The Lawyer of Mayoralty

By H. Jay Burns

In a 36-year law career that concluded with a Maine Supreme Judicial Court judgeship, Louis Scolnik ’45 helped settle headline cases involving billion-dollar companies, like the time he ruled it was proper for the state to finance a major Bath Iron Works expansion in Portland.

But he still hasn’t forgotten the one-day court case in 1959 involving seven Bates students and $18 worth of stolen lumber.

Scolnik, a Lewiston attorney at the time (fellow alumnus Irving Isaacson ’36 was the municipal court judge on the case), got the lumberyard to drop charges against students who stole lumber to use in a Mayoralty production. In exchange, the seven worked at the yard for a day each.

But if the charges hadn’t been dropped, Scolnik knew the students would probably be kicked out of Bates. That chasm, between the crime and the possible punishment from College authorities, is an enduring memory for Scolnik, who was elected founding president of the Maine Civil Liberties Union in 1968.

“That case lit up the need to protect the rights of students,” he says. “Not only did college students have very few rights in those days — no conduct hearings, no committees, no representation — but they knew that if they were kicked out for what was a prank, it would ruin their lives. But at that time, students were not a class that anybody had taken up a cudgel for.”