ELLSWORTH — A manslaughter case involving the death of Eastbrook resident Trudy Pickard back in November of 2017 was on the Hancock County Unified Court October docket. At least it was until the docket was canceled due to a shortage of judicial marshals, according to officials.
“The situation is causing courts to be closed on a repeated basis, mostly the Calais courthouse, and also causing the court to rely heavily on Zoom instead of reopening the courthouses fully, due to not having enough judicial marshals to run security,” said District Attorney Matt Foster. “It is very frustrating.”
Foster and his staff have been trying to move through criminal cases that were piling up before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic resulted in court closures for weeks on end, worsening the backlog.
The American was unable to reach a representative of the Maine Judiciary for information or comment about the judicial marshal shortage before press time.
However, Senior Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Andrew Mead gave a report to the 130th Maine Legislature in March. That report included numbers about the growth of pending criminal cases during the pandemic.
“At the end of January 2020, on the eve of the arrival of the pandemic, slightly over 17,000 criminal cases were listed as pending,” Mead said. “At the end of February 2021, slightly over 27,000 criminal matters were pending. In other words, the number of pending criminal matters increased by approximately 10,000 cases during the past 12 months. Of that number, 52 are homicide cases, which because of their typical length and complexity tend to dominate and slow down criminal dockets.”
The backlog is also denying defendants their constitutional right to a speedy trial.
At the Hancock County Unified Court, the delayed manslaughter case involves defendant Darlene Haslam of Eastbrook, who was indicted in 2018 on charges of manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants and driving to endanger in connection with a November 2017 crash in Eastbrook. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office reported that Pickard, 54, a passenger in the pickup truck Haslam was driving, died when the truck spun around in the Eastbrook Community Center parking lot off Route 200, struck a guide wire for a utility pole, and then accelerated across the road and struck a tree head-on.
It is unclear when the case will have its day in court.