Gov. Janet Mills has thrown her support behind a bill from Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland) that would eliminate the long-standing requirement that governors appoint district court judges who live in the districts over which they will preside.
Under current law, Maine has 39 District Court judges, and the governor is required to appoint them to seven year terms. At least one judge must be appointed from each district who is a resident of a county where the district is, with a few other stipulations for specific districts.
The Governor’s Office says the residency requirement is preventing her from finding qualified lawyers to install in Maine’s judiciary branch, but those who oppose the bill, including Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford), fear the change would place Maine’s more rural and conservative communities under the rule of liberal judges from the Portland area.
“I fear, if this bill should pass, there will never be another District Court Judge from Oxford County,” said Bennett. “I think those representing Washington, Aroostook and Franklin Counties might have similar concerns.”
For Mills, the residency requirement is an antiquated artifact of the pre-Internet, pre-automobile days, and an impediment to finding qualified lawyers to do the work.
“There are simply to few lawyers residing in rural Maine, even before considering qualifications and a willingness to serve,” said the governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Gerald D. Reid.
The Maine State Bar Association, the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association all back the bill.
Maine’s District Court Judges earn a base nearly $140,000.
Upon fulfillment of their term, those judges can retire with a public pension worth 75 percent of their salary.