2016-03-03 / Community News

Legislator supports building of a new area courthouse

A bill by Sen. Linda Valentino (D-Saco) would greenlight construction of a new courthouse in York County, designed to meet the needs of the 21st century.

LD 1528, “An Act to Modernize and Consolidate Court Facilities,” received broad, bipartisan support during a public hearing in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee last week.

“If justice delayed is justice denied, then we have a serious problem in York County,” said Valentino, who was appointed by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley to serve on the York County Courthouse Advisory Committee. “Our courthouse is so outdated and ill-equipped to deal with its current caseload that justice for Mainers in York County is often delayed, sometimes for more than a year. We have to do better.”

The York County Courthouse was originally constructed in 1806, when the local communities were small and rural. Today, York County is the second-most populous county in the state. Its caseload is nearly that of neighboring Cumberland County’s, the state’s most-populous, but York County’s judicial facilities are far inferior.

There are two courtrooms in the county that are suitable to hold jury trials. On days where juror selections must be made, only one courtroom may be used, because the second is the only space large enough to hold the juror pool. There is not enough space for the administrative tasks that take place at courthouses every day, for adequate record keeping or for clerks.

Successful consolidation and modernizations in Penobscot and Kennebec counties have led to increased efficiency, speedier dispensation of cases and increased visitor safety. For example, in York County, those who make bail can be waiting in line to see a clerk while their victims are waiting in the same line to obtain a protection from abuse order. In Augusta, the facility is designed to keep perpetrator and victim at a safe distance. In York County, inmates and potentially violent defendants are marched through the only entry point and the one hallway on the way to the courtroom. In modern facilities, dangerous people can be brought before a judge via secured corridors, away from the general public.

Valentino’s bill would provide funding for a new courthouse in York County and create a “York County Courthouse Site Selection Commission,” which will deliberate on where in York County the new courthouse should be located. It would include a bipartisan group of local lawmakers, county officials, judicial officials, law enforcement, local attorneys and designees of the governor.

The bill also provides funding for courthouse modernization in Waldo and Oxford counties.

Maine Superior Court Justice Roland Cole, York County District Attorney Cathy Slattery and other officials from York County, law enforcement agencies and the governor’s office all testified in support of the bill, saying modernization of court facilities in York County is crucial to meeting the judicial administration and law enforcement needs of the county.

The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to conduct a work session on LD 1528 on Tuesday, March 1.

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