Probate judge accused of slowing docket because of denied pay raise wins class-action appeal

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Maine’s highest court has ruled against a woman seeking guardianship of her grandchild who filed a would-be class action against a part-time probate judge accused of slowing his docket after he was denied additional court time and pay.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a trial judge’s finding that Judge Robert M.A. Nadeau of York County did not violate litigants’ right to meaningful access to the courts. Delays that increased from three months to six months in uncontested cases were not of sufficient magnitude to create a constitutional violation, the court said. The Legal Profession Blog noted the July 25 decision (PDF).

The state high court also said the trial judge did not err by refusing to rule on whether the slowed docket violated litigants’ substantive due process rights because the most significant delays had dissipated.

Nadeau had lost his bid for re-election and left office in January, according to the Supreme Judicial Court. The same court delayed a two-year suspension of Nadeau’s law license for judicial code violations that was set to begin Aug. 1 after Nadeau filed a motion for reconsideration, the Portland Press Herald reported in June.

Nadeau, who worked on Wednesdays and Thursdays, had asked county commissioners in April 2015 for an expanded schedule and a pay hike. Commissioners refused to expand Nadeau’s work hours, but did boost his pay from $48,498 to $54,206.

A few minutes after leaving the meeting, Nadeau made changes to his schedule that decreased court time for trials, creating a “self-inflicted backlog” of cases, the trial judge had found.

The plaintiff who filed the class action had obtained temporary guardianship of her granddaughter, but the guardianship expired because of scheduling conflicts attributable to the court and the lawyers. After the expiration, the granddaughter moved back in with her mother, who was arrested with her partner in front of the child. The plaintiff later reached a co-guardianship arrangement in which the granddaughter would live with the plaintiff most of the time.

The case is LeGrand v. York County Judge of Probate.

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