A retired Biddeford police officer and his wife have filed a defamation lawsuit against the parent company of a Biddeford-based newspaper, its editor and a reporter who wrote a recent series of articles about allegations of sexual abuse made against the officer 25 years ago.

An attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Norman and Joanne Gaudette called the 29 articles published in the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier since April 9 an unsubstantiated “smear campaign” against Norman Gaudette that has “wrought havoc” on his family.

The lawsuit against Mainely Media LLC, editor Molly Lovell-Keely and reporter Ben Meiklejohn was filed in York County Superior Court in Alfred. It comes on the heels of another defamation lawsuit filed by Gaudette on June 1 against former Biddeford police Detective Terry Davis over a letter Davis wrote to the Courier about Gaudette and statements attributed to Davis in the newspaper.

The sexual abuse allegations against Gaudette stem from 1990 when two people, Robert Kalex and Larry Ouellette, said he had sexually abused them. Gaudette was never charged criminally as a result of those allegations and continued working at the police department until 2001, when he retired with the rank of captain.

Gaudette’s lawyer, Gene Libby of the Biddeford law firm Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion, said in the lawsuit that his client had already been cleared of any wrongdoing when the case against him was presented to a grand jury in 1991 and jurors determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute him. Libby also wrote in the 18-page complaint that the statute of limitations to charge Gaudette in connection with those allegations expired in 1996.

“You can only be abusive and irresponsible and attempt to smear an individual for so long before you are held responsible,” Libby said in a phone call Thursday. “My anger at the Courier is because it has abused its journalistic privilege by publishing misleading and false information that has done an extensive amount of damage to the family of the Gaudettes.”

Lovell-Keely and Meiklejohn responded separately to emails seeking comment, saying they “have been advised not to comment at this point in time.”

Lovell-Keely’s voicemail inbox at the newspaper was full and could not record a new message. Meiklejohn did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Although many other news outlets have mentioned Gaudette and the accusations against him in recent news reports, Libby said only Mainely Maine LLC and its staff are being sued because other news outlets reported only information that has been verified or attributed to an identified source.

“I don’t see any other media engaged in such shoddy journalism,” Libby said.

Specifically, the lawsuit accuses Mainely Media LLC and its journalists of publishing falsely that the Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating Gaudette. The lawsuit also accuses them of publishing statements by Kalex alleging that there were dozens of other sexual abuse victims, without the paper naming them of verifying that information.

“In various publications, defendants publish numerous references to ‘other victims’ … including ‘nearly a dozen other victims’ without making inquiry into the purported ‘victims’ who are unnamed, unsubstantiated and wholly uncorroborated,” Libby and another attorney for the Gaudettes, Tara Rich, wrote in the complaint.

Gaudette and another former Biddeford police officer, Stephen Dodd, have both recently become the focus of sex-abuse allegations from years ago that have rocked the city in recent months and been aired at a series of emotional public meetings.

The alleged victims and their supporters have asked the Biddeford City Council to suspend police Chief Roger Beaupre and Deputy Chief JoAnne Fisk and launch an outside investigation. The council passed a resolution saying it had no reason to suspend Beaupre and Fisk.

The scandal was triggered three months ago by Matt Lauzon, a Boston businessman who went public on social media to accuse Dodd of sexually abusing him more than a decade ago. Lauzon and his supporters, including state Sen. David Dutremble of Biddeford, also raised questions about the city’s oversight of Gaudette.

It is unclear whether Mainely Media LLC, Lovell-Keely and Meiklejohn are represented by an attorney.

Libby said he emailed a copy of the lawsuit to Lovell-Keely and Meiklejohn directly and also sent a copy to an attorney who is listed as the company’s registered agent, Bruce McGlauflin of the Portland law firm Petruccelli, Martin & Haddow.

McGlauflin is out of the office until next week and could not be reached for comment.

The Gaudettes are seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages. Libby said it may take a year or more for the case to go to trial.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]ssherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan