AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday released a letter accusing a Maine high court justice of reneging on a promise to retire and denying the Republican governor perhaps a last chance to push the court in a more conservative direction.
Maine’s court system refused to comment on LePage’s scathing letter to Justice Joseph M. Jabar Sr. of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which was released by the governor’s office in a move likely to cause deep politicization of the state’s typically rather apolitical court system.
During his tenure, LePage has mostly maintained the status quo on the high court’s seven-member bench, reappointing five — including Jabar of Waterville, a former Democratic legislator and district attorney — and appointing two Maine trial court veterans.
In a letter dated last week and released on Tuesday, LePage said that he didn’t intend to reappoint Jabar in 2016 and was advised against it, but that Jabar assured the governor that he would retire after attaining 20 years of state service in 2017.
That would allow LePage to appoint what the letter called “a more conservative justice to balance out the court” after giving Jabar “the benefit of the doubt” in assuming he would retire.
However, LePage said Jabar is failing to comply with their agreement, demonstrating “a lack of character and an example of dishonesty that is not worthy of a member of the bar, let alone a sitting justice.”
A spokeswoman for Maine’s court system said in an email that it has “no comment on this matter.” A phone message left for Avery Day, LePage’s former chief attorney whom the governor’s letter says witnessed the Jabar deal, wasn’t immediately returned on Tuesday.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a statement that LePage’s “decision to publicly release this letter is deeply troubling” and that justices “must remain independent and immune from exactly this type of pressure.”
Through a spokeswoman, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment without hearing Jabar’s side of the story.
While Jabar has held office as a Democrat, he was praised by a Republican attorney when he was nominated to the high court by former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in 2009. His second term began last year and ends on Jan. 26, 2024, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Under the Maine Constitution, a governor can’t remove a justice mid-term. A justice could be impeached by the state House of Representatives and removed with a two-thirds vote in the Senate, but any impeachment attempt would likely be doomed in a divided Legislature.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.
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