I've got two officials I'm using as examples in particular. One is the Attorney General of the State of Maine. According to the Maine Constitution:

The Attorney General shall be chosen biennially by joint ballot of the Senators and Representatives in convention.

The other is the chairman of the board of professional land surveyors. According to 32 MRS S 18211 SS 4:

The board shall meet at least once a year to conduct its business and to elect a chair.

What I'm wondering is, 'how long do these terms last?'

In the first place, consider a scenario where John is elected Attorney General or Chair of the Board in a January of say the year 2000. Suppose the next election of a Chair or an Attorney General does not happen until December of 2001 or December of 2002 respectively. In each of those cases, does John serve more than one total year (in the case of Chair) or more than two total years (in the case of the AG)?

In the second place, suppose no "election" or "motion of choosing" takes place at all. What is the logical consequence of such a failure? If the preceding AG or the preceding Chair continues to serve, there is no consequence it seems for not doing that which is required by law. Does the Chair or AG cease to serve upon failure to "choose" or "elect" them annually or biennially? If so, when? - (see my first question above).

I did manage to find this. See 5 MRS S 3

§3. Civil officers serve until successors qualify All civil officers, other than judicial officers, appointed in accordance with law and whose terms of office are fixed by law, shall hold office during the term for which they were appointed and until their successors in office have been appointed and qualified, unless sooner removed in accordance with law. [1975, c. 771, §25 (RPR).]

But 1) I don't exactly know what counts as a civil officer. And 2) I don't know what "terms of office are fixed by law" means precisely. After all, if the terms were really fixed by law, I might not be asking this question in the first place. On the other hand, if it is presumed that the "elections" will take place when they're supposed to do so, then the terms are kind of "fixed" in a sense.

Secondly, even if the AG counts as a "civil officer", one of the very next sections after 5 MRS Section 3 says this. (See 5 MRS Section 6):

§6. Officials have 30 days to qualify All public officers appointed or renewed in accordance with law shall, within 30 days after being commissioned, qualify to perform the duties of their office and the certificate of qualification must be filed in the office of the Secretary of State. Any officer who fails to qualify within 30 days and file a certificate of qualification in the office of the Secretary of State within 45 days must be suspended by the Secretary of State until the defect is corrected. During this suspension, the officer may be deemed to have forfeited the appointment and the office may be declared vacant by the appointing authority and a new appointment made. [1991, c. 837, Pt. A, §7 (AMD).]

I checked with the secretary of state. There are no "certificates of qualification" for board chairs. That must mean that they count as something other than "public officers." So that might mean that section 3 does not apply to them at all.

There is one more thing. See 10 MRS S 8009:

§8009. Standardized terms Notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon expiration of a professional or occupational licensing board member's term, that member serves until a successor is appointed and qualified. The successor's term commences at the expiration of the preceding term, regardless of the date of appointment. A vacancy occurring prior to the expiration of a specified term must be filled by appointment of a similarly qualified individual as a replacement. The replacement member serves for the remainder of the unexpired term, regardless of the date of appointment. [2013, c. 217, Pt. A, §2 (AMD).]

But I am sure this section is talking about the terms of actual board members, not the chair or any other kind of special elected officer of the board.

What I'd like to know, in addition to an answer particularized for the state of Maine in these cases if you can, is when the term of such an official would end in the absence of any kind of legal specification?

2 Answers 2


I'm not quite sure what you're asking here.

Officials serve until they are (1) replaced (which covers until after their successor has qualified) or (2) removed from office by legal (or inevitable biological) processes. If the successor is not appointed and qualified, the successor does not start in the job. This may mean the previous person serves a bit longer. The previous person could also be reappointed to another term.

Based on a brief view of the speech history for Maine's attorney general, it looks like there is a swearing-in ceremony approximately Jan. 7 of the odd-numbered years.

  • 1
    the question is, what would happen if the legislature decided not to hold elections for a decade, say. would the last AG elected remain AG for a decade?
    – Mr. A
    Apr 10, 2016 at 19:38
  • 1
    @Mr.A Yes. If someone noticed it and made a fuss in the media, there might be political pressure on the legislators to do their jobs or be voted out. (See also this question).
    – WBT
    Apr 10, 2016 at 19:41
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    But that means the maine constitution says the legislature "shall" do something but they don't really have to do it if they don't want to.
    – Mr. A
    Apr 10, 2016 at 20:18
  • 4
    Conventionally, "may" indicates "is allowed to" and "shall" means "must". Though without any punishment for failure to comply, it's a toothless obligation.
    – user6726
    Apr 10, 2016 at 21:14

A "civil officer" is a person who executes authority in civilian affairs (in contrast to a military officer). This is not synonymous with "official" except that a government official would also be a civil official but not (necessarily) vice-versa.

Such people serve until they are replaced, resign, die or are otherwise removed from office. If the people who nominate their replacement fail to do so for whatever reason then that person continues to serve until they do.

If the people are legally obliged to nominate a replacement then they are subject to whatever sanction the law provides: from your examples, none at all. However, a person with standing could seek a writ of Mandumus requiring those people to do their duty. If the continue to fail to do so then they are in contempt of court and can be jailed until they do do their duty. This would certainly be an option against the board - it may not be available against the legislature - courts generally feel that they do not have any authority over the legislature (legislators, yes, the legislature, no) due to the principle of separation of powers.

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