AUGUSTA, Maine — A vote by the Judiciary Committee on the reappointment of the Maine judge who issued a controversial, illegal gag order on the media during a criminal proceeding in January, only to rescind it under fire two days later, was delayed Thursday until next week.
Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, chairman of the committee, said the delay would give District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz and committee members an opportunity to read written testimony submitted before the hearing.
Burns said the committee would vote on Moskowitz’s renomination about 5 p.m. Tuesday.
More than half a dozen members of the legal community in Cumberland and York counties, including two district attorneys and a retired judge, spoke in favor of Moskowitz’s reappointment. Four people, including Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, opposed Moskowitz.
It could not be determined after Thursday’s hearing how many people had submitted written testimony but were unable to attend.
It was the second time this year the committee has delayed a vote on a judicial nomination that faced opposition. In March, the committee tabled a vote on the renomination of District Court Judge Patricia Worth for five days before unanimously endorsing her. She since has been confirmed by the Senate.
Moskowitz told the committee he wanted to keep his job.
“Like all people, I make mistakes,” he said. “You are all aware of my error issuing a controversial order. I sincerely regretted making that mistake. But I view my mistakes as a clear opportunity to learn and improve.”
He also said the most difficult cases to deal with as a judge are family law cases because they are so fraught with emotion.
Many of the people who said they would oppose Moskowitz’s renomination have felt the judge had unfairly ruled against them in family court.
The committee members asked no questions of Moskowitz.
Joshua Tardy, a Newport lawyer and former Republican legislator who is chairman of the governor’s judicial advisory committee, which vets judicial nominees, said the committee took concerns expressed about how Moskowitz handles family cases seriously.
“The committee felt an obligation to determine the veracity of the complaints about Judge Moskowitz,” Tardy told the committee. “I assure you that they have been taken seriously, and we have done our due diligence. We did not make a quick decision, but it was an easy decision once we had information.”
Lawyer Kenneth Altshuler of Freeport called Moskowitz one of the two or three best judges in the state.
“He’s intelligent, he knows the statutes, he knows the case law,” Altshuler said. “Being a judge is not a popularity contest. Unhappy people are always the most vocal. He’s one of the best and brightest, and we need him.”
Moskowitz also was endorsed by the Maine State Bar Association and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association. The presidents of both organizations said they sought out members to ask about their experiences before Moskowitz and he was praised resoundingly.
Robert Baizley of Portland opposed Moskowitz’s reappointment. He told the committee that Moskowitz illegally evicted him and his disabled son from their apartment. Baizley said the judge also refused to accommodate his disability despite a timely request.
Jerome Collins of Kennebunkport, who represents a group seeking reform of guardian ad litem rules, also opposed Moskowitz.
“We base our position on widespread reports from informants whom we know well, who have experienced in his court a repeated pattern of rudeness and disrespect, failure to follow the law, use of guardians ad litem outside of their mandated functions and abuse of judicial discretion to operate by judicial whim,” he said in written testimony submitted to the committee. “Please, be assured, we are not here to whine about a ‘bad custody decision.’”
Moskowitz was appointed to the District Court bench in January 2008 by Gov. John Baldacci after work as a prosecutor with the York County district attorney’s office. Gov. Paul LePage renominated Moskowitz to the bench last month along with eight of his colleagues.
The last time the committee rejected a nomination was in the late 1980s, according to Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, who has been a member of the Legislature since the 1970s.