AUGUSTA — Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves has filed an additional court claim against Gov. Paul LePage, alleging that he broke state law when he threatened to withhold funds from a Fairfield school unless it ended its employment contract with Eves.

The new claim, which will be added to a civil lawsuit already filed in federal court, alleges that LePage violated Maine’s tort claim law by intimidating Good Will-Hinckley, threatening to withhold $530,000 in annual state funding for the private school unless it terminated its contract to hire Eves. The school eventually rescinded a job offer to make Eves its next president.

David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, said in a statement that the claim illustrates that LePage “also violated Maine law when he blackmailed Good Will-Hinckley to coerce it into firing Speaker Eves.”

He added, “This state law claim adds to the speaker’s case against the governor and will be considered as part of the lawsuit in federal court.”

Webbert said that the governor has 120 days to reply to the claim. Attorney General Janet Mills and Cynthia Montgomery, the governor’s legal counsel, were notified of the claim, a requirement under Maine law.

Eves filed the civil lawsuit against LePage in federal court on July 30.

“Acting out of personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice, Gov. Paul LePage blackmailed a private school that serves at-risk children into firing its president, the Speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives,” the complaint alleges.

Eves, who has written newspaper columns to explain his decision, has characterized the lawsuit as his standing up to LePage on behalf of Maine citizens, not just for personal reasons.

“This is not about the money,” Eves said on July 30. “This is about righting a wrong. It’s about holding the governor accountable for blackmailing Good Will-Hinckley, a school that’s provided a safe haven for at-risk kids for over 125 years. That’s what this is about. It’s also about making sure that this does not happen to any other family, any other private organization, any other citizen. Accountability has to happen or (the behavior) will continue.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, had been anticipated since the board of directors at Good Will-Hinckley voted to rescind its offer to pay Eves $150,000 a year in salary and benefits to become the organization’s next president. The Democrat said the board told him before his contract was terminated that LePage, a Republican, threatened to eliminate the state’s annual state funding for the school, thereby jeopardizing over $2 million in private donations that the school needed to remain open, unless it removed him from the job. The complaint says the governor’s threat left the board of Good Will-Hinckley with no choice but to rescind its job offer to Eves.

LePage has admitted to threatening to pull the school’s funding, saying that Eves was unqualified for the post. During a July 30 interview on WGAN radio, LePage said Eves was “a plant, from the unions, to destroy charter schools” and compared his intervention in the Democrat’s hiring to breaking up a domestic violence dispute.

The LePage administration has characterized the lawsuit as political and without legal merit.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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