Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Public Lockout: From Deliberations by the Judiciary Committee of the Maine Legislature

All legislative committees are mandated by Maine law to conduct hearings, deliberations, and work sessions in public.

But in a May 19 speech on the Senate floor, state Sen. David Dutremble (D-Biddeford) reported that the Judiciary Committee conducted such business in private over the weekend that started May 8. Its deliberations concerned the reappointment of controversial Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz – the judge who issued an illegal gag order in January – and whose reappointment was opposed by many members of the public.

Maine citizens deserve to know what transpired that weekend with their Judiciary Committee. Did the members, in fact, meet behind closed doors and/or have private conversations in violation of state mandates? A legislative inquiry into the actions of the committee is warranted to protect the interests of the public.

Here’s what is clear: Without a single comment or question, the Judiciary Committee on May 12 unanimously recommended that Moskowitz be reappointed. One by one, each committee member simply voted yes. Those of us who witnessed this were dumbfounded. It left us with the uncomfortable feeling that something was amiss. How was their unified position reached outside of public view?

This spring was the first time in 20 years that judicial reappointments were challenged. And many citizens vehemently and passionately expressed their opposition to Judge Moskowitz, as well as to Judge Patricia Worth before him. In both cases, the Judiciary Committee nevertheless unanimously recommended approval. And at least in the case of Moskowitz, committee members allegedly deliberated outside of the public’s view and earshot.

This is extremely concerning. State mandates requiring the utmost transparency are meant to protect us all.

Input from those who are consumers of the court system – not just lawyers who earn their livings in front of judges – must be heard. People also deserve to know that the systems set up to protect them are working as they’re supposed to. When systems become about protecting themselves instead of the citizens they were designed to protect, the delicate fabric and balance of our constitutional rights is put in jeopardy. Legislative maneuvers that eliminate transparency and thereby remove public oversight are the antithesis of a democratic society.

We urge the Maine Legislature to take action and give the public answers. When asked to explain how his committee could unanimously approve a judge with no public discussion whatsoever, the chair of Judiciary Committee, Sen. David Burns (R-Washington), responded that, “it is unfortunate that some individuals and legislators have tried to impugn the integrity of the committee members.”

Hey, I’m just asking a question! There’s nothing impugning in that. These aren’t lofty, academic issues – of concern to just a fragment of society. They’re the very foundation of public trust. Transparency is the key to a free and just society.

With what’s been publicly asserted, there is a clear need for a formal inquiry into this committee’s "13 yeses" that led to approval of a judge whose illegal order brought disgrace to our state around the globe. Members of the public should be included in this inquiry.

Those who may dismiss this call for investigation, attributing it to “sour grapes” or “angry litigants,” demonstrate a lack of respect for the most essential principles that define our nation. Private meetings and/or private discussions that result in appointing a judge who attempted to abrogate the First Amendment – one of our dearest rights – should be a concern to all of us, not just those who may face this particular judge in court. It is of little comfort that the order was retracted only after the Portland Press Herald defied it.

To date, the president of the Maine Senate, Michael Thibodeau, has failed to respond to requests for a public inquiry about the actions of the Judiciary Committee.

This raises additional concerns. Without a legislative inquiry and report, Maine citizens will be left to wonder if their legislative and judiciary truly are the separate branches of government that are fundamental to freedom and liberty. We need to know what our legislators are doing – and why they’re doing it.

If you agree with me on this, We urge readers to contact their legislator and request an investigation. Let’s just find out what happened.

MeGAL is working to bring about Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform so that those in the future do not have to experience what you experienced in this dysfunctional system. As part of this reform we encourage you to contact your representative to let him/ her know the issues you experienced with Family Court. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook for more information.

Other related posts:
2015-06-03 Public Access: Is the Judiciary Committee Leveling With You?

2015-05-25 Sen David Burns Replies to our Open Letter

2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

2015-05-19 Senate Confirmation of the Hon. Jeffrey Moskowitz

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Public Access: Is the Judiciary Committee Leveling With You?

When State Senator, David Dutremble (D. Biddeford), in a speech form the floor of the Senate (audio) on Tuesday, accuses members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee of manipulating the judiciary re-appointment of controversial Judge Moskowitz, it is a serious charge that demands investigation. When members of the public are excluded from important committee deliberations addressing this judicial re-appointment, something is seriously wrong. When there is no response from the President of the Maine Senate when asked by numerous people to investigate further, it looks like more exclusion. All of these recent actions raise ethical and legal questions in the minds of the public. What happened between members of the Judiciary Committee in their private deliberations about Judge Moskowitz over the weekend of May 9-10th? How were their unified positions reached outside of public view? And... is this secrecy permitted by laws that insist on transparency?

On Tuesday, May 12th, members of the committee reconvened in the Judiciary Committee hearing room, and without question, conversation or comment, submitted a string of 13 "yeses" (audio), approving Judge Moskowitz re-appointment and advancing the process to the Maine Senate. It left observers dumfounded. It was one further public exclusionary action in the judicial re-appointment process, which appeared to be tightly controlled, by Maine Bar interests at every step. It is about the need for active public "oversight" of judicial appointments - or re-appointments - that have heretofore been a "rubber stamp" process in the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. In the present re-appointment situation, reporters commented on the fact that committee members asked not one question of Judge Moskowitz during the public hearing.

The entire judicial vetting process - and the subsequent handling of its piece of the process by the Judiciary Committee - raises many questions. The primary question is: "is this process, which is said by some on the judicial re-appointment committee to be standard, in the public's interest"? We ask this question with special regard to those members of the public, who have the experience of using our courts? 74% of family court matters are 'Prose' (self-represented/without a lawyers); 26% (the minority) have lawyers, yet the process doesn't reflect this compelling statistic. "Private" deliberations in the Judiciary Committee are troubling and raise a slew of ethical and legal questions. Why hide deliberations? Why the secrecy? Aren't legislative maneuvers that eliminate transparency and, thereby remove public oversight, undesirable in a democratic society? 

Since the Judiciary Committee's 13 yeses approving Judge Moskowitz, there have been widely expressed concerns that the committee appeared to be "gaming the process", using techniques, known to senior members of the committee which enable public exclusion, while following the "letter" of the laws about transparency? We would suggest a knowledge of how to bypass the law - and, more importantly its use - is unseemly (and tainted?) in anyone, especially our elected officials.

We urge the Maine Legislature to take action in getting answers to these questions. They are not academic issues of concern to a fragment of society. They are the foundation of public trust: that we can see what our elected officials are doing. There is a need for a formal inquiry into the "13 yeses" that quickly decided approval of a "controversial judge" for reasons that remain opaque to the public. Investigation of this matter should be carried out in a transparent manner with public "consumers" of the system included.

One of our concerns is about committee attitude justifying the prejudicial dismissal of all opposition. Some on the judiciary committee dismiss opponents of Judge Moskowitz as only a bunch of people who got an unfavorable result in court. This characterization justifies secrecy? Not only is this claim untrue, betraying gross prejudice, secrecy in the judiciary committee cannot be justified by theories about good or bad results in courtrooms. It is about the integrity and honesty of our government.

MeGAL is working to bring about change in Family Court and the role of Guardian ad litem. We do this by educating the public and our representatives to the issues involved with this branch of the court system. If you have had a bad experience in Family Court or with a Guardian ad litem we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Previous posts regarding the re-appointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz may be found here:
2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

2015-05-25 Sen David Burns Replies to our Open Letter

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sen David Burns Replies to our Open Letter

Within hours of our letter going out to Senator David Burns we received a response back from him. Below is Sen Burn's response:

Dr. Collins,

Thank you for your questions. First and foremost, the Judiciary Chairs follow the Maine Constitution and Joint Rules to conduct the process of reviewing Judicial nominees. As I said on the Senate floor, our Committee listened to a very long and, we feel, fair Committee hearing on Judge Moskowitz, as we do for each nomination. The Chairs did all in our ability and power to give everyone opportunity to be heard on the issue. It is very difficult to be exact on just how much time each speaker gets without rudely cutting someone's time short. I believe that was done fairly, in spite of what some have protested about. Everyone's testimony is equally important. When there is written testimony, we try to keep oral comments as close to the allotted time as possible.

As you know, the Committee had much written comment and materials provided to them before, during and after the Public Hearing. Also, the rules that are set before us, allow for the nominee to have opportunity to respond to testimony given. After the hearing, there was a break where our individual caucuses had an opportunity to talk among themselves, which is consistent with the Legislature's Joint Rules in any issue brought before us. The Chairs were in agreement that a sufficient amount of time was needed for each Committee member to review and consider all that had been provided to them on this issue, before voting. It was also important for any response from the nominee to come forward. For these reasons the Chairs decided that we would hold the vote, as the rules allow, until after the weekend. As you also know, there was a considerable amount of unsolicited e-mails that were circulated to us during that time period. Each of those were provided to the clerk to be made a part of the public record. There were no inappropriate meetings or discussions that took place during that time that the Chairs are aware of. All testimony and written comment that the Committee was provided is public and available for public access.

When we reconvened, the Committee members had each come to their own conclusions of the "fitness" for this nominee to be reappointed and cast their vote accordingly. This is a process that is in place for us to follow and I believe that each Judiciary Committee member takes it very seriously. It is unfortunate that some individuals and legislators have tried to impugn the integrity of the Committee members. Having spent the last, nearly 5 months, with them, I can assure anyone that they are all very committed to fairness, transparency and of the utmost integrity. We all understand that some of the criticism over this "process" and some of the judicial nominees comes as a result of very difficult personal experiences with family courts and none of us minimize the importance of those experiences and the significance of those perspectives. However, some of the slanderous statements that have been made surrounding these proceedings are unconscionable and do not have any place in legitimate and constructive debate and discussion!


David Burns

MeGAL is working on Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. If you are or have been a consumer of judicial services and have had an issue with the court. We would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Letter to Sen David Burns may be found here:
2015-05-23 An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

Saturday, May 23, 2015

An Open Letter to Judiciary Committee on Confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

In an effort to have government transparent we are publishing the following letter to Sen David Burns. The letter deals with the confirmation deliberations that the Judicial Committee had over a weekend before a unanimous vote was given. It was emailed to all committee members the Senate President and the Bangor Daily News as well as the Portland Press Herald. We are presenting to you the letter:

May 23, 2015
Senator David Burns
Chair Judiciary Committee

Dear Dave,

I’m writing you as chair of the Judiciary Committee to ask that you help us understand the committee's "deliberations" on the reappointment of Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz. Like many people who followed the May 12 proceedings, I'm puzzled.

What we witnessed that day was the committee entering the hearing room, sitting, and immediately giving a round of 13 "yeses" – with no comment and no questions. It was a stunningly synchronized delivery, and many people are wondering how this degree of orchestration was achieved.

From some of the committee members, we've heard a variety of “explanations” that shed little light on what actually transpired to arrive at a unanimous decision, and Sen. David Dutremble related some of these in his speech from the Senate floor on May 15. The Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald both have published several stories on the Moskowitz reappointment, but there clearly is more to this than was reported.

We'd like to understand why you chose not to include the public in your committee's deliberations on this "controversial judge."

I greatly would appreciate a reply. Thank you.


Jerry Collins

MeGAL supports any effort to bring about Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. Please contact us if you have had any issues in or with either at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

2015-05-23 Sen David Burns reply's - read his response HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Senate Confirmation of the Hon. Jeffrey Moskowitz

In the end the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz was confirmed. We saw that it was going to happen. That the establishment and big money lawyers were going to ram it down our throats.

The flurry of activity behind the scenes. The letters that all of you who wrote in last minute attempt to sway the Senate to do the right thing - was not in vain.

We were inexperienced and trying to accomplish the impossible with no money or resources. We were up against the legal industry who has all of that.

What is interesting is how the Chair of the Judiciary Committee - Sen Robert Burns viewed the testimony saying that there was a lot of positive testimony for the Judge. Or to quote "Our committee had had overwhelming... supportive testimony" ( 18m37s - LINK). If we relied on this litmus test on whether or not a judge is qualified then the committee charged with vetting is nothing more than a front for who is our most popular judges. At least as far as lawyers are concerned - as consumer opinion is not as highly sought after as that of lawyers.

Sen, David Dutremble should be commended for giving a voice to the parents and consumers of judicial services in this judges court. we have said it before and we will say it again. He is a hero. For standing up for the people of Maine and not bowing to the pressure from the legal industry. We cannot thank him enough for sticking his neck out for us.

MeGAL is advocating for Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. The confirmation of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz  can be heard here. Please allow for loading (or downloading) as the file is 10.9 megs. If you have a story please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Has Transparency Been Lost with the Judiciary Committee?

It would appear so at least with the reappointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz. After heated testimony was given on May 7th 2015 both for and against and a delay for confirming the judge until May 12, 2015.

May 12 we heard in a very brief ceremony with 13 yea votes or a unanimous decision by the Judiciary Committee for the reappointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz. No comments by members - like we had with the confirmation of the Hon. Patricia Worth - just the vote. All over in less than 5 minutes (Full audio may be found here).

From May 7th to May 12th we hear that the committee spontaneously deliberated on the topic of the reappointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz. During the weekend as we understand it new material was introduced to support the Judge Moskowitz which included audio and transcripts of cases. All of this was new to many who have been following this confirmation. What should be a transparent process has become cloudy for the public.

All legislative meetings and deliberations are required to be public - to maintain transparency. All testimony - evidence or data - is to be registered with the Clerk and made available to the public as we understand it. This weekends activities has set a chilling precedent for our state government. Think about this - if the content were instead a social issue (abortion, LGBT as examples) would there be blood in the streets for what happened? Policy being decided behind the scenes?

We are asking the Senate to consider delaying the nomination of this judge so that a more through investigation can be carried out. An investigation that would involve more than the mere opinion of lawyers who work within the system.

MeGAL is working to bring about change in the Family Court and Guardian ad litem system. If you have had issues within the Family Court system we would encourage you to contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Today (May 19, 2015) it is expected that the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz will be confirmed and reappointed as Judge for another seven years by the Senate with Sen David Dutremble being the only Senator speaking out against the reappointment. The proceedings in the Senate start at 10 am and it is unknown exactly when the confirmation will take place. We believe sometime soon after the the opening prayer.

If interested in the proceeding please follow either of the two links.

For Audio:

For Video:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

From the Mouth of Kenneth Altshuler Esq - Frat Boy Support of Judge Moskowitz - WGAN 560

WGAN AM 560/ FM 105.5 Ken & Mike's First Take. The hosts Kenneth Altshuler and Mike Violette talk about the unanimous vote for reappointment of the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz. We present the transcript of the banter between the two radio hosts. Crass? Ignorant? Tasteless? You be the judge.

Mike: Ya Boy!

Ken: Victory

Mike: Ya Boy! District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz overcoming a courtroom controversy and heavy criticism but of course getting bolstered by the testimony of Kenneth P Althsuler Esq.

Ken: I don't think I put it over the top

Mike: I think you cinched if for him. Unanimous vote of approval Tuesday he's going to be back on the bench. Good for the judge..

Ken: So let me.. So let me take this moment ti also say that these people who complain. First of all three lawyers. Oh four lawyers came out against him

Mike: Uhh.. Mathew Nichols awww..

Ken: Seth Berner was one.

Mike: Darrick Banda and William Bly

Ken: Yeah and I don't know the last two. And look I'm fine with lawyers

Mike: They must be ambulance chasers huh?

Ken: And by the way let me make it really clear there have been judges..

Mike: These are the kind of guys who hang out at the emergency room at the hospital waiting for clients?

Ken: That.. That I have been opposed to and I have sent letters to the Judiciary Committee saying this judge is a bad judge. Don't reappoint this judge. One judge I opposed didn't get the reappointment. Not because of me but because everyone hated him.

You know this was.. You know once again being a judge is not a popularity contest.

Mike: Nope

Ken: And if you're popular you are probably a lousy judge. This judge is one of the best two or three judges in the state - SHUT UP!

Mike: Aww you poor little dears... You lost your case...

Ken: The people with the GALalert - which is a organization against Guardian ad litems.

Mike: Yeah

Ken: and who said that the public is not involved enough in the selection process of judges that’s why we don't have elected judges. Because we have crappy judges when that happens. Go down to Alabama. You know what happens when you have elected judges? All of the lawyers donate to both campaigns.

Mike: Yeah. Look I'm an advocate for electing the attorney general and the secretary of state but we can't be electing every judge.

Ken: Exactly right.....

WGAN First Take - skip ahead to 10m53s for segment 5 dealing with Judge Moskowitz.

MeGAL is working to right the so many wrongs that we find in our Family Courts and Guardians ad litem unlike Kenneth Altshuler Esq. We feel the 26% (Kenneth Altshuler and other lawyers associated with the Divorce Industry) has taken advantage of the majority long enough. We encourage you to contact us with your story or look us up on Facebook.

2015-05-14 BDN Maine Senate puts off vote on judge who issued gag order on press

Maine Senate
2015-05-14 Me Senate 2-1 Confirm Of Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz - Sen Burns to Table

2015-05-13 Transcript of the First Take segment on the Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Was the Public Bamboozled by the Power Players on Reappointment of Judge Moskowitz?

The Maine Bar Association scored a cruel triumph over the people who use the Moskowitz court. From start to finish the Moskowitz re-appointment was about the "power players" in the Maine Bar.  These "powers" use this court to further their interests, and they wish to have no interference from public users and 'pro se' in the Moskowitz court. To that end, Bar special interests moved strategically to silence, intimidate and discredit public opponents. Josh Tardy was a superb lobbyist with enviable skills in selling damaged goods to naive buyers on the committee. The Governor and others, once again, have bought yet another unfortunate Tardy "product".

What is sad to report is the behavioral message from the Judiciary Committee as it has abandoned the public: "Three cheers for the Maine bar!"

MeGAL is working for Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform. If you have had issues we ask that you please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

Further reading can be found:

2015-05-12 PPH Members of the Judiciary Committee vote unanimously to recommend to the full Senate that Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz be reappointed.
2015-05-12 BDN Committee endorses reappointment of Maine judge who issued gag order

2015-05-10 Questions that we hope the Judiciary Committee will ask Judge Moskowitz

2015-05-12 JCH - Hon Jeffrey Moskowitz - Confirmation Hearing