Kennebec County commissioners are considering accepting a gift of a granite bench honoring the late Kennebec County Probate Judge Jim Mitchell, seen here in 2010 in his Vassalboro home when his wife Libby was running for governor. The bench would be placed outside the county courthouse where Mitchell served for as judge of probate for 37 years. Morning Sentinel file

AUGUSTA — For more than a year, the son of a former Kennebec County probate judge has been working to organize a memorial in his late father’s name.

Now, William Mitchell, who has proposed installing a granite bench outside the Kennebec County courthouse where James Mitchell served for as judge of probate for 37 years at the time of his death in 2016, is closer than he’s ever been.

On Tuesday, the Kennebec County commissioners held a public hearing to take comment about the gift.

Kathleen Ayers, Kennebec County register of probate, who worked with Mitchell for many years, gave a brief presentation about Mitchell and his life and a career, including his service as a U.S. Marine Corps captain during the Vietnam War, being awarded a Bronze Star, his study abroad, his time as director of the Maine Housing Authority and his decades as a lawyer and judge.

Among other things, Mitchell is credited with writing the Maine Probate Manual, and in 2009 was awarded the Justice Louis Scolnik Award from the then-Maine Civil Liberties Union for his efforts to find justice for some of Maine’s most powerless people.

“He made sure everyone felt they had their day in court no matter what their situation was,” Ayers said. “He was just the smartest person I have ever known, just so kind, and the least judgmental person I have ever known.”


In Maine, probate courts handle legal cases about wills and estates as well as guardianships, name changes and other family-related issues.

Will Mitchell was unable to attend the meeting, but Joseph Pietroski, commissioner-elect, and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney both spoke in favor of the memorial.

The project has been in the works for more than a year, delayed in part because of another gift to Kennenbec County that drew the attention of county officials — and prompted commissioners to require a stricter review of such gifts.

In 2020, the Maine Judicial Branch had sent a letter to Kennebec County officials asking if they would consider moving the statue of Melville Fuller from the front of the county’s courthouse. Fuller, an Augusta native, presided as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1897, when it decided Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that established legal segregation for the next six decades. Fuller didn’t write the decision, but he sided with the majority of the court.

At that time, in 2020, demonstrations across the country protesting the killing of Black people also prompted public review of symbols and statues that were perceived to be racist and in the removal of statues of Confederate Army officers and soldiers, Christopher Columbus and many who have supported racist policies.

The statue had been given to the county in 2013 by Robert Fuller, a relative of Melville Fuller and a retired Augusta attorney, along with the granite base.


Then-Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead, writing on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said Maine judicial officers reached a consensus that the statue, in its current location, “is not consistent with our values, because the association between Chief Justice Fuller and the Plessy decision is so profound, and Maine judges do not want to be linked to that association.”

After a lengthy public hearing and the appointment of  a committee to make recommendations on a new home for the statue, Robert Fuller suggested he’d take the statue back and county officials agreed, conveying it back to him for $1. It was removed in February.

Because of that, Kennebec County commissioners adopted a policy about accepting gifts, that now includes a public hearing like the one held Tuesday, and a review of whether the person being honored by an installation held any political or judicial positions that could polarize Kennebec County residents.

In addition to the support expressed at the hearing, three letters of support were also submitted, one from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association and two from local attorneys.

Patsy Crockett, chairwoman of the Kennebec County commissioners, said the commissioners will continue to accept written comments. The commissioners are expected to vote whether to accept the gift at their Dec. 20 meeting.

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