The state plans to move Millinocket District Court’s clerks to Lincoln District Court, leaving Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue concerned that the consolidation will short his town of badly needed services.
Under a state court system consolidation plan announced Tuesday, starting July 1 the Millinocket civil and criminal clerks will work in Lincoln, said Mary Ann Lynch, director of court information for the state Administrative Office of the Courts in Portland.
The consolidation comes in the wake of budget cuts and state budget shortfalls that force state officials to leave 30 to 40 positions open statewide at any one time, State Court Administrator Ted Glessner said.
“This action is necessary in order for us to provide an acceptable level of service in the clerk’s office in the northern Penobscot County area,” Glessner said in a statement.
“In a perfect world all clerks offices would be at full staff and open to the public full time,” he added.
Conlogue is concerned that people who need court services immediately, such as abuse victims seeking civil court protective or restraining orders, might find the 30 miles from Millinocket to Lincoln too far to go.
“People are going to have to drive that much farther to access important services that the court provides here,” Conlogue said Tuesday.
“This is a situation where the availability of a court is very critical to their safety and well-being, and having this reduced is a real blow to the area.”
Lynch conceded that Conlogue had a point — but only, she said, on the three or four days that Millinocket court is not in session.
Under the plan, criminal and civil court will be held in Millinocket one or two days a week. On those days, clerks formerly there full-time will be available, Lynch said.
The move saves state court administrators from having to fill 1½ court clerk positions while improving Lincoln court service, she said.
“Fortunately, it’s not a huge, huge distance,” Lynch said of the mileage between the two towns.
She said court personnel would work with local police to see whether they can accommodate people in immediate need of emergency civil or criminal court services.
Conlogue questioned why Millinocket’s court would be closed given that “it is a very busy court.”
Lynch said that in comparing the two courthouses, Lincoln’s gets much more business and that the state still will rent the space from the town.
“The more we can do some of these consolidations, the better our services will be within the consolidated courts,” Lynch said.
Conlogue and state Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, have discussed the matter and Conlogue plans to bring it to the Millinocket Town Council at its May 13 meeting.
Conlogue expressed doubt that much can be done to prevent the consolidation.
“We are considering what alternatives or avenues we have available, and we don’t really know a firm answer to that as of now,” Conlogue said. “We do not want to see the change made.”
Located on Penobscot Avenue, the Millinocket court serves East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket and Woodville. The Lincoln court is on Main Street and serves Chester, Enfield, Howland, Lee, Lincoln, and other towns of the Lincoln Lakes region.
Lincoln Town Manager Lisa Goodwin was pleased to hear that use of the Lincoln court would increase until she learned that it meant the closure of Millinocket’s court.
“Our gain is going to hurt Millinocket, and in these economic times any blow like this hurts a town,” Goodwin said. “Put in their [Millinocket officials’] position I would feel the same way. The loss to them is a win to us, but it could easily have been reversed.”