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Chief justice applauds LePage’s plan to boost court security funding

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley gestures during her annual State of the Judiciary address, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, at the State House in Augusta.
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s chief justice on Tuesday commended Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to provide increased funding for court security in the supplemental budget for the fiscal year ahead.

The governor has proposed increasing the Judicial Branch budget by $788,312, Commissioner H. Sawin Millett Jr. of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services said during a briefing Tuesday afternoon for the Legislature.

The money, he said, will be used to increase entry screening and to detect firearms and other weapons that people sometimes try to bring into Maine’s courthouses.

In her annual State of the Judiciary speech last month, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley noted that every $120,000 added to the court budget allowed for the equivalent of screening one additional courthouse full time.

In the current fiscal year, the budget is sufficient to cover screening for only about 30 percent of all court days, according to Saufley.

“It is important for all Maine citizens to feel safe — and to be safe — when they enter the state courts,” Saufley said Tuesday. “Full-time entry screening is particularly important to the victims of domestic violence, who must come to courts to obtain protection from abuse orders.

“I applaud Governor LePage not only for recognizing this need but also for taking substantial action to make Maine’s courts safer,” she said. “I encourage the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature to approve the governor’s proposed Judicial Branch supplemental budget to help ensure that Maine courts are a safe place to resolve disputes.”

Courthouse security, along with making sure the poor have access to legal services, have been priorities for Saufley.

Though curbing domestic violence was the chief issue that Saufley tackled last month in her State of the Judiciary address, she did praise lawmakers for restoring baseline funding of $55 million a year to the courts after a series of cuts in the previous administration left 60 clerk and security jobs vacant because of a hiring freeze.

As of July 1, 2011, the start of the current fiscal year, those positions were filled, allowing for an increase in entry screening and efficiency in clerks’ offices around the state, she said.

Sen. David R. Hastings III, R-Fryeburg, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and an attorney, said after the speech that funding the court system’s baseline budget “has been crucial in providing access to justice, especially in rural areas.”

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