AUGUSTA — It appears the Maine Trial Lawyers Association will have to wait at least half a year to learn whether it can recoup $170,000 from a former bookkeeper.

The lawyers’ group won a civil judgment against Bettysue Higgins, 54, of Gardiner, and a hearing was scheduled Wednesday in Augusta District Court to determine her ability to pay.

Higgins was in Augusta District Court, accompanied by her attorney, Ronald Bourget. However, Kelly Hoffman, the attorney representing the association, was absent.

“Judgment creditor is not present,” Judge Peter Darvin said. “As a result, the disclosure hearing is terminated.”

Darvin told Higgins that the debt remains, and that interest can continue to accrue.

“It does mean that you cannot be brought back for court for disclosure for a period of six months,” Darvin said.

In a separate action in Kennebec County Superior Court, Higgins is charged with embezzling from the lawyers’ association over a four-year period. Higgins has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft and forgery in that case.

Higgins was fired Oct. 8, shortly after association Executive Director Steve Prince learned the money was missing.

After Wednesday’s brief hearing, Bourget said he had no comment. Reached at her office later, Hoffman, too, declined comment.

Bourget had previously sought to quash a subpoena, saying Higgins would cite her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Bourget had also asked that the civil case be put on hold until the criminal charges are settled.

He gave the court a copy of Higgins’ bank statement from February 2010, which shows a series of debits, all made on weekdays, to online payment services amounting to more than $4,000.

Bourget characterized them as “gaming addiction expenses.”

According to court documents, Higgins has neither money nor a job, and her home is in foreclosure.

Higgins is scheduled to be in Augusta Superior Court on July 13 for the next hearing in her criminal case.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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