Chief justice: Budget woes hurt courts

Posted Jan. 26, 2010, at 4:16 p.m.
(BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)



CAPTION



Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. Image made on Tuesday, May 19, 2009. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
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(BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. Image made on Tuesday, May 19, 2009. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s chief justice hopes to improve courthouse security by screening for weapons on more days that courts are in session as more security positions are filled.

In her State of the Judiciary address Tuesday, Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told lawmakers that there’s been an emphasis on filling court security positions despite budget cuts that have left 30 to 40 judicial system vacancies unfilled. That has helped to ease the amount of time that screening equipment is idle, she said.

Saufley said she hopes to improve courthouse security by screening for weapons on 25 percent of the days that courts are in session, a big improvement from the days when screening occurred only 5 percent of the time because of a shortage of security officers.

Overall, the state’s legal system remains “precarious” because of budget reductions that have indefinitely delayed the filling of some jobs, led to reduced hours of operation for courthouses and lengthened the wait for justice, particularly in the growing civil docket, Saufley said.

“That is the bad news, plain and simple. We do not have sufficient people to keep up with all of the work that justice demands. Daily, we feel public frustration mounting,” Saufley said.

One of the bright spots, in terms of stretching state dollars, is an ongoing effort to consolidate operations where possible across the state’s 16 counties.

So far, 26 separate clerks offices have been consolidated into 13, and there are efforts to consolidate dockets in district and superior courts, Saufley said.

In January 2009, the first consolidated criminal docket underwent a trial run in Cumberland County, and it was deemed a success by law enforcement, victims and defense lawyers, Saufley said. This month, a unified docket was launched in Penobscot County, Saufley said.

Another area of success, she said, was consolidating courthouses that were close to each other, leading to several courts under one roof in Houlton and Bangor.

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