Are Maine Court Records Public?
Yes. According to the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), court records are considered public records and are hence open to members of the public for inspection or copying. The Maine FOAA applies broadly to government bodies, granting the right of access to public records while protecting legitimate government interests and the privacy rights of citizens. Transparency is at the heart of the Maine FOAA, with the Act ensuring accountability of the government to Maine citizens by providing public access to the records of public bodies.
The legislative arm of the Maine government adopted the FOAA in 1959 as public law and has undergone several amendments. Certain court records are exempted from disclosure if they have been designated as confidential by state or federal statutes. Juvenile records in Maine are also exempted from public disclosure.
The status of a court record requester is not relevant to the individual's right to inspect or copy such records, However, the status of the requester may allow or limit access to certain types of records that are otherwise exempt from public disclosure. such as the right of the subject of a criminal proceeding to access otherwise confidential criminal records or employee. Typically, the purpose of a request is not required to copy or inspect public court records. However, certain categories of records may be released only for qualified research purposes.
How Do I Find Court Records in Maine?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Maine is to ascertain the court where the case was filed. Maine courts provide remote access to electronic case records via its eCourts Odyssey Portal. Access to these records is governed by Maine Rules of Electronic Court Systems (RECS). RECS rules are intended to facilitate public access to the courts in the electronic environment while maximizing public access to court records and minimizing the risk of harm to individuals and entities involved in court proceedings.
Although some court records and case types are publicly accessible via the Odyssey Portal, others require the requesters to register an account on the portal and request elevated access before accessing court records. Upon the approval of a request, parties and attorneys can search for and access their nonpublic case information and documents. To register for a user account on the Odyssey Portal, follow these steps:
Visit the Odyssey Portal. Select "Register" from the Register/Sign In option on the upper right of the screen.
- Complete the Registration Form
- Click on the verification link sent to the email address provided
- Select the Sign In option on the Odyssey portal
- Select "Party" access on the screen specifying the type of access requested.
- Submit an Odyssey Portal Elevated Access Request Form. This must be done in person at any clerk's office with one form of positive ID or submitted after notarization before the request can be processed. If notarized, the form may be submitted by mail
Activation of an elevated account usually takes 3-5 business days. Requesters will receive an email notification informing them that elevated access has been granted. Public court records can be accessed on Public Access Computer (PAC) at designated courthouses where eFiling has been implemented in Maine.
To use the Odyssey Portal for publicly accessible electronic case records, requesters are required to enter a case number or a party name. With the advanced filtering options, requesters can narrow down search results by providing the case type, case status, and the filing date.
In-person requests are also welcome in Maine courts for persons interested in obtaining court records. Requesters can use the Find a Court page to view the locations of Maine courts. Note that obtaining actual court documents from the court record custodian attracts a nominal fee.
Court transcripts are not available on the Odyssey portal. To obtain a written record of every word spoken in a court proceeding for a civil or criminal case, parties or their attorneys may submit a Transcript and Audio Order Form (CV/CR/JV-165) to the clerk's office where the proceeding was held. The form must be submitted at the same time the notice of appeal is filed. Where a transcript is needed for other purposes other than for an appeal, an order may be made by submitting the CV/CR/JV-165 form by mail or in-person to the clerk's office or online.
Note that transcripts or audio recordings of any recorded proceeding of nonpublic proceedings, such as juvenile, child protection, and bar discipline are restricted from public access. Information required to order a transcript include:
- The name of the case and docket number assigned by the clerk's office
- The date of the hearing
- The start time of the case
- The requester's contact information
Requesters who do not know the docket number, start time, or any other necessary information may contact the clerk's office in the court where the processing was held. The cost of a court transcript is determined by the total number of pages and the turnaround time required by the requester. Requests for transcripts requiring 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, and 30-day turnaround times cost $5.75, $4.65, $4.35, and $3.30 per page respectively. Additional copies of a previously produced transcript are charged at $0.95 per page. An audio CD of the transcript may be ordered for $25 for the first copy and $10 for each additional copy. The typical turnaround time for an audio transcript from Maine courts is seven business days. For further inquiries about the transcripts or audio recordings, contact the Office of Transcript Operations (OTO) at:
Penobscot Judicial Center
78 Exchange Street, Suite 200, Bangor, ME 04401
Phone: (207) 991-6322
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do Maine Courts Work?
