Senate OKs state, judicial posts

Posted Aug. 25, 2010, at 10:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate approved dozens of nominations by Gov. John Baldacci to Cabinet and judicial posts as well as numerous boards and commissions, pausing for debate only briefly Wednesday on the appointment of Kurt Adams to the University of Maine System board of trustees.

Winning unanimous confirmation votes were Ellen Schneiter of Readfield as commissioner of the department that oversees state finances and taxes, and Angela Faherty as education commissioner. In addition, David Littell, who has been state environmental commissioner for five years, won confirmation for one of the three seats on the Public Utilities Commission.

Senators voted to elevate three District Court judges — Ann Murray of Bangor, MaryGay Kennedy of Brunswick and Robert Murray Jr. of Bangor — to the Superior Court bench. They replace Superior Court Justices Joseph Jabar of Waterville, Thomas E. Delahanty II of Falmouth and Robert Crowley of Portland.

Bruce Jordan, a magistrate judge of the family court in Bangor, was confirmed by senators as a District Court judge.

Jabar was appointed last year to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Delahanty left the bench last month to serve as Maine’s U.S. attorney. Crowley recently retired.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to serve the people of Maine in this new capacity as a Superior Court justice,” Robert Murray, who is a distant cousin of his colleague Ann Murray and was appointed to the bench in 2004, said Wednesday in an e-mail. “I am hopeful that the experience I have gained as a District Court judge over the past several years will serve me well in meeting the challenges and hearing the cases which are addressed in the Superior Court.”

Ann Murray, who was appointed in 1999 and has served as chief judge of the District Court since 2007, said she was “grateful for the opportunity to serve in a new judicial capacity.”

“I am looking forward to handling complex civil and criminal cases and to presiding in jury and jury-waived trials,” she said in an e-mail.

Her replacement as chief judge of the District Court has not been named, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokesman for the court system.

Jordan said he was pleased to be confirmed by the Senate.

“The challenges for a District Court judge are the very things that I look forward to in the new position,” said Jordan of Veazie. “The judge must keep current in a number of areas of the law. The caseload is substantial. Being able to cover a variety of issues and address a substantial number of cases is exciting.

“However, I will miss the in-depth involvement with individual cases which is possible in the family court,” he continued. “I also had the privilege of working with good lawyers and [Department of Health and Human Services] child support agents who were helpful in working out families’ problems.”

A family law magistrate is a quasi-judicial officer presiding over parental rights cases, paternity actions, child support matters and divorces when there are children involved. They are hired by the chief judge of the District Court, not appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. A portion of magistrate judges’ salaries is paid for with federal funds, according to a previously published report.

In which District Court Jordan will preside had not been decided Wednesday. The recent resignation of District Court Judge Bernard Staples, who presided in Ellsworth District Court for more than two decades, has left a vacancy in the busy Hancock County court.

In the Senate on Wednesday, about 75 Baldacci appointees whose names came up for final votes had been widely expected to win confirmation, given their strong votes of support from review committees. A two-thirds Senate vote is needed to override a committee recommendation, and for most nominees there wasn’t a single vote to do so.

In Adams’ case, only 10 of the 31 senators present voted to overturn a committee recommendation to confirm him for the UMaine post. The committee had voted 7-3 after questions were raised about whether he used his former position as chairman of the PUC to help the First Wind energy company, which later employed him, and was in a conflict of interest on some issues while he served on the PUC.

Adams has said he left his PUC post to avoid a potential conflict as the commission reviewed a Central Maine Power Co. plan for new transmission line routes. The lines were to go near his home in Yarmouth.

While Adams sought his attorney’s advice on avoiding any conflict of interest, some senators said he had not demonstrated that he was above even an appearance of conflict.

“His answers [to the Education Committee] were not adequate,” said Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville. Another Republican, Sen. Gerald Davis of Falmouth, said, “If this isn’t a clear conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is.”

But Democratic senators defended Adams’ integrity and record of public service. The Education Committee had seen “incredibly strong evidence of Mr. Adams’ integrity,” said Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono.

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