2017-01-16 / Front Page

Oral arguments on Nadeau judicial case set

Oversight panel urges suspension if Nadeau seeks re-election
By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A judicial oversight committee is recommending former York County Judge of Probate Robert M.A. Nadeau be suspended from practicing law for two years — but that the recommended sanction be suspended unless he announces his candidacy for judicial office. The recommendation comes in connection with a complaint filed by the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability about actions Nadeau took regarding attorneys, the court schedule and other matters during his last term as probate judge. The committee is also asking Nadeau be fined $10,000.

Nadeau lost his bid for re-election for York County Judge of Probate Nov. 8, coming in second to Democrat Bryan Chabot, who began his four-year term Jan. 3.

Nadeau, in his Nov. 28 reply to the  memorandum of law filed by the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, pointed out he sought a judicial ethics opinion when naming attorneys for court appointments and wrote that his decision to change the probate schedule, which had been described as abrupt by others, had been discussed with Probate Register Carol Lovejoy prior to his ordering the change in April 2015.

As to the sanctions recommended by the judicial oversight panel, Nadeau urged the court to avoid  what he called “piling on.” He referred to his recent 30-day suspension ordered by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that commenced Oct. 3 in connection with a prior complaint filed by the judicial oversight committee.

Nadeau said that earlier sanction “would and certainly did, look awful, particularly to those not trained in law.”

“The suspension, exacerbated by the Single Justice’s current findings (regardless of what this court may ultimately do regarding them), were highly publicized in the recent election, costing Judge Nadeau, an Independent at almost 62 years of age, to narrowly lose a personally very expensive re-election effort in a three-way race pitting himself against a Democrat and a second Independent candidate, and to further punitively suffer the lost of a significant future income and benefits. Enough already?” Nadeau wrote.

Final memoranda of law have been filed by both parties ahead of oral arguments before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, set for 9 a.m. Feb. 9 at Cumberland County Courthouse.

Active retired Justice Robert Clifford of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found in July that Nadeau acted in “anger and disappointment” in 2015, and breached judicial canons when his  request for additional court hours and an increase in salary was denied. While Clifford acknowledged that, in the long run, Nadeau’s scheduling changes resulted in improvements to the court schedule — particularly the implementation of a trailing docket for contested matters — he wrote that “it is the impetuous manner in which the initial changes were made that resulted in the violations.”

In 2015, county commissioners denied Nadeau’s request for more court hours and a larger salary. Nadeau had sought a $90,000 salary for three court days a week, or $119,000 for a full-time position. In 2015, his salary was $54,000 for an eight-day per month schedule. The same night his request was denied, Nadeau ordered changes to the probate court schedule in an email to Lovejoy.

Clifford noted that the changes were ordered without input or discussion with the probate court staff or anyone else.

Clifford also wrote that Nadeau has acknowledged it was a mistake to make the changes without the involvement of the probate staff, and called him a “hard working” probate judge who “puts in many more hours than the 64 hours a month on which his salary is set by the Commission on which his salary is based.”

Clifford agreed with the judicial oversight committee that Nadeau violated judicial canons in a letter he issued after his 2012 election but prior to taking office in 2013 that instructed Lovejoy not to offer appointments to seven attorneys.

The attorneys included two who had formerly worked for Nadeau in his private law practice — and with whom he had engaged in litigation — and others who worked for a law firm established by one of his former employees.

Nadeau had argued he did not appoint the attorneys because he knew he would have to recuse himself, and that the appointment of a probate judge from another county would have affected the court’s budget. In his memorandum of law filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, he pointed out that he sought a judicial ethics opinion on the matter and instructed Probate Register Lovejoy to ensure all attorneys interested in court appointments would continue to receive them.

Clifford found a breach of another canon when Nadeau removed an attorney from her court-appointed status, though the removal was quickly reversed.

In his final written argument to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Nadeau asserted that elected probate judges should not be treated more harshly or with any lesser degree of support than the state’s full-time elected judges and wrote that “it would seem to be unnecessary to cite the numerous instances in which full-time judges have made decisions, which were found on appeal to be clearly erroneous, sometimes even to the point of constituting an abuse of discretion.”

Nadeau wrote that he regrets the perceptions the judicial oversight panel and others have had regarding “whether he caused any harm, whether perceived or otherwise, to anyone,” and that “nothing of the sort was ever or will be intended.”

The judicial oversight panel sees it differently.

“The Committee is very concerned that Judge Nadeau, notwithstanding his defeat in the recent election, may attempt to regain office again, as he has in the past following  the loss of an election,"  wrote attorney Cabanne Howard for the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability. “The Committee feels strongly that Judge Nadeau should never be a judge again.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.


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