The Maine court system comprises two levels; appellate, and trial courts. The Supreme Judicial Court is the apex court and the only division of the appellate level of the court system. The Supreme Judicial Court is also referred to as the Maine Law Court. Maine does not have an intermediate appellate court like several states in the United States. The Superior, District, and Probate Courts are the trial courts. The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction with original jurisdiction over cases involving criminal actions and large sums of money. The District Courts and Probate Courts are courts with limited jurisdiction.
There is a family division in each Maine District Court with jurisdiction over a variety of cases involving families and children and other family matters filed in the District Court. The family division is established to provide a system of justice that is responsive to the needs of families and the support of children. Family law magistrates of the Family Divisions are employed by the Chief Judge of the District Courts with the approval of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. Family law magistrates are required to be members of the State Bar and to possess experience in the area of family law. These magistrates are experienced in mediation and other alternate dispute resolution techniques, domestic violence, and family dynamics, and case management.
Maine Juvenile Court is the system responsible for handling the majority of the cases related to juveniles who commit offenses that would otherwise be considered crimes if the conduct had been committed by adults. Only individuals under the age of 18 are considered juveniles in Maine. Maine Juvenile Courts are focused on providing young offenders with care, guidance, treatments, and consequences for their actions.
A special Business and Consumer Docket (BCD) exists in Maine that handles selected business and consumer cases. BCD is aimed at keeping litigation costs reasonable, promoting effective and efficient process in resolving business and consumer disputes, and providing predictable judicial action in selected cases involving business and consumer disputes. Cases transferred to the BCD include:
- Jury and non-jury civil actions, including appeals under Rules 80B and 80C, business dissolutions, class actions, and family matters requiring distribution of business assets that do not involve children
- New filings and cases currently pending in the Superior and District Courts
- Actions in which specialized or differentiated judicial management is required
The Maine Judicial Branch Violations Bureau is the arm of the Maine judicial system handling cases of traffic violations. Treatment courts are a special type of court established for the specific purpose of reducing criminal behavior and recidivism by providing intensive court-supervised treatment and strict accountability for eligible individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders.
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims in Maine?
Maine small claims courts are special sessions of the District Courts aimed at helping citizens sue for amounts that are too small to justify the hiring of an attorney. Small claims court proceedings are simple, informal, and inexpensive hearings in which the judges listen to both plaintiffs and defendants, and then determine who is right. Typically, both parties to a small claims case will meet with a Court Mediator who attempts to settle the case. The defendant and the plaintiff will only appear before a judge if a Mediator fails to resolve the dispute. The amount of money in controversy must not exceed $6,000 in Maine small claims courts.
Anyone aged 18 and above can sue in Maine small claims courts. A city or town cannot be sued in a small claims court. The $6,000 limit in small claims cases does not include any interest charges or court costs claimed by the plaintiff. Small claims courts may award monetary damages or equitable relief. Equitable relief is limited to orders to return, reform, refund, repair or rescind. A plaintiff may also receive post-judgment interest on a money judgment. Small claim cases in Maine do not include an action involving the title to real estate.
Small claims cases are commonly filed in instances where:
- A former tenant refuses to pay for damage to a rental property for which they are responsible
- A former landlord refuses, with no legal reason, to return a security deposit
- A purchase of unsatisfactory goods from an individual or business where the person will not refund money, give credit, or provide an acceptable exchange, or repair the goods
- An individual loans personal property to another person who refuses to return it or returned it in a damaged condition
- An individual is collecting a debt for goods or services owed by another individual or business
In instances where an appeal is desired, the plaintiff can appeal to the Superior Court on questions of law only, while the defendant is permitted to appeal to the Superior Court on questions of law or fact and can request a jury trial. The joint standing committee of the Maine Legislature reviews the monetary limit on small claim actions every four years.
