PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered that York County Probate Judge Robert M.A. Nadeau be suspended from the bench for 30 days in October.
Nadeau is paid about $1,000 per week and works as a probate judge two days per week.
The court also issued a public censure and reprimand of the part-time, elected judge who also practices law in southern Maine.
The justices called statements Nadeau, who has a private practice in Biddeford, made in a letter to the attorney representing his former girlfriend to be a serious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct “because it consists of leveraging judicial prestige for personal benefit.”
In the letter, Nadeau, who was representing himself in a protection from harassment complaint he’d filed against the woman, threatened her attorney and the Massachusetts law firm.
“‘You can posture all you want in the interest of advocacy,’” the decision quoted Nadeau as writing. “‘But absent immediate, legitimate responsibility and cooperation designed to achieve amicable, nonmonetary resolution of whatever issues your client and I apparently have, I respectfully submit this is going to become very bad for your client, you and your law firm.’”
“Judge Nadeau argues that the violation did not result in actual prejudice because he recuses himself from any Probate Court proceeding that involves the lawyer to whom he sent the letter and other lawyers in that firm,” the justices continued in the 27-page decision. “The argument, however, overlooks the inherent harm that is created when a judge inappropriately invokes the judicial office in an effort to accomplish a goal unrelated to that position, and makes statements that, because of the judge’s authority, appear to be threatening.”
Efforts to reach Nadeau’s attorney, Stephen B. Wade of Auburn, were unsuccessful Thursday. The voice message at Nadeau’s Biddeford office said he is on vacation through Aug. 1.
This is the second time the justices have ordered Nadeau be suspended from the bench. In 2007, he was suspended for a week for lying about his opponent in his campaign for re-election in 2004.
Nadeau was publicly reprimanded in 2006 after the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar found that he had made “discourteous and degrading” statements to a judge while working as an attorney, the justices said. He was ordered “to conduct himself in the future so as to avoid further occasions of professional misconduct.”
“The dispositions imposed in those two cases — ranging from training on judicial ethics to public reprimands and a suspension from the bench — were designed to provide Judge Nadeau with the tools and incentive he appears to require to conduct himself in an ethically responsible manner,” the justices wrote. “Our determination here that Judge Nadeau has again violated the Code [of Judicial Conduct] demonstrates that the prior corrective efforts have not been effective in dissuading him from engaging in intemperate conduct.”
Thursday’s ruling was the culmination of a process that began with an ethics complaint filed with the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, represented by Portland attorney Cabanne Howard. The committee investigates complaints against judges with a member of the committee acting as a prosecutor, in a manner similar to the way the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar investigates and pursues ethical complaints about lawyers.
While hearings concerning attorneys’ possible ethical breaches are held before three-judge panels, a single judge, appointed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, presides over a hearing concerning an ethical complaint against a judge and makes recommendations as to what, if any, discipline should be imposed.
If the judge who is the subject of the hearing objects to the findings, as Nadeau did, the state supreme court decides on the sanctions. The justices held a hearing in November at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Nadeau’s appeal.
A separate complaint over how Nadeau has scheduled cases and his workload in York County Probate Court is pending before the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability. Information about when it might be resolved was not available Thursday.