In sworn statements to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday, House and Senate staff members said they sent emails and text messages to Gov. Paul LePage’s office to say they would be available to receive any vetoes he wanted to file after the Legislature adjourned on June 30, but that the governor did not act within the 10 days he had to respond.

The statements contradict what LePage has told the state’s highest court, that the Legislature’s adjournment “prevented” him from returning the vetoes until lawmakers reconvened on July 16, and likely will be brought up during oral arguments before the court Friday.

LePage has asked the Supreme Judicial Court for opinions to three questions in his dispute with the Legislature on whether 65 bills he tried to veto last week had become law by the time he acted.

The sworn affidavits by Jennifer McGowan, assistant clerk for the House of Representatives, and by Heather Priest, secretary of the Senate, were among hundreds of pages of legal filings submitted to the court by seven groups and one individual on Friday, the deadline for interested parties to submit written legal arguments on LePage’s contention that his vetoes were submitted on time and must be considered.

McGowan’s and Priest’s statements were contained in a legal brief submitted by attorney Timothy Woodcock on behalf of Senate President Michael Thibodeau and Speaker of the House Mark Eves.

LEGAL THRESHOLD MUST BE MET

Woodcock’s brief included an attachment that had screen images showing that the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Kathleen Newman, replied by text to Priest on July 10, saying that the governor did not intend to file any vetoes by the July 11 deadline.

“Even though the Legislature was not actively meeting after June 30 and before July 16, at no time during that period was the governor prevented from returning bills,” Woodcock wrote.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley had invited lawyers for the governor, the state Senate and House of Representatives and any other interested party to submit legal arguments before the close of court on Friday. She requested that the briefs address LePage’s questions and whether his asking those questions rises to the level of a “solemn occasion,” the legal threshold for the court to render an opinion.

Saufley and five other justices of the state’s highest court will hear arguments in the case in the Cumberland County Courthouse on Friday, but have set no timetable on when they might issue an opinion. The court’s seventh judge, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm, has recused himself.

When LePage last sought an opinion from the Supreme Judicial Court in a dispute with Attorney General Janet Mills, the justices ruled in March that one of the two questions LePage posed reached the solemn occasion threshold while the other did not.

The 65 bills that LePage is seeking to veto were among 70 that most legislative leaders and Mills say have become law because LePage missed his 10-day window set by the Maine Constitution. Each piece of legislation has been written into law by the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes. The 65 bills in question cover a wide range of policy areas, including General Assistance for asylum seekers, expanded use of a medication to treat drug overdoses, property tax breaks for Vietnam War veterans and birth control for MaineCare recipients.

LePage’s written arguments, submitted Friday by his legal staff, mostly focus on the legal definition of the word “adjournment,” but they also touch on the discord between the governor and Legislature this session, even with members of his own party.

“The issues before these justices developed over the course of a particularly contentious legislative session rife with political wrangling and clashes between the institutions and branches of government. After several months and numerous conflicts, communications between the two branches of government were often strained, at best, and at times, nonexistent,” LePage attorneys Cynthia Montgomery, Hancock Fenton, Holly Lusk and Avery Day wrote.

SOME SUPPORT LEPAGE

Among the other groups that filed legal briefs were three Republican lawmakers who backed LePage. Rep. Kenneth Fredette, the House minority leader, Rep. Eleanor Espling, the assistant minority leader, and Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake urged the high court to validate LePage’s vetoes and allow the “democratic process to play out.”

“If the governor had returned the bills despite the Legislature’s absence, something he cannot do for reasons set forth below, the legislative officers would be forced to either call in the Legislature to act, not on their own timetable, but on the governor’s timetable or not act at all. Legislative enactment is not a game of chicken or gamesmanship, it is a deliberative process for the people and requires predictability,” L. Clinton Boothby, a private lawyer hired by the three legislators, wrote in a 14-page brief that had several additional pages of attachments.

LePage asked the Supreme Judicial Court for opinions on three questions:

n What form of adjournment prevents the return of a bill to the Legislature as contemplated by the use of the word adjournment (in) the Maine Constitution?

n Did any action or inaction by the Legislature trigger the constitutional three-day procedure for the exercise of the governor’s veto?

n Are the 65 bills he returned to the Legislature on July 16 properly before that body for reconsideration?

Unless the court sides with LePage, the bills that have become law will remain in force.

Mills and other members of the Attorney General’s Office urged the justices in their brief to take no action on the second two questions because they don’t rise to the level of a solemn occasion.

Three lawyers from the ACLU of Maine urged the justices to issue an opinion and find that the governor missed his opportunity to file the 65 vetoes.

“The justices ought to advise the governor that the Legislature, by its adjournment on June 30, 2015, did not prevent the return of bills by the governor. Only final adjournment of the legislative session prevents the return of bills and resolves,” ACLU of Maine lawyers Zachary Heiden, Alison Beyea and Oamshri Amarasingham wrote.

The group of private citizens – Lise McLain, Dorothy Lafortune, Phillip Merletti, Jack McCarthy and Robert Roy – argue in their brief that the governor is legally correct.

Another brief was filed by groups that backed legislation LePage is seeking to veto. Those groups are Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Maine Family Planning, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Cener, Maine Primary Care Association and the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association.

Portland resident Audrey Spence also filed a brief for the justices’ consideration.

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottddolan