Court Announces Special Service Award

September 7, 2010

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley today announced a “Special Service Award” to a team of Judicial Branch judges and staff who developed and implemented a plan for the consolidation of the criminal dockets in Cumberland County.

Under Maine law, criminal cases begin in either the District or Superior Courts. Some cases that begin in the District Court, specifically those in which a prison sentence of a year or more could be imposed, are ‘automatically’ transferred to the Superior Court for processing. In other cases where the maximum penalty is a sentence of up to 364 days, the case can remain in the District Court for processing and a trial before a judge, unless the defendant files a request for a jury trial. If the defendant requests a jury trial, the case is transferred to the Superior Court. This process is confusing for the public, creates duplicative work by the District and the Superior Courts and, in many areas, results in frequent rescheduling, costing the state, and county prosecutors, the courts, and defendants unnecessary time and expense.

Two years ago, Chief Justice Saufley asked a group of judges and court staff to look at how the courts handled criminal cases, and to create a process that ended duplicative work, unnecessary delay and confusion, and made the best use of limited resources. The innovation was started in Cumberland County because the project had the strong support of District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, and experienced jurists, Justice Ellen Gorman and Justices Crowley and Cole from the Superior Court were available to initiate the redesign with the assistance of a talented group of Judicial Branch Clerks, including Sally Bourget and Penny Whitney-Asdourian.

Working with District Attorney Anderson, local defense lawyers, local police chiefs, and the Sheriff, the team developed the Unified Criminal Docket (“UCD”), which eliminated duplicative filings and created a single streamlined process. As a result all criminal cases are now filed in a consolidated clerk’s office, If the case is not resolved at arraignment, the presiding judge gives the parties the specific dates for each of the remaining events of the new criminal process: dispositional conference, motion hearing, and trial.

The date certainty of the process allows defendants and their attorneys, as well as the prosecutors, to handle these important cases thoughtfully and efficiently. It also provides opportunities, when appropriate, for resolution of cases before trial, thereby limiting the need for multiple court appearances by victims, witnesses, and law enforcement officers. The process was so successful that it was expanded to Penobscot County on January 1, 2010, and will be implemented in other counties in the future.

The Chief Justice said: “The Portland Unified Criminal Docket represents the best of collaboration and good business practices in the Maine courts. Many talented people worked together to completely re-engineer the criminal process, resulting in financial savings as well as time savings for everyone involved. Perhaps the best part of the new system is its transparency. Everyone, including the person charged, the law enforcement agencies, the attorneys, and the people victimized by crime, know what to expect in each case and when the hearings will be held. It has succeeded in creating both efficiencies and better public service. All of the Team members deserve recognition for their outstanding work.”

The following judges and employees were cited for their creative and exemplary work in re-engineering the criminal process: Cumberland County Clerk of Courts Sally Bourget, Penny Whitney-Asdourian, John Pelletier (now Executive Director for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services), Superior Court Justice Roland Cole and former Justice Robert Crowley, District Court Judges Paul Eggert and Keith Powers, and Ellen Gorman, Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The award was announced last week in Portland at the retirement lunch for Justice Crowley and Justice Thomas Delahanty.