One of Us: Stephanie Anderson, Cumberland County District Attorney
WHAT DOES BEING A DISTRICT ATTORNEY ENTAIL?
We represent the state of Maine in court. Our office has about ten thousand cases a year. The people of each district elect the position, and I serve Cumberland County. I’m responsible for prosecuting all the offenses that occur within that geographical area. It’s a lot like I’m the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer of a significantly sized law firm in the state of Maine. I’m ultimately responsible for the morale and well-being of everyone who works here, for making the highest and best use of our resources, and for responding to policy demands and concerns in the community.
WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A DA?
First, you have to be a lawyer: you go to college, then law school, and pass the bar. My personal journey involved going to law school here in Portland and doing a five-year stint as an assistant DA in Brooklyn, New York. Later, I ran for this position, and I’ve been elected to this position seven times now.
WHAT BEST PREPARED YOU FOR THIS WORK?
Being a waitress! That’s kind of a joke, but not really. I waited tables all through college and law school. In my job, you need to be of service and to take care of people while juggling a lot of things at once. Everything in my past prepared me for this role, and the last 24 years of being in this office have prepared me for the work I do today. It’s a constant learning and evolving process.
WHAT ARE THE GIFTS AND CHALLENGES OF YOUR ROLE?
In some ways, I have no boss. The people of Cumberland County are my boss. They give me an evaluation every four years, and I’m evaluated in the media on a regular basis. But no one is telling me what to do. I’m motivated only by doing the right thing. Nobody in this office punches a time clock. I don’t ever have to do anything I don’t believe in. If I’m prosecuting a case and evidence comes to me that suggests that a person didn’t commit the crime, I (and the assistant DAs who work under my authority) can make that case go away with the stroke of our pen.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
I very recently set up a human trafficking unit. I established the first domestic violence unit in this state and the first juvenile unit. I started drug court in Maine many years ago. I believe in the power of redemption, but there has to be some sort of internal motivating factor that makes a person change. Everyone at the district attorney’s office is here because they care about people. They want people to feel safe and that they have a voice, and also that people are held accountable for wrongdoing. That’s our motivation.