Seven years ago Democrats, especially Democratic lawyers, were wringing their hands with worry that newly elected Gov. Paul LePage would select judges to implement his political agenda from the bench.
Those fears turned out to be unfounded as LePage’s judicial appointments have been one of the least controversial aspects of his administration.
Democrats and Republicans agree that the person most responsible for that is Republican lawyer Josh Tardy of Newport, who has headed up the governor’s Judicial Selection Committee since 2011.
“Josh has done an outstanding job for the governor and for the people of the state of Maine in his capacity as chair of the Governor’s Judicial Selection Committee,” Democrat John Hobson, a Portland attorney, said recently. “With Josh’s assistance, Gov. LePage has named individuals to the Maine judiciary who are universally recognized as excellent additions to the bench.”
Since being sworn in as governor, LePage has nominated nearly 40 lawyers to the bench. All have been confirmed by the Maine Senate.
Hobson served as vice chairman and as chairman of the committee during the Baldacci administration. He has continued to serve on the committee since LePage was elected.
“Since Josh practices law in the state’s courthouses, he knows from direct, personal experience how critically important it is to have judges who are not only highly intelligent, but who are also fair and even-handed,” he said.
Tardy, 50, grew up in Palmyra and went to school in Newport. He came to the law through politics, graduating from the University of Maine in 1990 and the University of Maine School of Law in 1993.
“I grew up in a political family,” Tardy said recently from his law office in downtown Bangor. “My dad was a state legislator, and government relations and government service was always important in my family and that led to an interest in the law.”
“Early on I was interested in courtrooms and what happens in courtrooms, and the drama of it and the competitiveness of it,” he continued. “I took a constitutional law class as undergrad. We took a trip to the courthouse to watch oral arguments. I was fascinated by that process.”
Tardy did not leave behind his interest in politics. He served in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002 until 2010 and was House minority leader when he was prevented from from running for re-election due to term limits. Much of his legal work includes lobbying lawmakers.
Tardy agreed to head LePage’s Judicial Selection Committee before the governor took office.
“What the governor said about what he wanted … he was pretty blunt — no surprise,” Tardy said about the kind of people LePage wanted on the bench. “People before politics was the campaign mantra, so he wanted judicial appointments that were merit-based. He felt very strongly that the committee needed to give him suggestions and more than one. He was very, very insistent that it not be political. ‘Give me the best qualified people for the job,’ he said.”
More than half of those best qualified people turned out to be prosecutors.
“That was not part of a plan,” Tardy said. “Prosecutors who have put themselves through the judicial selection process have performed very well. A prosecutor in his or her daily practice has to practice some of those same qualities that make a good judge. They have to be competent and good trial attorneys. They have to understand how the courtroom works.
“Very importantly, you have to have the right temperament,” he continued. “Prosecutors can prove they have judicial temperament in their day-to-day practice and reputation. Prosecutors who have gone to the bench have had exemplary reputations being fair and having the right temperament for the job.”
Hobson defined “judicial temperament” as “having a quick, intelligent mind” but equally important is “to possess the appropriate calm demeanor and patience so that Maine citizens appearing before that judge would consider themselves fairly treated. To the great credit of both Gov. LePage and Gov. Baldacci, both governors tried to name the most capable individuals to the bench and to uphold Maine’s tradition of intelligent, fair, hardworking judges who have the respect of the attorneys and citizens who appear in front of them in courthouses throughout the state.”
Tardy said that attorneys in Maine seem interested in becoming judges as the committee has about 100 applications on file. One of the challenges has been finding local attorneys to serve as District Court judges in some rural counties. State law requires that at least one judge in Washington, Aroostook and Oxford counties live in those counties.
The attorney, who now is of counsel with the Bangor law firm Rudman Winchell, declined to discuss two incidents in which the governor harshly criticized Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph Jabar for allegedly not retiring when he said he would and the withdrawal of reappointments after they’d been endorsed by the Judiciary Committee.
Lawyers on both sides of the political aisle praised Tardy’s work in shaping LePage’s judiciary.
Bangor attorney Peter Baldacci, a brother to the former governor, agreed that LePage has made good judicial appointments.
“I would credit Josh for that,” he said. “I only wish he had been able to advise him on the rest of his administration’s policies.”
LePage press secretary Julie D. Rabinowitz avoided singling out one member of the committee for praise. In response to a request for a comment about Tardy’s role in implementing LePage’s vision for the judiciary, she emailed a statement from the governor when he appointed committee members.
“I am pleased to have a group of experienced attorneys to advise me on judicial appointments,” the governor said in 2011. “One of a governor’s lasting legacies is his judicial appointments, and I take my responsibility to nominate judges very seriously. I look forward to working closely with this distinguished group of Democrats, Republicans and Independents from all parts of the State to ensure that Maine people continue to be served by a high quality judiciary.”
Hobson said that judges form a critical piece of any governor’s legacy.
“In a very real sense, the judges nominated by a governor are a lasting reflection of that governor’s tenure in office because those judges generally remain on the bench long after a governor is no longer a resident of the Blaine House,” he said.
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