Official urges court renovations

Posted Dec. 17, 2009, at 9:28 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Maine State Court Administrator on Thursday defended the state’s position that the renovation of the Piscataquis County Superior Courthouse is the best route with the available funds to improve the court facilities.

James “Ted” Glessner fired off a letter Thursday in response to Milo attorney Neil Hamlin’s opposition to an initial plan to renovate the Superior courthouse to combine Superior and District courts on one floor in one building.

The District Court now is located in a former private residence on the county campus next door to the Superior Court building. The county clerk operates from cramped quarters in the District Court building but relocates to an office in the Superior Court building when the higher court meets.

Hamlin advised both the Piscataquis County commissioners and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley in letters this month that he had reviewed the architect’s drawings and the only good thing he could say about them is that they combined all of the court facilities into one building as the state wanted. Otherwise, “The proposal is a patchwork job that does nothing other than produce, at best, a third-rate courthouse and a fourth- or fifth-rate Registry of Deeds,” he wrote.

Glessner noted that state officials have worked for years to secure funding to improve the Piscataquis County court facilities, which are “unsafe and inefficient.”

“We believe that the overcrowding, the lack of meeting space, and the inability to conduct even rudimentary security checks may even cause members of the community to avoid the courthouses,” Glessner wrote.

While Hamlin had suggested in his letter that the state could build a new stand-alone courthouse for less than the cost of the renovations, Glessner said a courthouse is a specialized building with far different requirements than private facilities. The design must provide separation of prisoners from the general public, provide secure holding facilities for prisoners that meet federal standards and allow parties the space they need for mediation and consultation, he explained.

State officials had hoped to build a new stand-alone courthouse years ago but the cost was too expensive, according to Glessner. When that was scrapped, officials then looked to consolidate from within having both the Superior and District Courts under one roof. The Legislature earmarked $5 million to do just that, the first time the state has invested money for the local courts in many years, he noted. Glessner believes it will cost substantially less for the renovations.

The proposed plan would have the second floor dedicated to courtrooms, judge’s chambers, the clerk’s office and conference rooms. The registry of deeds, now on the second floor, would be relocated into the current probate courtrooms and the probate courtrooms into the county commissioners office, all on the first floor. The commissioners’ office would be relocated to the current district court building.

While he recognized that the registry of deeds would be displaced by the proposed renovation, Glessner said the move would create space within the current district courthouse for county functions.

“The people of Piscataquis County deserve a courthouse that is safe, efficient and respectful of the important activities that take place there,” Glessner said. “There are numerous other courthouses in need of improvement. We have argued, and the Legislature has agreed, that the greatest need, at this time, is in Dover-Foxcroft, and we are committed to improving the situation there.”

dianabdn@myfairpoint.net

876-4579

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