Gov. Janet Mills (D) will not be reappointing Justice Joseph M. Jabar, a longtime Maine jurist who has served in the Maine judiciary under Govs. Angus King (I), John Baldacci (D), and Paul LePage (R), according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Jabar has until Feb. 1 to be confirmed, but Mills has indicated that he will not get the chance to serve another term, creating a vacancy for Mills to appoint a more left-leaning ally with the State Legislature solidly under Democratic control.
The sources, who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the appointment process, said Jabar was surprised by Mills decision.
The Maine Wire could not immediately reach Jabar by phone.
Mills press office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the decision.
Justices on the Maine Supreme Court are appointed to seven-year terms by the governor and need to be re-appointed in order to continue serving. Appointments and reappointments must be confirmed by at least two-thirds of the Senate.
Justice Jabar’s current term on the Court was set to expire on February 2, 2024.
Jabar and Mills briefly attended Colby College together in the late 1960s, but only Jabar graduated. After attending the University of Maine Law School, Jabar served as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Upon returning to Maine, Jabar spent four years as District Attorney for Kennebec-Somerset Counties.
For twenty-five years, Jabar worked as a member of the law firm Jabar, Batten, Ringer and Murphy located in Waterville.
Prior to being appointed to the Maine Superior Judicial Court by then-governor Angus King (I) in 2001, Jabar spent four years in the Maine House of Representatives a Democrat from 1996 until 2000.
In 2008, then-governor John Baldacci (D) re-appointed Jabar to the Superior Court before appointing him to the Maine Supreme Court in 2009.
Upon the expiration of his first term on the Court, then-governor Paul LePage (R) reappointed Jabar in 2016.
At the time, lawmakers in the Senate unanimously approved of Jabar’s reappointment, with one legislator excused from the roll call.
Multiple sources told the Maine Wire that LePage’s decision to re-appointment the Democratic judge came after much internal deliberation and only after Jabar said he would resign the post before it was completed, clearing the way for LePage to appoint a more conservative judge.
In 2018, LePage released a letter accusing Jabar of reneging on a promise to resign before the end of his seven-year term — after reaching twenty years on the bench — if LePage agreed to reappoint him.
According to LePage, he had told Jabar in 2016 that he did not intend to reappoint the Justice to the Court because he wanted to seat a more conservative Justice in Jabar’s place.
LePage said, however, that Jabar asked that he be reappointed and allowed to complete twenty years of service in order to maximize his retirement benefits. After reaching that milestone, LePage said that Jabar had promised to voluntarily step down from his position.
“As you know, I did not intend to reappoint you as justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. My desire was to find a more conservative justice to balance out the court,” the letter from LePage read. “At the time, you told me that you had only one year left to reach 20 years of service, which would have provided you with a lucrative, taxpayer funded pension.”
“You asked that I allow you to continue until you reached the 20-year mark, at which time you would step aside so I could nominate another justice,” LePage wrote.
“I was advised against allowing you to continue on the court, since I was told you would probably break the deal and continue to serve after 20 years,” LePage said. “However, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and told you that if you stepped aside after 20 years of service, I would support your nomination to go back to the Superior Court or to serve as an Active Retired Justice.”
LePage also called Jabar’s personal character into question in the letter.
“The fact that you reneged on our arrangement 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,” LePage wrote. “The Maine people deserve to know what kind of character a justice has, especially if he is presiding over the most important judicial decisions in the state.”
Because LePage lacked the authority as governor to remove Jabar from his position, the Justice was allowed to serve the remainder of his seven-year term on the bench, which is coming to a close early this year.
The forthcoming vacancy on Maine’s highest court will come just days after it ruled that Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Attorney General Aaron Frey, both Democratic politicians, had misread Maine law in their most recent attempt to push forward with an attempt to remove former President Donald Trump from Maine’s presidential ballots.
Maine Wire Reporter Libby Palanza contributed to this report.
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