ELLSWORTH, Maine — For the first time since the position was created more than 30 years ago, voters in Hancock and Washington counties can expect to elect a new district attorney this fall.
Michael Povich, 66, on Tuesday made public his decision not to seek re-election to the job he has held for the past 35 years. Since Jan. 1, 1975, when the old county attorney system was replaced by the current district attorney format, Povich has served as the top prosecutor in the two-county district.
“I don’t know where the years went, but I was a swinging 31 years old when I started,” Povich, an Ellsworth resident, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s just time.”
From the time of his first election until 2002, when former Assistant District Attorney Steven Juskewitch ran against him, Povich never faced any opposition at the ballot box. The opposition he faced that year and in 2006, each time from Juskewitch, and the prospects of another contested campaign this year did not figure into his decision, Povich said. He is at the time in his life where he wants to do something else, he said.
“When do you stop?” he said. “I would never leave halfway through a term.”
Povich said the criminal justice system has changed considerably since 1975. Some of the changes have been for the better, he said, but other changes have not necessarily been improvements.
One of the obvious changes involves the players. Of the eight district attorneys in Maine who were elected in 1974, only three are still alive, Povich said. The other two besides himself, Thomas Delahanty and Joseph Jabar, are now judges.
Another big difference is how domestic violence and sexual assault cases are prosecuted, he said. Frequently, such cases either used to be dismissed because of reluctance by victims to testify, or they ended up with fines and no jail time. They are much more aggressively prosecuted today, even if convictions still can be relatively hard to come by, he said.
The development of DNA evidence also has had a significant effect on how cases are prosecuted and the technology has helped lead to some convictions, according to the prosecutor. But because of television shows such as “CSI” and “NCIS,” juror expectations of such evidence have increased.
“They want the science. Without the science, they have reasonable doubt,” Povich said. “DNA has been a two-edged sword.”
The size of his staff has changed, but for the better, he said. He started out with a full-time assistant prosecutor in Hancock County, another part-time prosecutor in Washington County and two part-time secretaries.
“Now I’ve got 21 people working for me,” he said.
He said his staff, and in particular longtime Deputy District Attorney Carletta Bassano, have helped make his tenure as district attorney effective.
“The person at the top is many times a figurehead,” Povich said. “The thing I’ll miss the most is the incredibly loyal staff I’ve had working for me.”
In recounting his career, Povich referred to many cases he has tried, not all of which ended in convictions. He said there are three successful prosecutions that stand out from the rest.
One case actually involved two convictions five years apart of Samuel A. Bunker. Bunker was convicted in 1974 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy in Ellsworth and then in 1979, after he was released, of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl in Brewer and of raping her in Bucksport.
The other memorable cases concern the burning of the former Adm. Richard Byrd lodge on Tunk Lake in the early 1980s, and Richard Burdick’s shooting of Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff McFarland in 1999. In the Byrd case, William Berkley of Massachusetts was convicted of arson in 1988 for burning down the resi-dence, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the Burdick case, McFarland was wearing a bulletproof vest and survived the shooting, which occurred when sheriff’s deputies went to arrest Burdick on a fugitive warrant at the H.O.M.E. cooperative in Orland. Burdick is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
Who will be among the candidates voters will consider in replacing Povich is not clear. The names of several people have come up in unofficial conversations with attorneys who live or work in the two-county district, but the only person to announce his candidacy so far is Don Brown, a defense attorney who grew up in Wash-ington County and now lives in Bucksport.
Brown declined to comment Tuesday about Povich’s decision not to seek re-election.
Similarly, Povich said he had no plans to endorse anyone who may run for district attorney.
Brown — like Povich, a Republican — at one point represented a former victim witness advocate in Povich’s office who sued Povich in 2002 for allegedly creating a hostile work environment by calling her names. The former employee, Tammy Denning, eventually settled the case.
Despite the negative publicity created by the lawsuit, Povich won re-election in 2006 with 55 percent of the vote.
Povich made it clear Tuesday that he doesn’t plan to go into hiding, or even to get away from politics. He said he plans to run for the same seat in the Legislature that used to be held by his brother, the late Eddie Povich.
Brian Langley, an Ellsworth Republican who holds that seat, confirmed Tuesday evening that he would not seek re-election to House District 38 so that he can run for state Senate.
Povich said he wouldn’t run against Langley if Langley were running again.
“There are a lot of things you can do if you don’t want to get paid for it,” Povich said of his post-prosecutor plans. “I knew I wasn’t the type of person who could be happy doing nothing.”