legal groups strongly endorsing her re-appointment as chief justice and praising her leadership of the courts.

“She has embraced her role as the face of the court and as leader of the court system,” said Terry Duddy, president of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association. “Based on the overwhelmingly positive evaluation of both our membership and leadership, and on Chief Justice Saufley’s current service, I am pleased to fully endorse her.”

And while most of those that testified were lawyers, she also drew praise from Lois Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Service, who said Saufley had long recognized the problem of domestic violence and the need for judges to handle such cases with understanding and compassion.

“She has been accessible to our interests and concerns,” she said, “and I know that we respect her views even on the occasions when we may not see issues in the same way. Maine could not do better than to keep her as its chief justice.”

In an interview, Saufley said while she was pleased with the positive comments, she sees a lot of work to do to improve Maine’s courts.

“The budget has been challenging every single year,” she said. “We are woefully behind in technology. People who are having enormous things happening to them in the court system can’t get the kind of information they ought to get online. We need to fix that.”

Saufley said the computerized criminal docketing system in Cumberland County is a first step of many that are needed to improve the use of technology by the courts. She joked that when she wants to get pizza, she goes online to find the best deal. She said in a society so oriented to the Internet, the courts need to improve their use of technology.

Saufley said even though she believes she has strongly advocated for improved court security, it is discouraging that the state has not been able to find the resources to provide adequate security.

“I really hesitated when I first spoke about court security because it was so bad,” she said. “I did not want to announce that it was open season on the courts. It is much better than it was, but we have a lot more to do.”

Saufley said she has been impressed at the number of lawmakers that have taken time on their own to visit courts and see the problems the courts have from security to staffing support.

“We have got plenty of challenges,” she said. “We have plenty to do.”

Saufley was appointed to the District Court in 1990 and was appointed to the Superior Court in 1993. She was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in October 1997. She took office as the first woman Chief Justice in December of 2001 and was reappointed to that post in 2003.

Saufley’s nomination still needs approval of the State Senate, but under the state constitution it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to overturn the recommendation of the Judiciary Committee.

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