The budget for the administration of justice in the State of Maine is a study in contrasts. During the last two decades, the lack of sufficient dollars appropriated to Maine Judicial Branch and the impact that this underfunding has had on people seeking access to justice have created consistent concerns for leaders in the Judicial Branch as well as for those in the Executive and Legislative Branches. Despite these challenges, however, the administrative structure of the Maine Judicial Branch stands as a model for states across the country. Understanding the genesis of this contrast will be critical to planning for the continued budget challenges ahead. The lack of funding for justice in Maine is not a new problem. Issues of courthouse safety, reduced court hours, and the potential for limiting rural access to justice have been the topics of much public conversation, and the lack of funding has affected every aspect of justice in Maine. For example, the security that is present at the front doors of other states’ courthouses, ensuring that weapons are kept out of the courts, is missing in Maine. Additionally, many court facilities are crumbling from lack of maintenance; many judges type their own opinions late at night to keep up with the caseload; and our clerks of court are exhausted and barely holding on, as a system that was already understaffed has suffered further from forced vacancies. The harm to Maine people and businesses from this chronic underfunding of justice is also evident in the delayed dockets, in the cramped and dangerous court hallways, and in the small businesses and individuals who must wait months to address the simplest of legal problems. From these problems, one could come away with the impression that Maine government has done a poor job of addressing basic budgetary and administrative structures related to justice. That would be wrong. Although the lack of dollars committed to citizens’ access to justice has, in fact, been a consistent problem, there is much about the organization of Maine’s system of justice, and the methods of spending on justice, that is to be commended. Over the course of almost two centuries, Maine legislators and governors, with the guidance and encouragement of judicial leaders, have steadily streamlined and improved court operations, placing Maine in the national forefront for its achievement of efficiencies in the Judicial Branch. Those efficiencies have allowed the Supreme Judicial Court and the chiefs of the trial courts the flexibility to allocate resources where they are most needed and to keep the courthouse doors open (most of the time) despite devastating reductions in total resources available for Maine’s courts. The bottom line is that, in contrast to the common Maine saying, we did get here from there. Much about the administration of justice in Maine is laudable. The purpose of this Article is to put into context the historical development of Maine’s state court system to create a better understanding of the current fiscal structure of the Judicial Branch and to provide hope for meeting the justice needs of Maine citizens in the future.
Leigh I. Saufley,
Funding Justice: The Budget of the Maine Judicial Branch-We Did Get There from Here,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol62/iss2/16