Maine Attorney General William Schneider gave us the reason he won’t issue an opinion on whether Darryl Brown is qualified to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, but we are still scratching our heads.

Schneider said he couldn’t say whether Brown’s appointment was a violation of state conflict-of-interest law because he was preparing a response on Brown’s behalf to federal authorities for allegedly failing to meet the same standard in federal law.

What’s confusing is why the state attorney general is acting as Brown’s lawyer when he should be representing the whole state. Scheider’s dual role means that Brown will continue to serve under a cloud, and anyone who does business with the state will have to wonder whether the commissioner is legally in charge.

The question Democrats in the Legislature asked Schneider seems easy enough to answer: State law says that no one can serve as the head of DEP if he received more than 10 percent of his income over the last two years from businesses that apply for or hold federal permits under the Clean Water Act. Brown, who was a development consultant prior to his appointment this year, said he did not violate the statute. In his statement to the Legislature, Schneider suggested that the federal response would resolve the state law question.

That might put this matter to rest, but it would be even better if Schneider would tell the people of Maine whether Brown is legitimately on the job. Instead, the people’s lawyer is telling us that he is going to represent the official in question first and the rest of us can just wait.


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