James "Ted" Glessner, administrator for the Maine court system, will retire Dec. 30 after 29 years on the job. He is the longest serving court administrator in the country. Credit: Courtesy of Crystal Sullivan

The nation’s longest serving court administrator will retire at the end of the month after nearly three decades on the job in Maine.

James “Ted” Glessner, 75, of Yarmouth has ushered in many changes in Maine’s court system, including the consolidation of district and superior court clerks’ offices; the modernization of the state’s aging courthouses; increased security and entry screening; and implemented the use of technology during the pandemic.

“The biggest challenge has always been having the resources to do what we are required to do,” he said Wednesday. “It is difficult asking for funding for additional resources. The challenge is always making the case to legislators.”

During his tenure, the judiciary’s budget rose from $27.5 million in 1992 to about $100 million, which includes more than $17 million in debt service, this fiscal year.

Glessner has worked with four chief justices, hundreds of judges and thousands of judicial employees during his tenure. Former Chief Justice Daniel Wathen hired him to be the first administrator of the courts after consolidation began. He also worked with the current Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill and her predecessor, acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead.

But Glessner worked the longest for former Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley, who is now dean of the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.

Saufley and Glessner worked together for nearly two decades. She replaced Wathen as chief justice in 2001 and left in April 2020  to head Maine’s only law school.

“It is rare that a state court administrator serves for so long and with so many judicial leaders, and it speaks volumes about Ted’s ability to serve with energy, integrity and excellence,” Saufley said Tuesday.

She called Glessner’s stamp on Maine’s judicial system “indelible.”

Glessner was born and raised outside Philadelphia and graduated from Villanova University. His interest in court administration began when he worked at St. Gabriel’s Hall, a Catholic juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania that is now closed.

“I interacted with a lot of family court judges there and that got me interested in court administration,” he said.

That led him to Wilmington, Delaware, where he was the family court administrator in that state. From there, he came to Maine in 1992, when the state was in the midst of a financial crisis that hit the court system harder than in other states, according to retired Justice Donald Alexander’s recently published history of Maine’s courts.

“With an extraordinary work ethic and great interpersonal and leadership skills, he led transformational changes in the judicial branch,” Alexander said Tuesday. “Virtually everybody in the judicial branch has held Ted in the highest regard. The changes he led included: much more professional and accountable court administration, improved respect by the Legislature and executive branches, and three or more generations of changes in computerization and digital communications that made the courts ready to move to the remote proceedings and digital communication required by the sudden onset of the pandemic.”

Glessner said that he leaves with some projects unfinished, including the implementation of the digital filing system (Maine is the last court system in the nation to rely on paper documents). Also, the construction of the new courthouse in Biddeford, which will be the largest in the state and combine York County Superior Court in Alfred with three district courts, and a new courthouse in Ellsworth.

“My one regret is that Maine’s judges are still the lowest paid in the nation,” he said. “I am not happy to have that be part of my legacy.”

Glessner has no definitive plans for retirement but plans to spend more time with his wife, Jeanne, his three grown children, two of whom live in Maine, and his seven grandchildren.

As of Jan. 1, Dennis Corliss, chief of finance and administration, will become the acting administrator of the courts while a national search is conducted for Glessner’s replacement.

Saufley said that Glessner made all of the challenges she encountered as chief justice easier to face.

His humanity and sense of humor pulled many of us through the really tough times, she said.

“In addition, Ted never, ever forgot that our first priority must always be the public — the litigants who needed an accessible and fair system of justice. Maine has been exceedingly fortunate that Ted Glessner chose Maine as the focus of his life’s work,” Saufley said.