Monday, December 9, 2013
By Jesse Scardina email@example.com
NEWPORT — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard a China resident’s appeal Tuesday of a district court’s decision that he has an unauthorized junkyard at his property.
Al Althenn, center, of China, looks at Nokomis Regional High School student Katie Manzo, at right of Althenn, as she asks questions during a break in hearings at the Newport school with Justices of the Maine Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Nokomis Regional High School student and Battalion Commander of the school JROTC program Shellby McCaw said Tuesday that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hearing of a case of a man charged with pushing his wife off a cliff was both confusing and interesting.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Tuesday was just like any other day for Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, except for one difference. Instead of hearing the day’s oral arguments in a courthouse, Saufley and the rest of the justices drove to Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.
Since 2007, justices with Maine’s high court have traveled throughout the state, visiting local high schools on request of legislators. The process is meant to be educational for students and teachers, allowing them a perspective of government they may rarely see otherwise.
“Students can learn a little more about how the courts work and how they work with the legislative and executive branch,” Saufley said. “The teachers and guidance counselors get very involved and receive information about cases and background on the legal issues that will be presented.”
Shellby McCaw, a 17-year-old junior at Nokomis High School, was looking forward to seeing oral arguments for the first time.
“I’m really excited to watch these,” she said. “I kind of understood what they were arguing about, but I’ve never seen anything like that before, so it was hard to understand.”
McCaw said she enjoyed it when the justices would interrupt and ask questions of the defense or prosecutor, but she was also glad she wasn’t fielding the questions.
“If they asked me a question, I would probably freeze,” she said.
In addition to being interested in the court proceedings, McCaw had the responsibility to lead her fellow Junior Reserve Officers Training Core in assisting the process throughout the day.
“I’m making sure my cadets are helping out today and keeping phones put away, help direct the justices and staying involved with the proceedings,” she said.
Nokomis High Principal Mary Nadeau said the entire school was excited for the chance to host the arguments.
“It’s an incredible educational opportunity for both our students and our staff,” she said. “What better civics lesson can a school have?”
— Jesse Scardina
In July 2012, Augusta District Court concluded that Al Althenn, 68, of China, was violating the state’s law on junkyard and automobile graveyards at his property on 85 Kidder Road.
The statute says three or more unregistered and uninspected vehicles aren’t permitted outside a property.
The court made no ruling Tuesday, but it expects to issue a written decision later.
At Nokomis Regional High School on Tuesday morning, where the court held a series of case hearings, Althenn’s lawyer, Aaron Rowden, argued that his client was a hobbyist, and that excluded him from the junkyard statute because he plans to restoring the vehicles.
“The issue with this case comes from the exception for hobbyists,” Rowden said. “Legislation has allowed for hobbyists to store parts of vehicles on their property.”
The justices, however, took issue with the vehicles and a lack of restoration done to the most of them.
“You have four unregistered vehicles with a family of raccoons living in one of them,” Justice Warren Silver said. “Do we really need to conclude, in fact, that this isn’t a graveyard?”
Attorney Alton Stevens, representing the town of China, said a statement from Althenn during his trial that he plans to restore the vehicles isn’t sufficient.
“Althenn’s statement about what he plans on doing in the future isn’t enough. It’s what he is doing now,” Stevens said.
At the trial in July last year, Althenn argued that the vehicles he had were exempt from the junkyard statute because one of the vehicles, a 1984 GMC truck, was being used to haul firewood and plow his driveway. Althenn also contended that the remaining vehicles — a 1962 GMC truck, a 1978 GMC box van and a 1978 Ford van body — were exempt because they were part of antique vehicles and in the process of restoration.
In its ruling, the district court found that only the GMC box van was an antique vehicle and rejected the idea that Althenn’s other vehicles were antiques or being used. The court ordered all the vehicles be removed from Althenn’s property except the GMC box van before Althenn filed an appeal.
Althenn, who has run for the China Board of Selectmen and served on a town land committee, also has been a vocal advocate on town environmental issues. He has petitioned unsuccessfully several times to have the water level of China Lake lowered.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239