FORT KENT, Maine — Once upon a time, when Assistant District Attorney Todd Collins was a student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, he took an upper-level English class on the works of John Milton.
Thirteen years later, the fields of English and law collided back at Collins’ alma mater when he argued the state’s side of a case before Maine Supreme Judicial Court justices. The case is appealing a decision by Superior Court Justice E. Allen Hunter in which evidence seized in a drug search of a car was suppressed when Hunter found it was “objectively unreasonable for the officers to believe that [Bradley] Sargent’s generalized and unrestricted consent to search the vehicle also extended to the search of containers found within the vehicle, specifically a shaving kit left on the front passenger seat of the vehicle by Sargent.”
In his argument, which was observed by more than 800 area high school students, Collins cited Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost” and its concept of free will.
“Mr. Sargent was offered a choice when the police officer asked, ‘May I search your vehicle?’” Collins said. “It was a plain and simple question and the officer got a plain and simple answer of ‘yes,’ and Mr. Sargent did not like the way it turned out.”
Collins, a 1995 graduate of UMFK and a graduate of Fort Kent Community High School, was making his third career argument before the Law Court and later said it was something he never imagined doing back in his student days, much less at his alma mater.
“It’s just so weird,” Collins said. “When you are sitting there taking a course, the last thing you think about is coming back 13 years later and speaking before the supreme court.”
And despite his experience in state law, Collins said, he still gets nervous addressing the high court.
“I don’t know if you could see it but my hands were shaking,” he said. “I still get butterflies each time.”
Butterflies or not, Collins had at least two fans in the audience. His parents, Roland and Mae Collins, heard their son present arguments to the state’s supreme court for the first time.
“It’s just unreal and we are so proud of him,” Mae Collins said. “He did such a good job and it feels so good to be able to see what he’s accomplished.”
“He’s a good lawyer,” Roland Collins said. “He’s an honorable boy who speaks softly but his words carry the weight of reason, and I am extremely proud of my son.”
Todd Collins said he applauds the court’s initiative in taking the cases to different locations around the state.
“The court is an open process and people should go in and watch it anytime,” he said. “They often find it’s more like C-SPAN than ‘Law and Order.’”
And how did Collins do on Tuesday?
“It’s a tough case and [Todd] presented it well and he’d get an A from me,” said Sen. John Martin, one of Collins’ former UMFK professors.
“But not necessarily because I agree with him,” he quickly added.
The Law Court is scheduled to hear cases at Georges Valley High School in Thomaston today and at Fryeburg Academy on Thursday.