SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine - Frank M. Coffin, who helped launch a revival of the Democratic Party in the 1950s in Maine and served four decades on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, has died. He was 90.
The retired judge from South Portland died Monday of complications following surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm at Maine Medical Center in Portland, said Don Nicoll, a longtime friend.
Judge Coffin served two terms in Congress from the late 1950s to early ’60s before going on to serve as deputy administrator with the Agency for International Development and later as a US diplomat in France. He was appointed to the appeals court in 1965 and assumed senior status in 1989. He retired from the bench in 2006.
The Lewiston native had a colorful career in the courtroom and in politics, where he launched his career by serving as Democratic State Committee chairman in 1954.
Working with Edmund S. Muskie, Judge Coffin helped reinvigorate the Democratic Party, ending 100 years of Republican dominance with Muskie’s election as governor in 1954 and Judge Coffin’s election two years later to Congress, said Nicoll, who served as an aide to Judge Coffin in the House and later as an aide to Muskie in the Senate.
But it was on the federal bench where Judge Coffin spent most of his career. During his tenure, he was known for his commitment to equal access to the justice system.
“He led the way on critical issues of access to justice, assuring that Maine people who could not afford an attorney were not forgotten,’’ said Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. She described him as “a mentor and friend to generations of Maine lawyers and judges, including all of us on the Maine Supreme Court.’’
Judge Coffin earned degrees from Bates College and Harvard Business School before serving in the US Navy in World War II. After the war, he earned his law degree from Harvard and became a trial attorney.
Nicoll said Judge Coffin was viewed as a renaissance man because of his varied careers, but he was never boastful.