A federal judge on Friday terminated a long-standing consent decree that was established to address the needs of Mainers with mental and developmental disabilities.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal ruled that the state has complied with the terms of the Pineland consent decree, has mechanisms to ensure future compliance and has made a commitment to achieving compliance.

The case originated in 1975, when a lawsuit challenged conditions at the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, a residential facility run by the state. The lawsuit alleged that residents at Pineland didn’t get medical care and other services.

That led to a class action and a consent decree in 1978 to address conditions at Pineland. In 1994, a new consent decree focused more on the need for community services.

Singal terminated the 1994 agreement on Friday. About 750 people in Maine are still considered part of the Pineland class.

Pineland closed in 1996. It had opened in 1908 as the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. For 88 years, it was a home and treatment facility for people with mental and developmental disabilities.

Pineland was sold in 2000 to the Libra Foundation and has been transformed into business and recreational campus.

Attorney General Janet Mills argued in court in February to have the decree dismissed.

“I’ve always felt confident the state has done the right thing by Pineland class members, and the court agreed,” she said. “The state has gone above and beyond what was required by the decree.”

Mills said that in the last eight years alone, the state has spent $2.4 million in attorneys’ fees and court-master charges, money that she said can be spent better helping adults with mental disabilities.

Gerald Petruccelli, the attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the case Friday.

In court filings, Petruccelli argued that the state has failed to live up to its commitments in the past, which justified keeping the decree in place.

Singal ruled that despite the threat of budget cuts, he’s comfortable that the state will follow current laws.

“However, the fear that history may repeat itself will always be present and will require that the class members and those that advocate on their behalf be forever vigilant,” he wrote. “While it may not be enough to quell Plaintiffs’ fears, the record documents the numerous statues and regulations as well as advocacy and oversight organizations, which, together, should serve to prevent backsliding and keep the current system operating at a level of substantial compliance.”

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was a member of the Maine House of Representatives when the first consent decree was put in place in 1978. In a statement Friday, he called the decision a major success but said the state must make sure “It never happens again.”

“I went to Pineland with then-Sen. Sewell, and I will never forget what we saw,” Martin said. “That citizens of this state were subjected to those conditions was simply breathtaking. We walked out of there that day and cried.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]