BELFAST, Maine — Two seasoned local attorneys are vying for the Republican nomination for Waldo County Judge of Probate, with the goal of winning the office away from the woman who has held it for eight years.
Political signs posted around the county show support for both Randy Mailloux, 59, of Belfast, and Aaron Fethke, 33, of Searsport, who are on the ballot for next Tuesday’s primary election.
But once that contest is determined, another one will heat up in advance of the November election. Signs and letters to the editor in support of current Judge of Probate Susan Longley already have begun to be posted and written, although she is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
“I feel strongly about this race. I think it’s an important race for people to pay attention to,” Fethke said Thursday. “A probate court judge has the power to take your children away, or to make decisions about your own life and finances.”
Judge of probate is a part-time county position, with a 2012 salary of $31,903. Among other responsibilities, the judge handles guardianships, conservatorships, adoptions, name changes and administration of wills from the probate court house on Spring Street in Belfast.
Mailloux, who served as the judge of probate from 1997 until 2004, said that he would bring a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience to the position.
“I’ve been practicing law for 33 years. I’ve been practicing in all the courts in the state,” he said. “I’ve argued before the Maine Supreme Court, represented hundreds of clients in probate and other family-type matters. I’ve had to tell people the good news, and break the bad news. There’s a level of experience there that’s needed at the probate court and available through me.”
He said that he was approached by a half-dozen lawyers who practice in Waldo County and asked if he would consider running for the position, which he was initially appointed to by Gov. Angus King.
“To me, it’s a matter of public service, and a way to give back to the county that’s been good to me,” Mailloux said.
Fethke has a civil and criminal law practice in Searsport, and said that if he was elected to be judge of probate, he’d make it a priority to appoint attorneys to people in a timely fashion.
“We are seeing a significant delay when people ask for an attorney who are constitutionally entitled to one,” he said.
Additionally, Fethke would continue with his private practice, as would Mailloux.
Fethke said the experience he garners as an attorney will help him as a judge.
“The laws change. Practices change. There’s a lot to learn by being in the courtroom,” he said.
Longley, who won against Mailloux in the 2004 election, is 56 and had served as a state senator prior to taking up the probate court gavel.
She said she is proud of the effective ways she has found to help Waldo County families that come in to her courtroom. Those include user-friendly forms and the option to have families get help resolving differences by introducing them to mediation.
“It’s a cost-efficient way to resolve their issues,” she said.
Longley also is proud that she has created a case-management system that helps her and her staff keep track of each client.
“We’ve computerized the office. It was no small feat,” she said.
Her office also has worked on creating a monthly co-payment system that clients actually can afford.
That system has actually saved county taxpayers $35,000, she estimates.
“I’ve given this job my head, heart and soul,” Longley said. “I don’t own it. I’ve got to run for it. I hope to be able to continue to serve the people of Waldo County.”