DOVER-FOXCROFT – Piscataquis County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy is firing off a letter this week to the Superior Court administrator asking that more trial time be given to Piscataquis County.
Almy, like other local officials, isn’t happy that so little court trial time is being scheduled.
“We do have a small docket, but some very serious cases languish,” Almy said Monday. “It is frustrating. The big cases sort of hang out there.”
Although two years ago a block scheduling effort was initiated by court administrators which provided sufficient Superior Court trial time, that program fell by the wayside last year, according to Rob Miller, regional court administrator for Aroostook, Washington, Hancock, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
Miller said Monday that he intended to return to the block scheduling, which provides the county with at least three two-to-three-week blocks of trial time a year. The court sessions predominately are taken up by criminal trials, leaving little time for civil cases.
“Generally, the experience is a lot of the cases aren’t ready for trial, so we try to make sure we have enough cases to make it a worthwhile session,” Miller said. He said, however, court officials don’t want the cases to get too old. In the event of a pressing case, the counsel knows that the case can be accommodated in Penobscot County Superior Court, Miller said. People who have been jailed and who are unable to post bail are the first priority for the courts, he said.
Over the past year, originally scheduled Superior Court sessions have been whittled away. This week, the three days planned for trials was reduced to two days. But Miller said that’s not exclusive of Piscataquis County. Every court has time “chipped out of them,” he noted.
Miller said the amount of trial time for the county is in line with its small docket load or pending cases. “Piscataquis County has very few,” he said.
According to the court administrator, Piscataquis County had 30 pending civil and 38 pending criminal cases, including appeals, at the end of September. In comparison, Aroostook County had 197 pending civil cases and 250 criminal cases. Penobscot County had 349 pending civil cases and 423 criminal cases.
“Piscataquis County is the lightest in the state [in terms of the total caseload of Superior Court cases, both criminal and civil],” he explained.
Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin said he recognizes that the county has a small docket load, but the lack of Superior Court trial time takes a bite out of his budget for the operation of the jail.
That’s because it prolongs the jail stay for inmates charged with certain classifications of crimes who are likely to end up at the Maine State Prison at Thomaston or another state-owned facility at sentencing. Until an inmate is sentenced, the county gets no reimbursement for that jail stay, he said.
Goggin said he has had inmates remain in jail as long as a year and a half before their cases were completely adjudicated. The inmates remain in jail because they violated state law, not local law, he said.
More Superior Court time would help alleviate this burden, Goggin said. The trial time allotted this past year hasn’t been sufficient for the several cases that are ongoing in nature, he said.
In any case, county officials are optimistic that the block scheduling to be in place in 2001 will help dispose of more cases and reduce jail stays.