Board of Overseers of the Bar v. J.P. Nadeau, Jr., Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF 07-201
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: May 26, 2009
Respondent: J.P. Nadeau, Jr., Esq.
Bar Number: 001020
Disposition/Conduct: Conduct Unworthy of an Attorney; Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice; Adversary Conduct
Stipulated Report of Findings and Order of Panel E of the Grievance commission
M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(4)
M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(2)
On May 26, 2009, with due notice, Panel E of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning alleged misconduct by the Respondent, J.P. Nadeau, Esq. This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on February 17, 2009.
At the hearing, Attorney Nadeau was pro se and the Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Aria Eee. The complainant, Sara Meerse, Esq. also participated in the disciplinary proceeding. Prior to the hearing, the parties had submitted a proposed, Stipulated Report of Findings and Order for this Grievance Commission Panel's review and consideration.
Having reviewed the proposed Report as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent J.P. Nadeau (Attorney Nadeau) of Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been at all times relevant hereto an attorney duly admitted to and engaging in the practice of law in the State of Maine and subject to the Maine Bar Rules. Attorney Nadeau was admitted to the Maine bar in 1966 and he is currently registered with the Board as an active Maine attorney.
On July 2, 2007, Attorney Meerse filed a grievance complaint against Attorney Nadeau. The complaint alleged violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility by Attorney Nadeau related to a 2006 protective custody proceeding where Meerse served as Guardian ad litem (GAL). On or about July 13, 2007, Attorney Nadeau filed his initial response to the grievance explaining his involvement in the matters affecting his client, the mother of the children. In that initial answer to the complaint, Attorney Nadeau denied any commission of misconduct. Thereafter, the Board conducted an investigation surrounding the events described by Attorneys Meerse and Nadeau.
Pursuant to its investigation, the Board learned that there had been a previous 2001 protective custody proceeding in Maine in which Attorney Meerse was the GAL and in which Attorney Nadeau represented the mother until his withdrawal in 2003. Following the conclusion of the prior Maine District Court protective custody case, the children lived with their father in New Hampshire and their mother continued to live in Maine. The District Court dismissed that proceeding in 2005 as the jeopardy matter had been resolved due to the entry of a family matter proceeding in which custody of the children was granted to their father. On October 18, 2006, Attorney Nadeau, acting on Affidavits from two of the children's family members, represented the mother in the filing of a New Hampshire Parenting Petition matter in the county where the children resided. The New Hampshire Court, after conducting an ex parte hearing, awarded custody of the children to their mother. On October 19, 2006, apparently following contact by the father, Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) obtained a Preliminary Child Protection Order returning custody of the children to their father due to allegations the children were at immediate risk of harm with their mother. According to Attorney Nadeau, despite those allegations, there had been no contact between DHHS and the children's mother for two (2) years.
Pursuant to the Maine District Court's Order, the Berwick Police Department provided assistance to the DHHS to obtain custody of the children from Attorney Nadeau's client. In that regard, Bar Counsel contends that Attorney Nadeau should not have become involved in the police department's efforts to secure the children. Attorney Nadeau asserts that he was trying to understand the conflicting orders and jurisdiction issues resulting from the New Hampshire Court Order issued October 18, 2006 and the Maine Court Order that was issued the following day, October 19, 2006. Regardless of the difference in opinion, Attorney Nadeau now agrees that his involvement at the mother's family home may have intensified the attendant emotions related to the police execution of the court's order. However, after Attorney Nadeau conferred further with the New Hampshire Court the children were released to Maine DHHS as directed by that Order.
Thereafter, continued jurisdictional concerns arose when on October 20, 2006, the New Hampshire Family Court entered a Temporary Order awarding temporary custody of the children jointly to their paternal aunt and maternal grandmother. Three days later, the Maine District Court amended its Order of October 20, 2006 and awarded custody of the children to the Maine DHHS. According to Attorney Nadeau, in December 2006 the New Hampshire court awarded temporary custody of the children to their father, then in May 2007 it awarded shared residence and thereafter in February 2008, awarded primary residence to the mother.
While Attorney Nadeau did not act as counsel for the mother in the related Maine proceedings, it is clear that he did not immediately inform the other litigants or the Maine District Court that he had restricted his representation of the mother to only the New Hampshire proceeding. Attorney Nadeau contends that he did not think to do so because he had withdrawn from the earlier Maine proceeding before its conclusion. In hindsight, Attorney Nadeau recognizes that his communication with the Maine court could have been clearer.
Finally, while representing his client, Attorney Nadeau filed a series of pleadings in the New Hampshire Family Court. Some of those pleadings asserted arguments or relief that in hindsight, Attorney Nadeau acknowledges were a reflection of inappropriate professional judgment due to his criticism of other litigants and the Maine court system. Accordingly, based upon the above-outlined facts, Attorney Nadeau accepts a finding that he violated M. Bar R. 3.1 (a); 3.2(f)(4); and 3.7(e)(2)(vi).
Conclusion and Sanction
The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically requires attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to their clients and the courts. The Panel notes that Attorney Nadeau has now taken responsibility for his above actions in representing his family law client. During this hearing, Attorney Nadeau expressed remorse for his violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
M. Bar R. 2(a) provides that the purpose of bar disciplinary proceedings is not punishment, but rather the protection of the public from attorneys who, by their conduct, have failed to discharge properly their professional duties. Since the evidence supports a finding and Attorney Nadeau agrees that he did in fact violate the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Panel finds that a public reprimand serves those purposes. The Panel has been informed by counsel that while dissimilar from the events in 2006, Attorney Nadeau did receive a reprimand sanction after hearing in 1987 for engaging in a conflict of interest by improperly representing two defendants in a multi-party drug criminal case.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Nadeau's waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Reprimand to J.P. Nadeau Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1 (e)(3)(c), (4).
For the Parties
Aria Eee, Assistant Bar Counsel
J. P. Nadeau, Esq., Respondent
For the Grievance Commission
Victoria Powers, Esq., Panel E Chair
Martica Douglas, Esq.
Joseph R. Reisert, Ph.D