BELFAST, Maine — Ronald Hofland, who held a Stockton Springs elementary school fifth-grade class hostage last Halloween, has received court approval to act as his own lawyer in the case.
Hofland’s attempt to have the judge on the case step down was denied.
Hofland, 56, of Searsport, who was indicted on 22 counts of kidnapping, 12 counts of criminal restraint with a dangerous weapon, six counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and one count of burglary for the Oct. 31 incident at Stockton Springs Elementary School, was in Waldo County Superior Court on Friday to argue a series of motions surrounding the case.
Although Hofland succeeded in persuading Justice Jeffrey Hjelm to allow him to act as “lead attorney” in the case, he failed in his attempt to get Hjelm to recuse himself from handling the proceedings.
At the time he entered the school armed with a handgun, Hofland had been on the run from police for a week after allegedly brandishing a gun at a Searsport police officer during a traffic stop. At the school, Hofland attempted to pull two boys into a locker room but was thwarted by a bus driver. He then entered a fifth-grade classroom, ordered the teacher from the room and went to the corner where 11 pupils were huddled. A few minutes later he handed the gun to one of the children, walked out of the classroom and was captured. Nobody was injured.
Hofland has been in jail on $1 million bail since his arrest.
In his motion for recusal, Hofland claimed Hjelm had a conflict of interest because both his wife and brother-in-law work for the Attorney General’s Office. He also claimed that Hjelm hampered his defense when he ruled against having a court reporter record the grand jury testimony of police officers.
Hjelm said that while both family members were lawyers for the state, he rarely had contact with their respective divisions. He added that the kidnapping case would be tried by the Waldo County district attorney, not the Attorney General’s Office.
Hofland has civil suits on file against the Department of Corrections in both state and federal courts dealing with conditions at the jails where he has been held since the incident in Stockton Springs. In his motion to disqualify Hjelm, Hofland argued that the connection between the judge’s family members represented a conflict of interest.
“There is no information to warrant a disqualification,” Hjelm told Hofland.
As to the matter of recording grand jury testimony given by law enforcement officers, Hofland claimed that federal law protects officers from perjuring themselves on the stand but not before the grand jury. Hofland had asked that the testimony be recorded because he believed the officers involved would be untruthful.
“I made it clear that lies were told, and in particular there were lies told by law enforcement,” Hofland said.
In denying the motion, Justice Hjelm said because the law enforcement officers would be testifying in court their statements before the grand jury did not need to be recorded.
Hofland has a history of acting as his own attorney on matters both in Maine, in other states and “all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he told Hjelm. Hofland said he had the legal knowledge to serve as lead attorney.
“I hold the role as lead council, which means I have the duty and the power to control how my defense is run,” Hofland said. “This is what the Constitution provides for. I’m not just asking; I’m demanding.”
Hofland said he also wanted to use the services of Ellsworth attorney Jeffrey Toothaker, whom he initially hired but later fired because he would not do what Hofland demanded, the defendant told the judge. He said that while he would oversee the case, he still wanted to rely on Toothaker for some assistance.
“I’m certainly not stupid enough to ignore good advice,” Hofland said.
Toothaker told Justice Hjelm he was content to serve as Hofland’s adviser. Toothaker said his many meetings with Hofland and reviews of his various letters and court filings convinced him that Hofland could handle his own defense.
“He’s very bright, he’s very articulate,” Toothaker said.
Following the arguments by Hofland and Toothaker, Justice Hjelm said he was “satisfied” that Hofland was aware of the “danger of self-representation” and that “Mr. Hofland made the decision in a knowing and voluntary manner.”