AUGUSTA — A repeat challenger to six-year incumbent district attorney says the prosecutor’s office has become slow to handle cases, isn’t resolving charges with realistic plea deal offers and needs to put greater effort into major criminal cases.

Attorney Kevin Sullivan of Gardiner is again challenging incumbent Maeghan Maloney of Augusta for the four-year post of top criminal prosecutor for Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Maloney is a stalwart Democrat, former state legislator and veteran campaigner. She represented part of Augusta in the State House 2011-2012, and then won the role of district attorney in a special election in 2012 to complete the remaining term of District Attorney Evert Fowle after he was named to the district court bench.

Sullivan sought the job as an independent candidate in 2014, but has since signed on as a Republican. He also was the Republican candidate in a three-way contest in a 2016 special election for the part-time post of Kennebec County probate judge. That race was won by Democrat Libby Mitchell, widow of the late probate Judge James Mitchell.

Sullivan said he would make changes to the operation of the district attorney’s office should he win.

“My whole position is this office isn’t being run as efficiently as it used to be, and I want to get it back to that,” he said. “We need to get discovery out to the defense immediately, and get offers out to resolve cases immediately — realistic offers. We need to dismiss petty cases and put the time into the major cases.”

When asked about specifics, Sullivan said, “They don’t provide discovery in any case. Zero!”

In some instances at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta where defendants represent themselves, assistant district attorneys sometimes hand the discovery material — essentially the evidence in the case — to the defendant in court.

Sullivan cited as unrealistic a recent plea offer made to one of his clients in a drug case that would result in eight years’ imprisonment.

“I blew them off and two months later they dropped it to six years,” Sullivan said. “They are at least in the ballpark now.”

Maloney countered this criticism by saying, “When rehabilitation is possible, that is the focus of the offer. But when someone has committed a gross sexual assault on a child or other serious crime of violence our sentences are some of the highest in the state.”

The district attorney’s office recently went paperless and now provides discovery materials, such as police reports and videos, electronically to defense attorneys. Sullivan said he converted to a paperless office a decade ago.

“We give discovery at everyone’s first court appearance: Either arraignment or in-custody,” Maloney said in an email in response to Sullivan’s claim.

“People can receive it earlier if they contact us, but most people wait until court. At that time we also give a first plea offer which stays open until dispositional conferences,” she said. “Late discovery happens when we get new information from law enforcement. The defense attorney receives it at the same time my office receives it thanks to our new electronic discovery system.

“But it is ‘late’ because it is information that we did not have at the time the case was first approved,” Maloney added. “Sometimes the judge allows the new information to be used and sometimes not.”

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney of Kennebec and Somerset counties, who is running for re-election, during interview in her office on Thursday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The vote totals from the 2014 race showed Maloney garnered 46,508 votes to Sullivan’s 21,734, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s vote tabulations.

The last time Sullivan and Maloney vied for the district attorney’s post, they split over prosecution of marijuana cases. This year, Maloney said the top issues for her are domestic violence, sexual assault and the opioid epidemic.

Maloney cited figures released Tuesday by the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel showing that almost half the 37 homicides in the state 2016-2017 were caused by family members or intimate partners. She said some assistant district attorneys in the office are specially assigned to domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse cases.

“When you have a crime against a person, it just takes more time to prosecute effectively,” she said.

Maine lost 418 people from opioid overdoses in 2017, and the Legislature implemented new laws funding some treatment and recovery programs and expanding the state’s drug court system.

Maloney sees a two-pronged approach to dealing with the opioid epidemic: “making sure people who are selling the poison are stopped and focusing on rehabilitation for those with substance misuse disorder.”

She also cited a “community drug court” run by volunteers that has operated for several years in Somerset County. Defendants given a deferred disposition in drug cases in that county meet monthly with the community court, which requires mental health and substance abuse counseling and treatment, with costs covered by federal grants. She said that so far, “graduates have not gone on to commit new crimes.”

Sullivan has a similar response to Maloney on the opioid problem.

“There’s no question that the opioid issue is massive,” he said. “Nobody knows how to solve it, but we clearly need to cut down on the demand. Traffickers are going to keep coming, and people are going to keep buying. We need to penalize drug users and get them help and stick traffickers in prison.”

Sullivan practices criminal defense law, family law, personal injury law and business-related law. Most recently, he aided the Litchfield Farmers Club after officers discovered some $120,000 was missing from their treasury just a few weeks prior to the Litchfield Fair.

“I was on the prosecutor’s side for that,” Sullivan said. “I did the whole investigation and I handed everything they needed to (Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office) Detective John Bourque.”

Sullivan said he will continue to represent the group once they decide what they want to do moving forward with regard to recouping the money.

In contrast to his previous campaigns, Sullivan is expending time and effort seeking votes.

He’s campaigned at the local fairs and participated in a roadside cleanup in Pittsfield, Somerset County, where all the volunteers wore dark red T-shirts emblazoned with “Kevin Sullivan for D.A.” on both the front and back.

He recently relocated his law office from Augusta to Gardiner.

Attorney Kevin Sullivan talks about his client Thomas Severance, 13, of Ashland, Mass., who is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, after a hearing April 23, outside the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Both candidates are traditionally financed. According to the most recent filing with the Maine Ethics Commission, Maloney has raised $6,647 for the campaign and spent just over $4,000 of that. She started off with $1,322 transferred from her previous campaign, and received $800 from the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, which donated the same amount to all Democratic county candidates. She said Thursday that she had $7,500 all told, but has not spent any more money.

She is careful to keep her political activities divorced from her office responsibilities and outside the courthouse.

“I go to evening and weekend events,” she said. “I don’t think of it as campaigning. I think of it as community engagement.”

Sullivan raised $4,421 — with almost a quarter of that coming from the Somerset County Republican Committee — and has spent $4,235 of that. In his previous bid for DA, he raised and spent no money. He said the committee gave him more money after the most recent filing — $1,600 total — and as of Oct. 9, he had only $7 remaining in his treasury.

He spent money on candidate palmcards and about 500 signs. Sullivan signs are visible along well-traveled roads in both counties. He said he put up 40 of those himself.

In Maine, district attorneys are part of the Office of Attorney General. They generally prosecute all but murder cases in Maine and work with assistant attorneys general in some drug prosecutions.

As district attorney, Maloney earned $127,426 in 2017, which includes “benefit amounts paid on behalf of, but not necessarily to the employee, such as health and dental insurance and retirement,” according to the Maine Open Checkbook website. Maloney pointed to a September paycheck listing her rate of pay at $54.93 per hour.

All the attorneys in the office are paid by the state through the Attorney General’s Office.

District Attorney’s office staff and other non-attorney costs and salaries are paid by the counties. Kennebec County budgeted almost $604,000 to support the office in fiscal year 2018, and Somerset County a little more than $400,000.

According to statistics kept by the Administrative Office of the Courts, 6,251 new criminal cases were filed in Region 4 (the prosecutorial district that includes Kennebec and Somerset counties) in fiscal 2018, which is 1,000 fewer than five years ago.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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