Court official defends consolidation of clerks office in Lincoln

Posted May 03, 2010, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:01 p.m.

The Millinocket District Court clerks office will move to Lincoln’s court on July 1 as part of a state consolidation plan because the latter consistently handles many more cases, a state official said Monday.

A comparison between the criminal and civil court filings of the two District Courts show that Lincoln handled at least 270 more cases a year than Millinocket’s from 2003 to 2009, said Mary Ann Lynch, director of court information for the state Administrative Office of the Courts in Portland.

The largest gap between caseloads occurred in 2004, when Lincoln’s court handled 1,684 cases to Millinocket’s 999. The narrowest gap occurred in 2006, when Lincoln handled 1,351 cases to Millinocket’s 1,080, Lynch said.

“These numbers and ratios have been fairly consistent going back several years,” Lynch said Monday.

Millinocket’s courthouse averages about 1,058 cases annually to Lincoln’s 1,493. Those numbers, and the state’s need to cut expenses to account for budget shortfalls while at least maintaining efficiency, motivate the consolidation, Lynch said.

“In the not too distant past, we had 45 clerks of court offices. We will have consolidated 28 into 14 consolidated clerks offices. I understand that on July 1, there will be 32 clerks offices, including the 14 consolidated clerks offices,” Lynch said.

“This is a continuation. It isn’t anything unusual,” she added.

Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue expressed concerns last week 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 travel.

Lincoln’s is the courtroom closest to Millinocket’s.

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.

Conlogue and state Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, have discussed the matter and Conlogue plans to bring it up with the Millinocket Town Council at its May 13 meeting, though Conlogue expressed doubt that much can be done to prevent the consolidation.

The caseloads consist of each court’s civil, adult criminal and juvenile filings.

The state’s operating budget for criminal and civil courts is $60 million annually for 40 courthouses statewide, but that number includes $13 million for indigent legal services and guardians, Lynch said.

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