On Oct. 14, the Bangor Daily News carried an OpEd by Mandi-Odier-Fink titled “A Caring Court Candidacy.” Ms. Odier-Fink is running for judge of probate, the position now held by Judge Allan Woodcock Jr. She implied that Judge Woodcock was not performing his duties fully. These assertions are without foundation.
County probate judges are the only judges in Maine who are elected by the people. The Probate Court handles wills, estates, guardianships, name changes, adoptions and similar matters.
Having served as probate judge for Piscataquis County for 27 years, I know Judge Woodcock well. He is a highly competent and distinguished judge with the respect of the whole community of probate judges, lawyers and clerks.
Judge Woodcock’s opponent selectively employed statistics, distorting Judge Woodcock’s record in two ways. First, she asserted that “since 2004, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has overturned [the Penobscot County] Probate Court’s decisions on appeal 40 percent of the time.”
Second, after discussing a particular decision that was reversed, she implied that Judge Woodcock was not a caring judge. The complete facts support neither point.
Legal disputes always involve adversaries who cannot resolve their differences and who have turned to the court for a decision. No matter how well-reasoned a court decision may be, at least one party is likely to be dissatisfied with it.
Moreover, the probate courts in the more populous counties such as Penobscot County, tend to have more cases, issue more decisions and have more appeals than courts in the more rural counties. In any given year Judge Woodcock issues literally hundreds of decisions. Over the time period cited in the article — 2004 to 2010 — Judge Woodcock has issued in excess of 1,000 decisions.
The record shows from 2004 to 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine ruled on only 14 of Judge Woodcock’s decisions; that is a rate of slightly more than two appeals per year. Compared to the many decisions Judge Woodcock issued during that time frame, this is a low rate of appeal.
York County is comparable to Penobscot County in population, so its Probate Court provides a fair comparison with the Penobscot County Probate Court. That comparison shows that from 2004 to 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled on 13 appeals from the York County Probate Court, closely commensurate with the 14 appeals from the Penobscot County Probate Court.
Both courts also experienced similar results from the appeals. Of the 13 decisions issued on appeals from the York County Probate Court, nine were upheld and four were reversed; of the 14 decisions issued on appeals from the Penobscot Probate Court, eight decisions were upheld (including one that was dismissed), four were reversed, and two were affirmed in part and reserved in part. These appellate records of these two courts are virtually indistinguishable.
The full picture of the record of the Penobscot County Probate Court reveals that Judge Woodcock’s opponent selectively cited appellate data and presented an incomplete and misleading impression of his work.
Judge Woodcock’s opponent also discussed the facts of one particular decision to advance her second point — that Judge Woodcock is not a “caring” judge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judge Woodcock always has treated his office as a public trust and treated parties and their attorneys with respect. If re-elected, he would continue to do so.
Anyone seeking the public’s approval to serve as an elected judge takes on a high obligation to be scrupulously fair in his or her campaign. In this race, Judge Woodcock’s opponent presented you, the voters, with an incomplete and unfair impression of Judge Woodcock’s service. That hardly recommends her for the responsible position she seeks.
Judge Woodcock has an admirable record for professionalism and integrity. He deserves your support on Election Day.
Douglas M. Smith Esq. is a lawyer residing in Piscataquis County. He practiced law for 31 years before retiring, including 27 years as the probate judge for Piscataquis County.