the republic logo

Maine's Democratic House speaker sues LePage for pressuring school to fire him

bug
Share/Save/Bookmark

PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves on Thursday filed a civil rights lawsuit against Republican Gov. Paul LePage for threatening to withhold funds from a school for at-risk youth to get Eves removed from a job, saying it was time for someone to stand up to governor's abuse of power.

Motivated by "personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice," the governor threatened to withhold more than $500,000 from the school unless it ditched Eves, continuing a "well-known pattern of using his powers as governor to bully and intimidate anyone who dares to disagree with him," David Webbert, Eves' attorney, said in the lawsuit.

"LePage's blackmail of the school unfairly and without due process took away the speaker's job that he was counting on to support his wife and three young children," Webbert wrote.

LePage has acknowledged that he threatened to withhold the state funding from Good Will-Hinckley, which would have cost the school an additional $2 million in private funds.

But he has rejected Eves' claims that he blackmailed the school, saying he was acting within his authority and that he was seeking to protect taxpayer dollars because the speaker wasn't qualified to operate the school. He said he opposed Eves' appointment because he'd voted against charter schools in the past.

The governor's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, decried the "political lawsuit."

"It has no legal merit and is the Democrats' concerted attempt to accomplish what they couldn't at the ballot box inside a courtroom," she said in an emailed statement.

Webbert said the governor knew what he was doing wrong because he made the threat to the private, nonprofit organization in a handwritten note to avoid public scrutiny.

The attorney also said he tried unsuccessfully to get the governor to back down and that the federal lawsuit was a last resort. He said he plans to file a notice of claim to sue in state court, as well.

In the federal lawsuit, Eves accused LePage of violating his First Amendment rights by pressuring the school to fire him, causing lost wages, earning power and employment. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the governor, who was sued personally, not in his capacity as chief executive.

With his wife at his side outside the federal courthouse, Eves said the governor's threats and vendettas serve to chill the free speech rights of lawmakers, citizens and organizations.

"We filed this lawsuit not just on behalf of our family but on behalf of every single Maine family, every single Maine legislator, every single Maine citizen, every single private organization in this state .... so that they can speak freely and independently without the fear of the governor's retribution, retaliation or revenge," he said.

He said he was not suing for monetary gain. He noted that he started a new job this week as director of development for Woodfords Family Services, a Westbrook organization that helps people with special needs.

Many lawmakers, including members of LePage's own party, have said that the governor's use of public funds to punish a political opponent crossed a line. Republican Sen. Tom Saviello said LePage took partisan politics to a "new, dark level" and GOP Sen. Roger Katz called his actions "personal, angry and vindictive."

In a similar case, a federal judge ruled in 2002 that acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane M. Swift violated the First Amendment rights of the state's Turnpike Board member when she fired him after he voted to postpone a toll increase.

The judge said the board member "has a clearly established constitutional right to vote on public issues important to that board and terminating a board member in retaliation for such a vote violates the First Amendment."


Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin in Augusta contributed to this report.

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

Story copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Feedback, Corrections and Other Requests: AP welcomes feedback and comments from readers. Send an email to info@ap.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate editor or reporter.


All content copyright ©2015 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.