AUGUSTA — A woman accused of embezzling from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association can be questioned about her current finances but not previous money dealings.

Judge Peter Darvin set ground rules for the questioning of Bettysue Higgins, 54, of Gardiner, at a disclosure hearing Monday in Augusta District Court. Lawyers are in court to determine Higgins’ ability to pay a $170,000 civil judgment against her.

Higgins’ attorney, Ronald Bourget, sought to quash a subpoena of Higgins and her financial records, saying she would cite her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because she faces criminal forgery and theft charges related to the missing money.

Higgins has pleaded not guilty to those criminal charges in Kennebec County Superior Court.

In the civil case, The Maine Trial Lawyers Association obtained a money judgment against Higgins, who then was subpoenaed to inform the court whether she is able to pay it.

Higgins was absent from Monday’s discussions in Augusta District Court between Bourget and Kelly Hoffman, the attorney representing the Maine Trial Lawyers Association. Bourget said she was “nearby” and could come into the roomif necessary.

To support his request for a psychologic evaluation to determine criminal responsibility in the superior court case, Bourget gave the court a copy of Higgins’ bank statement from February 2010 showing “over $4,000 in gaming addiction expenditures” to an online payment service. Bourget also offered excerpts from a Kennebec Journal story that described Higgins spending most of her time playing an online game called YoVille.

In the civil case, Bourget stopped short of telling Darvin that Higgins was incompetent to proceed.

Darvin refused to quash the subpoena and continued the hearing until 3 p.m. July 6.

He also listed what he anticipates at the proceeding:

“I think that Ms. Higgins can be compelled to be physically present,” Darvin said. “She can be asked questions. She can invoke the Fifth Amendment.”

He told Hoffman she could subpoena people who could provide information relevant to Higgins’ financial resources.

Darvin also agreed to impound a listing of Higgins’ financial transactions Bourget provided to Hoffman.

Higgins was an administrative assistant for the Maine Trial Lawyers Association from September 2002 until she was fired Oct. 8, 2010, soon after association Executive Director Steven Prince learned from a bank that a check was about to bounce.

In a court affidavit, Prince said he reported the missing funds to Augusta police on Oct. 7, 2010, then received a call from Higgins’ husband saying Higgins had been admitted to Maine Medical Center’s Psychological Unit.

Bourget on Monday gave a number of financial documents to Hoffman, and the judge ordered them sealed from public view.

Hoffman had asked Higgins to bring to court copies of state and federal tax returns for years 2006 through 2010 and documents showing property owned solely or jointly by her.

Among the latter were any amounts Higgins provided to her children or others to purchase real estate or to fund celebratory events.

According to court documents, Higgins has no money and no job, and her home is in foreclosure.

Higgins has a 1991 felony conviction for stealing money from School Administrative District 11, where she worked as a teacher’s aide and was responsible for making daily bank deposits for the school lunch program.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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