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Maine's Chief Justice Calls For Investing Beyond Court Needs

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley at a news conference following her State of the Judiciary speech Tuesday.

In her annual State of the Judiciary speech, Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley called for additional funds for the courts, but is also asking legislators for more investments in related services, including mental health and addiction treatment.

Saufley says the specialty courts that have been set up to handle drug cases in Maine can do their job within existing resources. But she says lawmakers should also consider creating or expanding services for offenders. She called for greater access to mental health treatment, medical and dental care, safe and sober housing and addiction treatment. She spoke to reporters after the address.

“In many instances, folks who are dealing with addiction and are engaging in inappropriate activity can and should be diverted from the criminal justice system into rehabilitation and back to health,” she says.

In her address, Saufley also told lawmakers that the courts have been placed in a very difficult situation because of inadequate resources for juvenile offenders. She says the Long Creek facility in South Portland is designed to handle only one part of that population.

“We do not have sufficient placement facilities for youth that can’t go home,” she says.

During the news conference, the chief justice clarified her call for additional funds to bolster courthouse security. She says while improvements have been made, security screeners are only available 77 percent of the time. She says screening devices are expensive and wear out over time.

“We are slowly but surely replacing a lot of them, it’s not expensive, but it has to be done. We are working on it year after year,” she says.

In her speech, Saufley told lawmakers that progress is also being made in implementing a web-based information system for all court activities. The Violations Bureau is the first to transition to the new system, but Saufley says it’s still not clear what information will be made available online, as the courts must balance the public right to know with privacy concerns.

Given those unanswered questions, she says it will be late 2020 before the system is in use in any trial courts. And she says it’s also not clear whether the service would be free of charge.

“Our position has been, this is a public service and it ought to be able to be available to the public without the public paying additional funding for the ordinary use of the website. But we don’t know if that will be possible, given the cost,” she says.

Saufley says legislation and rules to implement the internet-based system will be submitted to this session of the Legislature.