AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s chief legal counsel attracted support Wednesday from multiple Democrats for his nomination as a district court judge, as he pledged to lawmakers considering his judicial nomination that he’s ready to put his partisan work behind him.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee signed off on Dan Billings’ nomination as a district court judge in a 12-2 vote. His nomination next goes to the state Senate, which will consider his and dozens of other gubernatorial nominations on Thursday.
Billings addressed head-on during his confirmation hearing Wednesday conceptions that he’s a Republican lawyer.
“Someone who moves into this position has to decommission themselves from politics,” Billings told lawmakers. “I’m ready to do so. I see the 19 months I’ve worked with the governor as the culmination of my political career.”
Billings, a Bowdoinham resident and former selectman there, has served as LePage’s counsel since the governor was inaugurated in January 2011. The governor’s nomination of Billings isn’t without precedent. Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci also nominated their counsels to the state court.
Before joining the governor’s office, Billings was a partner at Marden, Dubord, Bernier and Stevens in Waterville, where he focused on civil litigation and criminal defense, but also represented the Maine Republican Party and Republican clients on a variety of matters.
“That got me in the newspaper more than my day-to-day work,” Billings said of his partisan legal work. “It really wasn’t what I did on a day-to-day basis.
“I found it rewarding to help folks who may have done something wrong to get themselves in the criminal justice system,” he added. “I think I made a difference in their lives.”
Those who spoke in support of Billings’ nomination described him as a smart lawyer who respects the process and can fairly apply the law.
“In every instance, lawyers in my office would tell me Dan was aggressive, a strong advocate for his client,” said Severin Beliveau, a partner with the firm Preti Flaherty who has been active in Democratic politics. “In every instance, he had a sense of collegiality, a sense of fairness.”
Sen. Seth Goodall, a Richmond Democrat who represents the district where Billings lives, said Billings has the skills necessary to be a good judge, including a compassionate side.
“We have always been able to come to resolution, or agree to disagree, but in a very collegial way,” Goodall said. “Dan recognizes very quickly the other side’s argument, which is very important as a lawyer and as a judge.”
State Sen. Cynthia Dill, a Cape Elizabeth Democrat who’s also a candidate for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat, asked Billings if he was prepared to give up participating in the online Republican forum As Maine Goes, where Billings frequently offers his opinion on political issues.
“My posting abilities there are done,” he said.
Participation in political dialogue is “to be encouraged,” and shouldn’t disqualify someone from being nominated to a judicial post, Billings said. “But as a judge, that needs to be put behind.”
Dill was among the 10 Judiciary Committee members to support Billings’ nomination. Rep. Bradley Moulton, R-York, and Rep. Kimberly Monaghan-Derrig, D-Cape Elizabeth, opposed it.
Billings’ confirmation hearing came a day after the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Orono lawyer John Lucy for another district court judgeship.