Civil cases are different from small claims cases in that Maine sets no limit on money damages. Although self-representing parties are accepted, a party who is a corporation or legal entity is mandated to be represented by an attorney. Civil cases are heard in the Superior Courts or District Courts under formal rules and procedures. Unlike in small claims courts, jury trials are available for cases filed in or removed to the Superior Courts.
What Are Appeals and Court Limits in Maine?
An appeal is a request to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. The majority of the decisions of trial courts are subject to review by an appellate court. Regardless of whose decision or judgment is, jury or judge, an appellate court reviews what occurred in prior proceedings for any errors of law. Hence, an aggrieved party can only challenge a decision due to errors such as a misinterpretation of legal precedent or reliance on evidence that should have been excluded and not just because of discontentment with the outcome of a case.
In Maine, any criminal or civil judgment, or ruling of the District Court, the Superior Court, any Unified Criminal Docket, the Probate Courts, or a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court that is by law reviewable may be reviewed by the Law Court by an appeal. The Maine Rules of Appellate Procedure sets forth the time limits permitted by Maine Courts for filing a notice of appeal.
Other than in extradition appeals, appeals in criminal and civil cases must be filed within 21 days after the entry of the judgment into the docket unless a shorter time is provided by law. In an extradition appeal, the appeal may be taken from an order making a final disposition of a petition contesting extradition seven days after entry into the docket of the order appealed from.
What Are Maine Judgment Records?
Judgment records in Maine contain information about a court's decision on a criminal or civil case filed in a court of competent jurisdiction. Courts typically issue judgments after considering case facts, after the jury enters a verdict, or at the litigants' request. In any way, these judgments become binding when the court clerk creates the judgment record.
Persons who wish to obtain these records must visit the clerk's office and provide case information to facilitate a search. Furthermore, the individual must pay court administrative fees to cover the labor cost of retrieving the documents and making copies of the judgment record. These fees are payable by cash, money order, certified check, and credit card. Besides visiting the clerk's office in person, requesters can submit online requests for Maine judgment records. The same case information will be required to identify and retrieve the record of interest, including the case number and the litigants' names.
Maine judgment records contain varying information, depending on the case type. In any way, persons who obtain Maine judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. In addition, judgment records will contain the specific claims of the parties involved, as in civil cases, or the charges against the defendant, as in criminal cases, as well as the issued judgment.
What are Maine Bankruptcy Records?
Maine bankruptcy records contain the financial information of people and companies who have filed for bankruptcy within the state. The laws under which bankruptcy operates are federal. To begin court proceedings for a bankruptcy case in Maine, the individual or entity has to file a case at the federal court in Maine. Some of the information that can be found in Maine bankruptcy records include:
- Detail of income sources
- Identification documents
- List of creditors, their addresses, and other details
- List of debts
Bankruptcy records are public in Maine and accessible to anybody through PACER, an online tool for accessing court files. Bankruptcy records are important because they contain financial information about people and help lenders, financial institutions and prospective employers understand your financial history.
Bankruptcy records are deemed public information according to Maine state law. These records, along with Maine liens, contracts, writs, and judgments, can be accessed through the office of the county clerk or clerk of courts in the jurisdiction or courthouse where the case was filed. However, requestors will be required to provide information regarding the record of interest pay a nominal fee to copy or duplicate the record.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Maine?
A case number is a reference number assigned to a court case to differentiate it from other cases. A case number helps record custodians track and find court records quickly. The characters in a case number can help identify the year the case was filed, the office in which it was filed, and the judicial officer to whom it was assigned.
Interested persons can find their court case numbers by contacting the Maine courthouses where the records are on file. It is also possible to obtain case numbers by providing a party name on Maine's Odyssey Portal. The portal will return a search result listing the case numbers assigned to cases matching the information provided.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Maine?
Yes. Non-confidential court cases are accessible on the eCourts Odyssey Portal. Interested persons can remotely access this portal to obtain public court records. Note that Odyssey provides access to some records and case types for free while viewing others require requesters to obtain elevated access.
Does Maine Hold Remote Trials?
Yes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's concern for the health of both Judicial branch employees and members of the public, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the majority of trial court proceedings be conducted remotely, through video or telephonic formats. Parties who receive a notice of hearing to be conducted by video may be permitted to participate by phone if access to the internet is impossible.
