After 15 years of presiding over adoptions, guardianships, conservatorships, name changes, contested wills and more, Waldo County Judge of Probate Susan Longley is stepping down more than a year before her term ends.
The resignation is effective June 1.
“It feels good. It feels right. It feels like this is an opportune time,” Longley, 63, said. “I’m proud of what we all have been able to build together.”
Speaking from her chambers, where the walls are decorated with old family photos and art depicting civil rights hero Rosa Parks and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Longley said Wednesday that the time feels right to make a change.
In part, that’s because a change is happening with the Waldo County Probate Court, which will soon move from its current location in the basement of the former Waldo County District Court building. Now that District and Superior courts have been consolidated into the brand-new Waldo Judicial Center on Market Street, the probate court will move upstairs into a larger space.
As well, the Maine Legislature has enacted a new Probate Code, which will go into effect this summer.
“With this move into a new court and the new Probate Code, it’s a good time to build on what we’ve done,” Longley said. “It’s a new beginning.”
Waldo County commissioners accepted the judge’s resignation last Thursday, according to Commissioner Betty Johnson. County probate judges are the only elected judges in Maine, and Longley is a Democrat, so a replacement to complete the remainder of Longley’s term will be nominated soon by the Waldo County Democratic Committee. That person ultimately will need to be appointed by Gov. Janet Mills.
“We’re extremely proud of the work that the judge has done, and, of course, we’re going to miss her,” Johnson said. “She has set the probate system with a very good process. She brought in and really pushed for the idea of mediators, and there are some other good things that she has done that have made Waldo County top in the state for probate.”
Longley said that her retirement plans are not set in stone, but that she is looking forward to having time to relax. Still, she wants to find other ways to give back after stepping down from the court.
The urge to serve the public is something that runs in her family. Her father was former Maine Gov. James Longley and her brother is Jim Longley, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to winning her first election as Waldo County Judge of Probate, Susan Longley served in the Maine Senate from 1994 to 2002.
Going forward, she said she is thinking about teaching legal basics to Mainers, including useful information such as how to make a contract and how to make a will.
“It’s on my mind,” she said.
For the moment, though, Longley said she is just glad that she is leaving the court in a good place. Many probate judges talk about presiding over adoptions as their happiest moments in the courtroom. But the Waldo County judge has a different take on what makes the court special.
“Oh, the unsung heroes you meet. They come to Probate Court to tell their story because they are at a juncture in their lives … If they walk out feeling like they’ve had a fair shake, that’s [satisfying],” she said. “We’ve worked to create and build a family-friendly court that works to dignify and respect the many unsung heroes.”