LePage nominates his legal counsel for district court judge

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 20, 2012, at 2:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage nominated eleven people to be judges in Maine’s court system Monday, two of whom be first-time judges in the District Court system.

One of the new appointees is Daniel Billings, who since January 2011 has served as LePage’s chief legal counsel. The governor’s nomination of Billings isn’t without precedent. Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci also nominated their counsel to the state court. The other new appointee is John Lucy, a lawyer from Orono.

LePage renominated Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justices Donald Alexander and Warren Silver; Superior Court Justices Jeffrey Hjelm, Thomas Humphrey, Thomas Warren and Joyce Wheeler; active retired Superior Court Justice Carl Bradford; and District Court Judges Keith Powers and Kevin Stitham. Billings and Lucy are being nominated to serve as District Court judges.

Sen. Douglas Hastings III, R-Oxford, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, the committee’s ranking minority member, both said Billings would bring ample experience to the judgeship and neither took issue with the fact that Billings is employed in the LePage administration.

“Many of our judges are appointed out of government positions, working for the attorney general’s office, or the like,” said Hastings. “My impression of [Billings] is that he’s an excellent lawyer. He has the experience that you need in order to be a district court judge. He’s been a good advocate for the governor and I’ve always appreciated that he’s always been a good advocate for the judicial branch as a separate branch of government.”

Priest agreed and said his only disappointments are that LePage’s office would lose a valuable voice if Billings is appointed to the District Courts. Priest also said he bemoans the loss of Judge Ralph Tucker, who according to a press release from LePage is retiring.

“I think [Billings] would be an excellent judge,” said Priest. “He’s smart and before our committee, he’s been very reasonable. He’s been a force for good. I think he’s been a steadying force for the governor.”

Janet Mills, a former member of the Judiciary Committee who served as Maine’s attorney general for two years, said two governors before LePage also successfully nominated their legal counsels for the bench. Baldacci nominated Patrick Ende and King nominated Wayne Douglas. Both are still District Court judges.

“It’s not unheard of at all,” said Mills, who now works in the private sector. “[Billings] is a pretty good lawyer. He has the proper practical experience.”

According to a press release from LePage, many of Monday’s appointees have long histories of serving the court system:

• Justice Alexander has been a judge since 1978 and was promoted to the Superior Court bench in 1980. In 1998, he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court after nominations by Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci.

• Justice Silver has been a member of the Law Court since 2005.

• Justice Hjelm was appointed a district court judge in 1992 and became a Superior Court justice in 1998.

• Justice Humphrey, who has been chief justice of the Superior Court since 2004, was appointed to the district court in 1993 and moved to the Superior Court in 1998.

• Justice Warren has served the Superior Court since 1998.

• Justice Wheeler joined the joined the state’s Administrative Court in 1994 and became a District Court judge in 1999. She moved to the Superior Court system in 2005.

• Justice Bradford served the Superior Court system from 1981 through 1998, when he became an active retired justice.

• Judge Powers has served the District Court system since 1998.

• Judge Stitham was served the District Court bench since 1998.

• Billings, a resident of Bowdoinham, has served as LePage’s chief legal counsel since January 2011. Before that, he was a partner at Marden, Dubord, Bernier and Stevens in Waterville, where he focused on civil litigation and criminal defense. Billings, a graduate of the University of Southern Maine and University of Maine School of Law, where he graduated second in his class, also has been involved with Republican causes, including a stint as the Maine Republican Party’s legal counsel and as a member of LePage’s transition team. He was also a member of the Bowdoinham Board of Selectmen in recent years.

• Lucy, a resident of Orono, is a partner at Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger in Bangor, where he has practiced since 1990. He is a graduate of the University of Maine and the University of Maine School of Law in 1990. Lucy, who has lived in Maine since 1969, was a member of the UMaine football team and is a member of several law-related organizations. According to the law firm’s website, Lucy has experience in civil litigation and trial work in several levels of state and federal court, including the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The vacancies proposed to be filled by Billings and Lucy were created by the retirements of District Court Judges Jessie Gunther and Ralph Tucker. Judicial nominees must be reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary and confirmed by the full Senate. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold confirmation hearings on Sept. 4 and 5 and the Senate is scheduled to take up the nomination on Sept. 6.

“As governor, I have been impressed with the high-quality work of the judicial branch,” said LePage in a press release. “My decision to re-nominate nine current judges reflects the fact that Maine people are being served well in our courts. I am confident that my two new nominees will live up to the high standards we expect from Maine judges.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/08/20/politics/lepage-nominates-his-legal-counsel-for-district-court-judge/ printed on September 23, 2014