Maine court hears oral arguments as justices consider sanctions against former probate judge
The Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability recommended the sanctions, the harshest the Maine Supreme Judicial Court could hand down short of disbarment, for what it says are five violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Cabanne Howard, executive secretary and counsel to the committee that investigates and recommends sanctions for Maine judges, outlined the five violations to start the hearing.
Nadeau faces the proposed sanctions for actions he took in November 2012, when he directed probate court staff not to appoint certain attorneys to litigants who qualified for indigent legal service, for ordering a lawyer to destroy an email deemed a public document, and for ordering the removal of a lawyer from three cases to which she had been assigned.
“The motive was retaliatory to the County Committee for denying his raise,” Howard said. “This was all the cases pending in his court. Everybody got hurt in these delays.”
Nadeau, 62, who lost his bid for re-election in a three-way race last year, has been sanctioned twice previously for violating the code of conduct for judges.
He first was suspended from the bench in 2007 for a week without pay for lying about his opponent in his 2004 re-election bid. He was suspended for 30 days without pay last year for statements he made in a 2013 letter to the attorney representing his former girlfriend in a protection from harassment matter.
The Biddeford lawyer was first elected to be the York County probate judge in 1996 and served a total of 16 years on the bench.
“You have done some great good in your time as a judge,” one justice told Nadeau during questioning. “Yet, we see intemperate behavior. After all those years of judging, why is it that you didn’t have something in place to avoid … intemperate behavior?”
Another justice also commented on Nadeau’s “good work” on the bench but added that she has noticed a pattern of angry responses over the years and “that anger-based response keeps getting you into trouble.”
In addressing the allegations, Nadeau said that he had asked for a review of the indigent lawyer appointments, but that he reversed course when he learned his decision was wrong. He also said he had been given a legal opinion saying it was OK to destroy the public document in 2012.
He also said the committee did not consider two emails about remaking the probate court schedule, issued about a year and about two weeks before he made the 2015 changes, which he said were to make his schedule more efficient.
“Regardless of the circumstances and my efforts to right the wrongs … I fell short,” Nadeau said.
Howard ended by saying the committee is recommending Nadeau’s license to practice law be suspended indefinitely but that the suspension be suspended, to be put into effect only when and if Nadeau seeks election to the probate court again.
All judges except those who serve in the probate courts are appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state Senate. It is highly unlikely a lawyer who had been sanctioned more than once for violating the Judicial Code of Conduct would be nominated for a judgeship let alone be confirmed.
“The committee is very concerned that Nadeau never become a judge again,” Howard said.
The high court’s decision could take several weeks or months to be finalized.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.