ELLSWORTH — Attorney Eric Columber, who maintains a practice at 5 School St., is serving as president of the Maine State Bar Association for 2019.
Giving a voice to small, rural practitioners is one reason Columber accepted the post.
He said there can be a perception that all law practices in Maine are centered in Cumberland and York counties, but there are “many excellent attorneys” throughout the state.
Having a small, rural practice can feel isolating, he said.
“Bringing that voice to Augusta is one of the reasons I decided to do it.”
Columber previously served the Bar Association as district governor for Hancock and Washington counties. He served four two-year terms and was then invited to join the executive committee, from whence he was elected president.
“It’s an honor,” Columber said. “It’s also only a year.”
Columber said he’s been told the presidency is like having a full-time job.
The president is responsible for planning all the association’s events, including the annual three-day meeting, which features a theme and guest speakers from throughout the United States.
The Bar Association is one of the voices that testifies before the Maine Legislature’s Judicial Committee.
“When I’m in Augusta, I’m a facilitator,” Columber said. “I’m more interested in making sure all of the voices get heard.”
Perhaps even more critical, the Bar Association provides feedback to the Legislature and the governor about the Maine judiciary.
“The Bar Association continues to be the way attorneys can comment anonymously on the performance of judges,” Columber said. “There’s a pretty well-thought-out questionnaire about the specifics of how judges run their courtrooms.
“Since I’ve been on the board, it remains one of the most important things we do,” Columber said. “By far, the lion’s share of the judges is doing an excellent job.
“Judges issue decisions we don’t agree with,” he said. “It happens all the time. I think we provide a great service to the public to be their voice.”
“It’s justice and we’re helping to make sure it works,” Columber said. “That’s ultimately why attorneys should be there.”
One pressing issue for the association is the implementation of the courts’ new electronic case management system.
Maine’s probate court system has been electronic since 2013 but criminal, civil and family matters are still paper.
The proposed Digital Court Records Access Act would address the case types, documents and information that will be accessible to the public.
“It’s great in theory,” Columber said. “It’s not just sending an email. We have rules and rules and rules to follow when we file something.”
The association also has concerns about abusive domestic partners as well as people who prey on the elderly having access to sensitive information online.
Columber is primarily a civil litigator. About a quarter of his cases involve family law.
Having a client introduce Columber as his attorney is still a thrill.
“That still gets me every time,” he said.
Columber opened Columber Law in December 2017. He had practiced with Acadia Law Group 10 years previously. The Marion, Ohio, native started practicing law in Vermont in 2000.
An eighth-grade class mock trial experience sparked Columber’s interest in law.
“It was fascinating to me to see the strategy involved and the amount of work that goes into preparing for cases,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten that.”
Columber lives with his wife, Kelley, and their two children in East Blue Hill.