The Bottom Line On the County Line

Let Daniel come to Maine for a few days; we need him on a judgment job. The Knox-Lincoln county line is in contention again, and Lady Law dreads tackling her duties.

Let it be stipulated that Knox and Lincoln are adjacent counties here in our Pine Tree State (Lincoln dating from 1760 and having no reference to Honest Abe, and Knox dating from 1860 and honoring the Valuable Henry, one of Washington's dependable generals).

The surveyors' line between Lincoln and Knox begins up in the hills of Maine and descends to the Atlantic Ocean, where it proceeds for three miles in the direction of Spain and ceases when it reaches the coastal limit and is at ``federal'' water. It is this three-mile stretch that needs the judicial acumen of Daniel, who had a great reputation in the eyes of the people.

Thus it is: Not a great many days ago, a worthy gentleman of this vicinity, upright and venerated by his neighbors equally with any Susanna of olden time, perpetrated a villainous journalistic crime in the Knox-Lincoln vicinity, which is where he lives, and he has since been somewhat convicted.

(A journalistic crime is one the local press delights in presenting to juice-up the otherwise mediocre content, as I suppose you very well know.)

But this story lacked an ingredient, and while that made no difference in the telling of it, it did make a difference in the way the constabulary, the prosecution, the lawyers, and the judiciary responded.

It seems this gentleman perpetrated this heinous crime while he was aboard his lobster-fishing boat, at sea, and somewhere in the vicinity of the above-described Knox-Lincoln county line.

Maine law stipulates that punitive action for criminal behavior must follow in the county where the peccadillo took place, but because of the nature of things, nobody knows where that is.

So people are wondering where the trial is going to be. There is even an opinion holding for a federal case three miles at sea. In any event, we must take judicial notice that an unlocated crime can deprive an honest citizen of his rights, a matter already given much attention by the defense attorney as well as the puzzled prosecutor.

Long ago, Maine had a similar problem about the Isles of Shoals, the serene retreat of Celia Thaxter and her friends. These are a group of small islands in the Atlantic, off the mouth of the Piscataqua River, and the extended boundary line of Maine and New Hampshire runs across them.

The part of the Isles of Shoals that belongs to Maine is part of our town of Kittery. So when a major crime visited the Isles of Shoals, it became necessary to decide if it took place in Maine or New Hampshire. Would the trial, certain to be covered thoroughly by the wayward press, be held in Rockingham County in New Hampshire, or at the comfortable old courthouse in the sleepy shiretown of Alfred, York County, Maine?

At that time, the matter of location stole some of the dramatic thunder from the basic story. In that instance, there was divided loyalty - neither state cared to forfeit any of its sovereignty, but neither state was so all-fired desirous of getting a noisy murder trial.

There were those who considered the whole thing a fine opportunity for the Thaxter family hotel. In this kind of attitude, when it was decided where the event took place, the winner lost.

Celia Thaxter wrote verses, and Thoreau, Lowell, and Whittier had stopped at the hotel, presumably in New Hampshire.

We had another celebrated lawsuit in which the the Knox-Lincoln county line figured about 30 years ago. It never came to a court case, but the argument was between two able attorneys who both practiced in Sagadahoc County but owned two summer cottages on the beach at Plover Pond.

One of the cottages belonged to Attorney ``Weasel-Puss'' Perkins, who looked a lot like a weasel, which is not an easy thing to do. The other was the property of Attorney Prentiss Fosdick, who was muscular and looked like a moose. The Knox-Lincoln county line passed between their cottages, and was the line between their lots.

But a dispute developed as to just where that line ran. This dispute simmered until one day Lawyer Fosdick brought a six-foot length of two-inch water pipe and drove it in the ground where he felt the line really was.

This was right up beside Perkin's porch, so in a day or so he pulled up the pipe and drove it in the ground right by the Fosdick dining-room window. Lawyer Fosdick then moved it back by the Perkins porch. After you've lived in Maine a few generations, you don't mind these things so much.

But when the Perkins-Foster dispute was building up to rival the Battle of Hastings, Attorney Fosdick brought his pipe back one more time, and he waved it at Attorney Perkins and spoke to him in the soothing manner of practicing Maine lawyers in court: ``If it pleases the court - I am about to place my witness mark where it belongs one more time, and I want my learned brother to know that if he disturbs it again, I will wrap it about his neck twice and then tie it into a bow knot.''

I do not wish to seem to condone such downright action, but will merely point out that an intellectual approach to a vexing problem can be more helpful than going to court. At least on the Fosdick-Perkins Beach at Plover Pond, we know Knox from Lincoln.

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