BANGOR, Maine — The candidates for Penobscot County probate judge were born a half century apart, studied law in different states but expressed similar reasons this week for wanting to hold the part-time job.
Allan Woodcock Jr., 90, of Bangor is seeking re-election. He has served continuously as probate judge since 1963. He is a Republican. Mandi Odier-Fink, a 40-year-old attorney who lives and practices in Bangor, is his opponent. She is a Democrat.
While voters in Penobscot County also will elect a district attorney, registrar of deeds, registrar of probate and sheriff, probate judge is the only contested race. Probate judges are the only elected judges in Maine. The probate courts handle adoptions, wills, guardianships, estates and name changes.
The position paid $36,130 per year in 2010, according to the county administrator’s office. Penobscot County’s Probate Court is located on the first floor of the historic Penobscot County Courthouse on Hammond Street.
To run for Probate Court judge, candidates must live in the county they are running in and be an attorney in good standing with the Maine Overseers of the Bar.
“This really is the people’s court,” Woodcock said Wednesday. “I have always found the work enormously satisfying. I feel very privileged to come down here every morning.”
The judge said that his health is good and he wants to keep working. Until about seven years ago, Woodcock had a private law practice while serving as probate judge, he said.
Odier-Fink, who has never run for public office before, said Wednesday that Woodcock’s age was just one factor voters should consider when deciding for whom to cast their ballots.
Unlike elections for other offices such as governor or the Legislature, Maine’s judicial code of conduct limits the kind of things candidates for judgeships can say about their opponents, she said.
Odier-Fink said Wednesday that her work in District Court and her experience of handling a guardianship for her grandmother in Indiana have made her aware of the difficult and emotional issues handled in Probate Court.
“I have a good understanding of the law and the issues facing people who come before the court,” she said.
The main reason Odier-Fink decided to run, she said, was out of concern for the reversal rate in the probate court.
In a guest column published in the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 15, Odier-Fink said: “The Penobscot County Probate Court has been reversed on appeal more than any other Probate Court in the state. Since 2004, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has overturned that Probate Court’s decisions on appeal 40 percent of the time. To put that statistic in perspective, nine of our 16 county Probate Courts have not had a single decision overturned in that same time frame.”
Woodcock said Wednesday that during the time frame his opponent cited, he issued more than 1,000 decisions The state’s high court ruled on 14 of them, or, an average of two per year. Eight of them were upheld, including one case that was dismissed, four were reversed, and two were affirmed in part and revered in part, the judge said.
In a guest column published in the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 25, Douglas M. Smith, a retired attorney who served as probate judge in Piscataquis County for 27 years, compared the appellate record of the Penobscot County Probate Court to York County’s Probate Court.
“York County is comparable to Penobscot County in population, so its Probate Court provides a fair comparison with the Penobscot County Probate Court,” wrote Smith, of Dover-Foxcroft wrote, adding: “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.”
Woodcock was born and raised in Bangor. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick and law school at Boston School. He has seven children and 17 grandchildren.
Odier-Fink was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind. She graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. She and her husband, Eric Fink, moved to Maine seven years ago.