Home Nonviolent defense Outside group pours money into Cumberland County DA Democratic primary

Outside group pours money into Cumberland County DA Democratic primary

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Jonathan Sahrbeck, the Cumberland County District Attorney, is running for re-election and takes on Jackie Sartoris in the June 14 Democratic primary. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

An out-of-state political action committee is donating $300,000 into the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Democratic primary election, a race that will effectively decide who becomes the top prosecutor in the busiest district in the United States. State.

The winner of the primary will run unchallenged in November, with no Republican or independent challenger on the ballot.

Jonathan Sahrbeck, who won the last election in 2018 as an independent, is now a Democrat and in the running for the party’s nomination against Jackie Sartoris, a Brunswick resident who works as an assistant district attorney in Kennebec County.

Sahrbeck launched his bid for reelection as a Democrat in the fall of 2021. He said he decided to join the party after talking to other Democratic district attorneys and learning he shared the same values.

But Sartoris questioned whether that change was genuine, citing the fact that Sahrbeck was a registered Republican for most of his adult life before the 2018 election.

Sahrbeck’s decision to switch parties is also being criticized by an outside group that has poured a huge amount of money into what is usually a low-budget election.

A political action committee funded by a $300,000 donation from Democratic national donor George Soros is acting independently of Sartoris but has amplified criticism in ads mailed to Cumberland County voters. The flyers call Sahrbeck a “flip-flop” district attorney who “only became a Democrat just in time to run for re-election.”

“I think it’s unprecedented to have an out-of-state political action committee come to Cumberland County and spend $300,000 on a local race,” Sahrbeck said. “I don’t like the precedent set by this money from out of state, which could have a very big influence on what happens in this election.”

Cumberland County District Attorney candidate Jackie Sartoris pictured in Portland last Wednesday. Gregory Rec / Personal Photographer

Sartoris said she had nothing to do with the Soros-funded ads, but sees them as an endorsement.

“They’ve apparently made a decision about who’s going to bring reform to Cumberland County,” Sartoris said. “And they decided that the race that I run and the policies that I want to establish, they support that.”

Cumberland County is the largest and busiest prosecution district in Maine, handling more defendants and victims than any other district in the state. Cumberland County prosecutors had just over 5,000 felony and misdemeanor charges pending as of May 23, 2022.

As the statewide struggles to deal with a backlog of criminal and civil court cases, Cumberland County reported a 59% increase in pending felony cases from May 2019 to May 2022. The county reported a 46% increase in pending misdemeanor cases over the same period. of time.

The Cumberland County District Attorney currently manages a county budget of $2.2 million, covering the salaries of approximately 30 county employees, office programs and supplies. The office also oversees 20 assistant district attorneys, all paid from the state budget.

Sahrbeck, who is 42, was one of those prosecutors. Joining the office in 2016, he oversaw Cumberland County’s Human Trafficking Unit under former District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, a Republican who held the position for 28 years. Prior to Cumberland County, Sahrbeck was a prosecutor in York County and various offices in Massachusetts. He earned his law degree from American University. His first prosecutorial experience was an internship at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in Maryland.

“There’s something about working as a prosecutor, and you’ve helped a victim, and that victim thanking you for the work you’ve done, it really touches your soul,” Sahrbeck said.

Sahrbeck raced in 2018 with Anderson’s endorsement. Originally he faced two opponents – Randall Bates, a Republican who dropped out of the race about a month before Election Day, and Democratic candidate Jon Gale, who dropped out a week before the election in the middle of sexual assault allegations and at the urging of the state Democratic Party.

Sahrbeck won with nearly 25 percent of the vote, according to results from the Maine secretary of state’s office. There were over 117,000 ballots that the Secretary of State’s office recorded as blank.

Over the past four years, Sahrbeck said he has launched a number of programs aimed at diverting those facing petty crimes from incarceration. This includes a restorative justice program, where participants who have admitted to a crime are allowed to make it up to their victims and avoid conviction, and a treatment court that connects people struggling with addiction, including veterans. fighters, with drug treatment instead of incarceration.

“I would much rather someone get treatment and recover outside of the criminal justice system,” Sahrbeck said. “Unfortunately, when there are so many systems that have let people down, they come into the criminal justice system and we have to use the tools that we have.”

Sahrbeck said he has also spent the past four years doing prevention and awareness work, through various committees where members work to promote access to mental health resources and addiction treatment in Cumberland County. Sahrbeck said he would continue that work if he won the primary and remained district attorney in 2023.

“I think we’re really starting to look at why someone is involved in the criminal justice system, and not just what they’ve done,” Sahrbeck said.

Around the same time Sahrbeck took office in 2018, Sartoris was starting as an assistant district attorney in Augusta. She was recruited by District Attorney Maeghan Maloney as one of many “non-traditional prosecutors”, Sartoris recalled, “who had a broader perspective than the idea of ​​just crime and punishment”.

“As a new prosecutor at the time, I could really see the need for change, and I was really looking forward to that change as a resident of Cumberland County,” Sartoris said. “I was really disappointed with the result we got. I really think Cumberland County was ready for change in 2018, and I think if they know about the race they will be ready for change now.

While in Augusta, Sartoris operated two of Kennebec County’s treatment courts.

Sartoris, who did not give her age and said it was irrelevant, worked primarily in environmental law until she joined Maloney’s office. Prior to graduating from the University of Maine Law School in 2010, she helped write Maine Wetland Policy for the Maine Department of Natural Resources. Sartoris was also a Brunswick alderman for several years and a candidate for the state House of Representatives in the 2014 Democratic primary. She lost that year’s race to current Rep. Ralph Tucker, D. Brunswick.

“I always thought if I got into criminal law, I’d probably be a defense attorney,” Sartoris said. “But I really like it. We have huge impacts on people’s lives. We have the opportunity to help people in times of crisis, both victims and defendants, to refocus on what they they will do next.

While Sahrbeck has said in interviews and public forums that he takes a role in community outreach and preventing future crime, Sartoris said she will focus more on developing specific publicly available policies on the way to sue people.

His policy suggestions include a monthly “crime fair,” where people who have been charged for the first time with low-level nonviolent offenses visit various tables advertising rehab options — like a job fair — and if they succeed in enrolling in certain programs, their charges can be dismissed months later.

Sahrbeck’s campaign raised $49,177 and spent $51,508, according to the latest financial reports submitted to the state last week.

Sartoris’ campaign raised $22,091 and spent $19,745.

Both candidates spent most of the money on direct mail to voters.

Residents of Cumberland County can vote before Election Day or at the polls on June 14. Sahrbeck and Sartoris are scheduled to participate in an online forum hosted by Maine Youth Justice on Monday.


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