RENEE LEGRAND et al.
YORK COUNTY JUDGE OF PROBATE
Argued: December 13, 2016
County Superior Court docket number CV-2015-269
E. Mittel, Esq. (orally), MittelAsen, LLC, Portland, and
Temma Donahue, Esq., Rioux, Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier
LLC, Portland, for appellants Renee LeGrand and other class
J. Brann, Esq. (orally), and Michael E. Carey, Esq., Brann
& Isaacson, Lewiston, for appellee York County Judge of
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
Renee LeGrand and other class action members appeal from a
judgment entered by the Superior Court (York County,
Warren, J.) declining to grant declaratory and
injunctive relief from alleged deprivations of constitutional
rights arising from the York County Probate Court schedule
ordered by former York County Probate Judge Robert M.A.
Nadeau. LeGrand argues that delays in court
proceedings caused by the court schedule violated class
members' rights to meaningful access to the courts and to
substantive due process. Judge Nadeau argues that the
plaintiffs' claims are moot because he is no longer a
judge of probate and that, in any event, the Superior Court
did not err on the merits. We conclude that this appeal is not
moot and, reaching the merits, affirm the judgment.
The court found the following facts, which are supported by
competent evidence in the record. See Graham v.
Brown, 2011 ME 93, ¶ 2, 26 A.3d 823.
Schedule Changes at the Probate Court
Judge Nadeau was elected York County Probate Judge in 2012
and held that office from 2013 to 2016, after having
previously served in the same position from 1997 to 2008.
Maine's probate court judges hold judicial office on a
part-time basis, and York County funds the position for eight
days, or sixty-four hours, per month. When Judge Nadeau began
his term in 2013, he and Register of Probate Carol Lovejoy
agreed to schedule court days on Wednesdays and Thursdays
each week, with three Wednesdays of the month dedicated to
routine matters, and all Thursdays and the last Wednesday of
every month set aside for contested hearings.
On April 1, 2015, Judge Nadeau made a presentation at a York
County Commissioners' meeting where the Probate Court
budget for fiscal year 2016 was being considered. He
advocated for an increase in funding so that the probate
judge's schedule would expand from eight days per month
to three days per week, or, alternatively, five days per
week, which would make the judgeship a full-time position.
Corresponding with these proposed changes, Judge Nadeau
recommended an increase in his salary from $48, 498 to $90,
000 or $119, 476, respectively. The Commissioners tabled the
issue, but at their next meeting, held on April 15, 2015,
they decided to maintain the current number of hours for the
probate judge. Nonetheless, they raised Judge Nadeau's
salary to $54, 206.
Judge Nadeau left the meeting almost immediately after the
Commissioners made that decision. A few minutes later, he
emailed Register Lovejoy from his cell phone with
instructions to make certain changes to his court schedule.
In another email sent later that night, Judge Nadeau altered
the schedule more significantly, directing Lovejoy to
reschedule Probate Court from Wednesdays and Thursdays to
Mondays and Fridays, starting the following week. In yet
another email sent the next morning, Judge Nadeau changed the
schedule again and directed Lovejoy to implement a trailing
trial list with one full week each month dedicated to trials,
plus two or three nontrial days each month. Two days later,
on April 18, Judge Nadeau sent an email making further
scheduling changes that included reserving one court day per
month for research and writing.
In some of his communications with Lovejoy regarding the
schedule changes, Judge Nadeau expressed his resentment that
the County had been unwilling to support what he considered
necessary additional court time. As the Superior Court noted
in its findings, Judge Nadeau testified that he was
"upset" and "disappointed" that the
Commissioners declined to grant his request to increase
funding for the position he held.
Because Judge Nadeau directed that the schedule changes be
implemented immediately, all previously scheduled cases had
to be assigned different hearing dates, resulting in delays
before those cases could be heard. The shift in the court
schedule to Mondays and Fridays also resulted in decreased
court time because more holidays fall on those days-a
consequence that Judge Nadeau knew would result when he made
the change. As the Superior Court found:
Although Judge Nadeau stated that his schedule changes were
made to serve litigants, he knew that the schedule changes
would cause or exacerbate delays that would harm those
litigants. In large part, the schedule changes were intended
to get back at the County Commissioners who had rejected
Judge Nadeau's request for an increase in salary and
To assist with the growing and "essentially
self-inflicted" backlog of cases, Judge Nadeau appointed
probate judges from other counties to serve as referees and
hear eleven contested York County cases. Additionally, as of
the time of the trial in this matter, Judge Nadeau had
recently decided to schedule court several times on the
Tuesday after a Monday holiday to make up for the lost day,
and to dedicate some time on Fridays to routine matters-
changes that the Superior Court found were likely motivated
in part by this case.
Over time, the altered schedule and appointment of referees
cleared a backlog of contested matters, including emergency
hearings and trials, because the practice of multi-day
trailing trial lists resulted in more settlements and quicker
resolutions of contested cases. The schedule changes ordered
by Judge Nadeau, however, reduced the amount of court time
available for uncontested cases, particularly during the
remainder of 2015. For such routine matters, the schedule
changes created delays of approximately three months.
Throughout this period, Judge Nadeau recommended that
litigants appearing in the York County Probate Court contact
the County Manager and Commissioners if they were frustrated
by court delays.
LeGrand's Probate Court Case
In December 2014, Renee LeGrand, the named plaintiff in this
action, filed for joint or sole guardianship of her
granddaughter in the York County Probate Court, alleging that
her daughter was unfit to act as a parent to the
granddaughter. See 18-A M.R.S. § 5-204 (2016).
In March 2015, Judge Nadeau issued an order, effective until
August 31, 2015, granting LeGrand temporary guardianship of
the child. See 18-A M.R.S. §5-207(c) (2016). A
hearing on LeGrand's petition for permanent guardianship
was scheduled for July and then for August 2015, but the
hearing was not held due to scheduling conflicts attributable
both to the court and to the attorneys.
On August 28, 2015, LeGrand filed a motion to extend the
duration of the temporary guardianship. In September, Judge
Nadeau assigned LeGrand's case to a probate judge from
another county to act as a referee. See M.R. Prob.
P. 53; M.R. Civ. P. 53(a). By this point, the temporary
guardianship had expired, and in late October 2015
LeGrand's daughter reasserted legal custody of the child.
While the child was living with LeGrand's daughter, the
daughter and her partner were arrested in front of the child,
causing the child to experience emotional harm, according to
LeGrand. In January 2016, LeGrand and her daughter reached an
agreement for co-guardianship, wherein the child would reside
primarily with LeGrand. The agreement was filed with the
court and issued as an order on February 1, 2016, effectively
resolving the guardianship dispute while this case was
pending in the Superior Court.
Class Action Suit
On December 2, 2015, LeGrand filed a complaint against Judge
Nadeau in the Superior Court, along with motions for class
certification, for a temporary restraining order and
preliminary injunction, and for an expedited hearing. She
filed the action on behalf of herself "and all others
similarly situated, " whom she described as individuals
adversely affected by scheduling practices in the York County
Probate Court. The complaint, as subsequently amended,
alleged that Judge Nadeau's alteration of the York County
Probate Court schedule interfered with the plaintiffs'
right of meaningful access to the courts in violation of the
First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the U.S.
Constitution, and article I, sections 6-A and 15 of the Maine
Constitution; and violated the plaintiffs' substantive
due process rights. On those grounds, LeGrand sought
declaratory and injunctive relief ...