Court History

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

DISTRICT OF MAINE

The District of Maine was one of the original thirteen district courts established by the Judiciary Act of 1789.  A district court was created in each of the eleven states that had ratified the Constitution by September, 1789, as well as in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) and Kentucky (then still part of Virginia).  Although the Court sat primarily in Portland, sessions were also held in Pownalborough and Wiscasset during the first half of the nineteenth century.  In 1843, a term of court was first authorized to be held in Bangor.  There was only one judge in the District of Maine until an additional judgeship was authorized in 1978.  A third judgeship was authorized in 1990.

---------------------

 

David Sewall was the first District Court Judge for Maine, appointed by President George Washington on September 26, 1789.  A graduate of Harvard College and an experienced judge, Judge Sewall, who was born in York, Maine, previously served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. He resigned from the District Court on January 9, 1818.

 

 

 

 

Albion Keith Parris, from Hebron, Maine, was appointed the second District Judge in Maine on Januray 28, 1818. He was only 30 years old and was serving as a member of Congress.  After only three years, he resigned from the Court and served six terms as Governor of the State of Maine.  He later served as Comptroller of the Treasury through the administrations of Presidents Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler and Polk.  He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, class of 1806.

 

 

 

Ashur Ware was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Monroe on February 15,1822 and served with distinction, particularly in the field of admiralty law, for 44 years, until 1866.  Born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Harvard College, Judge Ware practiced law in Portland and was among the most active “Maine Separatists” during the second decade of the 1800’s.

 

 

 

The fourth District Judge, Edward Fox, a native of Portland, served from May 31, 1866 until his death in 1881.  He was a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.  A pre-eminent trial lawyer with an extensive practice, Judge Fox had served as City Solicitor for Portland and as a state legislator prior to his appointment to the Court.

 

 

 

Nathan Webb, a lifelong resident of Portland, served in the Maine State Legislature, as the Cumberland County Attorney, and as the United States Attorney prior to his appointment on January 24, 1882 to the federal bench by President Arthur.  Judge Webb served for more than twenty years, resigning in 1902.  He was a member of the class of 1846 at Harvard College.

 

 

 

Clarence Hale was born in Turner in 1848, was educated at Bowdoin College, and came to Portland in 1871 to begin his legal career.  He served as the City Solicitor for Portland for three years and in the Maine House of Representatives prior to his appointment as District Judge by President Theodore Roosevelt on May 19, 1902.  He served for 20 years.

 

 

 

President Harding appointed John Andrew Peters, a lifelong resident of Ellsworth, to the District Court on November 14, 1922.  A graduate of Bowdoin College, he studied law at the office of his cousin, Andrew Wiswell, who would later become chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.  A former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Judge Peters served five terms in Congress prior to his appointment to the Court.  He retired in 1947 after 25 years of service.

 

 

 

John D. Clifford, Jr. was appointed to the District Court by President Truman on March 24, 1947 and served until his death in 1956.  Born in Lewiston and educated at Bowdoin College and Georgetown Law School, he practiced law in Lewiston for twenty years prior to serving as the United States Attorney for Maine from 1933 to 1947.

 

 

 

The ninth District Court Judge was Edward Thaxter Gignoux, who was appointed by President Eisenhower on August 26, 1957 and who served in active status until 1982 and in senior status until his death in 1988.  Born in Cape Elizabeth, he graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.  Judge Gignoux had a national reputation and a celebrated career.  The federal courthouse in Portland bears his name.

Edward T. Gignoux Dedication

 

 

In 1979, Congress authorized a second judgeship for the District of Maine, which was filled by George J. Mitchell, on October 5, 1979. A Waterville native, graduate of Bowdoin College and Georgetown Law School, and United States Attorney from 1977 to 1979. Judge Mitchell served for only six months and resigned in 1980 to accept an appointment to the United States Senate to fill the unexpired term of Senator Edmund Muskie, who had become Secretary of State. 

 

 

 

Conrad K. Cyr served with distinction as the United States Bankruptcy Judge in Bangor for twenty years before being appointed by President Reagan on September 28, 1981. In 1989 Judge Cyr was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  Born in Limestone, Judge Cyr is a graduate of Holy Cross College and Yale Law School.

 

 

 

President Reagan appointed Gene Carter as the District of Maine’s twelfth judge on June 23, 1983 when Judge Gignoux assumed senior status.  Born in Milbridge, Judge Carter was educated at the University of Maine and the New York University School of Law.  Prior to his appointment, Judge Carter had a law practice in Bangor and also served as an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

 

 

 

Born in Canada, D. Brock Hornby is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the Harvard Law School.  A naturalized American citizen, Judge Hornby was appointed District Judge by President George H. W. Bush on April 30, 1990.  Prior to his appointment, he practiced law in Portland and had served as the District of Maine’s first full-time United States Magistrate and as an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

 

 

 

When a third judgeship was authorized, Morton A. Brody, who like his two immediate predecessors had previously served as an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, was appointed District Judge by President George H.W. Bush on July 25, 1991.  He also previously served as a Justice of the Maine Superior Court.  Born in Lewiston, Judge Brody was a graduate of Bates College and the University of Chicago Law School.  Judge Brody died in 2000.

 

 

 

George Z. Singal was appointed to the United States District Court by President Clinton on July 11, 2000 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judge Brody.  Born in an Italian refugee camp in 1945, Judge Singal is a naturalized American citizen.  His family emigrated to Bangor in 1949, where he lived and practiced law until his appointment to the Court.  He is a graduate of the University of Maine and the Harvard Law School. 

