A former York County probate judge whose unethical conduct led to a two-year suspension from practicing law was again dinged with a public reprimand by the state’s highest court in a ruling released Thursday.

Robert M.A. Nadeau, former probate judge in York County, violated the Maine Judicial Code of Conduct by not recusing himself from a 2016 child support case, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled. It is the fifth time that questions about Nadeau’s conduct have come before the court for review.

According to the ruling, a woman whose child support case was being heard by Nadeau had posted negative comments about the judge on social media and opposed his re-election bid. Nadeau’s wife – or someone using her name online – responded to the postings.

Nadeau acknowledged at the time that he was both aware of the social media postings and that he should recuse himself if the woman requested a full hearing. After the woman submitted the hearing request and despite written requests for Nadeau to recuse himself, he did not do so.

Nadeau acknowledged the recusal issue before proceeding with the hearing.

Judicial rules stipulate that judges must recuse themselves in cases where their impartiality may reasonably be questioned, or when judges learn facts about a case before them from sources outside of judicial proceedings.

Most judges in the state are nominated by the governor and vetted by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. They receive mandated training on ethics and are mentored by more experienced judges. Probate judges, who are the only elected judges in Maine, receive no such training through the state, although private groups offer similar guidance.

In a statement Thursday, Nadeau defended his choice to go forward with the hearing in the 2016 case. He said recusal would have led to a delay in the case and higher attorneys’ fees for the parties involved, and he blamed the woman’s complaint against him on a personal agenda.

Because he was the only probate judge in the county, Nadeau wrote that his recusal would have triggered a request to transfer the case to an adjacent county – either Cumberland or Oxford.

“During my tenure as judge, neither of those counties’ then-sitting probate judges accepted transfers of any cases from York County, due to their own workloads,” Nadeau wrote. “This created a stalemate unfair to York County parties.”

He also asserted that the rules requiring a judge to recuse himself or herself, even when the issue is simply to approve a standard child-support agreement, need to be changed “in the interest of judicial efficiency and fairness to the parties.”

“My willingness to approve the bare-bones child-support agreement spared both sides substantial delays, while enabling them to stop paying legal fees sooner rather than later and ensuring that the child would receive some modest level of support without unnecessary, further delays,” he wrote.

Nadeau was first elected as probate judge in York County in 1996. He served three four-year terms before losing re-election in 2008. He won another four-year term in 2012, before losing his most recent bid for re-election in 2016.

His conduct has generated sanctions in the past. 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 at the time and had children, according to court records. He has since remarried.

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

Nadeau’s two-year suspension from practicing law went into effect Aug. 1, 2017. The penalty was levied by the Supreme Judicial Court after it reviewed multiple allegations of improper conduct or unethical practices.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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