AUBURN — A local judge has passed the final hurdle to become the new U.S. attorney in the District of Maine.
Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Thomas E. Delahanty II, 65, got the nod in March from the Obama administration, chosen from a list of four nominees, including a former U.S. attorney and a current district attorney. A U.S. Senate committee signed off on the nomination earlier this month. On Tuesday, the full Senate gave its approval, clearing the way for Delahanty to take the reins of the office.
Delahanty, who served in the post briefly in 1980, said he's looking forward to being a federal prosecutor again.
"I greatly appreciate the confidence of the president in appointing me," Delahanty said Tuesday. "I look forward to the challenges of the job."
When he assumes his new role, Delahanty will benefit from having viewed the courtroom from all sides. He's practiced as a defense attorney and spent 27 years on the bench as a Maine Superior Court justice, presiding over civil and criminal trials. He also was district attorney for the tri-county region for five years following a brief stint as part-time county attorney.
The nomination process is more involved than it was 30 years ago, he said. The first time, he was asked to fill out a four-page congressional questionnaire. This time, the questionnaire ran 34 pages, including instances where his name appeared in published articles.
One of the questions sought a listing of every one of his residences since he was 18. In order to answer, Delahanty found himself driving around Portland neighborhoods, looking for the name of the street where he lived during law school.
“I remembered where it was, but I didn't remember the specific address,” he said.
The questionnaire also asked him to detail every college job he had. That was easier to remember. For years over the summer, he dug ditches for Central Maine Power Co. He and his brother ran a gas station at Old Orchard Beach, pumping gas and selling “fresh native ice,” he said.
An FBI background investigation followed.
During an interview session at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, one of the questioners asked what his reaction would be if he were in the federal courtroom trying a case and, when the defense attorney objected, Delahanty, by habit, were to overrule the objection.
Without missing a beat, Delahanty said he would hope the judge would agree with his ruling.
The new job will take some time getting up to date on current methods of the office as well as policies and priorities of the Obama administration.
"I have some ideas of what I'd like to be doing, but an awful lot has changed in the landscape since the time I was there last," he said. “I'm going to have a period of time with a big learning curve.”
When he held the office in 1980, drug trafficking was a priority, he said, especially importation of drugs along the Maine coast. Instead of focusing on marijuana, these days drug agents, at least in Maine courts, appear to be cracking down more on hard drugs, such as heroin and OxyContin, he said.
Internet child pornography is an area of prosecution that didn't even exist 30 years ago.
Financial fraud and terrorist activities also appear to be a high priority these days, he said.
He was first appointed U.S. Attorney in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter following his nomination by then-U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.
Delahanty served a brief 15-month stint until President Ronald Reagan took office.
Delahanty said he wouldn't stay out of the courtroom and serve only as administrator. He would plan to prosecute cases along with his assistants, if possible, without stepping on any toes, he said. He did that during his time as a district attorney.
While his father also had been a judge, the federal post also is something of a family tradition.
His grandfather John D. Clifford Jr. was appointed U.S. Attorney for Maine by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later was appointed a U.S. District Court judge by President Harry Truman.
Several people had approached Delahanty about the post, urging him to put his name in the hat. "I talked to my family and decided I would give it a try," he said.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with being a judge in the Superior Court," he said.
His cause for celebration has had the opposite effect in the Androscoggin County Superior Courthouse where longtime acquaintances and colleagues are bemoaning the loss.
"We're all very sad," said Pat Champagne, who works in the court clerk's office and served as his secretary at the District Attorney's Office and as his personal judicial secretary for 13 years when he was on the bench.
"I can't imagine a courthouse without a Delahanty in it," she said.
Although he's seeking what's considered a political appointment, Delahanty's political activism took a hiatus 25 years ago. Before that, he was in the thick of Democratic politics in Maine, serving on both county and state party committees.
If appointed, Delahanty said he would expect most of his staff assistants, who have "an excellent reputation by the court and the bar," to stay on, he said.
When he was last running it, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland employed five assistants. Now, there are more than four times that number, he said.
Delahanty has worked mainly out of the Androscoggin County courthouse in Auburn, he has been a justice for the Maine Superior Court since 1983. Before that, he was a partner in the firm Delahanty & Longley. Prior to that, of course, he was U.S. attorney for 15 months.
His short stint in the federal office didn't give him enough to really make his mark, he said. He hopes to leave his imprint this time.
Delahanty will replace current U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby, who has been in that position since 2001.
All that remains to be done is a letter of resignation to Maine's governor and a swearing in ceremony, he said.