 

 

 

Bangor native John A. Woodcock, Jr. a graduate of Bowdoin College, the University of Maine School of Law and the London School of Economics was appointed District Judge by President George W. Bush on June 16, 2003 after Judge Carter assumed senior status.  A longtime civil litigator, Judge Woodcock practiced law in Bangor prior to his appointment to the bench.

 

 

 

President Barack Obama appointed Nancy Torresen as Maine’s seventeenth United States District Court Judge on October 4, 2011. Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey and raised in Michigan, Judge Torresen graduated from Hope College and the University of Michigan Law School. Prior to her appointment, Judge Torresen served as an Assistant United States Attorney, an Assistant Attorney General for Maine and a private practitioner.

 

 

 

Photo Not Yet Available

Judge Jon David Levy is the Court’s eighteenth federal district judge in the District of Maine. Before joining the federal bench, Judge Levy was an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court from 2002 to 2014. He served as a Maine District Court Judge from 1995 to 2002. Prior to joining the state bench, Judge Levy worked in private practice in York, Maine from 1983 to 1995. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and the West Virginia University College of Law.

 

 

 


One Hundred Years ~ Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse ~ 1911- 2011

 

            Construction of the United States Courthouse, now known as the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse (dedicated in 1988), began in November, 1908.  The building was completed in February, 1911, and dedicated on July 20, 1911. 

            The Thursday, July 20, 1911, edition of the Portland Evening Express reported: 

Distinguished Attendance at Dedication of New Building, Impressive Exercises at Fine Federal Courts Building This Afternoon.  Judge William I. Putnam of the U.S. Circuit Court, Judge Clarence Hale of the U.S. District Court, the Right Rev. Robert Codman, Bishop of the Diocese of Maine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, entered the court room.  Judges Putnam and Hale occupied their positions on the bench.  The dedicatory exercises were presided over by Judge Putnam and were opened with prayer by Bishop Codman.  Judge Putnam, without preamble, introduced U.S. District Attorney Robert Treat Whitehouse, who delivered the opening address.”

           

            James Knox Taylor (1857-1929), the Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury from 1897 to 1912, designed the building in the Second Renaissance Revival style.   F.W. Cunningham & Sons, Portland contractors, constructed the courthouse, as well as other notable Portland landmarks, such as the Cumberland County Courthouse, Portland High School, Nathan Clifford School, additions to Union Station, Evergreen Cemetery, and the Chapel at St. Luke’s Church, to name a few.  The U.S. Courthouse is one of several government buildings which form a distinguished group near Lincoln Park in the center of the city, which includes the U.S. Custom House (1872), Cumberland County Courthouse (1910), and Portland City Hall (1912).  The U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.    

  
            When constructed in 1911, the Courthouse occupied the southwestern half of the lot bounded on the northwest by Federal Street, on the northeast by Pearl Street, on the southeast by Newbury Street, and on the southwest by Market Street.  The main entrance was at the western corner, facing the junction of Market and Federal Streets.  The building was a “u” shape, open toward Pearl Street. 

            The cornerstone for an addition was laid in September, 1931.  The addition was a “u” shaped wing added to the existing building on the northeastern end.  The United States Courthouse became a trapezoid, enclosing a courtyard, which filled the entire block.  Construction was completed by November, 1932.

            In 1932, the original section of the Courthouse was used by the United States Courts, including the U.S. Courtroom, the Grand Jury Room, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courtroom, offices for the officials connected with the courts and a GSA office.  The addition housed the Pearl Street Station branch of the U.S. Postal Service and the offices of various federal agencies.  The Pearl Street Station branch was removed in 1976.

            The Courthouse is two stories high with a hip roof which encloses a third story.  The roof slopes back to reveal dormer windows with arched pediments.  Windows on the first two stories are elaborately treated with balustrade segments below them.  They are surmounted by raised triangular or arched pediments.  At the roof line a continuous frieze and dentil cornice and balustrade of open balusters and solid panels runs around the entire building.  The exterior of the original building is granite which came from North Jay, Maine; and the granite for the addition came from Vermont.  Many of the original finishes in the interior of the Courthouse are intact:  marble and terrazzo flooring, molded wood trim, marble trim, molded plaster cornices.  Of special interest is the building’s formal entrance.   The entrance leads into the elliptical rotunda, an elegant and open two-story foyer with refined classical detailing.  The rotunda features a curving marble staircase with a balustrade of thin cast-iron balusters, rising to the second floor along the perimeter of the room. 

            In 1992, a major renovation project began to modernize and renovate the historic fabric of the building.  Designs were prepared by Leers, Weinzapfel of Boston.  The improvements included two full-sized district courtrooms and a magistrate judge’s hearing room.  A wholly new courtroom was constructed inside the old building.  A wall painting, The Virtues of Good Government, is a frieze located just below the courtroom’s skylight.  The mural by Dorothea Rockburne is “a modern contemplation on the virtues of prudence, faith, common good, hope and magnanimity, using pure geometry and vibrant color as meditative devices.”   The original Courtroom One was carefully restored to its original design including arched casement windows, period light fixtures, its original color palette, and replicated plaster moldings for the ceiling.   Copies of the original chandeliers and wall sconces were crafted and installed in the original locations.

            The Reopening Ceremony was held June 26, 1996.  As a result of the project, the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse was awarded an Institutional Preservation Award from Greater Portland Landmarks in 1999.

           In 2012, in its 100th year, the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse underwent an extensive exterior building envelope improvement to restore the roof and granite façade, as well as some associated interior repairs. This work was completed in the summer of 2013

 

 

Supporting Documents

The Judges of the District of Maine
US Commissioners and US Magistrates
Neal Allen Brief History of the USDC
Portland Courthouse Dedication Booklet from 9-19-1988
First Century of the Bench and Bar of Maine 1820-1920, Address by Clarence Hale