UNIFIED CRIMINAL DOCKET
View the Administrative Order establishing the Unified Criminal Docket and its pilot procedural rules.
During 2008, the Judicial Branch undertook an ambitious pilot project to create and assess a new method for processing criminal cases. Under the leadership of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ellen A. Gorman, a task force was convened to look at ways to streamline the criminal process by, among other things, eliminating the distinction between the Cumberland County Superior Court and the Portland District Court clerks offices. After months of planning, the transition of cases to the new Portland Unified Criminal Docket began on November 1, 2008, and the project began full operations on January 5, 2009.
The goals of the Unified Criminal Docket (UCD) are:
- to reduce the workload on the Judicial Branch’s overburdened clerks offices by eliminating unnecessary filings and reducing the number of times that a clerk must handle a file over the course of an individual case;
- to enhance the rights of criminal defendants by providing early and automatic access to the State’s investigatory materials, expanding access to lawyers for the day, and providing a jury trial in every case unless the defendant affirmatively waives that right and requests a bench trial;
- to reduce the number of appearances required for each case by establishing date certain scheduling and creating firm expectations as to what will be accomplished at each appearance; and
- to promote the fair and prompt resolution of cases through judicial participation in case resolution discussions.
To achieve these goals, the clerks' office staffs formerly responsible for processing criminal cases in the Portland District Court and the Cumberland County Superior Court have been consolidated in the Superior Court clerk’s office under the direction of Clerk Sally Bourget, and UCD Clerk Penny Whitney-Asdourian. The unified clerks office eliminates the duplication of effort previously required when a case was transferred from the District Court to the Superior Court after a jury trial was requested. In addition, by doing away with the need for jury trial request forms, the UCD has eliminated a major source of frustration for pro se litigants and a great deal of work for the clerks.
Each case is processed through four discrete appearance dates: initial appearance, dispositional conference, motion hearing, and trial. Defendants receive notice of the last three dates at the initial appearance. This pre-scheduling of return dates streamlines the work of the clerk’s office by enhancing certainty. Through the tremendous effort of Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson and her staff, discovery materials are available to defendants at or before their initial appearance. Every defendant has access to a lawyer for the day at the initial appearance. Any cases that are not resolved at the initial appearance are scheduled for dispositional conferences, during which the parties are expected to engage in meaningful discussions with the court to resolve any outstanding discovery disputes and evidentiary issues and, whenever possible, determine whether a fair resolution of the matter could be achieved without trial.
Results from the first few months of UCD operations are promising and a detailed evaluation of the process is ongoing. Numerous individuals deserve credit for assisting with the design and launch of the UCD. Under Justice Gorman’s leadership, the planning group included the Justices and Judges who have committed to sit on UCD cases: Superior Court Justices Roland A. Cole, Robert E. Crowley, Thomas D. Warren, and Joyce A. Wheeler, and District Court Judges Roland Beaudoin, E. Paul Eggert, MaryGay Kennedy, and Jeffrey H. Moskowitz. Clerks Sally Bourget and Penny Whitney-Asdourian provided both insightful advice about the design of the UCD and outstanding leadership in the reorganization and training of the UCD clerk staff. The consolidated staff has weathered the difficult transition with energy and determination, without which the UCD could not succeed. OIT Project Manager Douglas Birgfeld provided invaluable technical support for UCD planning, and the entire Office of Information Technology worked diligently to create new tools to support UCD operations. Defense attorneys Neale Duffett, Sarah Churchill and Robert LeBrasseaur reviewed all of the proposals and provided the steering committee with their own guidance as well as feedback from the defense bar. Criminal Process Manager John Pelletier also assisted in UCD planning and in the creation of the rules of procedure that govern UCD practice. Laura O’Hanlon performed above and beyond the call of duty by stepping into the process in the fall of 2008 and managing all of the necessary physical changes to the Superior Court clerk’s office.
Finally, the UCD has benefited from the cooperation of agencies outside of the Judicial Branch, including local law enforcement agencies and, particularly, the office of Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson.