AUGUSTA — The state is paying $300 per hour for private lawyers to defend the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention from a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Attorney General Janet Mills authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to spend up to $50,000 on outside attorneys after a pair of attorneys in her office asked to be recused, the Sun Journal reported. CDC Director Sheila Pinette has retained a lawyer, who’s being paid $333 an hour, subject to the same $50,000 cap.

The lawsuit by former CDC official Sharon Leahy-Lind alleges that officials retaliated against her when she refused to destroy documents.

Hiring private lawyers isn’t unprecedented. A spokesman for Mills says the state has hired outside lawyers 73 times in 2012 and 2013.

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