April 12, 2013

LePage allegations 'just the tip of the iceberg'

People denied jobless benefits under Gov. LePage could have new grounds for appeal, a lawyer says.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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In this May 2012 file photo, Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Republican Convention. The lawyer seeking an investigation into claims that Gov. Paul LePage pressured unemployment hearing officers to side with business owners over workers says the case could be grounds to reopen recent appeals decisions. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman with the Maine Department of Labor, said the cost of going to a hearing sometimes prompts businesses to absorb a claim. But when claims spike -- as they do during a weak economy -- businesses are more inclined to contest claims to keep down the rates they pay into the unemployment trust fund.

The LePage administration argues that the claims hearings are inconsistent and that officers, most of whom are lawyers, are ignoring evidence that could sway outcomes.

Webbert said that regardless of what LePage said to hearing officers, the Blaine House meeting itself represented an attempt to exert political pressure on the process.

"They were all waiting around (the Blaine House) lined up for execution," he said. "It was like being called up to the dictator's office. It was like something in North Korea."

Webbert also questioned the administration's claim that the meeting was designed to promote fair outcomes for employers and employees. He cited comments from hearing officers that they had been told by their supervisors in 2011 to turn over for review all decisions favorable to employees, but not those favorable to employers. 

"That's the intimidation," Webbert said. "The governor is watching you when you rule for the claimant; the governor is not watching you when you rule for the business." 

The LePage administration said no such policy was implemented. 


Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:


On Twitter: @stevemistler


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