A federal judge who spoke with a Down East accent and sometimes bluntly expressed his irritation with defendants from the bench died Wednesday at the age of 86.
U.S. District Judge Gene Carter will be remembered “as an independent, hard-working jurist who prioritized resolving each case before him fairly and swiftly,” according to a statement released Monday by Maine’s federal court.
In February 2000, Carter threw out a recommended sentence and imposed the maximum punishment of 48 months on a man who had pleaded guilty to embezzling $925,000 from the pension fund of a Bangor car dealership that was forced to close as a result. Carter harshly chastised the defendant pointing out that he hadn’t accepted responsibility for his actions, hadn’t expressed contrition or remorse and had “stonewalled” the court’s probation officer and given her incorrect information about his finances, assets and employment status.
“I can offer no leniency. He destroyed lives. He destroyed a company,” the judge said.
A native of Milbridge, Carter graduated from Bangor High School, the University of Maine and New York University School of Law.
He returned to Bangor and opened his own practice before becoming a partner in what is now Rudman and Winchell.
In 1980, Gov. Joseph Brennan appointed Carter to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. At the time, he was the youngest judge ever to serve on the state’s high court.
Three years later, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the federal judgeship on the recommendation of then U.S. Sen. William S. Cohen. Carter semi-retired in 2003 when he assumed senior status.
While chief judge from 1989 to 1996, Carter oversaw the $12.3 million redesign and renovation of the Edward T. Gignoux United States Courthouse in Portland that added a courtroom and offices to the historic building.
Once he semi-retired, Carter attended ceremonial events in Portland and Bangor, such as the unveiling of his colleagues’ portraits. He insisted on sitting outside the bar with his fellow lawyers rather than inside the bar with his fellow justices so he could commiserate with them about the law.
Lawyer Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor called Carter “old school” but said they found common ground in sailing.
“He was all business in the courtroom, scary sometimes for a young lawyer as he was ‘old school,’” Silverstein said Monday. “But out of the courtroom, we chatted about wooden sailboats, something we had in common and both owned.”
In recent years, Carter split his time between Hampden and Crescent Beach, Florida.
He is survived by his wife Judith Ann (nee Kittridge) Carter, whom he met while a student at the University Maine, and sons Matthew Carter of Bangor and Mark Carter of Hampton, Connecticut, and their families.
A celebration of Carter’s life will be held at a later date.