AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s chief justice told lawmakers Tuesday that 7,000 knives and lethal weapons, including dozens of guns and ammunition, were stopped at the doors of Maine’s courts last year.

A selection of those weapons, including switchblades, brass knuckles, a pellet gun and multiple-bladed throwing stars associated with martial arts, drew comments of surprise as legislators stopped to see them displayed in the State House after Chief Justice Leigh Saufley gave her annual address.

“Again, we’ve been stunned at the weapons that otherwise would have been brought into the courthouses,” Saufley told a joint House-Senate convention.

“In 2007, more than 7,000 knives and lethal objects were stopped at the doors. More terrifying, however, were the number of guns that were prevented from coming into courthouses by entry screening. Sixty-four times, guns or ammunition were stopped at the doors,” she said.

The visual aids illustrated Saufley’s point that bolstered security in Maine’s courts has had an effect, but more needs to be done. Her comments prompted a co-chairman of the legislative committee that deals with court issues to seek improvements.

“I am committed to collaborating with my legislative and judicial colleagues to finding more resources to make our courts safer,” said Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco.

There are many other areas in which the courts, which comprise less than 2 percent of the state’s General Fund budget, are lacking, Saufley said.

Saufley said Maine spends an average of $34 per person using the courts, far less than the $45 spent in New Hampshire or $48 in Vermont per person, and that Maine has the second-lowest judicial pay rate – behind only Hawaii – in the country.

Maine is falling behind in meeting the full anticipated cost of providing constitutionally required court-appointed attorneys to defendants, said Saufley. That comes amid an increase in criminal filings, a change she said is also showing up in prison and jail budgets.

“The increase in filings won’t go away,” Saufley told legislators, adding that resulting delays in the legal process will mean longer waits for victims to see justice carried out.

Maine courts also are not keeping pace with demands to computerize information about cases, said Saufley, adding, “We remain a paper-based system.”

“Many hard choices will be made,” Saufley acknowledged. “We can and must work together to make Maine a place where access to justice has meaning for everyone.”

She said the court system has already taken steps to economize and additional measures to cut costs are under study.

Maine’s adult drug courts, which seek to dispense justice while enforcing treatment of a root cause of criminal activity, are making progress in reducing re-arrests, said Saufley. “Juvenile drug treatment courts are also paying for themselves,” she added.

The chief justice singled out a success in the family drug treatment courts she said can’t be measured in dollars saved, saying that nine babies “who almost certainly would have been born addicted were born drug-free.”

Other cost-cutting measures include delays in filling vacancies, expanded use of video to cut the costs of transporting defendants, and streamlined procedures in children’s and family cases.

“We can’t allow fiscal shortages to stifle our willingness to improve,” Saufley said.


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