AUGUSTA — Seven Maine judges were sworn into office Friday in a formal robing ceremony where family and friends applauded enthusiastically.
Four justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court watched from the bench in the large courtroom of the Kennebec County Courthouse as Gov. Paul LePage administered the oath of office five times for district court judges and twice for superior court justices.
Many of the new jurists had practiced law in that same courtroom, including Andrew Benson of Athens, who prosecuted a number of homicide cases there as an assistant attorney general.
Benson was appointed to the district court bench as were former Maine Attorney General William Schneider of Durham, Eric Walker of Belmont, formerly deputy district attorney in Knox, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Waldo counties; Lance Walker of Falmouth, and Barbara Raimondi of Auburn.
Several of them, including Schneider, were sworn in earlier and have already been presiding in court.
Two former district court judges, Robert E. Mullen of Waterville and Daniel I. Billings of Bowdoinham were appointed as superior court justices.
Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley praised all the new judges and told them they would be put to work very shortly if they have not been already.
Saufley thanked LePage and the Judicial Selection Committee for their work, and noted that in his three years in office, LePage has nominated or reappointed 29 of the 60 sitting judges.
“Despite all of the challenges the governor and the Maine Legislature faced this year, the governor has maintained a nonpartisan approach to the nomination of judges that will assure competent, fair, neutral and accessible judges for Maine people far into the future,” Saufley said.
And now LePage will be nominating a candidate for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court since Associate Justice Jon Levy is moving to the federal bench in Maine.
Saufley also recognized Supreme Court Associate Justice Donald Alexander as the longest serving judge in Maine with 35 years and five months on the bench. He was first nominated in 1978 and appointed or reappointed by five different governors. Alexander recently topped the record of 35 years, one month and 25 days held by the late Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice William P. Whitehouse, who retired in 1913.
LePage said the new judges “are the best of the best in their fields,” and he was confident they “would do a phenomenal job for the people of Maine.”
He reappointed a number of judges as well: Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mead, Superior Court Justices Nancy Mills and Andrew Horton, and District Court judges Michael Cantara, Valerie Stanfill, Rick Lawrence and Charles Dow.
Judges are appointed for seven years.
Saufley cited Mills for “bringing order out of chaos and hope out of pain” for her work with the Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans courts in Kennebec County. Saufley also praised Horton for his work in handling the Business and Consumer docket cases as well as a new unified court docket in Sagadahoc County.
Friday’s event was likely to be the largest ceremony in the courtroom for a while. It is scheduled for some improvements once the new courthouse being erected just down Winthrop Street is completed.
Part of the work will be to enlarge the bench to allow all seven state supreme court justices to hear oral arguments in Augusta.