Former probate judge remembered as a gentle man of strong principles

ELLSWORTH Colleagues and friends of former Hancock County probate judge and attorney Jim Patterson are remembering him as a gentle, patient man.

Patterson died Jan. 16 at age 72 after battling pulmonary fibrosis for 11 years.

“Judge Patterson was a private, unique, smart, thorough and fair judge,” said former Hancock County Register of Probate Bonnie Cousins. Cousins worked with Patterson for 11 years.

Cousins said during adoption cases, the judge always let children come up to the bench and pound his gavel and sit in his chair. He would also take a photo with them.

“He was so good with them,” Cousins said.

“He never complained and was just a great, wonderful man to work with,” she continued. “You’ll never find another person like him and we’ll all miss him dearly.”

Patterson was probate judge from 1979 to 2014, when he retired.

He got his start in the legal profession working as assistant county attorney for then County Attorney Michael Povich back in the early ’70s. Maine switched to its current district attorney system in 1975, at which point Povich became district attorney and Patterson assistant DA.

“He was my first attorney I ever hired,” Povich remembered. “He did things competently, quietly and then he got elected judge of probate in 1978. So, on Jan. 1, 1979, he resigned. He was a really good guy. He was loyal to me. He was extremely loyal.”

Patterson started a law practice on Main Street in Ellsworth doing real estate and municipal law. Tuesdays were reserved for the county’s probate matters.

Ellsworth attorney Diane O’Connell has been a friend and colleague of Patterson’s since 2003. They became business partners in 2014 and she took over the practice when he retired in 2018.

“He just had an absolute passion for the law, his clients, his family,” said O’Connell. He was “generous, even-tempered, good-humored. I can’t remember him ever being angry despite how stressful it is as an attorney.”

O’Connell said Patterson had a way of calming people and diffusing stressful situations.

“He always knew what to say,” O’Connell said. “He’d make people feel at ease.”

“I started working for him when I was 19, and I worked for him for 31 years,” said Lisa Carter, Patterson’s former legal secretary. “He was amazing. He was patient and thorough and taught me everything I know about the legal profession. I can’t say enough nice things about him.”

On many workdays, you could find Patterson and other attorneys having lunch at The Riverside Café back when the downtown eatery belonged to Beth Fendl and her sister Barbara Guida.

“When I think of Jim I smile,” said Fendl. “He was just a great person, a great customer, very supportive of the Riverside.”

Patterson often had lunch with the late attorney Tony Giunta, who bought his own table for the restaurant.

“The whole lawyers’ table,” Fendl said. “It could have been a nightmare situation, but it worked out. I feel so lucky. It was a charmed time. It was the people we met, and Jim is an example of that.”

Patterson’s ethics were important to him.

Carter said any probate issues that clients of Patterson’s law firm had were sent to the Penobscot County probate judge to be heard.

Cousins recalled that Patterson would never buy any raffle tickets. It was important to him to avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest.

“He made a difference in countless lives and will be deeply missed,” said Hancock County Register of Probate Juliette Wilbur.

Patterson was married to Nancy Patterson for over 50 years and they have two children.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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