A key legislative committee Tuesday unanimously endorsed the governor’s nomination for the next chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Valerie Stanfill Office of Gov. Janet Mills photo

If confirmed, Justice Valerie Stanfill will sit on the state’s top appellate court and oversee the complex operation of the Judicial Branch. She would succeed Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, who stepped down last year to become the dean of the University of Maine School of Law. Gov. Janet Mills announced her choice for the position last month, and the Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 in support Tuesday. The nomination will next go to the Maine Senate, which will have the final vote.

Stanfill’s legal career has spanned more than 30 years as a trial lawyer, a clinical professor at the University of Maine School of Law and then a judge. She told the committee she would serve in the court’s highest role with “the utmost integrity and commitment.”

“Quite simply, I love being a judge,” Stanfill said. “I’m now in my 15th year, and I’m still grateful every day for the opportunity to serve the people of Maine. I strive to be respectful and hardworking in the courtroom. I try to have clear and thoughtful analysis, while demonstrating compassion and vision in my written opinions.”

No one testified against the nomination. The committee heard testimony in favor from lawyers, a former judge, a district attorney and other colleagues in the legal field. Several spoke about programs Stanfill started at the law school, including one that connects students with unrepresented plaintiffs in protection from abuse cases. Others described her mentorship to other judges. Representatives for the Maine Trial Lawyers Association and the Maine State Bar Association described surveys in which their members rated Stanfill as a fair, compassionate and intelligent judge.

Among the supporters was Saufley, who said Stanfill has “a clear vision of justice.”

“That clarity will serve the state well as the courts grapple with the unavoidable backlogs caused by the pandemic, the challenges of providing open access to digital records with insufficient public funding and the upcoming challenges that we cannot envision today,” Saufley said.

The legislators asked Stanfill broad questions about her philosophy as a judge and specific ones about cases she has handled in the past. They also asked about the training she has received as a judge, the thousands of cases awaiting jury trials because of the pandemic, mandatory minimum sentences and her view on the role of the Judicial Branch.

“Our job as judges, our best and highest job, is to make sure that we apply the law, but that we are disciplined in our application of the law so it indeed results in justice,” Stanfill said.

Stanfill, 63, lives in Wayne. She received her bachelor of arts degree in history from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1979 and then graduated magna cum laude from the University of Maine School of Law in 1985. The first 15 years of her career were spent at a law firm in Lewiston and then as a solo practitioner in Auburn. She started teaching at the law school in 1999 and became the interim director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic in 2001. She joined the Maine District Court in 2007 and the Maine Superior Court in 2020.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has seven members, including the chief justice. The governor has an advisory committee that considers candidates for judicial nominations, and while their work is mostly confidential, members said Stanfill stood out for this role in part because of her trial experience and respected reputation.

It was not clear how soon the Senate will vote on her nomination.

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