The Orrington man who helped keep courts in Bangor running as the COVID-19 pandemic brought much judicial business to a halt will step down this month to become director of the state Legislature’s oversight arm. There, he’ll oversee a staff that probes problems in government programs such as child welfare and indigent legal services.
Peter Schleck, 53, will become director of the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability on June 27. The appointment marks a return to government oversight for Schleck, who worked in oversight jobs in Washington, D.C., before becoming manager of operations and clerk of Penobscot County courts.
Schleck replaces Lucia Nixon, who has moved to the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review. Schleck will oversee a team of eight others after supervising 29 clerks in Bangor. His salary will be $114,000 a year.
Schleck, who has a law degree from Georgetown University, worked for more than 25 years in oversight jobs in the nation’s capital before working in Bangor. He held posts in inspector general officers for two federal agencies before working for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which Congress created after the Enron scandal in which the Houston energy firm used dubious accounting practices.
He was married in Maine in 2014 and commuted between Maine and Washington, D.C., for three years. Schleck then took the courthouse job in August 2018, about 18 months before COVID-19 shut down much of the state.
The court remained open during that period, but handled only emergency matters such as child protective cases, protection from abuse and harassment petitions, and first appearances of those in jail unable to post bail.
“Government oversight and accountability is my business of choice,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do the kind of work I’d done before but for the people of Maine.”
His biggest concession to the new job will be the purchase of an electric car for the 160-mile round trip commute from his home to Augusta. Schleck currently alternates between driving his 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass and a scooter to the courthouse, depending on the weather.
His first task as OPEGA’s director will be to oversee the third phase of an evaluation of the child welfare division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The Legislature has repeatedly tasked the office with investigating how the division is handling cases since the slayings of 4-year-old Kendall Chick and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy more than four years ago. Lawmakers ordered more probing last July following a series of young children’s deaths. OPEGA submitted reports to the Legislature in January and March of this year.
The government oversight committee, which oversees OPEGA, also has been evaluating the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services to determine how well lawyers who agree to represent poor defendants facing jail time are doing their jobs. Maine is the last state in the nation without some form of public defenders’ office. A pilot project for an office in Kennebec County was approved but not funded.
Suzanne Gresser, the Legislature’s executive director, said Schleck’s experience in Washington, D.C., made him a “perfect fit” for the job.
“We are very excited about him joining the legislative team,” she said.
Schleck said he sees similarities between his job in the court system and his new job in the Legislature.
“The importance of objective, evidence-based decision making is essential in promoting confidence in government,” he said. “Being objective, independent and fair is what the courts strive to do.”
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead, who served as acting chief justice for 15 months, including at the height of the pandemic, called Schleck “indispensable.” Schleck arranged the court system’s first socially distanced murder trial and helped the court adopt new technology to conduct more business remotely.
“His steady hand and extraordinary managerial abilities served the court well during the enormous challenges that occurred during the darkest days of the COVID pandemic and beyond,” Mead said.
Diana Durgin, 53, of Levant will succeed Schleck as the clerk of the Bangor courts. She has more than 30 years of experience working in the clerk’s office at the Newport District Court.