Friday, January 26, 2018

Pass the Gavel (Case)

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has reprimanded a former judge for a failure to recuse

The facts are not disputed. On August 6, 2015, Judge Nadeau appointed Kerri Gottwald to serve as guardian for the minor daughter of Devora Gavel. Sometime thereafter Gavel made negative social media postings concerning Judge Nadeau, to which a person using the name of Judge Nadeau’s wife responded. Judge Nadeau acknowledges in his brief that he was aware of Gavel’s postings.

Gavel sought recusal but he did not

Nine days later, Gavel filed a complaint against Judge Nadeau with the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, asserting, in part, that “it is my belief that Nadeau intentionally refused to recuse himself, with full knowledge and awareness of his clear bias, in an effort to retaliate against, humiliate and bully me for speaking out against him in the upcoming election.” (Emphasis in original.) The Committee reported the matter to us and recommended disciplinary action against Judge Nadeau for violating Rule 2.11(A). Both the Committee and Judge Nadeau filed briefs and the report is now in order for our consideration.

 The court

Because of the combined effect of Judge Nadeau’s wife’s direct contact with Gavel through social media postings that Judge Nadeau was aware of, and Judge Nadeau’s acknowledgement that he had a bias that would require his recusal, Rule 2.11(A) required Judge Nadeau to recuse. Judge Nadeau acknowledged that he harbored a bias against Gavel at the outset of the hearing. The source of that bias was evidently the extra-judicial negative social media exchange involving Gavel, because when Gottwald’s counsel pointed out that a credibility determination based on a prior court proceeding did not require recusal, Judge Nadeau referenced Gavel’s pro se motion to recuse, in which she cited only the social media exchange, and then again said that “if there were an evidentiary hearing, I think, it would be appropriate for me to disqualify myself.” Despite the litigant’s indication that she was “uncomfortable” with the process, Judge Nadeau actively participated in negotiating and ultimately approving the final result, which, as evidenced by the detailed directive to Gavel concerning her potential future income, see supra n.5, required considerable judicial involvement.

 Judge Nadeau has left the bench amid unrelated ethics violations

We conclude that although a sanction resulting from this violation is warranted in order to deter others from similar misconduct, in Judge Nadeau’s case that need is tempered by the reality that he is no longer a judicial officer and is currently serving a lengthy suspension from the practice of law.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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