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New DA for Kennebec and Somerset Counties Faces Big Challenges
11/08/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Residents of Kennebec and Somerset Counties are hoping the election of a new district attorney will bring positive change and stability to the office. Since January, eight out of 10 lawyers have left, or said they would leave by the end of the year. This week, former state Rep. Maeghan Maloney was elected to the post, and as Patty Wight reports, she's got a challenging job ahead of her.

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Maeghan Maloney has an impressive resume. She graduated cum laude from the Harvard Law School. She's worked in both private and public practice - including stints as a deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, and four years as an assistant attorney general in Maine.

But Stephanie Anderson, district attorney for Cumberland County, says despite that experience, Maloney will have her hands full. Anderson remembers when she took her own post 22 years ago. "And I really thought I was prety much 100 percent prepared to come in and take this place over."

Anderson had worked as an assistant DA in New York and practiced criminal law in Cumberland County for five years. Having so much in experience in criminal law, she thought the transition would be relatively easy. Still, before she took office, she says she sat down with every staff member to find out what was working and what wasn't. It was a bit of a shock.

"And, I'm telling you, my eyes - you know how in the cartoons where the eyes are going in circles - I was like that," she says. "I had no idea how bad - I really did not have the complete understanding I thought I did, let's just put it that way."

And Anderson wasn't dealing with the turnover that Maloney is - remember that eight of the office's 10 lawyers have left or said they're leaving by the end of the year. Some of those positions have been filled, and currently there are three vacant positions.

Even so, Anderson says that still leaves a lot of people who will be learning the ropes at the same time, in a job where resources are tight as it is. "That office is losing an incredible amount of talent and ability, and what they call institutional memory," she says.

The Somerset and Kennebec DA's office has been in upheaval since the previous district attorney left earlier this year to become a judge. Democrats nominated Meaghan Maloney to become interim DA, but Gov. LePage never appointed her, so Alan Kelley, the deputy district attorney, became acting district attorney.

The contest between the two, plus Kelley's decision to leave by the end of the year could explain the exodus. Meaghan Maloney says in some ways, it's to be expected. "I think whenever there's a big change, there are those who want to be a part of it, and those who don't, and that's just human nature," she says. "So I don't fault them in any way."

Maloney says others lawyers left simply because they got better job offers with higher salaries. She says she's confident moving forward, and focused on her goals as a district attorney. Maloney plans to be what she calls "smart on crime." She says she wants to lock up the most violent criminals for as long as possible.

And for nonviolent offenders who commit misdemeanors: "We need to look at alternative programs that don't cost the taxpayers money, because prisons are very expensive, and they're funded on our property taxes," she says."I don't feel putting someone in jail for 30 days is particularly effective as a deterrent, but I do believe that we can find alternatives that are effective."

That goal seems to be resonating with community members. Maloney says she's already getting phone calls from people asking how they can volunteer to help see her vision through to fruition. And Maloney says she plans to hit the ground running when she takes office. She's sifting through resumes to fill those three vacant positions, and forming a transition team to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.


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