John C. Sheldon


In Maine there are two different state trial courts. The superior court is the jury trial forum, to which most people refer valuable civil and weighty criminal issues. The district court, on the other hand, is the “peoples' court,” where judges decide cases without juries in order to provide litigants with a fast track to the resolution of their simpler (or, at least, less consequential) civil and criminal cases. Maine District Court judges rarely grapple with grand constitutional issues like abortion or free speech, they hardly ever encounter flashy murder cases, and they never participate in headline products liability trials. Instead, they spend most of their time hearing misdemeanors, juvenile offenses, traffic violations, domestic violence and family law cases, and small claims. A consequence of such a court structure is the perception that the district court is an inferior judicial branch. As a result, the Maine District Court has gotten the reputation as a place of unsophisticated litigants and rough justice where legal analysis merely slows people down and legal abstractions infuriate them. There is, it has been said, nothing superior about the law in the district court.

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