CONNECTICUT, May 9, 2014 – Maine legislators have called for a review of the State’s family courts following the complaints of parents dismayed by the news of the recent promotion of family court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz to the position of Deputy Chief Judge of the Maine Districts Courts. Legislators say the appointment comes as a shock to many members of the public, who consider Judge Moskowitz “the least likely candidate” for appointment to this very important, pivotal office within the Judicial Branch operations.
“Judge Moskowitz is one of 4 family court judges about whom we consistently hear significant complaints from users of his court, victims of his actions,” said Senator David E. Dutremble (D-Biddeford) last Friday in an an email that was addressed to several dozen of his legislative colleagues, as well as many other members of State and Federal law enforcement units. Dutremble, a divorced father of five children whose father was a local sheriff, currently sits on the State Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
“Who was party to making this decision? Why was he chosen over other candidates? What was the objective basis for choosing him in terms of knowledge, skill and experience leading to this decision?”
According to recent media reports, Maine’s Judicial Branch leaders and the State’s Attorney General Janet Mills may be [at best] asleep at the wheel when it comes to addressing the concerns of Maine’s taxpayers and legislators over corruption in the State’s family courts. Last week, Maine’s Attorney General and Mary Ann Lynch, a spokesperson for the Judicial Branch, defended Moskowitz in the Portland Press Herald.
Lynch told the Press Herald that she was “unaware of any formal complaints against Moskowitz or any other judge,” nor the reasons why the State’s judicial oversight authority has never chosen to take any action against Moskowitz in response to prior complaints filed by Maine consumers.
Last Friday, Representative Dutremble and Representative Lisa Villa (D-Harrison) attended a public forum in South Portland where over 40 parents recounted horror stories about their experiences in Maine’s family courts. According to Michael Doyle, editor of Falmouth Today, the hearing was long overdue, which is why he secured the attendance of the local Community Access Television to broadcast the public meeting.
Following the hearing, Doyle made an open records request seeking copies of the tapes, which Doyle says contain footage of dozens of Maine consumers who have been “broken, bankrupted and destroyed by the train wreck that is Maine’s family courts” airing complaints about Maine’s courts, specifically concerning Judge Moskowitz.
In a strange twist of events, Doyle says that this week Representative Villa went to South Portland Town Hall and successfully obtained all of the copies of the Community Television tapes of the Open Forum on Maine Judges to prevent the forum from being aired. In response, Doyle immediately went to court and sought unsuccessfully to obtain a protection order preventing Villa from further concealing the public records from disclosure, or possibly tampering with or destroying the record’s integrity.
“Justice Thomas Humphrey refuses to sign an Emergency Restraining Order to protect an original video of highly critical comments about fellow Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz,” says Doyle, who is outraged at the lack of systemic transparency in what he says is nothing short of a climate of corrupt cronyism and intimidation in Maine’s courts.
“This is simply another case where one Maine judge protects another from what I believe are the public’s honest and accurate criticisms concerning instances where that judge has violated the law, and may have violated a few open records laws himself during that process.”
IS MAINE’S JUSTICE SYSTEM SILENCING CRIME VICTIMS, LEGISLATORS?
According to Representative Villa, the forum that took place last Friday was initially organized so Dr. Collins, Ms. Spaulding, Senator Dutremble and Villa could gather information for an Audit of the Judiciary Branch of Maine Judicial Oversight and the Board of Overseers, particularly as it relates to Family Law. Villa says that the scene quickly descended into chaos after Doyle and others “hijacked” the hearing.
“When I arrived, I didn’t understand where they were in the forum except that our moderators were missing, and I felt that I had to change the dialog from chaos to one of unification. In the end I tried to change the tone, even though I was deeply upset that Mr. Doyle humiliated my well respected friends. Part of my training in dealing with many different personalities, is diffusing situations, and moving on professionally and collaboratively…I hope we ended on a high note, but I deplore the bullying tactics which Mr. Doyle used on us pre and post meeting.”
Villa says she is not afraid of releasing the footage to any legitimate news outlet, and readily admits that she obtained the tapes out of concerns that victims would be exploited by the footage spanning 4-hours, which “clearly needed editing.” Villa says the footage shows she “questioned the motives of Mr. Doyle who seemed hell bent on the destruction of one judge, for his blog. Nothing to hide I should have let it go, but I hope you can put into perspective the background of what transpired that day and the distrust that ensued.”
However, emails between Villa and other State officials show that Villa was under intense pressure from the Attorney General and the Judicial Branch’s spokes person to stifle her advocacy efforts in advance of the hearing. As noted in the correspondence attached to this article, a subsequent heartfelt email sent by Villa to Doyle and California based advocate Cindy Dumas [SafeKids International] provides several reasons why Villa herself may fear for her own family’s safety if the court were to retaliate against her in response to her public efforts to reform the justice system.
Doyle says the tapes confiscated by Villa demonstrate that the Representative is not alone, as roughly two-thirds of those who attended last week’s public forum were mothers who suffered injustices similar to those reported by Villa.
Linda Valentino (D-Saco), brushed off her colleague’s concerns about the Judicial Branch’s apparent inability or unwillingness to police itself last week when she told the Portland Press Herald that she disagreed that legislators should be inquiring about judges’ qualifications.
“As chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, I don’t have a position. I don’t feel it is within the purview of the Judiciary Committee,” Valentino said. “I don’t feel this is a legislative issue. I feel this is a judicial issue.”
Villa says Doyle and Lori Handrahan, another leader in attendance, were “on their own mission” and may have derailed her audit by sabotaging the chances it would be approved by the general operating committee. “If it comes across as a witch hunt,” says Villa “it won’t pass muster.”
Senator Dutremble said last week that he intends to keep pushing for answers.
“It puzzles me why the entire legislature does not jump on board and ask for audits of the system(s). Does it really puzzle me though? Not really, there are many who tend to lose substantial gains if we allow a full audit. We need more people like Lisa standing up for the people of Maine and I am continuing to be by her side and do what is right for the people of Maine.”
Villa also has no intentions of letting up. “The real issue is how the billion dollar divorce industry is destroying American families and desperately needs reform,” says Villa. “Cronyism, lies, and money… that sums up my divorce and that of the divorce industry that I hope to change starting with the state of Maine.”
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