March 9, 2013

Another View: Maine high court decision against public interest

A 2008 decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court seals records that should be made public.


An editorial in the Portland Press Herald ("Our View: Government secrecy bad for democracy," March 7) reflecting growing concerns about governmental secrecy, began: "The people's right to know is an essential ingredient in a democracy."

In this regard, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's 2008 ruling in the case of Moore v. Abbott -- which, a Maine Law Review article found "undermined the Maine Legislature's policy of favoring disclosure of government documents" -- remains an open sore.

By a 3-2 majority, the court decided that the panel appointed by then-Attorney General Steven Rowe to investigate allegations of official misconduct in regard to the Dennis Dechaine case did not have to open its files for public inspection. (The panel had refused to to respond to any questions or to reveal the reasoning behind their 2006 conclusion that there had been no wrongdoing.)

The most distinguished panel member was attorney Charles Abbott, whose reputation lent weight to the finding.

Rumors, however, suggested that due to illness, Mr. Abbott's participation in the panel's work had been very limited. Mr. Abbott's June 16, 2009, obituary in the Lewiston Sun Journal revealed that in 2005 -- the year following the creation of the panel -- he began his struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

Possibly, the panel's records would have revealed the extent of Mr. Abbott's incapacitation.

In the absence of information to the contrary, the public may be excused for suspecting that the failure to reveal Mr. Abbott's illness constituted a cynical exploitation of his good name, as well as casting doubt on the conclusion that appeared under it.

William Bunting is a resident of Whitefield.

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