Prosecuting domestic violence cases set career path for veteran prosecutor
LEWISTON — As the son of a chief master sergeant in the Air Force, Andrew Robinson didn’t have much chance to put down roots.
As a self-identified military brat, Robinson remembers moving every two or three years throughout his childhood, constantly getting uprooted and moving away, leaving everything behind.
The 48-year-old district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, who is running for re-election on Nov. 6, said the ceaseless shuffle “created a genuine love for meeting new people” and seeing new places.
His wife, Yvette, was a Navy brat, so she knows what it was like.
It is perhaps surprising then that the pair has lived in Farmington for the past 22 years, raising three children who’ve never had another home, and settling down so solidly that it took two decades before the Robinsons even got around to having an 11-day honeymoon in Europe.
For Robinson, it’s not so odd that he wound up in the Pine Tree State.
His father, Richard Robinson, grew up in New Hampshire and he was never much for crowds. And twice during Robinson’s childhood, the family wound up at the now-closed Loring Air Force Base set amid the trees and wild blueberry bogs of northern Maine.
He said he attended elementary school there for a time and graduated from Limestone High School in 1988, though he only moved back in time for his senior year.
“Our houses were always in the potato fields,” Robinson recalled.
His parents loved the Limestone-Caswell area enough to settle there after Robinson’s father retired from the Air Force in 1986. His mother worked a variety of jobs, including a stint as a baker. (Robinson recalls her being “the best.”)
After high school, Robinson did something neither of his parents ever did: He headed off to college. He said it “just seemed logical” to go.
He recalled the day he arrived at the University of Maine in Orono, ready to start his first semester at a school he’d never seen before. The first thing he saw, he said, was “this massive building” — the field house — “with a big M” hanging above its main entrance.
Accustomed to making friends on the fly after years of constant moves, an “outgoing and gregarious” Robinson proved a solid student at college, focused on English and political science.
But the most important thing that happened in Orono is that he soon met a quiet, studious young woman with a passion for science “who would come back from class smelling like formaldehyde.”
She was smart and bashful, he said, but proving that “opposites attract” they fell for each other. Robinson said he told her “we’re never going to be rich,” but he promised they would always laugh together.
Two weeks before graduation in 1991, they got married.
Soon after, the pair moved to Kansas City so Yvette could study to become a chiropractor.
“Wherever Yvette goes, I follow my gal,” Robinson said.
While she attended classes, he worked “crazy retail hours” at a software and video game store called Babbage’s.
“I was like the modern ice cream man,” Robinson said, selling hot games and fielding questions about how to win them.
But with an undergraduate degree in hand and adult life looming, he decided in 1994 to head to law school, “the trade school for liberal arts majors.” He returned to Maine to begin classes that fall.
Robinson said the first year was pretty stressful, but once he realized he just had to do the best he could — a step down from perfection — “it came fluidly” and he enjoyed it.
During law school, the couple moved to Farmington, which has been their home ever since, the family eventually growing to include three children, Zeke, Gabe and Charlotte. Yvette has a part-time chiropractic practice that she runs out of the house, Robinson said.
After finishing law school, Robinson went to work for its admissions office, traveling around the country touting it to prospective students. He liked seeing the land, usually with other admissions folks who could serve as local travel guides.
But one day Yvette told him he had to stay home and get “a real job,” so he landed one doing real estate work with the longstanding Mills and Mills firm in Farmington, which he found “not very exciting.”
Looking for something more, Robinson said he started working some with a domestic violence group — experience that opened the door in 1999 for him to take a job funded by a special federal grant to serve as a prosecutor on domestic violence cases.
In that position, Robinson said, he learned the counterintuitive reality that some victims of domestic violence don’t want the perpetrator prosecuted, that things can be complicated and “you just can’t go in and blindly make decisions” without trying to see the big picture.
Love, money and the tangled web of life can make seemingly easy cases complex, requiring a complicated analysis that Robinson said is “the role of being the prosecutor.”
The following year, an assistant district attorney slot opened in Farmington, and the district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, Norman Croteau, hired Robinson.
Robinson served sometimes as a roving prosecutor when needed anywhere in the three-county district, which ensured that he met a lot of lawyers and saw a wide variety of cases, but mostly he worked near home, gradually taking larger, sometimes high-profile cases.
About seven years ago, Croteau tapped Robinson to work as his deputy, the No. 2 prosecutor in the district, which brought Robinson to Lewiston for “long, hard days” in a temporarily understaffed office.
In 2014, Croteau decided to step down after two decades as district attorney. Robinson ran for the office with Croteau’s support, and, to his surprise, faced no opposition.
Robinson said that proved a relief because it allowed for a long, careful transition by prosecutors to focus on “a total structural change” devised by the court system for handling and scheduling cases statewide.
Robinson said he made sure that one element of the new system was to give priority to helping victims have a voice in the way cases proceeded. He also introduced a way to let police officers know the outcome of arrests they’d made — a benefit he realized existing software could provide.
Robinson doesn’t use the word, but he’s a genuine nerd, the sort of guy who can get lost dealing with the ins and outs of software that most people would run screaming from. He likes the challenge.
That proclivity proved useful as Robinson tried to deal with what amounts to “an explosion of multimedia evidence” that has begun to accumulate in many cases as video, audio and digital files proliferate, from cruiser cameras to taped interviews. All of it, by law, has to be shared with the defendants.
Searching for a solution that wouldn’t require prosecutors and staff to spend hours making sure defense lawyers obtained everything they had a right to see, Robinson said he created an entirely new system from cloud-based software.
Now, he said, police and prosecutors have online case folders that are automatically shared with defense attorneys. Police in nearly every department simply upload the evidence to the appropriate folder as it accumulates so that both prosecutors and defense attorneys have exactly the same access all the time, he said.
“I built it,” Robinson said. “It didn’t exist” until he created it. It also costs less than $2,000 a year, he added, far less than commercial options he’d looked into.
“That’s me. That’s the DA saying, ‘We can do this better,’” Robinson said.
Robinson said crime is down and Maine, already the safest state, is getting safer still.
But, he said, he’s not interested in sitting back and resting on his laurels.
He is dogged about his pursuit of an ever-improved justice system and hopes voters will see that he’s done well for the community where he put down roots.
District Attorney Andrew Robinson (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)
Andrew Robinson with his dog Buttercup in front of the Franklin County Courthouse. (Photo provided)
District Attorney Andrew Robinson with his wife, Yvette, and their three children in Boston. (Photo provided)