The state’s highest court has ordered a York County probate judge who has repeatedly violated the Maine Judicial Code of Conduct to be suspended from the bench for 30 days and publicly reprimanded.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found in a unanimous decision Thursday that the elected judge, Robert M.A. Nadeau, improperly used his judicial position to try to influence the outcome of a personal legal case in which he was seeking a protection from harassment order against his former girlfriend.

Nadeau wrote a threatening letter to the ex-girlfriend’s attorney in that 2013 case, mentioning his position as a judge and that things could “become very bad for your client, you and your law firm.”

Nadeau was ordered to begin serving his suspension on Oct. 3 without pay for his part-time position, which will allow York County officials to use the salary he would have received to hire a substitute judge to do the work.

Nadeau, who was first elected York County probate judge in 1996, has been publicly reprimanded multiple times in the past, including suspension from his judicial duties for 30 days in 2007 by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Thursday’s decision, written jointly by the seven justices of the high court, cites the discipline that Nadeau received in two prior cases as part of the reason for the new public censure and suspension.

“The disposition 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 ruled. “Our determination here that Judge Nadeau has again violated the code demonstrates that the prior corrective efforts have not been effective in dissuading him from engaging in intemperate conduct prohibited by the canons.”

NADEAU DISAGREES WITH DECISION

Although the high court imposed sanctions against Nadeau in the instance involving his former girlfriend, it declined to punish him for other violations, including creating a website in the name of “York County Probate Judge Robert Nadeau” that linked to the website for his for-profit private practice, and for creating a Facebook page that shows him in judicial robes, in a business suit and in a military uniform.

The justices issued their 27-page ruling after hearing oral arguments in the case last November.

Nadeau said in an email that he disagreed that he behaved improperly by sending the letter in 2013, but was pleased with the court’s decision regarding his use of his website and Facebook.

“I am determined that the court’s discipline concerning the private communication matter will not negatively impact the continued delivery of the usual case processing and dedicated, thoughtful service and decision-making to which I have dedicated my career,” Nadeau said in the email. “I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve through the election and into the next four-year term in the most cost-effective, continually responsive manner.”

Separate from the high court’s ruling Thursday, the Maine committee that investigates complaints of misconduct against state judges has recommended that Nadeau be suspended from the bench for other violations that arose since the issues in 2013.

The Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability made the recommendation to the Supreme Judicial Court in January after considering complaints that since 2013, Nadeau has shown bias by bypassing certain lawyers for court appointments, and that he changed the probate court schedule last year to hear fewer cases after the York County commissioners refused to give him the raise he requested.

The complaint seeking sanctions for the probate court scheduling issue is pending.

WORK OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM

H. Cabanne Howard, executive secretary of the committee, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment on Thursday’s decision.

Nadeau has denied that he bypassed any lawyers for court appointment and that he created the court backlog as retaliation.

The Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged in its ruling that Nadeau, as a part-time judge, is permitted to maintain a private law practice while holding the elected position.

“The allegations contained in the committee’s report highlight the tension that can emerge between the ethical responsibilities that arise from holding judicial office and a judge’s extra-judicial activities,” the court wrote. “The code’s reach beyond the bench to conduct such as that at issue here was necessary because judges are the face of the judiciary – like their conduct in the judicial role – reflect on the court system.”

SEVERAL PAST DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS

Each of the state’s 16 counties has its own probate court with an elected register of probate and judge of probate in each one.

All other state judges – in District Court, Superior Court and the Supreme Judicial Court – are nominated by the governor and then vetted by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee before being appointed for seven-year terms by the state Senate.

The Judiciary Branch does not oversee the state’s probate courts, except in appeals and in disciplinary matters such as Nadeau’s.

Nadeau has been re-elected three times since he first won his position in 1996. He was defeated in 2008 after disciplinary actions against him, but was elected again in 2012.

In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court suspended Nadeau from his judicial duties for lying about his opponents in his re-election campaign in 2004.

In 2006, he was publicly reprimanded by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar for violating Maine Bar Rules in a divorce case handled by his private practice during which he had a sexual relationship with his client. Nadeau was married and had children at the time, according to court records. He has since remarried.

Nadeau also was found in violation of bar rules for faxing messages directly to the opposing party rather than to the attorneys in the divorce case.