New courthouse stirs memories of predecessor

Posted Nov. 23, 2009, at 7:56 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Michael Roberts and Steven Mogul practically grew up in the Penobscot County Courthouse. As teenagers, both men accompanied their fathers to court and then followed in their footsteps to become lawyers.

Roberts, 54, is the deputy district attorney for Penobscot County. Mogul, 51, is a member of the law firm his father founded, Gross, Minsky and Mogul in Bangor.

The Superior Court’s move from the more than 100-year-old courthouse on Hammond Street to the new Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street, which opened Monday, stirred memories for Roberts, Mogul and others who have spent thousands of hours in the historic courthouse.

“My father [David Roberts] was named to the Superior Court in 1967,” Roberts said last week in an e-mail. “I would have first visited this courthouse at about 12 years of age. I have been visiting and-or working in this courthouse since that time.”

Justice Roberts died suddenly of a heart attack in January 1999. He served on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court from 1980 until his retirement five months before his death at age 70.

Michael Roberts and Mogul were sworn in as attorneys in 1982 and 1984, respectively, in the courthouse while their fathers and other family members watched.

“My father was presiding at the swearing-in that day,” the prosecutor said. “I suppose with my college and law school loans my father did have an interest in seeing me admitted to the bar.”

Jules Mogul sponsored the admission of his son Steven to the Maine Bar.

“Of course, the memory is bittersweet now that Jules is gone,” the younger Mogul said, “but on that day there were two very proud (and very relieved) Moguls in the courtroom. Before then, growing up, I had watched my father try cases in the courthouse. After that he watched me try some cases.”

Members of the legal community in Bangor and beyond said one of the things they would miss the most about the historic courthouse is the 22-by-30-foot mural depicting the city’s logging history painted on the wall in the central staircase. It was created by Rhonda Whittaker, a University of Maine graduate, according to Bangor Daily News archives, and took nearly a year to complete.

“In the summer of 1982, after completing my second year of law school,” Steven Mogul said in an e-mail, “I was an intern with the [Penobscot County District Attorney’s] office on the third floor. … That was the summer during which that young lady, sponsored by the [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] program, was painting the stunning multi-story mural.

“I spent many lunch hours eating a sandwich on one of the benches and watching her paint,” he said. “We talked a bit, but mostly I just enjoyed watching while she enjoyed painting. That mural is the part of the courthouse I will miss most.”

Remembering the Penobscot County Courthouse

Bangor Daily News legal affairs reporter Judy Harrison e-mailed lawyers and judges asking for their memories of the Penobscot County Courthouse in light of the opening of the new Penobscot Judicial Center on Monday.

Click here to read their replies.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead had an office in the courthouse for nearly 17 years, first as a Superior Court justice and, since 2007, as a member of the state’s highest court. Mead has said he is excited about being in the new judicial center but appreciates his many years in the historic courthouse.

“I’m still amazed at the stairway mural,” Mead said last week in an e-mail. “It was done in the late 1970s by a CETA worker — a young woman who single-handedly hung all the canvas, did pencil sketches, and finally painted the wonderful montage of Maine scenes that merge into one another. I remember her harnessed to staging and attempting to work while lawyers watched and invariably attempted to engage her in conversation. It’s an amazing piece. People still stand and marvel — perhaps to distract themselves from the circumstances that brought them to court.”

Julio DeSanctis has practiced in Bangor as a criminal defense attorney for more than 30 years. He said in an e-mail that he tried many memorable cases in the historic courthouse, where all jury trials in Penobscot County were conducted.

“I was trying a case before the Honorable Robert Brown,” DeSanctis said. “The exact nature of the case, I don’t recall. Seated in the nearly empty gallery was a homeless person who frequently came in on cold days to watch proceedings and stay warm.

“During a particularly contentious cross-examination by myself,” the attorney recalled, “the homeless man yelled out, ‘He’s badgering the witness!’ at which time, with his glasses down on the end of his nose, Justice Brown responded, ‘He’s right, you know, and the objection is sustained.’ I apologized to the court and tipped my hat to the objector.”

Mead said that he has tried and failed to find photos of the old courtroom, whose ceiling was two stories high. In 1963, the second-floor courtroom was cut in half, and the third-floor courtroom was added. The original courtroom, the judge said, had an oak-paneled wall and windows and a secure “dock” for prisoners, similar to the ones in English courtrooms.

“Despite its shortcomings and inadequacies,” Mead said, “it’s a great, stately old building.”

The Penobscot County commissioners are considering how the building will be reconfigured now that the Superior Court has relocated. The mural, the commissioners have stated, will remain.

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