Superior Court Justice Lance Walker, a nominee to a lifetime federal court judgeship – the first in Maine under President Trump – might seem out of sync with the Republican politicians who have been instrumental in his career.

Walker, 46, has been on the fast track as a judge. He was first appointed by Gov. Paul LePage to Maine District Court in 2014 and elevated to the Superior Court bench the following year. His chambers are in the Cumberland County Courthouse. Prior to his state judicial appointments, he was a partner in the Portland law firm Norman, Hanson and DeTroy.

Judge Lance Walker presiding over an arraignment at the Cumberland County Courthouse in January 2016. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

Last week, Trump nominated Walker to federal court in the District of Maine. Walker must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he can don robes as a federal judge.

But there are a couple of Walker rulings that might give his political backers pause. Among his higher-profile rulings was his decision to drop charges against Black Lives Matter protesters last year. LePage had criticized the group after the Portland protests in the summer of 2016, and about two dozen Black Lives Matter members repeatedly interrupted a town hall meeting with the governor at the University of Southern Maine in April 2017.

In July 2016, 17 protesters were arrested after demonstrating against police brutality following the killing by police of unarmed black men. The event, on a Friday night, tied up traffic on Commercial Street in Portland.

Most protesters were charged with obstructing a public way and some also faced disorderly conduct or failure-to-disperse charges. The protesters agreed to pay fines and attend a meeting with police in return for the charges being dismissed, but the deal fell apart when the protesters objected to the terms of the meeting.

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office blamed the protesters for the deal’s collapse, but Walker declined to restore the criminal charges against the group and suggested that the DA’s office try again to set up a meeting.

OFFERED LIFELINE TO PROTESTERS

Critics had urged that the protesters face charges, but Walker resisted the pressure and put the onus on prosecutors and said the DA’s office had “an obligation” to make the planned meeting work. The DA’s office declined to try to revive the meeting and the charges were eventually dismissed.

Trump has criticized members of the Black Lives Matter movement and joked about police brutality.

Jon Gale, who represented one of the protesters, said Walker is “a really thoughtful, intelligent guy. We’ll miss him in state court.”

Gale said his impression of Walker isn’t driven by politics. Gale, a Democrat who’s running for Cumberland County district attorney, said he opposes most of Trump’s actions, but said he has trusted Walker’s opinions in dozens of appearances before the judge. Once he knew that Walker was assigned to the protesters’ case, Gale said, he knew they’d get a fair shake.

CITED TRUMP ALLY FOR CONTEMPT

In October 2016, Walker slapped the hands of one of Trump’s biggest supporters. He cited David D. Smith, who runs Sinclair Broadcasting, for contempt in a dispute with neighbors at his vacation home in Cape Elizabeth. Trump recently praised the company for making news anchors at its 173 stations around the country, including WGME-TV in Portland, read statements blasting other media outlets as “irresponsible, one-sided” producers of “fake news.”

Smith has a waterfront home, valued at more than $3.2 million, where he has been engaged in a longtime dispute with neighbors over the private road near where the house sits. In 2016, Smith removed a wooden post from a disputed piece of property in violation of a temporary restraining order barring him from tampering with the post. Walker cited Smith for contempt and ordered him to pay his neighbor’s legal fees.

In his citation, Walker said Smith acted cavalierly and was accompanied by his lawyer at the time he removed the post, “somewhat undermining the Defendant’s original argument that he thought the post was on his property and therefore, he believed he could remove it.” Walker said the restraining order didn’t allow “such a tortured interpretation” by Smith.

Walker’s nomination has been supported by both of Maine’s U.S. senators. In a joint statement, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, praised Walker’s “intelligence, temperament and integrity” and said they looked forward to working to make sure he’s confirmed.

Walker was born in Milo and raised in Dover-Foxcroft. He lives in Falmouth with wife, Heidi, and their daughters, Ava and Dylan.

A message left for Walker was not returned.

If he is confirmed, Walker would be assigned to U.S. District Court in Bangor, but federal judges in Maine frequently hear cases there and in Portland.