PARIS — Have you ever gotten a ticket, gone to court and prayed the officer who wrote the ticket will not show up?

Come spring, that scenario will be less likely to happen.

According to Andrew Robinson, district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, major changes in how traffic cases are prosecuted are set to roll out in April.

Traffic violations are now prosecuted by the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office, and law-enforcement officers only show up if cases go to trial.

Once the restructuring is complete, officers will be involved in every step of the process, coming to court to talk to people who have received tickets to determine who must return to court. That is now done by assistant district attorneys.

Once officers are trained, however, a representative of the District Attorney’s Office will not be there.

Robinson said the impetus for the change was the sheer weight that traffic violations put on the DA’s office, already stretched thin.

Robinson said guidelines set by the American Bar Association in 1963 recommend prosecutors not handle more than 350 criminal cases a year.

Robinson said in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, more than 8,092 cases were submitted to the court during the 2018 fiscal year. That number does not include civil cases.

The full caseload numbers 13,879, according to Robinson. Divided among the office’s 14 prosecutors, that is an average of 578 criminal cases or 991 criminal or civil cases per prosecutor, well above the American Bar Association’s recommendation.

Cutting traffic cases from that equation would free up valuable time for the DA’s office.

I perceive it as an attempt to stop the system from breaking,” Robinson said. “This is what we’re trying to address.”

According to Robinson, many counties, including Cumberland, have had this system for years. He said a few police departments in Franklin County, including Farmington, have undergone a pilot program on this restructuring.

Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said his department has been prosecuting its own cases since December, and while the transition is ongoing, its has been going well.

“We have nothing but positives,” Peck said. “Our officers have direct involvement with their cases. They know in real time what’s happening.”

According to Sheriff Scott R. Nichols Sr. of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, his office had not been notified of the changes, but he sees them as logical.

“It makes perfect sense. It frees up the ADA’s to do other things, other than minor traffic violations,” Nichols said.

“My people are perfectly capable of doing that. I realize there’ll be some training involved, but other than that, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

Oxford Police Chief Michael Ward said the change is only a matter of time, and the department ultimately will do what the DA’s office asks. A daytime officer will take up the task of court duties every week. However, Ward said, taking an officer and putting him at the courthouse will take him away from other responsibilities.

“He’ll be assigned to that task when he can be doing other cases or detective work,” Ward said, adding the change comes with positive.

“One good thing is we’ll know what happens to our cases as they go through traffic court,” he said. 

Lt. David St. Pierre of the Lewiston Police Department said the change will not have much impact on the department. The position will simply be incorporated into a patrol officer’s daily duties.

“It’s a little bit more work for us,” St. Pierre said, “but the workload isn’t huge.”

Rumford Police Chief Stacy Carter said the change will not be new territory for the department.

“We do prosecute town ordinance stuff, so it’s not completely out of our realm,” Carter said. “It’s not rocket science. The facts are the facts.”

He said the department would attend training provided by the DA’s office, and would follow the example set by other counties that have prosecuted this way for years.

“We’re interested in hearing the training the DA’s office will provide,” Carter said.

Livermore Falls Police Chief Chief Ernest N. Steward said his department has some decisions to make before the changes take place. 

The town is about 40 minutes from Lewiston District Court and has a staff of six full-time police officers. Steward said getting one to court every week will be a challenge.

“We’re so far away from the court now, I’m not sure just how we’re going to be able to work it out,” he said. “For bigger departments, it’s just downtown for them (to get to the courthouse). We have about 30 miles to travel.”

He said officers will likely have to be paid overtime, an expense the department has not had time to figure into the budget.

In Maine, police departments do not see revenue from traffic violations. That money goes to the state.

“We’re asked to put in extra work, and don’t see the benefit,” Steward said. “The ultimate thing is that the state (is) making the profits, and we get nothing out of it except for the expense.” 

Steward said he realizes the shift will help with the DA’s caseload and allow the department to spend more time on criminal matters.

Meantime, Steward said, the Livermore Falls Police Department has much to figure out.