ALFRED — A New Hampshire woman has initiated a class action civil complaint against York County Judge of Probate Robert M.A. Nadeau, alleging scheduling changes he made in April resulted in the loss of her guardianship of her 3-year-old granddaughter.

Renee LeGrand of Effingham, New Hampshire claims the scheduling change initiated by Nadeau on April 15 resulted in the need for extensions of her temporary guardianship of her granddaughter while awaiting a court date that has so far not materialized. Ultimately, according to the complaint, an extension request filed on Aug. 28, ahead of the pending expiration of a temporary guardianship order Aug. 31, was denied by Nadeau on Sept. 11. On Sept. 21, Nadeau appointed Aroostook County Probate Judge James Dunleavy to hear the case, at the expense of York County. According to the suit, no scheduling has been accomplished.

The grandmother had sought guardianship because of her daughter’s untreated mental health issues, substance abuse, exposure to unsafe individuals and general instability, according to the lawsuit. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services became involved and according to the suit, agreed not to pursue custody of the 3-year-old provided her grandmother did so.

As a result of the delay, which the suit claims was caused by Nadeau’s alleged unconstitutional conduct, the temporary guardianship order expired and the girl was removed from her grandmother’s care and returned to her mother.

The lawsuit, which was in transit Tuesday from the Portland law office of Mittel Asen, LLC, to York County Superior Court via the U.S. Postal Service, is expected to be filed at the court when it arrives.

The complaint alleges that Nadeau was retaliating against the county commissioners denial of his bid for more court time and a larger salary when he ordered a change in court days and a scheduling memorandum within hours of their denial. Nadeau, an elected judge, earns about $54,000 annually for eight days, or 64 hours, of court time monthly. He requested three days a week at $90,000 or five days a week at $120,000.

The suit seeks a return to the previous schedule, court costs and attorneys fees. It outlines the public’s constitutional rights to access the courts and the right to due process. The suit seeks certification as a class action and an expedited hearing.

The plaintiff also seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to require Nadeau return the court to the schedule it maintained prior to the April 15 change order and to remove Judge Nadeau from any role in the scheduling of matters pending before him, other than on a case-specific basis. As well, it seeks appointment of a referee to supervise, as necessary, scheduling of matters before the court from whom individual litigants can seek relief if they are aggrieved in the manner in which Judge Nadeau manages scheduling for their individual case.

Exhibits included with the suit show examples of motions for expedited hearings due, the suit contends, to regular hearing dates scheduled months away. Some exhibits contain a paragraph signed by Nadeau that directs those concerned about scheduling to the county manager and county commissioners as, according to one such writing, “they have been reluctant to support the funding of additional court days and hearing time.”

An affidavit from Register of Probate Carol Lovejoy, who has worked at the Registry of Probate for 35 years, including 12 years as the elected register, is included with the lawsuit, and outlines her testimony of the impact of Nadeau’s scheduling change. She noted that on April 16 there were many routine matters pending in the probate court scheduled into June. Once Nadeau ordered the scheduling change, many were scheduled into October, she said.

Prior to the change, Lovejoy testified in the affidavit, there were usually five trial days a month, and uncontested matters were not scheduled on trial days. Prior to the change, uncontested motions were usually reached within 90 days, she estimated, but now take an estimated 270 days to schedule.

If expedited hearings are granted by the judge, they are usually held on trial days, thus slowing the incidents of trials being heard. Lovejoy said that prior to the change, there was no backlog for scheduling or conducting what are considered routine matters. She noted that Nadeau has referred cases to probate judges in Aroostook County and Kennebec County; prior to the change, she said she does not recall cases being referred more than 50 miles away.

Nadeau, in an emailed response to a request for comment, called the lawsuit “very unfortunate and misinformed.”

“I continue to do my very best to make lemonade out of the very, very inadequate lemon of funding the Commissioners of the County of York provide for the benefit of the children, families, adult incapacitated persons and others who rely upon the probate court for service,” he wrote. “One cannot hear and decide trials and contested emergency cases collectively requiring 15 to 20 days of hearing time per month, when the county has for the past 16 years and counting been willing to only fund 64 hours per month, 12 to 18 of which its Register wishes to use to cram in more non-trial matters than are humanly possible to handle as thoroughly as they deserve.”

Nadeau went on to voice his opinion on the origin of the lawsuit.

“It seems clear that the lawsuit was motivated and arranged by an unhappy Register and county manager, and their attorney, all of whom, unlike the judge, are paid far more than the judge and don’t want to volunteer unpaid time,” he wrote, referring to his offer to perform adoptions on Saturday mornings.

Nadeau also said he regularly spends 90 hours a month dealing with probate work, when he is paid for 64 hours a month.

The County of York is named as a party in interest in the case. The suit does not seek direct relief from the county government itself, said county attorney Gene Libby, but from the judge.

He said the county’s position on the matter is unchanged.

“The county’s position remains that Judge Nadeau should revert to the schedule before he had his temper tantrum April 15,” Libby said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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