Top justice seeks more security funding


AUGUSTA (AP) – The chief justice of the Maine supreme court plans to outline the judicial system’s budget needs this week, with a special focus on courthouse security.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, who spoke at a gathering of state government leaders Friday at the Judicial Center in Augusta, said improving security would make citizens feel safer, particularly when they seek help concerning domestic violence.

“There are guns out there,” Saufley said. “We make a victim of domestic violence come to the courthouse to get a protective order and come back (for a hearing) to keep it in place. If someone wants to hurt him or her, that person goes to the courthouse.”

Saufley said she will ask the governor and the Legislature for money to hire and train people to monitor courthouse entrances. At the same time, she said more security would not speed up the court’s processing of cases.

“Spending $2 million to make the court system safer does not impact the number of cases we do,” she said.

Friday’s session included Saufley, Gov. John Baldacci, and Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.

On another financial matter, Saufley said courts must take into account their impact on county budgets when the courts are tenants in county-owned and county-run buildings.

“We do not pay rent,” she said. “There’s no budget to take care of buildings, no budget for upgrading or maintaining facilities. It’s been a real struggle for the past 30 years. The buildings are literally falling apart.”

Saufley said the court system has saved money, in part by using teleconferencing equipment for some inmate court appearances.

“We appreciate how you’re stirring things up,” Baldacci said.

Courthouse screening is done sporadically, with metal-detecting devices frequently sitting propped up against corridor walls.

Saufley said she will offer figures for funding the security upgrade when she addresses the Legislature on Tuesday.