MACHIAS, Maine — Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court toured the Washington County courthouse Monday afternoon and said she appreciated the beauty and history of the landmark courthouse while also recognizing the need for safety and efficiency enhancements.
Last session the Legislature approved $12 million for Washington County court renovations, and on her tour Monday, Saufley saw for herself the need.
Looking at the exterior of the historic Machias building, Saufley said, “This courthouse is really the focal point of justice in Washington County. It is a gorgeous courthouse but we need it to work for today’s system.”
She said she found similar inefficiencies at Calais, where the building has been plagued with leaks.
“The courtroom is small and there are no privacy areas,” she said. “Storage of records is also a very serious problem.”
The Machias building is also not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act for handicapped accessibility.
“The technology in both places is woefully behind,” she said. “The setup of the buildings make it very difficult to make the courthouses safe for the public.”
A shared hallway leading into the tiny District Courtroom is unsatisfactory in part because victims and accused perpetrators are forced to stand together in close quarters, Saufley said. “It is very scary and we are fortunate we haven’t had a catastrophe yet.”
The courthouse houses District Court and Superior Court facilities.Saufley said her personal inspection is just the first step in the early phase of renovations. Property to the rear of the existing building in Machias is being eyed for possible purchase to accomplish an expansion.
“We are very excited. Washington County is stepping up in priority,” she said.
Another bonus of the projects is that they put local craftspeople to work, she indicated.
“Within the next two years, we will be renovating and rebuilding,” she said.
Saufley is visiting courthouses in Penobscot County this week. Next month she will visit court facilities in Somerset and Kennebec counties.
Saufley is scheduled to visit the Penobscot Tribal Court on Indian Island at 9 a.m. today with Rep. Wayne Mitchell, the Penobscot Nation’s representative in the Legislature. She will tour 3rd District Court in Newport at noon with Rep. Joshua Tardy, R-Newport.
The chief justice will meet with staff at 12th District Court in Skowhegan at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, and at Somerset County Superior Court an hour later. The chief justice will tour 7th District Court in Waterville at noon the same day with Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville. Saufley and Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, then are scheduled to tour the Kennebec County courthouse at 2 p.m.