What Is the Maine Supreme Court?
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is the highest court and the only appellate branch of the Maine judicial system. The court's main role is to decide appeals on questions of law arising from civil actions and criminal trials. It is also responsible for overseeing the admission of attorneys to the Bar and the conduct and discipline of lawyers and judges. The Supreme Court has procedural rulemaking authority over all the courts in Maine and is authorized to issue advisory opinions on legal issues of high public importance. The Supreme Judicial Court is often referred to as the Law Court.
In making its decisions, the justices on the Supreme Court reflect on the questions presented and issue a written opinion deciding the issues in line with its view of the law and affirming or reversing the trial court's decision. Where the Supreme Court finds no grounds in the appeal that justifies changing the trial court's ruling, the decision of the trial court is upheld. If the Supreme Court determines that the trial court erred and that the error was not harmless, the decision of the trial court may be vacated in whole or in part.
There are seven justices including a presiding Chief Justice serving on the Maine Supreme Court. These justices serve seven-year terms which may be renewed an unlimited number of times.
Maine Superior Courts
Superior Courts are the trial court of general jurisdiction in Maine. These are the only courts where jury trials may be held. Maine Superior Courts hear nearly all types of civil and criminal cases that may be brought to trial except for family matters, civil violations, and juvenile cases. It handles all murder, Class A, B, and C criminal cases, as well as those Class D and E cases in which the defendant asks for a jury trial.
The Superior Courts have jurisdiction over the following types of cases:
- Post-conviction reviews
- Appeals from decisions of state and local administrative agencies, including the Department of Human Services and municipal zoning boards
- Matters in which equitable relief is requested, such as an injunction
- Jury and jury-waived trials in civil cases, such as car accident lawsuits
- Jury and jury-waived trials in adult criminal cases
There is at least one Superior Court in each of Maine's 16 counties. Aroostook County has two Superior Courts. The 17 justices serving on Maine Superior's Courts all have a statewide jurisdiction which sometimes requires them to travel to different counties to hold court. Superior Court justices are appointed by the Governor with the consent of the state Senate to serve seven-year terms.
Maine District Courts
District Courts are trial courts handling cases related to civil, criminal, and family matters. There are no juries in Maine District courts. Examples of civil cases brought before the District Courts are involuntary commitments (where persons are admitted into psychiatric hospitals against their will), domestic relations cases (divorces, separations, custody, and property disputes), protection from abuse, and civil suits claiming monetary damages.
Other types of cases heard in the District Courts are:
- 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
- Traffic infractions
- Juvenile matters
- Eviction hearings or Forcible Entry and Detainer Actions (FED)
Individuals 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.
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.
Maine Probate Courts
Maine Probate Courts have jurisdiction in equity, concurrent with the Superior Courts, in all cases and matters pertaining to the administration of the estates of deceased persons, wills, and trusts which are created by will or other written instrument. Probate Courts sit without a jury and handle cases such as:
- Estates of deceased and missing persons
- Trusts (both formal and informal)
- Legal name changes for adults and minors
- Guardianship (For incapacitated adults and minor children)
- Protective proceedings
- Other family matters
Probate Courts are under county jurisdictions and not the state court system. On matters of law, the decisions of the Probate Court may be appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. There are 16 Probate Courts and judges in Maine, one in each county. Judges in the Probate Court usually serve part-time and four-year terms.
Maine Treatment Courts
Maine Treatment Courts are court programs focused on providing intensive, community-based, court-supervised treatment and strict accountability for qualified persons with serious substance use or mental health disorders who are involved with the child protection or criminal justice system. Maine Treatment Courts include the Adult Drug Treatment Court, Family Recovery Court, Family Recovery Court, Co-Occurring Disorders Court, and the Veterans Treatment Court. These courts seek to:
- Use limited judicial system resources effectively and efficiently
- Foster and strengthen healthy and safe parent-child relationships
- Increase participants' personal, family, and community accountability
- Educate those involved in the child protection and criminal justice system, and the public about mental health issues and substance abuse
- Address the fundamental causes of criminal behavior by persons with serious substance use disorders or mental health disorders
- Help make communities safer by reducing recidivism and criminal behavior