AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon unanimously recommended that two people nominated by the governor to be District Court judges be confirmed by the Senate.
In December, Gov. Paul LePage nominated Evert Fowle of Vassalboro and Nancy Carlson of Dixfield to fill two vacancies on the District Court bench. Fowle is the district attorney for Somerset and Kennebec counties and Carlson is a judge in the state’s Family Court.
Attorneys spoke glowingly about both nominees.
Carlson has been a family court magistrate since 1998 and before that served as director of the state Bureau of Child and Family Services and as an assistant attorney general.
As one the state’s first Family Court judges, she has handled difficult and emotional divorce and child custody cases, Carlson told the committee.
Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, an attorney, praised Carlson for her fairness and the swiftness with which she issues decisions in family matters.
“I feel it is paramount that I get decisions out within a week,” she said. “I think people can move on once they have a decision.
Carlson said she would be comfortable with the large number of people who appear in District Court without lawyers.
“Between 60 and 70 percent of the people who appear before me are not represented by attorneys,” she said. “In Family Court, we have started giving people who are there pro se brightly colored sheets that explain the process to take home with them because when people come to court they are nervous and don’t always retain what a judge tells them.”
Fowle served as assistant district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties for 17 years before becoming district attorney for both counties in 2002. He is a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and Syracuse University College of Law. In 2009 he was a finalist for the position of U.S. Attorney for Maine. President Barack Obama ultimately chose Thomas E. Delahanty II of Lewiston for the post.
“I tried to be tough on crime, but more importantly, smart on crime,” he told committee members.
He cited the creation of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court in Augusta, designed to deal with criminal defendants with mental illness and addiction problems, and the work of a task force formed to address the abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly as examples of his willingness to seek creative solutions to problems facing the criminal justice system.
Fowle said that at the start of his career, he lost a case over which now-retired District Court Judge Cortland Perry presided. The jurist asked to speak to Fowle in his chambers after the trial.
“He assured me that I had done a fine job, but that I should not be upset [at losing] because my job was not to get convictions, but to do justice,” he told the committee. “This important message has stuck with me since, and I have tried to impart it to the people who work for me. As a judge, when appropriate, this is an important message to impart.”
No one spoke in opposition to Carlson, but two men aired grievances to the committee about how Fowle’s office handled cases in which they were involved. Doug Poppa of Gardiner told the committee an assistant district attorney was unprepared when his case went before a judge.
John Bertl of North New Portland said that when his son, who was riding a motorcycle, was hit by a drunken driver who ran a stop sign, Fowle refused to prosecute the woman because his son allegedly was speeding. Bertl also said that when a friend of his family died in an accident after a logging truck driven by a Canadian flipped over, Fowle and others in his office refused to discuss the case with him because it was still under investigation.
“Somebody was killed,” Bertl, who unsuccessfully ran for the Legislature in 2010, told the committee. “You don’t flip a logging truck like that unless you are speeding. I don’t understand why manslaughter charges weren’t brought [against the driver of the logging truck].”
Former Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington said the best way to measure a judge’s effectiveness was to ask people how they feel as they leave a courtroom.
“People who leave Judge Fowle’s courtroom will not cry foul but will say that Fowle is fair,” she predicted.
Committee members also unanimously recommended that District Court Judge E. Paul Eggert of Portland be confirmed to a third term and that District Court Judge Joseph Field of Freeport be given active retired status.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on the judicial nominations.