ELLSWORTH — Waters in the race for district attorney have been roiling this week.
In an email to Hancock County Commissioners on Sept. 18, candidate Steve Juskewitch made the first splash, asking commissioners to delay hiring an administrative assistant/legal secretary until after the election on Nov. 6.
District Attorney Matt Foster took to Facebook to display his displeasure. In several posts over the next 24 hours, candidate Foster published the email and compared Juskewitch to Captain Ahab “hunting his white whale of being elected as district attorney for nearly 20 years.”
Juskewitch has run four times for the position but has yet to be elected.
Foster deleted the Ahab remark and said he regrets it, calling it “a little bit childish of me.”
“But I was frustrated with the interference in the process.”
Juskewitch said he asked for the delay out of concern “that the position might be filled again with someone without paralegal qualifications.” He said he’d fill the position himself if elected.
The two candidates disagree on whether paralegal training is necessary for the job. It is not written in the description, which requires a high school education with “previous legal secretarial experience preferred.”
“It’s certainly not something that is a major factor in the day-to-day duties of the position,” Foster said. “Any type of legal knowledge that would be necessary is something that could be obtained by the execution of the duties of the position.”
Other counties in Maine do not require paralegal training for similar positions, although many do have paralegals working in their offices. Juskewitch said he was involved in writing the job description during his time as assistant district attorney and believes legal training is necessary to handle many of the tasks.
Foster acknowledges that the position involves legal work.
“They’re required to know the working of the court system inside and out,” he said.
But, Foster continued, “The person who has been the administrative assistant for the last 11 years has no paralegal training.” He estimated that “about 10 percent” of the job involves paralegal duties.
Neither Foster nor Juskewitch could remember delaying hiring to wait for the results of an election. Both said there’s been so little turnover in staff (and even less in district attorneys — Juskewitch counted just three holders of the office since the position was created in the mid-1970s) that it hasn’t been an issue.
After deliberating for a day, commissioners announced Thursday morning that they had denied Juskewitch’s request to delay hiring, which Foster announced in a celebratory post on his campaign’s Facebook page:
The commissioners DENIED Mr. Juskewitch’s request to delay hiring and we have a new administrative assistant starting Monday!
Congratulations, Abby Dow!”
Foster said he interviewed four candidates, two Hancock County employees and two “prospective new hires.” Eleven applications were received, Foster said, and Dow was the most qualified for the job.
Dow has been working for the county for the past three years as a victim/witness advocate (VWA). Foster said this qualifies her for the position.
VWAs are “required to know the working of the court system inside and out to be able to explain that to victims of crimes,” Foster said. “[Dow’s] three years of experience doing that job in our office more than qualifies her for the position that we promoted her to.”
Dow is scheduled to start Sept. 24, Foster said.
“That was another reason I was really opposed to delaying. [The administrative assistant] moves to Florida on Oct. 5, so she will not be a resource for training” after that.