Gov. Paul LePage has nominated a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to serve on the board of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Daniel Wathen of Augusta is the governor’s choice to serve as chairman of the board, which consists of six members in addition to an ex-officio member.

Gerard Conley Sr., the board’s current chairman, would remain on the board.

Wathen, a 71-year-old lifelong Republican, served for 20 years on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, half of them as chief justice. He retired in 2001.

“Judge Wathen is the perfect candidate for this position. He brings integrity and impeccable credentials to an authority whose reputation is recovering from revelations of fiscal improprieties,” LePage said, in a statement released Monday. “I expect that he, in conjunction with interim Executive Director Peter Mills, will restore focus at the Maine Turnpike Authority to the turnpike.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Wathen would fill the vacancy created when Richard E. Valentino of Saco resigned in April. Valentino cited health issues.

The turnpike authority has been under scrutiny by the Legislature since a legislative review of the organization uncovered lavish spending for travel and nearly $200,000 for gift cards that couldn’t be accounted for.

All of that led to the resignation of the authority’s longtime director, Paul Violette, in March.

Wathen wasn’t certain he would be LePage’s choice until Monday when he returned from a fly fishing trip to Aroostook County and learned that he had been nominated.

“I was contacted a few days ago (by the governor’s staff) and I told them I would be interested,” Wathen said. “But, then I went on this fishing trip up north. I thought about it for four or five days, but I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because my cellphone was out of range.”

After Wathen retired he joined the law firm of Pierce Atwood. He spends a substantial portion of his time now serving as an arbitrator and mediator in cases that take him across the nation.

Wathen has practiced law for more than 45 years.

“I do enjoy a change of pace every now and then,” he said, referring to the prospect of serving on the Maine Turnpike Authority’s board.

Wathen said he hasn’t been following the controversy that has engulfed the agency all that closely, but added, “It’s an important aspect of Maine’s government and economy.”

Nominees to the MTA’s board must be reviewed by members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and be confirmed by the Senate. A confirmation hearing has been tentatively scheduled for June 2.

State Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he thinks Wathen will be confirmed.

“Judge Wathen won’t be perceived as an Augusta insider,” Cebra said, calling him “about as upstanding a citizen as you could find.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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