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.

For many years, Justices of the Superior Court and Judges of the District Court have been authorized to hear matters in either trial court.  Through the process of cross assignment, trial court chiefs are able to send judges to the areas of greatest need.

In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court identified several serious problems caused by the procedures used in District and Superior Courts throughout the state for the processing of criminal cases, which lead to the creation of a Unified Criminal Docket (UCD). The purposes of the UCD model is to streamline court events, reduce the number of court appearances, reduce duplication of work by clerks, provide certainty in scheduling, promote prompt and fair resolution of cases and reduce time to resolution of criminal cases.  Portland was selected as the pilot site, and on January 4, 2009, the Cumberland UCD commenced operation there.  Over the course of the next six years, the UCD model was fully implemented statewide in 2015.

 

Justice Delivery Through The Years

We hope to update this site to include a more comprehensive history of the Branch and the people who have been a part of the delivery of justice through the years.  We begin with information on changes to the Supreme Court in 2014. 

In 2014, two Justices, Jon D. Levy and Warren M. Silver, left the Supreme Judicial Court, and we said a final farewell to "The Chief," Chief Justice Vincent McKusick.  Because of the timing of the departures of Justices Levy and Silver, the Court did not have an opportunity for a formal farewell.  In the summer of 2015 Judge Marilyn E. Stavros passed away. These articles summarize the careers and accomplishments of our former colleagues. 

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