PORTLAND, Maine — The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a request to reinstate a lawsuit accusing Maine Gov. Paul LePage of abuse of power and blackmail.
A three-judge panel heard arguments Wednesday in Boston from lawyers for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and for the Republican governor, and will decide whether to overturn a decision by a federal judge who dismissed the lawsuit last spring.
Eves’ lawsuit accuses LePage of using threats to withhold state funding to force a charter school operator to rescind a job offer to Eves. The flap roiled the Maine Legislature and led to a failed attempt to impeach LePage.
“This case is about one thing: protecting Maine citizens and private organizations from being blackmailed, threatened, and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” his lawyer, David Webbert, said Thursday.
LePage’s lawyer, Patrick Strawbridge, declined comment. He has said that the judge properly dismissed the lawsuit because the governor’s actions constituted protected political speech and because the governor had immunity under state law.
Eves has accused the governor of overstepping his authority when he used more than $1 million in discretionary spending as a threat to force charter school operator Good Will-Hinckley, which serves at-risk young people, into taking back a two-year job offer.
LePage’s attorneys contended that the governor acted because he felt Eves was unqualified. LePage, who had no immediate comment, has accused his political opponents of leading a “witch hunt.”
In rejecting the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge George Singal wrote that political battles “are an inevitable and intended part of a government built on the separation of powers” and that federal courts “serve as a poor substitute mechanism for resolving such disagreements.”
Eves’ lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.