History of the Maine Courts

Until the signing of the Articles of Agreement for Separation, Maine was part of Massachusetts and therefore included in the Massachusetts court system. In 1820, Article VI, Section 1, of the new Maine Constitution established the judicial branch of government, stating, "The judicial power of the State be vested in a Supreme Judicial Court, and such other courts as the Legislature shall from time to time establish".

From the start of Statehood, the Supreme Judicial court was both a trial and an appellate court or "Law Court". The new State of Maine also adopted the same lower court structure as existed in Massachusetts, and the court system remained unchanged until 1852. The Court Reorganization Act of 1852 increased the jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Court to encompass virtually every type of case, increased the number of justices and authorized the justices to travel in circuits. The Probate courts were created in 1820 as county-based courts and have remained so.

The next major change in the system came in 1929, when the Legislature created the statewide Superior Court to relieve the overburdened Supreme Judicial Court. Meanwhile, the lower courts continued to operate much as they always had until 1961 when the municipal courts and the trial justices system was abolished and the new statewide District Court created. This change made Maine's court system one of the most unified in the nation, putting all courts except the Probate system under Statewide administration.

In 1978 Administrative Court was created to hear appeals from state agency administrative decisions. On March 15, 2001, the Administrative Court was abolished and its caseload and personnel was blended into the District Court system.

In the 1990s, a number of specialized divisions were created within the Maine Court system, including the Family Division of the District Court and the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program, and the Adult Drug Court Program.

Effective January 1, 2001, the Legislature further "unified" Maine's courts, and reassigned caseload between the various levels of court, making District Court the only court where divorce and family cases may be filed; providing for the direct filing of appeals to Law Court from District Court, reducing the intermediate appellate function of the Superior Court, and eliminating the previous cap of $30,000 in damages for civil suits filed in District Court.

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