AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee delayed making a closely-watched decision on Thursday after hearing nearly two hours of divided testimony on the nomination of District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz for reappointment.

Committee members voted unanimously to convene again next Tuesday evening before deciding whether to recommend Moskowitz’s nomination to the full Senate for affirmation, to allow themselves and the judge time to consider a thick stack of submitted letters for and against Moskowitz’s appointment to a second term.

Moskowitz’s nomination received extra scrutiny, in part, because of an unlawful order he issued in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland in January to ban the media from reporting testimony in a domestic violence case involving a prominent criminal defense attorney as a defendant. The judge rescinded his gag order and apologized two days later after the Portland Press Herald defied his ruling and published the alleged victim’s testimony.

“Like all people, I make my fair share of mistakes. Some of the mistakes are minor, and some of them not,” Moskowitz said on Thursday as he stood before the members of the Judiciary Committee.

Moskowitz specifically mentioned the gag order he issued on Jan. 5 in the criminal case against attorney Anthony J. Sineni III of Standish, calling his ruling at the end of a long day of hearing cases “a clear mistake.”

“I sincerely regretted making that statement, however, with all of the mistakes I made I have viewed that as a clear opportunity to learn and improve and I’ve learned a valuable lesson from that experience,” he said.

Moskowitz is the second judge this year whose nomination for reappointment became lightning rod for opposition, especially by those who have appeared before the judges in divorce cases in Family Court. The Judiciary Committee also delayed making an immediate decision in March for Judge Patricia Worth. The committee in the end recommended Worth’s appointment unanimously.

The committee has not opposed the nomination of a judge any time in recent history. In 1990, then Gov. John McKernan withdrew his nomination for Judge John Benoit following two grueling days of hearings in which Benoit was criticized for judicial breaches.

Most of those who spoke on Thursday in favor of Moskowitz were lawyers, many of whom try cases before Moskowitz in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. His only supporter who was not a lawyer was Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who described herself as friends with Moskowitz.

“We will suffer a great loss in the District Court if we lose Judge Moskowitz,” said Portland attorney Barry Zimmerman, who described Moskowitz as “one of the best.”

Attorney Joshua Tardy, who is chairman of Gov. Paul LePage’s Judicial Selection Committee, said his group conducted a thorough review before deciding to recommend Moskowitz.

“It was not a quick decision to be blunt, but it was an easy decision after all the deliberation. Judge Moskowitz is truly deserving of nomination,” Tardy said. “Our committee has received wide spread consensus and feedback that he is fair, that he is smart. He is honest. He is efficient.”

Other attorneys who spoke in favor of Moskowitz included David Levesque, president of the Maine State Bar Association; Robert Ruffner; Michael Welch, president of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association; Judy Potter; Kenneth Altshuler; Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson; York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery, Gerald Conley; Kristine Hanly; Diane Dusini; Robert Crowley, a retired judge; ; Ardith Keef and JohnWebb.

Notably, attorney Matthew Nichols, Webb’s law partner at Nichols and Webb, wrote a contradictory letter to the Judiciary Committee in which he said Moskowitz is “not a good judge.”

“If I had only my bad experiences with Judge Moskowitz, I would likely not be writing to you. But my own experiences have been echoed by countless other attorneys ranging from criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, litigants and family law attorneys alike,” Nichols wrote in a letter dated May 4. “While he is amiable and friendly in open court on mundane matters, Judge Moskowitz appears overwhelmed when dealing with more difficult matters such as chambers conferences on tough cases and jury and bench trials.”

Nichols did not appear in person to testify, nor did the crowd of opponents who testified for hours at Worth’s nomination hearing in March.

Jerome Collins, who organizes an advocacy group called Maine Guardian Ad Litem Alerts, said members of his group who testified at Worth’s hearing felt belittled before the Judiciary Committee in March and members who had cases before Moskowitz didn’t want to go through the same experience.

Dozens of opponents instead submitted letter to the committee against Moskowitz, Collins said.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. David Burns, R-Washington, on Thursday strictly enforced a three-minute time limit for testimony of Moskowitz’s opponents. But Burns allowed many attorneys in favor of Moskowitz to speak much longer.

“We were largely squeezed out of the process of reappointment from the very beginning, from the survey right on down through the process. We had zero input until today,” Collins said.

Collins said he surveyed many citizens, as the Maine Bar Association, surveyed lawyers. He said citizens who appeared before Moskowitz who wanted to talk about him were those who felt wronged. He said that’s the opposite of lawyers who mostly only wanted to speak if they had something complimentary to say about the judge.

“What you really need is a legislative audit of the court to get the answer of what’s really going on. You need to conduct an in depth audit,” Collins said.

Other opponents who spoke against Moskowitz were Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford; Falmouth activist Michael Doyle and Scarborough resident Robert Baizley.

None of the committee members asked Moskowitz any questions at the hearing.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.