Argued: October 25, 2016
Patrice A. Putman, Esq., Levey, Wagley & Putman, P.A.,
Winthrop, and Zachary L. Heiden, Esq. (orally), American
Civil Liberties Union of Maine Foundation, Portland, for
appellant conservator of Emma.
Sigmund D. Schutz, Esq., Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau &
Pachios, LLP, Portland, for appellee Maine Freedom of
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
The Kennebec County Probate Court (J. Mitchell, J.)
has reported a question to us that concerns public access to
information held by probate courts in electronic format,
specifically, financial information in conservatorship
matters. Because we conclude that the reported question
(1)raises broad issues that extend beyond the controversy at
hand, (2)requests decisions that are inconsistent with our
basic function as an appellate court, and (3) may be rendered
moot by subsequent proceedings, we decline to answer the
In February 2011, Emmas husband petitioned to be appointed as
her guardian and conservator in the Kennebec County Probate
Court. He amended his petition, with leave
of the court, to seek the appointment of an attorney as Emmas
guardian and himself as the conservator of her estate. As
conservator, he filed an inventory and accounts identifying
the approximate value of the estates assets. See
18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-418, 5-419 (2015).
Emmas husband died in February 2014, and her son successfully
petitioned to be appointed as the new conservator. With his
petition, Emmas son filed an updated inventory of the estates
assets indicating an increase in the value of the estate.
After being appointed as the estates conservator in October
2014, the son filed an amended inventory.
In August 2015, Emmas son, as conservator, moved to have
financial details regarding the value of the estate removed
from the publicly available docket in the case, pursuant to
M.R. Prob. P. 92.12. The court summarily denied the motion.
The conservator moved for the court to reconsider and to
amend the judgment pursuant to M.R. Prob. P. 59 and M.R. Civ.
P. 59. The conservator focused in this motion on limiting the
availability of the inventory and account information on the
Probate Courts public website. After a hearing, the court
indicated that it would consider whether to report a question
to us pursuant to M.R. App. P. 24(a).
While the court had the matter under consideration, the
conservator filed a request for the financial information to
be removed from the public docket as an accommodation
pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42
U.S.C.S. §§ 12101-12213 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No.
114-248), based on his argument that persons without the
kinds of disabilities that invoke probate court jurisdiction
are not subject to public disclosure of that information. Two
days later, the court reported to us the following question:
When a conservator files an inventory and account for the
ward, a. should the image of the documents be available on
line; b. should the summary numbers from the documents be
available on line while the document images remain as
publicly available only in the court (current practice in
Kennebec); c. should neither the image of the document nor
any summary numbers be available on line (current practice in
fourteen counties); or d. should the Probate Court adopt a
policy different from a, b, or c above?
court made clear that, despite the request for ADA
accommodation, "[t]hat does not appear to be a recurring
type of request and no certification of that question is
implied." The court entered a separate ruling on the
request for ADA accommodation, however, stating that it had
"certified a similar issue to the Law Court, " and
that "[p] ending the result of that certification, but
without deciding the issue finally, the Court will
accommodate [the conservator] by removing from the ...