The U.S. Senate confirmed Maine Superior Court Justice Thomas Delahanty II on Tuesday to become U.S. attorney for Maine, a position he held in 1980-81.

Delahanty was among four of President Obama’s picks for U.S. attorney positions who were confirmed by voice vote in the Senate on Tuesday morning.

Delahanty, 65, is a Lewiston native and a lifelong Democrat who lives in Falmouth. He will replace Paula Silsby, a Republican who has held the office since 2001.

“It’s an exciting change,” Delahanty said Tuesday. “I’m very pleased that the president had the confidence in my experience and my abilities to nominate me.”

Delahanty has been a Maine Superior Court justice since 1983, and served as chief justice from 1990 until 1995. He now presides over Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

Before becoming a judge, Delahanty was a defense attorney and a prosecutor, including terms as a district attorney and as U.S. attorney for Maine.

President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the federal position in May 1980 to succeed George Mitchell, who had been appointed a federal judge. Delahanty left the office in August 1981, after President Ronald Reagan took office.

Delahanty acknowledged that it’s unusual for a judge to resume being a lawyer, but he said Obama’s nomination offered a chance to conclude unfinished business.

“I only had a small window of opportunity to work as U.S. attorney the first time around,” he said. “I’m going back to a position where I think I can make more of a contribution than I did before.”

Delahanty said the work of the U.S. attorney for Maine has changed substantially since the 1980s. Then, the emphasis was on drug trafficking cases, particularly coastal smuggling operations that were handling as much as 15 tons of marijuana at a time, he said.

Now, the U.S. attorney’s roster has expanded to include more cases involving finances, fraud, firearms and violence, Delahanty said. The office also administers more programs related to quality-of-life issues, including victim-witness assistance and neighborhood safety.

“The U.S. attorney for Maine has a reputation for doing quality work and I hope to carry on that work,” Delahanty said.

Before joining the Maine Superior Court, Delahanty was a partner in the law firm Delahanty & Longley in Lewiston from 1981 to 1983. He was district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties from 1975 to 1980.

Before that, he worked in the Androscoggin County Attorney’s Office from 1971 until 1975. He was an associate at Marshall, Raymond & Beliveau in Lewiston from 1970 until 1974.

Delahanty graduated from St. Michael’s College in 1967 and from the University of Maine School of Law in 1970.

The process that led to Delahanty’s nomination to the political appointment began a year ago.

Maine’s two U.S. representatives, Democrats Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, named a five-person advisory panel to review candidates for the position. Michaud and Pingree recommended several candidates to Obama, who nominated Dela-hanty in March.

Pingree offered congratulations on Delahanty’s confirmation.

“He comes to this office with a wealth of experience, both as a judge and a former U.S. attorney,” Pingree said. “I’m really looking forward to sitting with Judge Delahanty to hear about his plans for the office and to share with him some of the feedback I’ve gotten from the legal community here in Maine.”

The U.S. attorney’s job pays an annual salary of $153,200, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Appointees typically serve four-year terms and remain in office until a successor is named.

Delahanty said he plans to submit his resignation to the Maine Superior Court soon and he anticipates being sworn in to the U.S. attorney’s job by a federal judge in the near future.

Silsby, who has spent her career as a federal prosecutor, is the first woman to be U.S. attorney for Maine.

She became an assistant U.S. attorney in 1977 and was recommended for the top job in Maine by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2001.

President George W. Bush never nominated Silsby, however, and she was eventually appointed by a U.S. District Court judge — one of only three U.S. attorneys to hold office through judicial appointment.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]