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Judge Accused of Slowing Docket Wins Class Action Appeal

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court came to bat for one of their own last week, finally quashing a class action matter against a former probate judge. Judge Robert M. A. Nadeau was being sued in his capacity as a former York County Probate Judge by a litigant whose case was delayed when the jurist decided to change around the court calendar and his schedule.

What makes this case all the more noteworthy, though, is that the judge had requested additional hours and pay, and was denied the hours, but granted the pay increase. It was found that he changed his schedule around almost immediately after that meeting where he got a raise. It was alleged the change was in retaliation for the denial of the additional hours.

Time Waits for No Judge

In rendering their decision, the Maine Supreme Judicial Council explicitly affirmed that the lower court did not err in their analysis. Essentially, so long as the litigants got their day in court eventually, the court found that the delays did not amount to a constitutional deprivation. It stated:

The Superior Court did not err, however, in determining that the length of the delays in these routine cases does not rise to the level of constitutional deprivations, because those delays did not amount to a de facto denial of access to the courts altogether.

However, Judge Nadeau is not getting off very lightly. His license to practice law has been suspended due to violations while on the bench. Although the suspension was stayed, it is scheduled to take effect soon.

Courts Control Calendars

The case that spawned the class action involved the guardianship of a child. As a result of the scheduling changes, a temporary guardianship order could not be renewed in time. This resulted in a child being placed back into the care of their parent, who subsequently lost custody.

Despite the sad outcome of underlying case, while trying to move cases along, it is often overlooked that the judges are employees of the state, county, or government entity. They only have so many hours that can be worked, especially when budgets are involved. As such, the calendars of the parties matter much less than the calendar of the court and their judicial officer's preferences, and in non-criminal matters, delaying access to the courts for a few months is not a full denial of access amounting to a constitutional violation (at least in Maine, or so it seems).

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