Maine courts need more judges and clerks to handle a case backlog that has increased as technological advancements have made cases more time consuming, and became even more pronounced during the pandemic, according to a study by the National Center for State Courts.

The Legislature should consider providing funding for nine additional judges and 53 court clerks, the study says.

The workload assessment report, paid for with surplus funds from the Maine Judicial Branch budget, was conducted between September 2022 and April 2023, but its findings were not released until Monday. The 42-page study included input from Superior Court justices, District Court judges, Family Law magistrates, court clerks, and administrative court staff.

The study examined workloads in judicial and clerks’ offices, and focused solely on Maine trial courts, where there is a case backlog, and not on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The study recommends the state hire nine additional judges and 53 court clerks, said Barbara Cardone, director of legal affairs and public relations for the Maine court system. The study did not address staffing shortages in other critical areas such as judicial marshals and information technology positions.

The report will be presented to the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary for funding consideration.


“This is a barebones study that shows the courts are understaffed,” Cardone said.

The study’s primary objective was to assess trial court workload so the court system could establish the number of judicial officers and clerks needed “to resolve in a timely manner all cases coming before the court.”

Cardone said the time it takes for a criminal case to go to trial depends on the circumstances.

But Augusta attorney Walter F. McKee, who is known for taking high profile criminal cases, said the backlog is a serious problem.

“The court caseloads are just overwhelming right now,” McKee said in an email Monday night. “They were high before the pandemic but now they are just astronomical.”

McKee said he has handled criminal cases that took over two years to go to trial because of the pandemic. Some of his cases are more than three years old and still have not been tried.


“The civil docket is even worse,” he said.

“There is no question – zero – that unless and until we get our courts fully staffed we will be perpetually behind the ball,” McKee said. “And as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.”

The study makes several recommendations, including that the Maine Legislature authorize new judges. There are not enough judicial officers to effectively resolve cases coming before Maine trial courts, the study said.

The study also recommends the Legislature increase funding for clerk’s offices around the state, particularly in the larger court offices.

Cardone said the study only confirms what judges and court clerks noticed before the pandemic – that it was taking longer to resolve cases as advancements in technology made cases more complicated to try.

In the past, an OUI case might take a half day. Now, with police body cameras and videos, an OUI case can take one and a half days, Cardone said.


“Our case rates were starting to slow down even before the pandemic hit, but after it hit it was like a hurricane slamming into a rickety old barn,” Cardone said.

In April 2022, the state reported a backlog of 26,000 felony and misdemeanor cases. That number was roughly 10,500 higher than in March 2019.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill in her annual address to state lawmakers last year said the backlog is a consequence of “insufficient resources” and will only get worse without more help.

“Despite applying all available resources, technologies and revamped processes, we have yet to be able to cut the backlog in any meaningful way,” Stanfill said. “The pandemic has exposed the uncomfortable reality that we simply lack the capacity to just ‘catch up’ or to schedule and hear more cases with our existing workforce.”

Founded in 1971, the National Center for State Courts is an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization. Its services are designed to help courts plan, make decision and implement improvements that save time and money.

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