PORTLAND — A group of Democratic lawmakers is arguing to Maine’s highest court that state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s private business activities violate the Maine Constitution, but the attorney general and a conservative group contend that the matter doesn’t warrant the justices’ involvement.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court invited interested parties to weigh in on constitutional questions about Poliquin’s business activities that were posed by the state House of Representatives. The court also asked for input on whether the circumstances merit its opinion, which is allowed in response to questions from the Legislature or the governor under certain conditions.

Three briefs were submitted to the court by its deadline of noon Friday. The parties may submit briefs in reply until March 23.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, raised questions about Poliquin’s business activities after the treasurer appeared before the Phippsburg Planning Board late last year. The state constitution prohibits the treasurer from engaging in “trade or commerce.”

Poliquin, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who ran for governor in 2010, was seeking a permit from the Planning Board to expand one of his businesses, the Popham Beach Club. He also owns the nearby Popham Woods Condominiums.

Poliquin did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

This month, the House forwarded to the state supreme court three questions about whether certain activities constitute “trade or commerce” and how a treasurer’s status would be affected if he or she engaged in such activities. The House order, approved by a unanimous vote, did not name Poliquin or detail his business dealings.

Eight Democratic House members, including Dion, argue in their brief that Poliquin is clearly engaged in trade or commerce. They note that Poliquin is the sole person serving as developer of the club and the condominiums, and the only one with control of accounts and the authority to make business decisions for the club and the condominium project.

The brief says “it is clear that neither could continue on its current trajectory without the active involvement of the one person who has owned and directed the enterprise from its inception to the present day. Clearly, Mr. Poliquin has been actively engaged in the business.”

Attorney General William Schneider argues that the questions from the House are too vague and hypothetical to involve the Supreme Court.

Schneider, another Republican Senate candidate, noted that the justices are supposed to give their opinion when important questions present a “solemn occasion” — one that is concrete and involves a sense of immediacy.

The questions sent by the House, Schneider argues, are vague and do not include the factual background behind them. He says the justices should not have to look beyond the House order to determine whether a solemn occasion exists.

“Without specifics, the Justices are asked to opine upon hypothetical questions regarding a Treasurer’s ‘ownership of business interests of stock’ and ‘day-to-day’ involvement or management of ‘business interests or stock,’” he wrote. “The Justices do not answer questions that contemplate action that is ‘too tentative, hypothetical and abstract.’“

The Maine Heritage Policy Center expresses similar concerns in its brief. It argues that, for the justices to give their opinion, some action or serious question about the House’s authority to act must be in play. It would be an erosion of the separation of powers for the court to answer this set of questions, the organization says.

“These don’t seem to be questions the courts should answer, based upon prior practice going back over a century,” David Crocker, an attorney for the center, said in a brief interview.

Dion said Friday that he proposed that the House send the court seven detailed questions along with a factual record, but Republicans changed it substantially. He said it made sense not to send the court a request that appeared political.

The purpose of the brief was to expand on the House order, “in other words, flesh it out,” Dion said. “Hopefully, it would be more helpful to the court.”

The other House members, all Democrats, involved in the brief are House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono, Terry Hayes of Buckfield, John Martin of Eagle Lake, Maeghan Maloney of Augusta, Charles Priest of Brunswick, Sharon Treat of Hallowell and Jon Hinck of Portland, who also is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Olympia Snowe.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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