AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday nominated a judge with 22 years of experience to serve on the state’s highest court and the state’s top criminal prosecutor — and mayor of Augusta — to become a Superior Court judge.
LePage announced Wednesday his nominations of Knox County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey L. Hjelm to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and Deputy Attorney General William R. Stokes to Superior Court.
Hjelm, 58, of Camden, has seen support from a range of governors from both parties during his judicial career. He was appointed to the District Court in 1992 by Republican Gov. John McKernan, nominated to the Superior Court in 1998 by independent Gov. Angus King and reappointed in 2005 by Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat. LePage re-appointed Hjelm to the same post in 2012.
Before becoming a judge, Hjelm served as an assistant attorney general on criminal cases and was in private practice for a time. A graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, Hjelm earned his law degree at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Ohio.
He declined to comment on the nomination Wednesday afternoon.
Hjelm has a reputation with criminal defense bar for being a tough sentencer. He also is believed to have rejected more plea agreements than his colleagues because he believed the recommended sentences were too lenient.
Stokes, 63, is the chief of the criminal division in the Maine Attorney General’s Office. He has served under nine attorneys general during his career. He is responsible for overseeing the prosecution of homicides, welfare fraud and financial crimes. He oversees drug prosecutions, as well as appellate and corrections attorneys. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and Suffolk University Law School in Boston.
“I hope to bring integrity, hard work and fairness to the job,” he said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “It going to be exciting for me to see the process from a different side.”
Stokes, who has served as mayor of Augusta since January 2011, also said that this was the “right time in my life and career” to go on the bench.
In addition to his years in the criminal division, Stokes also has worked in the civil division of the attorney general’s office. Stokes said that he has at one time or another represented every state agency in civil litigation.
“I have the utmost respect for and have been impressed with the high quality of the judicial branch,” LePage said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “In selecting judges, my focus is on the qualifications, demeanor and integrity of the candidates, not politics. Justice Hjelm and Deputy Attorney General Stokes reflect those priorities. I am confident that they will live up to the high standards we expect from Maine judges.”
Both nominations are subject to review by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and confirmation by the full Senate.