Four candidates are competing to become judge of probate for Somerset County, a position that has been vacant since June when long-time probate judge John Alsop resigned to take a job with the state as an assistant attorney general.

Probate courts, established in the Maine Constitution in 1820, exercise jurisdiction over specialized subject matter, such as estates and trusts, adoptions and name changes, guardianship and protective proceedings. They also sit without a jury.

There are 16 probate courts and judges in Maine, one for each county. The judges, who are part-time, are elected and earn a salary that in Somerset County is negotiated with the board of county commissioners. Since Alsop’s departure, the county has been relying on probate judges from Kennebec and Franklin county to preside in the courtroom..

All four candidates in the race are attorneys living and practicing in Skowhegan. They are competing to finish Alsop’s four-year term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2016.


Fortier, 55, has been a practicing attorney in Skowhegan for 30 years at the firm Merrill, Hyde, Fortier and Youney. He concentrates his practice in real estate, probate and family law and has also worked as a guardian ad litem, an attorney appointed to represent a minor during guardianship proceedings.


“I’ve always been interested in working for children’s interests, and I think this would be a good challenge for me, looking at the other end of things as representing children now as a judge,” said Fortier.

If elected, Fortier said he would like to improve the efficiency of the probate court and its proceedings, including cutting down on waiting times for people trying to have their cases heard on court day.

He said he would also like to promote education on elder abuse and do other work to help the elderly in Somerset County. One idea is starting a registry of people who have been appointed power of attorney, a person who has legally been appointed to represent another person’s wishes. It is often granted by the elderly or people who are too sick to oversee their own affairs or business.

“It would be somewhat of a start for people to know there are ways they can get to that information. That could, in some ways, be protective itself,” said Fortier. “If they see what they think might be exploitation, they have a way of getting some names and doing some checking on their own, or giving notification to the court or law enforcement.”


Martin, 44, spent a year working as an attorney in Hartland and Newport after graduating from the University of Maine School of Law and has since spent the last seven years as an attorney in Skowhegan. He is a member of the Somerset County Private Defenders Project, which helps provide attorneys for those who cannot afford them, usually in criminal or child protective cases.


“I’ve done over 1,000 cases in my career so far, and I deal a lot with juvenile and family law. I think it’s time that I can use that experience, the trial work I’ve done and the court room experience I have, to hold the position of probate judge,” said Martin.

If elected, Martin said one of his goals would be to streamline the probate process to make it more accessible to people. He also wants to help people who don’t have an attorney or can’t afford one navigate the process in a convenient way.

“I think that’s an important thing in our county,” he said.


Washburn, 59, has worked as an attorney in Skowhegan for the last 34 years, including 13 years as a mediator for the state court system.

“I’m ready for a new career challenge and believe I am the best qualified and best prepared candidate for this position,” said Washburn.


Washburn, who is also chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee in Skowhegan and Recreation Department Advisory Committee, said that if elected, he would like to cut down on delays in the court system, bring hearings to court more efficiently and will advocate upgrading probate court records from microfilm to digital storage and retrieval.

“I really think the things I can bring to the office are integrity, a sense of fairness, and I will respect every person that comes before the court,” he said.


Youney, 60, has spent 34 years practicing law, including the last 25 years in Skowhegan. He is currently an attorney at Merrill, Hyde, Fortier and Youney.

The only candidate with judicial experience, Youney spent five years as an administrative law judge in Tucson, Ariz.

“I have made the transition from being in front of the bench to being behind the bench, and it’s a transition that is going to surprise any one else who gets elected,” said Youney. “I’ve done it before. You are no longer an advocate; your job is to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and say their opinion.”

If elected, Youney, who also spent 18 years on the Skowhegan Planning Board, said he would like to modernize the activity of the court, both through the court’s new electronic filing system and initiating telephone and Skype appearances by witnesses. He also mentioned trying to spread out the number of cases heard at once through better scheduling.

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