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Courts and Crime

LePage’s Chief Counsel Recommended for Judgeship

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee have unanimously recommended the appointment of Gov. Paul LePage’s chief counsel as a district court judge. But the recommendation came after some tough questioning for Cynthia Montgomery and an impromptu appearance by the governor himself.

Several attorneys and members of the governor’s Judicial Selection Committee spoke in favor of Montgomery’s nomination, praising her legal background and her temperament. And while no one opposed her nomination, some committee members raised concerns.

Most of Montgomery’s career in Georgia and Maine has been in employment law. And that prompted state Sen. Christopher Johnson, a Somerville Democrat, to question Montgomery about her courtroom experience.

“Did you deal in the courts with divorce?” Johnson asked, as well as whether Montgomery dealt with custody or juvenile law.

“No,” Montgomery answered to all questions.

Johnson said he was concerned at Montgomery’s lack of experience in those matters that are the staple of district court proceedings. Montgomery told the panel her dealings in employment law gave her a lot of exposure to the issues raised by Johnson.

Johnson also raised the differing interpretations of law between Montgomery and Attorney General Janet Mills over the hiring of lawyers by the Department of Health and Human Services. Mills maintains she has to approve the hiring; Montgomery disagrees.

That led to a testy exchange between Johnson and Sen. David Burns, a Republican from Whiting who co-chairs the committee and who objected to Johnson’s questions.

The questions raised about Montgomery’s qualifications led to LePage, who said he was listening in another part of the building, to make a personal appearance on Montgomery’s behalf. He defended his choice of Montgomery, saying she is an outstanding lawyer. He told lawmakers her lack of district court experience may actually be a good thing.

“She is a fine attorney, and I will bring one argument to play that I did not hear today,” LePage says. “The fact that she doesn’t have a whole lot of courtroom experience is an advantage.”

He says that means she will not have the biases of many lawyers and will start the job based on her training that all judges undergo before they actually serve on the bench.

Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta who has clashed with the governor and his administration on several occasions, supported Montgomery’s nomination. Katz says lawyers represent their clients and what they argue in court is on behalf of their clients.

“You have seen and heard on the television, the views expressed on this program are not necessarily those of the station,” Katz says. “Well that really is it, that really sums it up. The views that I say or Ms. Montgomery says in court and other forums are not necessarily our own.”

The unanimous vote of the committee in support of her nomination means Montgomery is all but assured confirmation by the state Senate. Under the state constitution, it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to overturn the committee recommendation.