AUGUSTA – Lawyers for the state and Maine’s largest newspaper publisher are sparring over whether records from John Richardson’s campaign for Maine governor should be open to the media — and the public.

The two sides disagree over which documents should be included in a record for the judge. They’ve asked for a conference with Justice Michaela Murphy to settle the matter.

In late May, MaineToday Media Inc. sued the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, seeking documents received in John Richardson’s failed effort to get public funding for his gubernatorial campaign.

MaineToday Media — which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective Web sites — went to Kennebec County Superior Court after the commission refused to release the records. The company is represented by attorney Sigmund Schutz,

The commission contends the records are confidential by statute and are not for public consumption, since they have been turned over to the Office of the Maine Attorney General as part of an investigation.

The attorney general is investigating whether Richardson volunteers broke campaign finance laws while soliciting $5 qualifying contributions on his behalf. Candidates for governor must obtain 3,250 donations of $5 each to qualify for public financing of their campaigns.

The Kennebec Journal is seeking the records to gain a greater understanding of how the Clean Elections system operates, and how the ethics commission holds political campaigns accountable when they receive public funds, said Anthony Ronzio, managing editor of the Kennebec Journal.

In response to the lawsuit, filed under the state’s Freedom of Access Act, the commission, represented by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, sought to have the complaint dismissed.

“The reports or records requested by MaineToday are not public records, because they contain ‘intelligence and investigative information in the custody of the Department of the Attorney General’ and are therefore designated as ‘confidential’ by (statute),” she wrote in support of that motion.

Robbin cited a ruling in a previous case where the same newspapers — then owned by Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc. — were denied access to consent forms filed with the state’s medical examiner’s office. Those records named the next of kin who agreed to brain donations for medical research.

That judge ruled those records were exempt from the state’s Freedom of Access Act because they were being used in an investigation by the attorney general’s office.

Murphy had set a schedule in the ethics commission case saying the stipulated record had to be filed by July 15, followed by the briefs by the plaintiffs and defense.

In the latest filing, Robbin said she objects to a request that all documents be provided for an “in camera” inspection by the court because they are being used by investigators.

“The records identify voters and circulators, who are witnesses and potential witnesses in the Attorney General’s investigation,” she wrote to Murphy.

“The thing most surprising to me is the state is refusing to let the judge see the records that are at issue,” Schutz said on Wednesday. “It’s very common and typical to allow the judge to see under seal the records that are in dispute. It allows judge to see what the allegedly top secret records are.”

He said he expects the dispute to delay the case. “We’re concerned we’re being stonewalled,” Schutz said.

“The paper’s interest is in trying to set this up for a quick decision. It’s important for this case to be decided prior to the November election; if he were still a candidate we would be pressing for more immediate access to these records.”

“We think the letter speaks for itself,” said Kate Simmons, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.