Taking a highly unusual step, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has joined a vitriolic email exchange over the judicial branch’s appointment of a Cumberland County judge to be deputy chief of Maine’s District Court.

The appointment this week of Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz drew some heated opposition, most vocally from Lori Handrahan, a former Maine resident. Moskowitz presided over Handrahan’s bitter divorce and child custody case, which began in 2008, and ruled against her in several court orders.

After the announcement of Moskowitz’s appointment Tuesday, Handrahan sent dozens of mass emails and hundreds of tweets from several Twitter accounts to dozens of members of the Legislature and the media, demanding a federal investigation into what she called Moskowitz’s misconduct. She included a link to an online petition she started, calling for his removal from the bench.

While many state officials ignored the messages, Mills said she decided to respond, sending an email Wednesday that included Moskowitz’s May 2012 court order revoking Handrahan’s parental rights for her failure to undergo therapy for a “narcissistic personality disorder.”

Mills’ email went to the same list of legislators and media.

“I thought that since I was getting inquiries, I should give some context,” Mills said late Thursday afternoon, when asked in a phone interview why she would respond in such a public manner to Handrahan’s email.

“While this Office was not involved in her custody dispute, this decision, which is a matter of public record, may help you put into context the communications you have received from this individual,” Mills wrote in her email.

Jim Burke, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said he could not recall a state attorney general taking such action: publicizing a court order from a contentious child custody case that included many personal details about the parties involved.

“I don’t think she’s done anything wrong,” Burke said. “It strikes me that it just might be a public service, and I’m not being ironic. People should be informed (about) who are the public servants who are working for them.”

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for Mills, said she has no direct relationship with Moskowitz. “She is not involved in any divorce case or in any judicial appointments at this time,” he said.

Handrahan, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, is waging a passionate, personal campaign to draw attention to her divorce case and her anger at Moskowitz by maintaining several websites and blogs, using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, making phone calls and sending emails.

She has accused her ex-husband of abusing their daughter and claimed that the judicial branch is a secret, moneymaking front for a “pedophilia” ring.

Handrahan did not return a phone message seeking comment, but sent 10 emails to a Portland Press Herald reporter on Wednesday and Thursday – including one that also went to legislators and reporters – responding to Mills.

“The Attorney General of the State of Maine has so little self-control, and is so outraged that I am not yet silent behind bars on trumped up charges by Judge Moskowitz, that she hits reply all on my email. What a gift,” Handrahan said in an email Thursday afternoon. “If I’m just some crazy mother, why on God’s green earth would the Attorney General of the Great State of Maine lower herself to my ‘crazy’ level and enter the email fray?”

Mills’ email drew quick criticism from state Rep. Lisa Villa, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, who said Thursday that she is considering calling for a formal inquiry into citizens’ complaints that may have been filed against Moskowitz.

“In my opinion, there are too many unanswered questions for me to be swayed by one document that doesn’t address some very disturbing issues,” Villa said in an email.

Villa, a Democrat from Harrison who ran for office on a platform of family court reform, said she took no position on Handrahan’s case but believes that complaints against judges are too often ignored.

The Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee, Linda Valentino, D-Saco, disagreed that legislators should be inquiring about judges’ qualifications.

“As chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, I don’t have a position. I don’t feel it is within the purview of the Judiciary Committee,” Valentino said. “I don’t feel this is a legislative issue. I feel this is a judicial issue.”

Valentino said she knows Moskowitz and his family, and called the accusations against him unbelievable.

“To ruin a reputation of a person based on someone not being satisfied with her divorce? I think people should proceed more cautiously,” Valentino said.

Moskowitz declined a request for comment, through judicial branch spokeswoman Mary Ann Lynch.

Lynch said she was unaware of any formal complaints against Moskowitz or any other judge. Complaints are handled by a separate investigative panel, the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability.

That investigative panel has not found any grounds to file a charge against Moskowitz for any complaint, said H. Cabanne Howard, the committee’s executive secretary.

“All of the complaints filed with the committee are confidential unless the committee decides to charge a judge in the Supreme Judicial Court,” Howard said.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan