AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine judge who issued a controversial, illegal gag order on the media during a criminal proceeding in January, only to rescind it under fire two days later, is expected to face strong opposition to his renomination to the bench during a hearing May 7.

At issue will be Deputy Chief District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz’s rulings in family law cases, which a group of Mainers called into question after the attention Moskowitz received for his gag order.

The opposition is largely composed of people who appeared before Moskowitz for family court proceedings and claim he has been unfair and unsympathetic in ruling against them in their cases.

Until recently, judicial renominations rarely have been contested by the public in Maine. How public concerns will be weighed against recommendations of lawyers, other judges and the governor’s judicial advisory committee is a unique test for the state lawmakers who will decide whether Moskowitz should return to the bench.

Judges are considered for reappointment on a seven-year cycle, which means some of the aggrieved parties now coming forward have waited many years to discuss their concerns.

This is the case of Gayle Fitzpatrick, who will oppose Moskowitz’s renomination before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on May 7.

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In the aftermath of Moskowitz’s gag order, Fitzpatrick and a number of people who organized on social media started to raise public concerns about his record dating back several years.

Fitzpatrick alleges Moskowitz violated her right to due process in 2009, when he dismissed a protection from abuse order she had obtained against her ex-husband without holding a hearing or notifying her or her attorney.

“A judge should at least understand the concept of due process,” she said in an interview.

In February 2007, Fitzpatrick was granted a protection from abuse order against her husband by District Court Judge E. Paul Eggert after a hearing in Portland. The order was meant to be enforced for two years.

Moskowitz was appointed to the District Court bench in January 2008 by Gov. John Baldacci after work as a prosecutor with the York County district attorney’s office. Gov. Paul LePage renominated Moskowitz to the bench earlier this month along with eight of his colleagues.

Moskowitz handled Fitzpatrick’s divorce in 2008 and 2009. She told the BDN she is now willing to come forward with her concerns about Moskowitz because her children now are adults.

When she tried to extend the order as divorce proceedings against her husband were ongoing, Fitzpatrick said she found Moskowitz had dismissed it without notification.

“I went to the courthouse to put in my motion for an extension of the protection from abuse and I was told that the PFA had been dismissed by Judge Moskowitz on Jan. 16 [2009] without a motion to amend, a motion to dismiss or anything filed,” she said. “A notice of hearing was never mailed and my right to due process was ignored.”

At an April 16, 2009, hearing on her divorce, Fitzpatrick’s attorney questioned Moskowitz about his decision to cancel the order.

Moskowitz said he had “concluded that there was no domestic violence involved in this case,” according to a section of a court transcript provided by Fitzpatrick.

The judge said he had made the conclusion after a three-day hearing in 2008 that was part of the divorce proceeding and had intended to dismiss the order earlier but had “neglected” to do so.

“Perhaps differing from whatever judge heard the protective order, but that was my conclusion,” Moskowitz said, according to the transcript. “And I neglected, in my judgment, to terminate that protective order [at the time]. I intended to do it but I didn’t do it.”

During the same hearing, Moskowitz ordered Fitzpatrick to give her estranged husband her address, which he could not have obtained if the protection order was extended.

Even without the protection from abuse order, the Maine secretary of state’s office has kept Fitzpatrick and her children in the Address Confidentiality Program, which protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Fitzpatrick said that despite renewed threats, she did not seek another protection order, but she did move to another address. She did not file a formal complaint about Moskowitz with the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability because she said she was not aware of that process.

Moskowitz did not respond to a request for comment by the BDN regarding Fitzpatrick’s allegations, but the state court system issued a statement on his behalf.

“As is the practice for all judicial nominations, the judge will not be commenting on his nomination, except to the committee at the hearing,” said Mary Ann Lynch, media liaison for the court system, in an email.

Grass-roots activism against Maine’s family court system began in earnest about three years ago when Maine GAL Alert was created to work for reform of the guardian ad litem program.

Guardians ad litem, or GALs, are appointed by judges “to represent the best interests of one or more children in legal proceedings for divorce, determination of parental rights and responsibilities, child protection and similar legal actions in Maine,” according to information on the court system’s website. GALs may be lawyers or mental health professionals.

Some advocates for GAL reform, including Jerome Collins of Kennebunkport, have met with people who expressed concerns about Moskowitz remaining on the bench.

It’s from this group that the organized opposition to Moskowitz has sprouted. The most vocal members of this group, in addition to having common concerns, are united in another way: They all say Moskowitz ruled against them in their cases.

Attorneys say the true picture of a judge should not be painted by individual cases but through the totality of decisions, management of the courtroom and willingness to admit mistakes.

Diane Dusini, a Portland lawyer who practices family law, supports Moskowitz’s renomination. She said recently in an email that the judge “has managed his courtroom effectively, been respectful to all lawyers and unrepresented litigants, applied the law correctly, exercised good judgment and properly considered the input of guardians ad litem without assuming their position was necessarily correct.

“He willingly takes difficult cases and works hard,” she continued. “When he makes a mistake, he has the courage to admit it, correct it, and move on. These are exactly the qualities we need in a judge.”

Joshua Tardy, a Newport lawyer and former Republican legislator who is chairman of the governor’s judicial advisory committee, which vets judicial nominees, said the public most often appeared for judicial nomination hearings to air complaints about the court system itself, not individual judges.

The sudden surge in opposition to individual judges, Tardy said, is likely a function of technology and social media.

“People are able to communicate more easily and to activate others,” he said. “We’re seeing this in politics and in judicial nominations.”

He said the public always is welcome at the hearings, which are the appropriate place to weigh in on a nominee’s fitness for the bench.

“The committee and the governor remain aware that particularly in family law cases, oftentimes people are very unhappy with the results and, therefore, with the judge,” Tardy said. “It is very appropriate that we look at not just one case, but look more comprehensively at a judge’s work.”

When Fitzpatrick and others appear before the Judiciary Committee to oppose Moskowitz’s reappointment, it will be only the second time in recent years that people who have appeared before a judge have opposed his or her remaining on the bench.

Last month, three people whose divorce cases were handled by District Court Judge Patricia Worth spoke against her renomination. The Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on Worth for five days and asked Tardy to gather more information about the people who testified and their cases.

On March 24, the committee voted unanimously to recommend Worth be confirmed by the Senate to a second seven-year term. Worth since has been confirmed, according to Lynch.

Judges are aware they may face opposition when and if they are reappointed. Their supporters appear to be addressing anticipated criticism more directly than they have in the past.

Retired District Court Judge John David Kennedy spoke March 19 in support of Worth’s reappointment before the Judiciary Committee.

Kennedy told the committee in his written testimony that, on average, each District Court judge in Maine handled 2,400 cases in 2014.

“Simply managing that kind of volume requires tenacity, hard work and triage skill,” he said. “But, that is really not the hard part of the job. What really exhausted me over my 15 years on the bench, and I believe, most stresses my former colleagues, are the hard family cases, whether on the contested or protective custody dockets.

“These are the cases that we all want to get right, because we all understand the gravity of being wrong when the future of a child or family is at stake,” Kennedy told the committee. “Unfortunately, these are also the cases in which the truth can be most elusive. Social workers can testify, psychologists can testify, police officers can testify, the guardian ad litem will testify, and usually both parents and friends will testify. But ultimately, the judge, and the judge alone, makes the difficult call because someone has to, and you and society both entrusted us with that role.”

The former judge expressed sympathy for those who believed they had been treated unfairly and opposed Worth’s reappointment.

“I know that adverse family law decisions are difficult, and sometimes just impossible for parents and their friends and family members to accept,” he continued. “If anyone proposed or decided to limit my access to my children, I would have fought like the devil, and then, if I lost that battle, I probably would have said, as many do, the judge was biased, or the [guardian ad litem] was biased, or that the other party perjured himself, or whatever. It is just too hard for most people to accept that an unbiased decision maker evaluated you as a parent, and found you wanting. That conclusion just cuts too close to the bone.”