Must Maine Judges obey the law, “like anyone else”? It is a vital issue that must be decided by the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature as a result of this re-appointment hearing.
1.) WE OPPOSE THE RE-APPOINTMENT OF JUDGE JEFFREY MOSKOWITZ. We base our position on widespread reports from informants whom we know well, who have experienced in his court a repeated pattern of rudeness and disrespect, failure to follow the law, use of Guardians ad litem outside of their mandated functions and abuse of judicial discretion to operate by judicial whim. Please, be assured, we are not here to whine about a “bad custody decision”; we are concerned exclusively with a judge following the law, which we shall detail further on.
The family court system is destined to collapse from a loss of moral integrity, if its judges don’t follow the law themselves. And, remember Judge Moskowitz is a leader of judges in his position as Deputy Chief Judge.
2.) ATTACKING WITNESSES. Before addressing specific symptoms of the Moskowitz court that cry out for a formal audit, before considering re-appointment, we would briefly like to strenuously object to the current public-unfriendly judicial re-appointment procedure. It leaves out people with actual experience before the judge at every step of the process. From the back room decisions between the Governor and his Judicial Selection Committee Chair, Joshua Tardy, to the opaque negotiations between various players for who gets listed for re-appointment, to the hearings before the Judiciary Committee when these re-appointment decisions have already been cast in concrete, the public is a decorative afterthought. Re-appointment is almost exclusively “private property” of the political leaders of the Maine Bar. Public stay out; public shut up. There is absolutely no room for meaningful opposition or other input from the public. This was made all too clear in the recent unprecedented attacks on witnesses, who testified before this legislative committee by Mr Tardy. Who in their right mind would risk public testimony and face such attacks from the Chair of the Judicial appointment/re-appointment committee? And for witnesses not to be allowed a chance to rebut Mr Tardy’s allegations by Chair, Senator Burns, was unfair and unnecessary.. THERE WERE POWERFUL REBUTTALS, firmly grounded in the truth and in facts. We can NEVER, in good conscience, encourage the public to bear witness about judges before Senator Burn’s committee, without some understanding of the Committee chairman that they will be treated with normal respect and human dignity and that they will have some protection from future judicial caprice.
THE JUDICIAL VETTING PROCEDURE. The judicial vetting procedures for re-appointment seems based on a survey questionnaire sent out to members of the bar to evaluate judges at 2 and 6 year intervals. This type of consumer survey is typically completed by motivated respondents and ignored by others. Though it has more pretentious claims, it is essentially a “popularity contest”. Which judges do lawyers know and like? Which judges are “lawyer-friendly”? Though Tardy was unwilling to share the current survey with us, when asked, one wonders about the ratio of questionnaires mailed out to responses returned, the quality of responses, the number of “no responses”. And the number and type of negative replies? These questions are vital is assessing the validity of the vetting survey instrument. Without a survey design that can address such questions, survey results are statistically meaningless razzle dazzle.
In the light of his much publicized role in the Great Northern Paper Company debacle, we feel that Mr Tardy was an unfortunate choice to lead the judicial re-appointment process. How can the judicial re-appointment process not be tainted by Mr Tardy’s unfortunate marketing of the Great Northern Paper Company to the legislature – and its even more unfortunate aftermath for Maine taxpayers? Ramming through a judicial re-appointment by using raw political force and power, while discrediting all public objections, does not inspire confidence. It is not a thoughtful, open, public process for serious decisions about our courts. What kind of an outcome can the public expect from such a process?
3.) 74% ‘PRO SE’, AN INCONVENIENT FACT. We would remind you of a large but inconvenient fact. As far as family courts are concerned, the divorce bar is a minority group (26% of cases) that controls 99.9% of the re-appointment process from start to finish. Where are the majority 74% ‘Pro se’ in the re-appointment decision making process? Isn’t something out of balance? This is a true blind spot in Judicial Branch thinking, in the Governor’s conceptualization of a judicial re-appointment committee. In fairness and in connection with the actual reality of today, it needs correction.
4.) VOICE OF THE PUBLIC: WHAT THE PUBLIC SAYS ABOUT JUDGE MOSKOWITZ;
See Appendix for detailed quotes of various” voices of people” who have actually appeared before Judge Moskowitz and who have shared their experience with us. The thrust of the “voices” seems to be a repeated pattern of courtroom intimidation – or what might in some cases be called bullying. There are reports of a failure to follow the Rules for Guardian ad litem that is noted by our respondents so frequently that one wonders, does the judge know the rules for Guardians ad litem, or is he outsourcing a wild form of total, ‘ad lib’, judicial discretion to Guardians ad litem? There are reports of a failure to listen to all evidence. There are reports of failure to present a plan for reconciliation when custody sharing is uneven, and failure to respect witnesses and consultants. In our opinion, these comments are a “heads up”, a warning to those involved in deciding re-appointment. There seems to be an awful lot of “smoke” coming from this court. The “smoke” cries out for a formal legislative investigation, an audit of this court. At the end of the day, one asks, “Is this the “rule of law”? Is this what Maine citizens want, is this what the legislature approves of?
5.) By your decision about re-appointment, you send a message to the judiciary and to the public. Will it be: we need to look into this further, or will it be judges can do whatever they like. Judicial standards be damned. Public be damned; don’t bother your legislator. Mr Tardy and the powers behind him are “lobbying” hard for a “no judicial standard” standard. There are rules, but no enforcement, no supervision. It is all ‘ad hoc’ decided by a committee of peers, if they get a complaint. There is no functional way by which the public, taxpayers, may judge a judge or get a complaint followed by “corrective action”. There is, effectively NO protection for the public.
Admittedly, the choices are stark. There is a questionable vetting process, with questionable vetting leadership, making use of flagrant suppression of any and all opposition. There have been no public challenges to judicial re-appointment in 20 years. To do it with integrity requires that the committee collect its own data, do its own ‘vetting, make its own decisions. It is up to you.
Jerome A Collins
MeGAL is working to bring about change regarding our Family Court system and Guardian ad litem role. If you have had issues within the court system we would invite you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.
Related article by Judy Harrison: Decision delayed on reappointing Maine judge who issued gag order