On Tuesday, January 30, 2024, the Portland Press Herald reported that a prominent Maine foreclosure attorney filed an ethics complaint against a justice on the state’s highest court.
Thomas Cox, a lawyer from Yarmouth, filed a complaint with the Maine Committee on Judicial Conduct alleging that Justice Catherine Connors of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct. In the complaint, Cox argues that Connors should have recused herself from two foreclosure cases decided by the court in January that overturned prior precedent.
The complaint stems from cases called Finch v. U.S. Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase Acquisition Corp v. Camille J. Moulton, where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the banks 4-3 and 5-2 respectively. Previously, in landmark 2017 rulings, the high court had determined that lenders could not enforce mortgages if notices of default sent to homeowners contained any defects or mistakes. However, the new majority decisions in Finch and Moulton issued a “course correction,” finding that defective notices do not preclude lenders from ultimately foreclosing.
Connors is alleged to have violated judicial ethics because she previously represented Bank of America as a lawyer at Pierce Atwood in one of the overturned 2017 cases, Pushard v. Bank of America. Cox argued in the complaint that Connors’ impartiality could reasonably be questioned given her past involvement, and she should have recused herself from the January decisions. If she had recused, the homeowners may have prevailed in Finch, Cox claimed.
According to experts, complaints against judges are uncommon, especially from attorneys who frequently appear before the courts. However, Cox argued that submitting the complaint was the appropriate course of action to help guarantee that judicial principles of integrity and fairness are maintained.
Now, the confidential process at the Committee on Judicial Conduct will review the allegations and determine if Connors violated the code of conduct. If found in violation, the complaint could eventually be reported to the Supreme Judicial Court for final discipline. On average, the committee resolves complaints within three months.
Some have criticized Connors’ involvement, noting assurances she made about recusing herself from foreclosure cases during her 2020 confirmation to the high court. The complaint adds another layer of controversy to the court’s recent overhaul of Maine’s foreclosure process.
Source: Portland Press Herald