Maine’s highest court will hear arguments Wednesday on whether to discipline an elected York County probate judge who is accused of abusing his office to benefit himself personally and his private legal practice.
The part-time probate judge, Robert M.A. Nadeau, has already been publicly reprimanded multiple times in the past, including being suspended from his judicial duties for 30 days in 2007 by the same Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability is now recommending that Nadeau be suspended without pay from his judicial duties for four weeks and pay $4,000 to hire a substitute judge in his absence.
A panel of justices on the Supreme Judicial Court will weigh arguments from the committee’s executive secretary, Cabanne Howard; arguments from Nadeau’s attorney, Stephen Wade; and findings from an active-retired judge, Justice Robert Clifford, who heard testimony in the case against Nadeau.
“A single oral argument will be held, and the parties should be prepared to present their arguments regarding the findings and conclusions of the referee justice (Clifford) as well as the sanctions, if any, to be imposed in this matter during that argument,” Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in a scheduling order in August.
Nadeau, who has a private law practice in Biddeford, is accused of five different violations of the Maine Code of Judicial Conduct stemming from complaints lodged against him by six other attorneys in 2012 and 2013.
Nadeau was first elected as the York County probate judge in 1996 and was re-elected in 2000 and 2004. He was defeated in 2008 after disciplinary actions against him but then elected again in 2012.
Nadeau was suspended from his duties as a judge in 2007 by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for lying about his opponents in his campaign for re-election in 2004.
He was publicly reprimanded prior to that by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar in 2006 for violating the Maine Bar Rules in a divorce case from his private practice in which he had a sexual relationship with his client. He was found in violation of bar rules for faxing messages directly to the opposing party in the divorce case rather than the attorneys in the case. Nadeau was married and had children at the time, according to court records.
The first of the five new counts against Nadeau accuses him of creating a website in the name of “York County Probate Judge Robert Nadeau” that links to his for-profit private practice website. Clifford said in a finding issued in May that Nadeau’s conduct pertaining to the website was a judicial code violation but not an egregious one since Nadeau deleted the link after learning of the complaint.
The second count accuses Nadeau of creating a Facebook page that claimed to be the “official page of the York County Judge of Probate Robert Nadeau” that shows pictures of him in judicial robes, in a business suit with his family and in a military uniform from his time in military service. Clifford also found that to be a judicial code violation, though not egregious since Nadeau took it down after a complaint. Clifford found two clear judicial code violations in the third count against Nadeau, in which he is accused of using his title of judge to inappropriately try to influence a personal civil case that he filed against an ex-girlfriend.
Clifford disagreed with the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability on the fourth and fifth counts against Nadeau and found Nadeau had not committed judicial code violations. Both counts pertain to Nadeau’s civil case against his ex-girlfriend that he filed claiming that she was harassing him by disclosing his confidential medical information.
The fourth count accused Nadeau of trying to force a District Court judge to recuse himself from hearing Nadeau’s harassment claim. The fifth count accused Nadeau of referencing a court document filed in Probate Court during the harassment case that referred to him as “his eminence.”
Nadeau’s attorney, Wade, has argued in written filings that none of the new accusations against Nadeau are violations of the judicial code and that he should not be punished.
Howard argued in writing on behalf of the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability that Nadeau had been warned leading up to his 2006 and 2007 punishments and didn’t heed the past warnings.
“One possibly inadvertent violation might be excusable, but the multiplicity of the violations here demonstrates a pattern of disregard for the code that the court should deal with firmly, since to do otherwise might encourage other judges to behave in a similarly cavalier fashion, as well as play into the public cynicism as to the willingness of the judicial branch to discipline its own,” Howard wrote in a brief to the court in September.