BANGOR — Justice Andrew Mead of Bangor has been appointed chief justice of the Maine Superior Court by Chief Justice Daniel Wathen of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Mead succeeds Justice Margaret Kravchuk, also of Bangor, whose two-year term expired in July.
The duties of the chief justice include administering the 17 Superior Court locations throughout Maine. The Superior Court is the state’s general jurisdiction trial court. It processes approximately 15,000 civil and criminal cases each year.
“The challenge is to do more with less,” said Mead of his appointment.
“In an age of limited resources, we need to process cases promptly and more efficiently while still giving each matter the attention it deserves,” he said.
In making the appointment, Wathen noted the court’s efforts to increase efficiency through computerization and the movement to make jury duty less burdensome and more enjoyable for those called to serve.
As Mead has been active in both areas, Wathen observed, his appointment at this time is particularly appropriate.
In an interview Tuesday, Mead noted that despite a dramatic increase in the number of lawsuits filed in Maine since the 1970s, the number of justices has remained flat due to limited funding.
Though the Maine Legislature recently approved the hiring of four more judges at the district court level, Mead said, Maine has the unfortunate distinction of having fewer judges per capita than any other state.
One way to overcome that obstacle, Mead said, is to take advantage of recent advances in technology.
After a request for proposals suggested that it could cost $10 million to hire a company to develop a statewide computer network for the courts, the judicial system’s Office of Information Technology has undertaken an effort to draw upon in-house expertise to build one at a significantly lower cost.
The massive network, Mead said, eventually will link the state’s district, superior and supreme judicial courts from Fort Kent to Kittery. The system, he added, will be the first of its kind.
“It is unprecedented in our country,” he said, adding that Wathen has observed that as recently as three years ago, a court clerk from the 1880s could function perfectly well using existing equipment and procedures, with the exception of photocopiers. “This will bring us into the 21st century,” he said.
Mead said that his list of “pet projects” also includes developing a database that will help determine the most efficient use of the state’s five law clerks. In addition, he wants to improve communication among Maine’s 16 superior court justices through computer networking and monthly reports.
Mead is a graduate of the University of Maine and New York Law School. Before his first appointment to the bench in 1990, he was a partner in the Bangor law firms of Paine, Lynch & Weatherbee and Mitchell & Sterns.
Mead also served for 10 years as the chief judge of the Penobscot Tribal Court and is a former president of the Maine State Bar Association.
`I’m hoping that after two years, I can say cases were processed here quicker and with no sacrifice to attention. If I’ve done that, I’ll have been successful,” Mead said.