One of my most important duties is to appoint judges to Maine’s district, superior and supreme judicial courts. The Maine people must know our judges are impartial, objective and committed to a fair and honest judicial process.
I have been praised for ignoring the political affiliation of judges and striving to appoint the most qualified people to the bench. We insist that judges demonstrate they are above reproach when it comes to making the important decisions that affect the lives of Mainers.
However, I must apologize to the Maine people for an appointment I made to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Justice Joe Jabar. I did not intend to reappoint him to the Supreme Court, not because I had anything against him personally, but rather because I wanted to appoint another more conservative justice to balance out the court.
When we met, Justice Jabar told me that he had only one year left to reach 20 years of service to maximize his state pension. I told him that if he agreed to step aside after qualifying for his full pension in a year, I would support his nomination to go back to the Superior Court or to serve as an Active Retired Justice.
I did not want to leave him without work. I simply wanted him to continue to serve in a different capacity.
I also told him that if another justice retired within the year, our deal was off: he could continue to serve, and I would fill the vacant seat with a more conservative justice. That would also have achieved my goal.
We shook hands on the deal.
In fact, my staff advised against allowing him to continue on the court, since I was told he would probably break the deal and continue to serve after 20 years. I didn’t listen to my staff, and I was wrong.
Instead, I gave Justice Jabar the benefit of the doubt in deference to his position on our highest court.
Unfortunately, Justice Jabar has reneged on our deal and refused to step aside after reaching the date qualifying him for his full pension.
His failure to keep his word demonstrates to me a lack of character and an example of dishonesty that is not worthy of a member of the bar, let alone a sitting justice.
The Maine people have a right to demand the highest qualifications—intelligence, integrity and good moral character—from members of their judicial branch. Their word must mean something.
If a judge fails to uphold these standards, then I believe it is my duty to tell you.
Abraham Lincoln had a stern warning for those who wanted to become lawyers: “If in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”
This is the same advice I have for Justice Jabar. If he is the kind of person to leave his integrity and his character outside the door of the Governor’s Office, then every decision he makes from the bench is tainted with dishonesty.
As the great Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said: “The only thing in the world not for sale is character.” I apologize to the Maine people for appointing a justice who sold his character.