PORTLAND — Sally Bourget was in mid-interview with a newspaper reporter when a knock came at the open door to her office in the Cumberland County Courthouse.

It was one of her assistant court clerks. A defendant’s name appeared differently on his green card than it did on his driver’s license. The clerk didn’t know which name to use on court documents. Bourget reviewed the materials then suggested the clerk include both names and mark the second one as “aka” or “also-known-as.”

Bourget’s open-door policy says as much about the veteran clerk as the award that hangs on the wall above her crowded desk.

She’s the recipient of the 2011 McKusick Award, given in recognition of “a person who has contributed substantially to the administration of justice and the delivery of judicial services to the people of Maine.”

The award is named for Vincent L. McKusick, a Bates College graduate who went on to Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He was appointed in 1977 to serve as chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court by then-Gov. James Longley. McKusick is widely recognized for reforming and modernizing the Maine judicial system, including writing the book on the Maine courts’ rules of procedure.

Most nominees are drawn largely from the ranks of Maine’s judges and practicing lawyers, but include a couple of court clerks. Nominations are made by a panel of judges and magistrates.

The award was presented to Bourget on Oct. 19 in Bangor. McKusick attended the dinner, along with about 70 state and federal judges and magistrates and their spouses.

“Sally’s management skills, work ethic and good humor and sense of fairness have earned her the respect of the judges and magistrates and all of the members of the judicial branch family she works with,” Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, herself a former nominee, said at the banquet. She was the one who called Bourget at her Lisbon Falls home earlier with the news.

“I was dumbfounded,” Bourget said.

Bourget, who had been on vacation, said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“It’s not anything that I ever dreamed that I would receive because it is such a prestigious award and I said, ‘Those go to judges and attorneys,’ ” she said. “I was in awe. It took me a couple of days to really let it sink in. It was wonderful.”

Bourget started working in the judicial system in 1980 at Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn where she handled divorces and other matters that are no longer part of that job.

“Things have changed a lot since then,” she said. She learned how to process criminal and civil cases from start to finish.

The deputy clerk at the time left when she had a child and Bourget moved up into that job. When the clerk of courts in Auburn went to Portland, Bourget moved up to that top spot.

In 1998, Bourget followed suit, moving to Portland as clerk of the Cumberland County Superior Court.

But, unlike Auburn’s relatively small offices and caseloads, the Portland courthouse was bursting with cases and in need of reform.

Active-Retired Supreme Court Justice Robert Clifford of Lewiston was the one who encourage Bourget to move to Portland.

“She’s had all the requisite talents to go there,” he said. “She’d hit the ceiling where she was. I just encouraged her to take it.”

He’s glad he did.

“She’s done a great job with it. . . . She’s a top-notch person.”

In 2008, the criminal process in Cumberland County became the unified docket as Cumberland County District Court cases were folded in with those at Cumberland County Superior Court in an effort to streamline the process. The new system was the brainchild of Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley; Associate Justice Ellen Gorman supervised the conversion.

It was Bourget’s job to oversee its implementation, the first of its kind in the state. It has proved a success, moving cases efficiently along the process from initial appearance through trial. The program served as a model for court systems in other counties. The joining of the two courts worked well in Portland, in part, because both courts were housed in the same building. That’s not true for many of the superior and district courts elsewhere in the state.

“The project has saved us a lot of time and a lot of money,” she said. The streamlined process allowed not only for cases to get through the system faster, but also allowed for jobs that overlapped the two courts to go unfilled as workers left.

“I think the majority of attorneys like it,” she said.

Defendants know at the time of their initial appearances who their court-appointed attorneys are and are given a trial date.

“They’re not waiting. They’re not unsure,” she said. “It is helpful to them. I think sometimes it relaxes them a little bit.”

But they didn’t stop there. Next came the idea of combining the civil cases of both courts. That happened in 2009.

A year later, she was asked to be the clerk over both criminal and civil consolidated courts.

“I like the system myself,” she said. “I think it works well. It moves the system along.”

After 32 years in a courthouse, Bourget said she’s thinking about doing something else.

“I think I’ve done all I can do” in the judicial system, she said.

She thinks she might like to do something that doesn’t have anything to do with crime or lawsuits.

Maybe work at a flower shop, something completely different.

“I don’t want to see the bad things anymore.”

Sally Bourget, clerk of the Cumberland Consolidated Courts, is the recipient of the 2011 McKusick Award. Bourget lives in Lisbon Falls. 

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