The racket from pile-driving behind the Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta — work that will eventually result in an expanded courthouse — drove a jury trial to Farmington on Wednesday.
Justice Michaela Murphy decided late Tuesday afternoon to change the venue for the criminal jury trial of Ronald C. Willey, 29, of Vassalboro, after construction noise made it hard to hear during a pre-trial session involving that case. Jurors were loaded into vans and taken to another county courthouse.
“They had a motion hearing while the pile driving was going on, and it was obvious they wouldn’t be able to have the jury concentrate on the evidence with this disruption,” acting District Attorney Alan Kelley said Wednesday morning.
As he spoke on the phone, the “bang, bang, bang” of pile driving punctuated his words. “It’s right outside my window,” he said. The work breaks off occasionally while workers make adjustments or get a new beam.
“It was obvious to everyone that the trial could not be held under these circumstances,” he said.
Kelley said it was the only time he has seen a trial moved because of construction in his 33 years as a prosecutor.
The pile-driving in Augusta is necessary to shore up Perham Street, which runs directly behind the courthouse, so a new courthouse can be built on the site of the former Crisis & Counseling Centers, which is on a steep slope.
On Tuesday, Murphy had to repeat herself several times and asked attorneys to repeat themselves during an unrelated sentencing hearing in superior court, so that victims seated at the rear of the Augusta courtroom could hear over the sound of the pistons driving the steel piles.
On Wednesday, 13 jurors selected for the Willey case reported to Kennebec County Superior Court, and then boarded two state-owned vans to ride to Franklin County Superior Court, where proceedings were expected to be more peaceful.
Moving a trial on such short notice is not simple, according to Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
“It takes a huge, coordinated effort by many people and parties both within and outside the (judicial) branch to make this happen,” Lynch said.
“It takes the cooperation of two clerks’ offices, Augusta and Farmington, and the marshals in two courthouses. The sheriff agreed to transport, and the defense attorney and the prosecutor agreed to a change in venue. It is a testament to everyone involved that this trial could be relocated so quickly.”
She said she wasn’t sure who would pick up the cost or whether the state would foot the bill for jurors’ lunch, since they would be without personal transportation.
The pile-driving is expected to last about a week and a half, when it will be suspended until December, when it will start up again.
About 260 45-foot piles must be driven into the ground for the footprint of the four-story court building, which is slated to open in spring 2015.
Lynch said court officials were grateful for the cooperation of everyone. It shows how law enforcement, the prosecutor, defense counsel, defendant and court personnel “put the interests of justice first and worked cooperatively to make this happen.”
Michelle Lumbert, clerk of courts in Kennebec County, said vans to transport the jurors came from the state motor pool. They were also expected to be used today, the final day of the trial.
Lumbert spent Wednesday afternoon attempting to find a courthouse and more vans to use today for a civil jury trial scheduled to begin before Justice Nancy Mills. She said Bangor was the only venue available for the three-day trial, and the lawyers for both sides told Mills they preferred to be in Augusta — noise or no. So the trial remains scheduled here.
On Wednesday, jurors in the Willey trial were to be back on board the vans by 3:30 p.m. in Farmington.
Lynch said decisions to move trials or other proceedings would be made day-to-day.
“Courtroom space is at a premium, and I am not sure what courtrooms, within a relatively short distance, are available,” she said. “And then there are the issues of marshals and clerks, so it is not a simple matter of just rearranging the deck chairs.”
Betty Adams — 621-5631