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Coronavirus Puts Hundreds Of Maine Court Cases On Hold

Tom Porter
Maine Public/file
The Cumberland County court house in Portland, seen June 4, 2015.

Maine judges are wrestling with tough decisions that weigh public safety from the coronavirus against the fundamental goal of swift justice.Justice Andrew Mead of the Maine Supreme Court says hundreds of cases are on hold until the pandemic is over, but courts are still taking up some matters such as arraignments and protection from abuse cases, while maintaining policies to protect the health of both court staff and the public.

“Justice is absolutely being delayed," Mead says. "That’s kind of our prime directive, so it's difficult for us to swallow. But I think protection was, and currently, is task number one.”

Mead says all jury trials have been delayed until after May, and could be delayed further, depending on the pandemic.  And, he says, "there are lots of folks out there on the civil side of things - complaints for money judgements are just stopped in their tracks.”

A lot of judges around the country are worried about post-pandemic recruitment of jurors, and Mead says Maine courts share the concern. “The question of whether or not someone reports a fear to serve because jurors operate in close proximity to each other - there is no getting around it: How do we address that? We haven’t dug into that question yet.”

Mead is the senior associate justice on the Supreme Court, and will become acting chief justice later this week when the court's current head, Justice Leigh Saufley, becomes dean of the University of Maine Law School.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.