Anderson: DA job was a matter of social justice

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — For the first time in more than a generation, Cumberland County will have a district attorney not named Stephanie Anderson.

“I am not ready to put myself out to pasture,” Anderson said Nov. 5, the day before Jonathan Sahrbeck was elected to replace her.

Sahrbeck, now an assistant district attorney, had Anderson’s endorsement in the election.

First elected in 1990 after having a private local practice and serving as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York, Anderson, 66, grew up in Elliot, and graduated from the University of Maine Orono in 1974.

She then worked in state government before graduating from the Maine School of Law in 1977.

“I (first) stepped forward because there was a Democratic primary and the front-runner was someone who had no interest in criminal law predating his candidacy,” she said.

Anderson could not recall if she had been a Democrat or unenrolled before running, but she registered as a Republican.

“I had ideas about how the office should be organized and I also wanted to set up a juvenile division,” Anderson said.

She also ended a practice of rotating assistant district attorneys through district court cases.

“My view … was the district court cases were as or more important, because it is where I think you make a bigger difference in someone’s life,” she said.

Initially using federal grants, Anderson made a priority of prosecuting domestic violence and established juvenile and drug courts.

“It is personal, but it is not just personal,” she said of domestic violence. “The state recognized it is not just a crime against the victim or family; it is a crime against social order.”

By encouraging law enforcement to broaden investigations beyond victim statements, Anderson said her staff could prosecute cases even if a victim did not testify.

The 1990s brought another big change.

“One of the things we did in those early years was get computers,” Anderson said.

Among her most memorable cases were the prosecutions of Warren Cole and Robert LaPoint, Anderson said.

In 1992, Cole, a Gray restaurateur, pleaded guilty to two counts of gross sexual misconduct for taking boys to his camp in Raymond and molesting them.

“He was like the Pied Piper. Everyone loved him, he was a pillar of the community,” Anderson said. “He pleaded guilty and part of the deal was, he had to give me a complete debriefing.”

Cole admitted to abusing more than a dozen boys, though he could not be prosecuted for most of them because the statute of limitations had expired.

His plea also required him to fund a $100,000 trust fund to provide counseling for his victims. Anderson said the fund was run on three tiers, and those already identified as victims did not have to show any other proof to receive help. 

After 10 years, the fund went untouched, grew to $103,000, and Anderson said it was turned into grants for nonprofits providing direct services to children.

In 2008, LaPoint was convicted on two counts of aggravated operating under the influence after his speedboat struck another boat on Long Lake in Harrison and killed two people.

“It was aggressively litigated, it involved a lot of science,” Anderson said of the case, which centered on LaPoint’s blood alcohol content.

Anderson’s office also unsuccessfully tried to prosecute 17 people arrested in Portland July 15, 2016, where they protested in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

A scheduled Restorative Justice meeting between protesters and law enforcement officials in lieu of prosecution fell apart, but the attempt to restore the charges was denied in Cumberland County Superior Court in May 2017.

“I honestly wanted to know what the issues were, what are they protesting, how do they feel they are being disenfranchised and marginalized,” Anderson said. “Guess what? That is not what they wanted, they did not want to sit and talk about grievances.”

Anderson said her office has reached out to minorities and new Mainers, but said a better approach by the city would help.

“They need more than a couch and a winter coat. I think they need to be helped a little more to understand our systems,” she said. “I think the Portland Police Department is very, very good in working with minorities. I think we are pretty good, but not as good as them.”

A supporter of deferred dispositions to reduce the load of prosecutors, Anderson said she also supports limiting the availability of local services to nonresidents.

“I believe in giving people second chances and compassion, but I do not believe in being an enabling co-dependent,” Anderson said.

Anderson is not headed for full retirement; she will instead take on a new job as a prosecuting coordinator for the Maine Prosecutors Association. It is a new position, and will entail some of the same types of fighting for resources she does now, she said.

“I’m going to miss the people. I know I am being credited with doing a lot of good things, but the only thing I am really good at is hiring people,” Anderson said.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Stephanie Anderson, soon to retire as Cumberland County District Attorney, said her biggest success in 28 years was hiring good people.

0
Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.