Public Access: Is the Judiciary Committee Leveling With You?

When State Senator, David Dutremble (D. Biddeford), in a speech form the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, accuses members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee of manipulating the judiciary re-appointment of controversial Judge Moskowitz, it is a serious charge that demands investigation. When members of the public are excluded from important committee deliberations addressing this judicial re-appointment, something is seriously wrong. When there is no response from the President of the Maine Senate when asked by numerous people to investigate further, it looks like more exclusion. All of these recent actions raise ethical and legal questions in the minds of the public. What happened between members of the Judiciary Committee in their private deliberations about Judge Moskowitz over the weekend of May 9-10th? How were their unified positions reached outside of public view? And… is this secrecy permitted by laws that insist on transparency?

On Tuesday, May 12th, members of the committee reconvened in the Judiciary Committee hearing room, and without question, conversation or comment, submitted a string of 13 “yeses”, approving Judge Moskowitz re-appointment and advancing the process to the Maine Senate. It left observers dumfounded. It was one further public exclusionary action in the judicial re-appointment process, which appeared to be tightly controlled, by Maine Bar interests at every step. It is about the need for active public “oversight” of judicial appointments – or re-appointments – that have heretofore been a “rubber stamp” process in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. In the present re-appointment situation, reporters commented on the fact that committee members asked not one question of Judge Moskowitz during the public hearing.

The entire judicial vetting process – and the subsequent handling of its piece of the process by the Judiciary Committee – raises many questions. The primary question is: “is this process, which is said by some on the judicial re-appointment committee to be standard, in the public’s interest”? We ask this question with special regard to those members of the public, who have the experience of using our courts? 74% of family court matters are ‘Pro se’ (self-represented/without a lawyers); 26% (the minority) have lawyers, yet the process doesn’t reflect this compelling statistic. “Private” deliberations in the Judiciary Committee are troubling and raise a slew of ethical and legal questions. Why hide deliberations? Why the secrecy? Aren’t legislative maneuvers that eliminate transparency and, thereby remove public oversight, undesirable in a democratic society?

Since the Judiciary Committee’s 13 yeses approving Judge Moskowitz, there have been widely expressed concerns that the committee appeared to be “gaming the process”, using techniques, known to senior members of the committee which enable public exclusion, while following the “letter” of the laws about transparency? We would suggest a knowledge of how to bypass the law – and, more importantly its use – is unseemly (and tainted?) in anyone, especially our elected officials.

We urge the Maine Legislature to take action in getting answers to these questions. They are not academic issues of concern to a fragment of society. They are the foundation of public trust: that we can see what our elected officials are doing. There is a need for a formal inquiry into the “13 yeses” that quickly decided approval of a “controversial judge” for reasons that remain opaque to the public. Investigation of this matter should be carried out in a transparent manner with public “consumers” of the system included.

One of our concerns is about committee attitude justifying the prejudicial dismissal of all opposition. Some on the judiciary committee dismiss opponents of Judge Moskowitz as only a bunch of people who got an unfavorable result in court. This characterization justifies secrecy?   Not only is this claim untrue, betraying gross prejudice, secrecy in the judiciary committee cannot be justified by theories about good or bad results in courtrooms. It is about the integrity and honesty of our government.

MeGAL is working to bring about change in Family Court and the role of Guardian ad litem. We do this by educating the public and our representatives to the issues involved with this branch of the court system. If you have had a bad experience in Family Court or with a Guardian ad litem we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Previous posts regarding the re-appointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz may be found here:
2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

2015-05-25 Sen David Burns Replies to our Open Letter

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