PORTLAND —The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has suspended former York County Judge of Probate Robert M.A. Nadeau from practicing law in Maine  for two years. The suspension commences Aug. 1.

The order, dated Tuesday, also fines the former longtime probate judge $5,000.

The justices found Nadeau violated judicial canons when he directed probate court staff not to make court appointments to seven attorneys; removed a previously appointed attorney from pending cases; issued orders urging litigants appearing before him to lobby for increased court time, and personally solicitated campaign contributions for his 2016 election campaign, according to the court document. 

The justices found that Nadeau’s order to staff to reschedule all pending court cases in the hours after his bid for more court time and a larger salary was rejected by York County Commissioners in 2015, did not constitute a violation of judicial canons.

“This is now the fourth time that Judge Nadeau has appeared before us for ethical violations, and the third time for conduct that occurred while serving in a judicial capacity,” the justices wrote in their 34-page order, referring to prior conduct.

“Here, his actions were often carried out in an intemperate and vindictive fashion against former colleagues of his law practice and their associates,” the justices further wrote. “Attorneys’ reputations were harmed, and litigants before him were pressured to support his efforts to increase court resources and his compensation. Judge Nadeau has not fully acknowledged the intemperate nature of his decisions.”

“We have already acknowledged that prior corrective efforts have not been effective in dissuading Judge Nadeau from engaging in intemperate conduct prohibited by the Canons,” the justices continued. “This time, therefore, more severe sanctions are warranted.”

In connection with lobbying litigants, the justices wrote that Nadeau’s salary was so closely tied to the number of court days that he would directly benefit from an increase.

“Although we recognize the difficult situation that the structure of the Probate Courts creates, the judge here went too far in urging advocacy on his behalf by litigants who needed and deserved his neutrality,” the justices wrote. They further wrote that Nadeau “was using the power and prestige of his judicial office to advance his own private interests.”

They wrote that even though Nadeau rescinded his initial order regarding removal of an attorney from pending cases, they found his removal was motivated in part by animosity toward her employer, who used to work for him.

Nadeau has served several terms as York County judge of probate. He was first elected in 1996 and again in 2002 and 2004. He lost the 2008 election but was returned to the bench in 2012. He lost in a three-way race to Sanford attorney Bryan Chabot in November; Chabot took office in January.

The two-year suspension and $5,000 fine differs slightly from the remedy sought by the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, which had brought the charges and had recommended a two-year suspension, with the proviso that the sanction be suspended unless he announced his candidacy for judicial office. The committee also sought a $10,000 fine.

In oral arguments before the justices in February, Nadeau said he recognized his actions were intemperate when he ordered the register of probate to abruptly reschedule cases after county commissioners refused to increase his salary and provide more court time in 2015.

“My goal was always to avoid errors of any sort and do what was best for users of the court,” Nadeau told the justices regarding his behavior in that situation and others for which he came under scrutiny.

During the oral arguments, Nadeau told the justices that the volume of cases in York County is similar to Cumberland County, where the probate judge practices nearly full-time.

He pointed out that he reinstated seven attorneys he had initially removed from an appointments list once he received a judicial ethics opinion. Four of the attorneys once practiced with Nadeau and three worked with his former associates.

Attempts to reach Nadeau for comment prior to the newspaper’s print deadline were unsuccessful. He emailed the following response late Tuesday night:

“I am proud to have made a positive difference in the lives of nearly 20,000 children, adult incapacitated persons, and their parents, grandparents, adult children and others during my 16 years of service for York County and its probate court,” Nadeau wrote.  “This is so, despite the probate court’s woeful lack of adequate support and exercise of substantial interference by its county commissioners and despite the unfortunately high degree of politicization of Maine’s elected private judges by those commissioners, their uninformed manager and probate register, the York County bar, and others who oppose an elected judiciary.”

— 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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