PORTLAND, Maine — Deering High School students got a glimpse of Maine’s high court in action Tuesday morning as the Maine Supreme Judicial Court made the first in a series of three high school visits this week.
In an effort to expose Maine teens to the judicial process, the court has scheduled to do business at Richmond High School on Thursday and at Lisbon High School on Friday after Tuesday’s stop at Deering.
“When I went to school up in Dexter, Maine, I never saw this,” state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, told the Deering auditorium crowd Tuesday morning. “I never got a chance [as a high school student] to connect the relevance of the court to our daily lives.”
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said it was a privilege to be taking arguments before the Deering students, and thanked the attorneys making Tuesday’s arguments for agreeing to meet in a setting other than the traditional court room.
“A democracy works best when the three branches of government work together, but independently,” Saufley told the students.
The first case the Portland teens took in Tuesday involved a student from across town. Fahad Ali was 18 when he was arrested for selling marijuana near Portland High School in 2008, and is asking the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a retrial on the grounds that he wasn’t adequately informed that he would be deported to Somalia as a result of his guilty plea.
The state’s high court in previous rulings has said the time and place to bring up the issue of ineffective counsel is at a sentencing review hearing, not in a motion for a new trial. Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky, which held that criminal defense attorneys must inform their clients about deportation risks that come with a guilty plea, opened a path for Ali’s case to reach the Maine Supreme Court.
Saufley and fellow Justice Donald Alexander asked Ali attorney Robert Levine why the court should grant his client, who was not present Tuesday, a retrial when the sentencing judge told him that a guilty plea would carry a risk of deportation.
Levine argued that the warning was not clear enough and did not come from the individual who was serving as Ali’s attorney at the time, meaning that his client has a case he did not receive effective assistance by his counsel in the criminal proceeding. This is grounds to throw out the conviction, Levine said.
“The suggestion that [deportation] ‘might’ happen was just wrong,” agreed Justice Jon Levy. “Is it sufficient for the judge to say ‘there’s no guarantee [Ali won’t get deported]’ when in fact it’s a certainty he’ll be deported?”
Saufley confirmed with Levine that, due to the fact that Somalia will not accept criminal deportees, Ali is currently still living free in Maine in a state of legal limbo despite the order he be deported. In reality, she posed, the sentencing judge was correct in describing deportation as an uncertainty, because Ali has not actually been deported.
After absorbing oral arguments, the seven justices filed from the auditorium for a brief recess between cases.
Justina Warren, a Deering student who took in the session, said the proceeding was educational, but difficult to follow sometimes because of references to statutes and case law being used in the arguments.
“I thought it was interesting because it was right in front of us,” agreed classmate Mercedes Vail, “but a lot of the terminology and words were difficult for a high school student to understand.”
Justices also were scheduled to hear a former Department of Transportation worker’s appeal of a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Board over disability benefits for a 2004 injury. In a third appeal, students will hear arguments over the consent agreement between the city of Westbrook, Idexx and Pike Industries Inc. concerning Pike’s operation of a quarry. Two other businesses have challenged the city’s right to enter the consent decree and called a lower court’s decision “judicial rezoning.”
Justices will consider other appeals when they convene Thursday at Richmond High School and at Lisbon High School on Friday. In addition to visiting schools, the court will hold a session Wednesday at the historic Pownalborough Courthouse in Dresden. Although rarely used for court proceedings today, the Pownalborough building was the first courthouse in the state.
Last month, the building’s 250th birthday was marked with a celebration. Construction began in the 1761 after the Kennebec Proprietors voted to build a three-story courthouse within the parade grounds of Fort Shirley, according to information on the website for the Lincoln County Historical Association.
BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.