Jonathan Sahrbeck, the district attorney for Cumberland County, is running for re-election and faces Jackie Sartoris in the Democratic primary on June 14. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

An out-of-state political action committee is pouring $300,000 into the Democratic primary election for Cumberland County district attorney, a race that will effectively decide who will become top prosecutor in the state’s busiest district.

The winner of the primary will run uncontested in November, with no Republican or independent challengers on the ballot.

Jonathan Sahrbeck, who won the last election in 2018 as an independent, is now a Democrat and vying for the party’s nomination against Jackie Sartoris, a Brunswick resident who works as an assistant district attorney in Kennebec County.

Sahrbeck launched his re-election bid as a Democrat in the fall of 2021. He said that he decided to enroll in the party after speaking to other Democratic district attorneys and learning he shared the same values.

But Sartoris has questioned whether this change was genuine, citing the fact that Sahrbeck was a registered Republican for most of his adult life before the 2018 election.

Sahrbeck’s decision to switch parties also is getting criticized by an outside group that has invested a massive sum of money in what is typically a low-budget election.


A political action committee financed with a $300,000 donation from national Democratic donor George Soros is acting independently of Sartoris, but has amplified the criticism in mailed advertisements to Cumberland County voters. The flyers call Sahrbeck a “flip-flopping” district attorney who “only became a Democrat just in time to run for re-election.”

“I think it’s unprecedented to have an out-of-state political action committee coming into Cumberland County and spending $300,000 on a local race,” Sahrbeck said. “I don’t like the precedent that’s being set by this out-of-state money, which could have a really big influence on what happens in this election.”

Jackie Sartoris, candidate for Cumberland County district attorney, photographed in Portland last Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Sartoris said she had nothing to do with the Soros-funded ads, but she considers them an endorsement.

“They’ve apparently made a decision about who is going to bring reform in Cumberland County,” Sartoris said. “And they’ve decided that the race I’m running, and the policies I want to set, they support that.”

Cumberland County is Maine’s largest and busiest prosecutorial district, dealing with more criminal defendants and victims than any other district in the state. Prosecutors for Cumberland County had a little more than 5,000 pending felony and misdemeanor charges by May 23, 2022.

As the entire state struggles to process a backlog of cases in criminal and civil courts, Cumberland County reported a 59 percent increase in pending felony cases from May 2019 to May 2022. The county reported a 46 percent increase in pending misdemeanor cases over the same period of time.


The Cumberland County district attorney currently operates a $2.2 million budget from the county, covering salaries for about 30 county employees, programs in the office and supplies. The office also oversees 20 assistant district attorneys, all paid by the state budget.

Sahrbeck, who is 42, used to be one of these prosecutors. Joining the office in 2016, he oversaw Cumberland County’s human trafficking unit under former District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, a Republican who held the office for 28 years. Before Cumberland County, Sahrbeck was a prosecutor in York County and various offices across Massachusetts. He obtained his law degree from American University. His first experience prosecuting was an internship with the Montgomery County States Attorney’s Office in Maryland.

“There’s something about when you work as a prosecutor, and you’ve helped a victim, and that victim thanks you for the work that you’ve done, that really kind of gets to your soul,” Sahrbeck said.

Sahrbeck ran in 2018 with Anderson’s endorsement. Originally, he faced two opponents –Randall Bates, a Republican who dropped out of the race about a month before Election Day, and Democratic nominee Jon Gale, who dropped out a week before the election amid allegations of sexual assault and at the urging of the state Democratic Party.

Sahrbeck won with nearly 25 percent of the vote, according to results from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. There were more than 117,000 ballots that the Secretary of State’s Office has recorded as blank.

In the last four years, Sahrbeck said he has launched a number of programs targeted at diverting people facing low-level misdemeanor crimes from incarceration. That includes a restorative justice program, where participants who have admitted to a crime are allowed to make it up to their victims and avoid a conviction, and a treatment court that connects people dealing with addiction, including veterans, with substance use treatment instead of incarceration.


“I’d much rather have somebody get into treatment and recovery outside of the criminal justice system,” Sahrbeck said. “Unfortunately, when there are so many systems that have failed people, they come into the criminal justice system and we have to use the tools that we have.”

Sahrbeck said he’s also spent the last four years doing preventative and outreach work, through various committees where members work to promote access to mental health resources and addiction treatment in Cumberland County. Sahrbeck said he would continue this work if he wins the primary and stays on as district attorney in 2023.

“I think we’re really starting to take a look at why somebody’s involved in the criminal justice system, and not just what did they do,” Sahrbeck said.

About the same time Sahrbeck was taking office in 2018, Sartoris was starting as an assistant district attorney in Augusta. She was recruited by District Attorney Maeghan Maloney as one of several “nontraditional prosecutors,” Sartoris recalled, “who had a broader perspective than the idea of just crime and punishment.”

“As a new prosecutor at that time, I could really see the need for change, and I was really looking forward to that change as a resident of Cumberland County,” said Sartoris. “I was really disappointed with the result we got. I definitely think that Cumberland County was ready for change in 2018, and I think if they know about the race, they are going to be ready for change now.”

During her time in Augusta, Sartoris has led two of Kennebec County’s treatment courts.


Sartoris, who would not provide her age and said it’s not relevant, worked mostly in environmental law until joining Maloney’s office. Prior to her graduation from the University of Maine School of Law in 2010, she helped write policies for Maine wetlands for the Maine Department of Natural Resources. Sartoris was also a Brunswick town councilor for several years and a candidate for the state House of Representatives in the 2014 Democratic primary. She lost that year’s race to current Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick.

“I always thought if I went into criminal law I would probably be a defense attorney,” Sartoris said. “But I really love it. We have enormous impacts on people’s lives. We have the opportunity to help people at a time of crisis, both victims and defendants, to re-center what they do next.”

While Sahrbeck has stated in interviews and public forums that he embraces a community outreach role, and one preventing future crime, Sartoris has said she would focus more on developing publicly available, specific policies for how to prosecute people.

Her policy suggestions include a monthly “misdemeanor fair,” where people who have been charged for the first time with low-level, nonviolent offenses visit various tables advertising rehabilitation options – like a job fair – and if they successfully enroll in some programs, their charges can be dismissed months afterward.

Sahrbeck’s campaign has raised $49,177 and spent $51,508, according to the latest finance reports submitted to the state last week.

Sartoris’ campaign has raised $22,091 and spent $19,745.

Both candidates spent most of the money on direct mailings to voters.

Cumberland County residents can cast their votes before election day or at the polls on June 14. Sahrbeck and Sartoris are scheduled to participate in an online forum hosted by Maine Youth Justice on Monday.

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