CAPE ELIZABETH – Alexander MacNichol Jr., a former District Court judge who later worked as a criminal defense attorney and took on many high-profile cases ranging from murder to foreclosure, died Wednesday after a brief illness. He was 78.
Mr. MacNichol began a private law practice in the early 1960s, co-founding the law firm of Nesbitt & MacNichol in South Portland. Soon after, he became one of the first lawyers to volunteer for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which offers free legal services to low-income residents.
Mr. MacNichol’s passion for the law landed him a job as assistant prosecutor with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office. At one point, he served under former Gov. Joseph Brennan and was appointed to the governor’s Pardons and Commutations Board.
Brennan appointed Mr. MacNichol to the District Court bench in 1985, according to a 1997 Associated Press report. He was reappointed by former Gov. John McKernan, and sought a third term but then-Gov. Angus King decided not to reappoint him.
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson remembered Mr. MacNichol on Friday as kind and respectful.
“I will always think of him as an early mentor and with fondness,” Anderson said in an email.
Mr. MacNichol continued his law practice as a criminal defense attorney. He was a founder of Jackson & MacNichol Attorneys at Law in South Portland.
Francis “Jack” Jackson, a founding partner of the firm, recalled handling five murder cases in a five-year span. In each case, the partners were successful in reducing the murder charge to manslaughter.
“His real passion … his real love was criminal defense,” Jackson said. “He was really good. He had the juries eating out of his hand. They just loved him.”
Mr. MacNichol, of Cape Elizabeth, represented clients through Pine Tree Legal Assistance for many years. He also served on its board of directors. In one of his last cases, he successfully defended a woman facing foreclosure. He felt the bank had wronged her and appealed the case to Superior Court, Jackson recalled.
“He was able to do such an effective job,” Jackson said. “He kept the lady living in the house paying no mortgage for three years, then the bank gave her $10,000 to settle the case. It’s an extraordinary result in a foreclosure defense.”
Mr. MacNichol retired at age 72 after practicing law for nearly 50 years.
“The legal community was enhanced by his presence and will be diminished by his loss,” Jackson said.
He was a devoted husband to Loreen MacNichol for 49 years and a devoted father to three children.
His daughter, Susan Guthro of Pembroke, Mass., broke down in tears Friday recalling a man who was always there for his family. She said he was supportive, loving, and had a great sense of humor.
“He became a role model (to me) and a lot of our friends and cousins,” Guthro said. “He was a special guy and a loyal friend. His marriage to my mother was perfect. He was an excellent model as to what a husband and father should be.”
Mr. MacNichol was an active member of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Cape Elizabeth. He also served on the diocesan review board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Deacon John Brennan, retired director of the diocese’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said Mr. MacNichol was an active and distinguished member of the board for many years.
“He spoke freely and never hesitated to challenge any of the facts that surfaced during the board’s deliberations,” Brennan said. “The concepts of truth, fairness and justice were the hallmark of every vote that Judge MacNichol cast.”
Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: