The justices on Maine’s highest court considered Wednesday whether to discipline a York County probate judge for improper conduct, questioning whether the same ethical rules that apply to them as appointed, full-time judges also apply to him as an elected, part-time judge.

The probate judge, Robert M.A. Nadeau, has been accused by the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability of using his elected position to benefit his private legal practice and to influence a case in which he was a litigant.

The seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments Wednesday morning on the committee’s recommendation 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.

Nadeau, who has a private law practice in Biddeford, is accused of violating five different sections of the Maine Code of Judicial Conduct stemming from complaints lodged against him by six other attorneys in 2012 and 2013. The complaints range from maintaining a judicial website with a link to his for-profit private practice, to using his position as a judge to inappropriately try to influence a civil case he filed against an ex-girlfriend.

Nadeau, who was first elected York County probate judge in 1996, has been publicly reprimanded multiple times in the past, including suspension from his judicial duties for 30 days in 2007 by the Supreme Judicial Court.

“Apparently Judge Nadeau hasn’t got the message, so here we are today dealing with yet another group of violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” said Cabanne Howard, executive secretary of the committee calling for sanctions against Nadeau.


As the justices weighed arguments from Howard and Nadeau’s attorney, Stephen B. Wade, several questioned whether the ethical rules were different for Nadeau in his different roles. As a judge, he is bound by the judicial code; as an attorney, he is bound by the bar rules; and as an elected official, he is bound by campaign rules.

“Doesn’t this raise sort of the conundrum that’s raised by having an elected judge, particularly in this state, where this individual is subject to different ethical planes – as a judge, as an attorney and perhaps as a person running for an election in a campaign – each having layers of obligation. Does this blend or fuzz up?” Justice Thomas Humphrey asked.

Justices Ellen Gorman and Joseph Jabar focused on the same theme, probing from different angles.

“There are, for elected judges, three different standards that they are being asked to adhere to: standards as a judge, standards as a litigant and standards as a regular attorney. Can he be found to have violated the standard as a judge when he has not been found to have violated the standard for an attorney?” Gorman asked.

Jabar said that because probate judges serve part time, some people will be more inclined to hire them as private attorneys because they are also judges.

“That’s the nature of the office in Maine. You can’t hide it,” Jabar said.


Wade argued that Nadeau had not violated the judicial code. He defended against one accusation in which Nadeau is accused of making a disparaging remark in writing about a District Court judge, saying that Nadeau’s First Amendment right to free speech protected him when he was acting as an attorney or when not acting as a judge.

“I think there is a huge difference between what happens in the courtroom versus what happens in private life. So that I think the interest of the court of controlling what a judge says when he is on the bench or when he is dealing with a litigant is different,” Wade said.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm questioned Wade on whether he was making an “artificial distinction” because judges at all times are the face of the judiciary.

“When I go to the library and take out a book and people recognize me as a judge, they will look to see what book I’m taking out. When I go to the grocery store, there is a particular high level of appearance that’s not associated with other people. When I choose my friends, that is going to reflect on the judiciary because I am the face of the judiciary, as is every member of the judiciary, because the public’s perception of the judiciary is not limited to just the courtroom itself,” Hjelm said.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said during her remarks in the 40-minute hearing that when the court does issue an opinion about whether to discipline Nadeau, it also will provide guidance to other elected judges so they can understand how the judicial code applies to them.

Nadeau did not attend the hearing.


The court adjourned without indicating when it will rule.

Nadeau has been re-elected three times since he first won his position in 1996. He was defeated in 2008 after disciplinary actions against him, but was elected again in 2012.

Nadeau was suspended from his duties as a judge in 2007 by the Supreme Judicial Court for lying about his opponents in his re-election campaign in 2004.

In 2006, he was publicly reprimanded by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar for violating Maine Bar Rules in a divorce case in his private practice in which he had a sexual relationship with his client. Nadeau was married and had children at the time, according to court records.

He also was found in violation of bar rules for faxing messages directly to the opposing party in the divorce case rather than to the attorneys in the case.

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