Maine Court Records
How Does the Maine District Court Work?
District Courts in Maine are trial courts, which handle civil, criminal, and family matters. These courts always sit without a jury. Examples of civil cases brought before the District Courts are involuntary commitments (where persons are admitted into psychiatric hospitals against their will), and domestic relations cases (divorces, separations, custody, and property disputes). Other civil cases include protection from abuse and civil suits claiming monetary damages. A plaintiff in a civil action who has a right to trial by jury waives such right by bringing the action before a District Court. In contrast, a defendant who has a right to a civil jury may remove the action to a Superior Court for a jury trial.
Maine District Courts also handle cases involving civil violations and class D and E criminal offenses in which the defendant waives the right to a jury trial. Class D and E criminal offenses involve assault, operating under the influence, disorderly conduct, operating under suspension, theft of property, the value of which does not exceed $2,000. Additionally, traffic infraction cases and all juvenile matters are heard in the District Court. Persons charged with the more serious criminal offenses ranging from Class A to C may plead guilty in the District Court; however, trials for such crimes are held in the Superior Court.
District Courts hold a special session called the Small Claims Court in each district on specific days determined by the Chief Judge of the District Court. During these special sessions, court procedure is simplified, hearings are informal and typically held more quickly, and both sides in a case are permitted to appear without attorneys. Small claims sessions are only required when the amount in dispute, not including interest and cost, is not more than $6,000. Either side may file a notice of appeal within 30 days of losing a small claims case. The plaintiff in a small claims case may appeal to the Superior Court on questions of law only. In contrast, the defendant may appeal to the Superior Court on questions of law or fact and request a jury trial. District Courts make mediation available for both parties before the commencement of small claims hearings to try and resolve the dispute. Examples of small claim cases include where:
- A person loaned a personal property to another person who did not return it, or returned it in a damaged condition;
- A purchase of unsatisfactory goods from a business or individual where the person will not refund the money, give credit, provide an acceptable exchange, or repair the goods;
- A former landlord has refused, without justification, to return a security deposit;
- Collecting a debt for goods or services owned by a business or individual;
- A former tenant has refused to pay for damage to a rental property for which the tenant is responsible.
To start a case in the small case court, complete a Statement of Claim form from the clerk’s office in any Maine District Court. Consequently, the defendant is served a notice of the case. Afterward, file the Statement of Claim with the clerk’s office within 20 days and pay the appropriate filing fee. Persons who cannot afford the filing fee may ask the court to waive it by completing an Application to Proceed without Payment of Fees. Subsequently, the clerk’s office notifies both parties of a hearing with the date, time, and location, by mail.
Established within the District Court is a Family Division with jurisdiction over family matters filed in the court. The Division provides a responsive system of justice to the needs of families and the support of their children. The practice, procedure, and administration of the Family Division are governed by the administrative orders and court rules adopted by the Maine Supreme Court. The procedures and practices of the Family Division include education for the parties in a case management, mediation and other alternate dispute resolution techniques.
There are eight Family Law Magistrates who serve in the Family Division of the Maine District Court. These Magistrates are employed by the Chief Judge of the District Court. These appointments are subject to the approval of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. Per the Maine Revised Statute §183, Family Law Magistrates are required to be members of the Bar and have experience in the area of family law. Such experience include mediation and other alternate dispute resolution techniques, domestic violence. The candidates should also be interested in child development, family dynamics, and case management.
The District Courts handle eviction hearings, referred to as Forcible Entry and Detainer Actions (FED). Such cases are unique court processes typically initiated by landlords as a legal way to evict a tenant where the tenant does not leave after the expiration of a lease, rent is not paid, or the landlord cancels the lease. Maine District Courts make mediation available through the Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Service (CADRES) in eviction actions, which may be requested in advance or when parties appear in court on the day of the hearing.
There are 38 judges in Maine District Courts. These judges hold court sessions in eight judicial regions at several locations throughout Maine. District Court judges are appointed to seven-year terms by the Governor with confirmation by the Maine Senate. District Court judges may be reappointed to serve multiple terms. The only requirement by statute to serve on the District Court is to be a member of the state bar.
To obtain a court record from Maine District Courts, complete a Request for Records Search form, and mail in a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
Judicial Branch Service Center
PO Box 266
Lewiston, ME 0424
By FedEx or UPS to:
250 Goddard Road
Lewiston, ME 04240
Note that there is a $20 fee attached per name, per box checked in the court location(s) section of the form, as a record search fee. There is also an extra copy fee of $2 for the first page and $1 for each additional page. Attested (with the court seal) copies also cost $5 per document. Payment is acceptable in the form of a check, money order, or credit card (Visa, MasterCard, or Discover). A 2.39% convenience fee is charged on all credit card payments. A $5 postage and handling fee applies where necessary.
Individuals requesting a record search on themselves may query the court(s) where the records are located. Such persons are exempt from the research fee. For more information on obtaining court records from Maine District Courts, call the Judicial Branch Service Center on (207) 753–2901 or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The locations of Maine District Courts are listed below: