AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously endorsed a 44-year-old Calais lawyer’s nomination to serve as a District Court judge in Washington County.
David J. Mitchell is expected to begin work next month if confirmed by the state Senate. He would replace retiring District Court Judge John V. Romei, who will continue to work part-time.
Gov. Paul LePage on May 22 announced Mitchell’s nomination and Romei’s nomination to serve as a part-time jurist. On Wednesday, the committee also unanimously supported Romei’s nomination.
A date for confirmation votes has not been set.
A Calais native, Mitchell has practiced law with his father, John A. Mitchell, 67, of Calais since graduating from the University of Maine School of Law in 1997.
“I returned to my hometown to practice law and to contribute to a community that served me well growing up,” Mitchell told the committee. “I would like to continue to serve the community and county albeit in a different capacity. I do believe I have the insight and temperament to be a good judge.”
Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, asked the only question of Mitchell.
“We have big concerns about the number of unrepresented clients in court,” he said. “How would you deal with them?”
Mitchell said that he often has been in court with litigants representing themselves on the other side.
“I think it’s important that the court and opposing counsel treat pro se litigants with respect,” he said. “Although it’s important that the judge not become the attorney for the pro se litigant, the court can help guide that.”
Attorneys from Washington County as well as the Maine State Bar Association, the Maine Trial Lawyers Association and the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supported Mitchell’s nomination. No one opposed it.
“I polled the Calais bar, including two [lawyers] who aspired to the position,” attorney Al Churchill of Calais told the committee. “Everyone unanimously supported David’s confirmation.
“I’ve been co-counsel with David on some very difficult cases,” Churchill continued. “He’s diligent, affable and he works hard. He’s a worthy opponent but it’s alway a pleasure to have him on the other side because you knew he’d always be straight with you. He’s been a credit to the bar and he’ll be an asset to the state for a very long time.”
Romei is retiring later this month after 21 years on the bench and more than 30 years as a lawyer, according to a previously published report. For most of those years, he was the only judge in Washington County.
He told the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren but continue to preside over cases when needed.
“I’ve felt pretty isolated for most of my career,” Romei said. “I couldn’t stay home with a cold because there was no one to replace me. My successor will be able to stay home with the flu.”
As an attorney, Mitchell has handled family, civil, probate, real estate and criminal matters as well as civil litigation, according to a previously published report. Since 2004, he served as the tribal prosecutor in the Passamaquoddy Tribal Court in both Pleasant Point and Indian Township. He also is chairman of the board of the Indigent Legal Defense Commission.
If he is confirmed, Mitchell would have to give up those duties.
Mitchell’s wife, Tammy Mitchell, and their three children, Greg, 13, Emily, 12, and Megan, 7, attended the hearing Wednesday. His father and other family members also were there.
The nominee said after the hearing the toughest part of being judge for him would be being away from his family when he is required to travel around the state for training and to fill in for colleagues.