RUMFORD – Tuesday night’s organizational rally to save Rumford District Court from possibly being closed was held inside the very courtroom that would be affected.

With a wall mural of Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments behind him, police Chief Stacy Carter told the more than 25 area officials, “I think this is a very positive first step.”

That statement came after 90 minutes of discussion regarding possible scenarios and potential burdens on communities and victims that could happen should legislators choose to close Rumford District Court as part of Maine’s budget-cutting process.

It was just what Reps. Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford, Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, and Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, wanted to hear. Crockett sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Peterson, Briggs and Crockett asked for and were promised more details to back claims that closing the court would overburden taxpayers, police, town officials, attorneys and victims of crimes in Bethel, Dixfield, Mexico, Rumford, and Oxford County.

Carter opened the meeting, saying he and other chiefs recently heard rumors that the Rumford court, which pays annual rent of $22,000 to the town, was on a possible closure list with other district courts.

However, Maine Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley announced Dec. 18 that Gov. John Baldacci’s supplemental budget didn’t pare anything from the Judicial Branch.

Saufley said that, “assuming that the Legislature accepts the governor’s proposals, we will be able to manage the next six months of the Maine Court System without the immediate broad-based court shutdowns that had been considered had deeper cuts been imposed.”

Still, those gathered Tuesday night in the Rumford court expressed angst about losing the court.

“By closing Rumford District Court, they would send all of us, along with anyone else, to some other jurisdiction … none of them as efficient as what we have now,” Carter said.

“Their premise is to save money for the state. That’s only a $20,000 lease, but they would transfer a lot of that expense and more to local municipalities.”

Carter said that should legislators close Rumford’s court, Rumford and Mexico police, lawyers and victims of crimes would have to travel to Lewiston District Court for cases. Dixfield would be sent to Farmington District Court and Bethel to South Paris.

“That is a huge expense for police departments,” Carter said before explaining how it would tie up officers and cruisers for half a day or more.

It would cause steep hikes in overtime and mileage costs that would be passed on to taxpayers in increased property taxes, he said.

Additionally, victims of crimes and domestic violence would have to take time off from work and travel either 42 miles one way to Lewiston, 34 to South Paris, or 32 to Farmington as many times as needed during cases, Carter and others argued.

“In the premise of saving the state of Maine money, I have to question that. Yes, it will save the lease fee, but how many civil or criminal cases will be dismissed or plead out due to overburdened court systems?” Carter asked.

“This is not a good thing, especially when they’re paying $22,000 rent for this court and everyone would have to go to the cracker box in South Paris that’s paying $60,000 (annually). You think the wheels of justice are slow now, just wait,” Oxford County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dane Tripp said.

Crockett tried to allay fears, telling everyone to continue to gather facts and attend legislative public hearings when scheduled.

“It’s not a done deal,” he said.

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