October 14, 2019
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Senate approves reappointment of judge who tried, but failed, to silence media

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz addresses the court and media Jan. 7 in a brief hearing. Moskowitz apologized for ordering reporters not to report on a witness statement made in open court on Monday, a decision that attracted strong criticism from free press and court transparency advocates.

AUGUSTA, Maine — After some debate Tuesday, the Maine Senate confirmed the reappointment of District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz, who recently made headlines with a controversial gag order against reporters.

Moskowitz issued the gag order during a criminal proceeding in January in Portland, only to apologize and rescind it two days later after coming under fire from the media, civil libertarians and government transparency advocates, who said the move was unconstitutional.

Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which recommended Moskowitz’s confirmation, said Tuesday he believed the judge’s apology was sincere.

“I have confidence that this nominee learned from this mistake, and will not do it again,” Burns said.

Four senators, all Democrats, voted against Moskowitz’s reappointment, including Sens. John Patrick of Rumford, James Dill of Old Town, David Miramant of Camden and David Dutremble of Biddeford.

Dutremble was the only senator to speak against Moskowitz during Tuesday’s floor debate. He said he had concerns that opponents of Moskowitz’s confirmation — mostly people who felt the judge had unfairly ruled against them in family court — were not given adequate time to make their case when the Judiciary Committee heard public testimony.

He also raised questions about the role of an advisory board convened by Gov. Paul LePage to vet potential nominees, and said he believed the Judiciary Committee’s members deliberated on Moskowitz’s nomination via private email, a charge that Burns denied.

The committee took the public’s concerns seriously, Burns said, but he also pointed out that many lawyers had also spoken positively of Moskowitz’s performance on the bench. Among those who spoke on his behalf were representatives of the Maine State Bar Association and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association.

Family court cases “are difficult situations,” Burns said Tuesday. “In almost every situation, there are winners and losers. The fact that somebody has to come away unhappy makes it very difficult for them, and for the person who has to make the decision. However, what we have to do is look at the totality of the decisions made, and the totality of the work.”

Moskowitz, a Saco resident, was appointed to the District Court bench in January 2008 by Gov. John Baldacci after working as a prosecutor with the York County district attorney’s office. LePage renominated Moskowitz for the bench in April.

The Senate on Tuesday also confirmed the reappointment of Superior Court Justice William Anderson. His confirmation was unanimous, and came with no debate.

BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this report. Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

 



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