FARMINGTON — Probate Judge Richard Morton is hanging up his well-worn black robe — ripped inside sleeves and all — on Dec. 31 after 35 years on the Franklin County bench.

“I just love the work,” he said. “I am retiring because I have done it for a long time and other people should have the opportunity to experience the same professional satisfaction that I have.”

Morton, 70, wants to experience all of the aspects of retired living while he has the time, health and enthusiasm for new activities.

“There are just a lot of things available to do if you are not tied to a court schedule,” he said.

The Farmington native became a lawyer in 1973 and has served as a military lawyer in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps and in the Maine National Guard. He has assisted legislative Republican leaders and has been a prosecutor for the state. 

His high school civics teacher, the late Bob Stevens, put the idea in his head to pursue a career as a lawyer.

“From that point on, I focused on what I was going to be,” Morton said. 

He opened a private law practice in downtown Farmington in space that Benjamin Butler offered in his office for $50 a month in the fall of 1978.

Morton considers himself fortunate that the lawyers in Farmington were “extremely generous” in giving advice and referring work to him. 

“And because I grew up in Farmington and was the new guy on the block, some people wanted a different lawyer,” he said. 

Maine Probate Law changed in 1981 and Morton was in the thick of it. The initial probate law had evolved over 150 years and was kind of pieced together and a little disorganized, he said. 

He had worked as a legal aide for the Republican leaders in the Legislature from 1979 to 198o. Because of his work there, he was able to observe, participate and attend all of the judicial meetings.

“I had a front-row seat to the change, which meant everybody was learning it for the first time,” he said. 

When a probate judge in Franklin County resigned, the Republicans caucused and put his name forward to fill the position. Gov. Joseph Brennan appointed Michael Gentile to the position. Two years later, when the election was held, Morton was elected.

He started serving his term in 1983 and even though he had experience, he found it a challenge to learn all aspects of probate law. 

However, when the law changed, a code was developed and he followed it.

“We all learned it together,” he said. “I just found that I loved it. I loved the interaction with the people.”

In many cases, people represented themselves instead of hiring a lawyer. 

“I enjoyed the finality of it. The fact I had a case to decide, a decision was made and you moved on,” Morton said.

Being a probate judge was a nice variation in his overall career. 

He said two categories of cases are the most difficult. One is cases involving children whose parents are unable to care for them and a guardian is appointed. Then the parents want the guardianship terminated and contest the guardianship. 

“Those are very difficult,” he said.

Other cases he finds difficult are when people are disabled, have dementia or other issues of incapacity, and not only who should care for them but how much independence they should retain needs to be figured out, he said.

“Some of the most satisfying cases are decedents’ estate disputes when the family just can’t agree on how to complete their parents’ estate and the court then essentially solves their problems,” Morton said.  

During his tenure on the bench, he has handled more than 9,000 cases and of those, perhaps 10 percent were contested. 

“I have been supported in an extraordinary way both by the staff of probate court and my staff at my private practice office, allowing me to do this work in an organized and effective manner,” he said. 

He closed his private practice on June 14, 2013. Morton’s wife, Joyce Morton, has worked in the probate office for nearly 50 years and has been registrar of probate since 1983.

“I will miss the interaction with the people of Franklin County and the lawyers in Franklin County who have made this job such a pleasure,” Richard Morton said.

New Judge of Probate Margot Joly of Weld will take office on Jan. 1, 2019.

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Franklin County Judge of Probate Richard Morton at his bench in the Franklin County Courthouse on Dec. 4. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Joyce Morton, Franklin County register of probate, adjusts the robe of her husband, Judge of Probate Richard Morton, whose bench is about 10 feet from her desk in the Franklin County Courthouse, prior to having his photo taken Dec. 4. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Franklin County Judge of Probate Richard Morton in the Franklin County Courthouse on Dec. 4. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Franklin County Judge of Probate Richard Morton. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)


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