Public Lockout: From Deliberations by the Judiciary Committee of the Maine Legislature

All legislative committees are mandated by Maine law to conduct hearings, deliberations, and work sessions in public.

But in a May 19 speech on the Senate floor, state Sen. David Dutremble (D-Biddeford) reported that the Judiciary Committee conducted such business in private over the weekend that started May 8. Its deliberations concerned the reappointment of controversial Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz – the judge who issued an illegal gag order in January – and whose reappointment was opposed by many members of the public.

Maine citizens deserve to know what transpired that weekend with their Judiciary Committee. Did the members, in fact, meet behind closed doors and/or have private conversations in violation of state mandates? A legislative inquiry into the actions of the committee is warranted to protect the interests of the public.

Here’s what is clear: Without a single comment or question, the Judiciary Committee on May 12 unanimously recommended that Moskowitz be reappointed. One by one, each committee member simply voted yes. Those of us who witnessed this were dumbfounded. It left us with the uncomfortable feeling that something was amiss. How was their unified position reached outside of public view?

This spring was the first time in 20 years that judicial reappointments were challenged. And many citizens vehemently and passionately expressed their opposition to Judge Moskowitz, as well as to Judge Patricia Worth before him. In both cases, the Judiciary Committee nevertheless unanimously recommended approval. And at least in the case of Moskowitz, committee members allegedly deliberated outside of the public’s view and earshot.

This is extremely concerning. State mandates requiring the utmost transparency are meant to protect us all.

Input from those who are consumers of the court system – not just lawyers who earn their livings in front of judges – must be heard. People also deserve to know that the systems set up to protect them are working as they’re supposed to. When systems become about protecting themselves instead of the citizens they were designed to protect, the delicate fabric and balance of our constitutional rights is put in jeopardy. Legislative maneuvers that eliminate transparency and thereby remove public oversight are the antithesis of a democratic society.

We urge the Maine Legislature to take action and give the public answers. When asked to explain how his committee could unanimously approve a judge with no public discussion whatsoever, the chair of Judiciary Committee, Sen. David Burns (R-Washington), responded that, “it is unfortunate that some individuals and legislators have tried to impugn the integrity of the committee members.”

Hey, I’m just asking a question! There’s nothing impugning in that. These aren’t lofty, academic issues – of concern to just a fragment of society. They’re the very foundation of public trust. Transparency is the key to a free and just society.

With what’s been publicly asserted, there is a clear need for a formal inquiry into this committee’s “13 yeses” that led to approval of a judge whose illegal order brought disgrace to our state around the globe. Members of the public should be included in this inquiry.

Those who may dismiss this call for investigation, attributing it to “sour grapes” or “angry litigants,” demonstrate a lack of respect for the most essential principles that define our nation. Private meetings and/or private discussions that result in appointing a judge who attempted to abrogate the First Amendment – one of our dearest rights – should be a concern to all of us, not just those who may face this particular judge in court. It is of little comfort that the order was retracted only after the Portland Press Herald defied it.

To date, the president of the Maine Senate, Michael Thibodeau, has failed to respond to requests for a public inquiry about the actions of the Judiciary Committee.

This raises additional concerns. Without a legislative inquiry and report, Maine citizens will be left to wonder if their legislative and judiciary truly are the separate branches of government that are fundamental to freedom and liberty. We need to know what our legislators are doing – and why they’re doing it.

If you agree with me on this, We urge readers to contact their legislator and request an investigation. Let’s just find out what happened.

MeGAL is working to bring about Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform so that those in the future do not have to experience what you experienced in this dysfunctional system. As part of this reform we encourage you to contact your representative to let him/ her know the issues you experienced with Family Court. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook for more information.

Other related posts:
2015-06-03 Public Access: Is the Judiciary Committee Leveling With You?

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

2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

2015-05-19 Senate Confirmation of the Hon. Jeffrey Moskowitz