Judiciary panel gives Mead OK; Nominee’s path clear to high court

This story was published on March 15, 2007 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA – Superior Court Justice Andrew M. Mead of Bangor didn’t need any coaching Wednesday when his nomination to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sailed through the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, but he got a little bit anyway.

Roger Reed, the basketball coach of Bangor High School’s state championship team, took a day off from teaching history to endorse Mead’s nomination to the state’s highest court. Mead has lectured about the judiciary to Reed’s students, the longtime coach told committee members.

“He’s clear, concise, down-to-earth and friendly,” Reed said. “He’s a great nominee and one we can all be proud of.”

The committee voted unanimously, 13-0, to endorse Mead, who was nominated Feb. 28 by Gov. John E. Baldacci to replace retiring Justice Howard H. Dana Jr., 65, of Portland. Mead’s salary as a state supreme court justice will be $108,498 compared to his $101,732 annual salary as a Superior Court justice.

“I’m thrilled, humbled and honored,” Mead, 55, said after the two-hour hearing as he and his wife, Kelly, a kindergarten teacher in Bangor, headed toward the governor’s office for congratulations.

No one spoke in opposition to Mead’s nomination.

Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, and Rep. Joshua Hardy, R-Newport, both members of their respective party’s leadership, wholeheartedly endorsed Mead’s nomination. Lawyers from Bangor and Portland commended his leadership skills, judicial temperament, legal expertise, commitment to the community, and his musical talent as founder of a band called the Retro Rockerz.

Committee members, however, were just as interested in hearing the nominee’s philosophy on administering the court system as they were in learning whether he favors consensus over dissents in law court decisions.

The nominee said he believes consensus is worthwhile in crafting law court decisions, but “well-reasoned dissents shouldn’t be abandoned.”

In answer to a committee member’s question about court security, Mead said he favors entry screening in the state’s more than 30 courthouses.

“Incidents of violence in courtrooms are seldom premeditated,” Mead told the committee. “It’s a complex issue. But, yes, the need is real. My concern is not solely one of self-interest. I’m on the bench, I’m somewhat protected. But real people are at risk and they are the ones down front – the lawyers and the parties.”

Before he was appointed to the District Court bench in 1990, Mead was the first judge to serve the Penobscot Tribal Court beginning in 1979. He told the committee that his 11 years there greatly influenced how he has conducted himself in the District and Superior courts.

“It is the purist form of justice,” Mead said of the tribal court. “They get together, air their disputes freely and have an independent person make a decision. That experience taught me the value of listening and shaped how I worked later.”

The nominee also told the committee that if he were in charge of reforming the court system and had unlimited funds, he would start with new courthouses, such as the one planned for downtown Bangor, and include upgraded computer systems. He also said he supports programs that improve the courts’ efficiency including the new scheduling system being implemented throughout the state.

“I think he’s an exceptional human being,” committee member Rep. Michael Dunn, D-Bangor, said after the hearing. “He’ll bring all his best characteristics to the bench – character, fairness, empathy and intellect.

“He’s a great choice.”

It was the second time in less than two years that Baldacci has nominated someone from his hometown to the state’s high court. In April 2005, the governor nominated lawyer Warren M. Silver, 59, of Bangor. He was confirmed swiftly.

A vote by the Senate on the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation has not been scheduled. State law requires that a vote be held within 35 days of the governor’s nomination. Committee members expected the confirmation to go as smoothly as the hearing did.

The Supreme Judicial Court is not scheduled to hear oral arguments this month, but is scheduled to hear cases next month at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. Mead is expected to hear cases with his new colleagues then.

The justices are scheduled to convene in Bangor in May.

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