AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination of Cynthia Montgomery for the Maine District Court bench.
The vote came following nearly three hours of testimony, almost all of which supported Montgomery’s nomination.
Montgomery introduced herself with the story of how she began college late, after having dropped out of high school. Starting at a community college, she eventually earned her law degree and passed the bar exam in Georgia. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she and her partner decided to move to Maine in 2002.
She said her short tenure as LePage’s legal counsel has been among the busiest and most challenging times of her professional career. She started as interim counsel but LePage eventually asked her to stay.
“I believe that it’s my duty if I’m asked to serve in that way to say ‘yes,’ and that’s what I did,” she said. “The experience has been like no other. [The governor] is no doubt a man of his own mind. His lawyer is not the boss of him.”
LePage showed up about two hours into the hearing to voice his support for Montgomery.
“To have a battle over an appointment to a judgeship, over something the governor did, I ask you please go beyond that,” said LePage. “We should not be bringing her up here to be partisan. This shouldn’t be a game. If you want to have games, you should come to me, because I’m the guy you should have games with.”
Montgomery found herself at the center of some of LePage’s more recent controversies, including last year when the governor first claimed that the Legislature had adjourned when it had taken a temporary recess, then attempted to veto a slew of bills after the statutory deadline. Montgomery argued the case before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled unanimously against the LePage administration in August 2015.
Committee members asked Montgomery about a controversy that has erupted in recent weeks regarding the hiring of attorneys by the executive branch and whether those lawyers should perform legal services. Montgomery and Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, exchanged pointed letters with each other, including one in which Montgomery wrote that the administration “does not trust Mills” or her department.
“The governor has authorized me to say that both the tone and the context of the letter I sent to the attorney general were his,” said Montgomery. “They represented what he wanted to say.”
Montgomery also fielded several questions from lawmakers on the committee about her lack of courtroom experience, especially since she moved to Maine. Montgomery said her years of work in employment cases exposed her to criminal issues ranging from domestic violence to drug and alcohol abuse. She said one of the most important roles for a judge is ensuring that defendants understand not only what is happening, but why.
“It’s critical to me that litigants understand why something happened,” said Montgomery. “The court system is really the entity that gives the citizenry confidence in the system. They carry that burden with every decision they make.”
She acknowledged that becoming a judge would be a challenge.
“There is very good training for the judges on the district court and I’ll certainly take advantage of that,” she said. “I’ll have to struggle like all the other lawyers who don’t have all the experience necessary who end up going to the bench.”
Joshua Tardy, who chairs LePage’s Judicial Selection Committee, offered high praise for Montgomery.
“Her experience, along with her excellent temperament and work ethic, will make her an excellent addition to the district court bench,” said Tardy. “She is an excellent lawyer and she is a wonderful human being.”
LePage nominated Montgomery, who lives in Palermo, to the bench in December 2015. She became the governor’s chief legal adviser in February 2015 after LePage’s prior attorney, Carlisle McLean, stepped out of the position to serve on the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
A native of Texas, Montgomery is a graduate of Georgia State University, where she received her law degree in 1994. She served as a union representative and in-house counsel for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 623, from 1989 to 1995. In private practice, she litigated discrimination actions against several urban governments and multiple national and international companies.
After relocating to Maine in 2002, she worked for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. In 2003, she accepted a position in the Bureau of Employee Relations as a labor relations specialist, where she was promoted to chief counsel by 2011.
This isn’t the first time LePage has nominated from within his office for the district court bench. In August 2012, he nominated his then-chief legal counsel Daniel Billings, whom the Legislature confirmed unanimously. Billings was elevated to the Maine Superior Court about 18 months later.
Several of Montgomery’s past co-workers came to Augusta to urge her confirmation. In addition, Mike Welch, president of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, said the association backs Montgomery.
So did Julie Armstrong, counsel for the Maine Office of Employee Relations, who worked with Montgomery for several years.
“I can honestly say I have more respect and admiration for Cindy Montgomery than I have for any other attorney I have worked for or opposed,” said Armstrong. “Cindy has great compassion for other people and she is a truly wonderful human being.”