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In re Nadeau

Supreme Court of Maine

January 25, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF ROBERT M.A. NADEAU

          Submitted On Briefs: November 29, 2017

          Cabanne Howard, Esq., Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability, Portland, for the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability

          Robert M.A. Nadeau, pro se

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] In May 2017, the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability filed a report with us in our capacity as the Supreme Judicial Court alleging that former York County Probate Judge Robert M.A. Nadeau violated Rule 2.11(A) of the Maine Code of Judicial Conduct[1] when he participated in the parties' resolution of a case after acknowledging that he would be required to recuse for bias if an evidentiary hearing in the matter were necessary. We conclude that Judge Nadeau's[2] conduct constituted a violation of Rule 2.11(A), and we impose a public reprimand.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         [¶2] The facts are not disputed. On August 6, 2015, Judge Nadeau appointed Kerri Gottwald to serve as guardian for the minor daughter of Devora Gavel. Sometime thereafter Gavel made negative social media postings concerning Judge Nadeau, to which a person using the name of Judge Nadeau's wife responded. Judge Nadeau acknowledges in his brief that he was aware of Gavel's postings.

         [¶3] In April 2016, after Judge Nadeau was made aware of Gavel's postings, Gottwald asked the York County Probate Court to order Gavel to pay child support. In an order signed May 2, 2016, directing the Register of Probate to schedule a hearing on Gottwald's request, Judge Nadeau noted that "[t]he Court may also consider the undersigned judge's disqualification at the hearing."

         [¶4] On June 27, 2016, Gavel's counsel filed a "motion to transfer, " asking that Judge Nadeau recuse and that the case be heard by another judge, citing (1) former M. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 3(E)(2) (Tower 2014);[3](2) Judge Nadeau's own suggestion that his disqualification might be required; and (3) Gavel's wishes. On July 5, 2016, the day of the scheduled hearing, Gavel filed a pro se motion to recuse, citing the negative social media exchange that she had had with "Judge Nadeau and/or his wife, " and asserting that "Judge Nadeau is biased against me and therefore should have recused himself upon my request on June 27th, and in fact should have recused himself without my insist[e]nce."

         [¶5] The matter proceeded to a hearing on July 5 at which both parties were represented by counsel. At the outset, Judge Nadeau acknowledged both Gavel's pro se motion to recuse and her counseled motion to transfer. He then stated that "[t]he only issue before the Court... is child support"; discussed the "generally rote" nature of child support calculations; inquired of Gottwald's counsel whether Gottwald contested the income that Gavel reported in her child support affidavit; and asked Gavel's counsel to confirm the amount, source, and effective date of that income. During that discussion, Gavel's counsel advised Judge Nadeau that Gavel was "uncomfortable" with proceeding, "feeling that in her view . . . there is possibly some reason for something to go more harshly against her." Gottwald's counsel advised the court that, "I'm not satisfied that [the income information provided by Gavel] is the information to be used for calculation of [child support]."

         [¶6] At that point, after asking Gottwald's counsel, "So how do you want to proceed?" Judge Nadeau said,

So then if I am charged with having to do a hearing as opposed to just having agreed upon numbers, then I have to assess credibilities. And, at this point, because I do have problems with Ms. Gavel's credibility, I would then have to grant the motion to recuse.

         [¶7] Gottwald's counsel expressed confusion as to why Judge Nadeau was taking that stance and noted that "[i]f the Court had a hearing before and had an issue with credibility and the Court issued an order based on that, there's no grounds for recusal."[4] After asking counsel whether he had seen "what Ms. Gavel has just submitted, " Judge Nadeau advised that "if there were an ...


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