AUGUSTA — House Republican leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette is hiring an attorney with private funding to file a brief in Maine Supreme Judicial Court supporting Gov. Paul LePage’s position in a dispute with the Legislature over the status of 65 bills.

Fredette, who has emerged as the governor’s chief legislative ally after clashing with him two years ago, would not disclose how the House Republican caucus will pay attorney Clint Boothby, of the law firm Boothby, Perry LLC. Fredette, who is also attorney, had previously asked legislative leaders for public funds to hire legal counsel, but that request was denied on Wednesday.

Fredette’s move highlights divisions among top lawmakers on the contested bills. Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport denied LePage’s attempt to veto the 65 bills on July 16. They argued that the Legislature followed the Maine Constitution and precedent when staff began writing the 65 bills into law.

Their position is backed by Attorney General Janet Mills, who issued a non-binding legal opinion stating that LePage missed his opportunity to veto the legislation when he allowed the 10-day period to reject the bills to expire.

LePage has since requested an intervention by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court through what’s known as a solemn occasion. His argument focuses on whether the Legislature adjourned on June 30 rather than simply recessed, which would extend his veto deadline.

The court, which will first determine if the governor’s request meets the standard for a solemn occasion, has specifically requested written arguments from Thibodeau and Eves, as well as the governor’s legal counsel. It is unclear if the court will accept a brief by Fredette’s attorney, but the court traditionally accepts written arguments from citizens and groups with an interest in a case.

Briefs are due with the court on Friday, and oral arguments are scheduled for July 31 in Portland.

Fredette’s decision to back LePage is a recent trend. The two clashed in 2013 when Fredette helped lawmakers avoid a government shutdown by joining Democrats to craft a bipartisan budget agreement and override the governor’s veto. This year Fredette helped the governor by refusing to support an original budget deal drafted by the Legislature’s budget panel and endorsed by Eves and Thibodeau. Fredette later joined the two in private budget negotiations, effectively providing the LePage administration with a seat at the negotiating table.

Nonetheless, LePage repeatedly blasted the deal and assailed all four leaders, including Fredette, for hatching the plan in secret. Last month he told radio station WVOM in Bangor that the four leaders “checked their integrity and character at the door” during budget talks.

Fredette said Thursday that his effort to obtain legal counsel was designed to honor the wishes of his caucus. Asked if he supported the argument by the governor’s legal counsel about whether the Legislature adjourned, the Newport legislator deferred, saying, “What I believe is Republicans in the House deserve the opportunity to have an up or down vote on these bills.”

He added, “There have been legal scholars who believe the governor has a valid point to make. Whether or not it’s the winning argument, it’s certainly a valid argument. Those who say that, I agree with.”

Fredette said paying for Boothby was “a work in progress” and he would not say if he planned to use the House Republicans’ political action committee to do so, or to estimate the cost.

Boothby donated $750 to LePage’s re-election committee in 2014, but neither he nor his law firm appear as a payee on recent campaign finance reports.

Eves and Thibodeau are using a legislative legal fund to hire Bangor Attorney Tim Woodcock of Eaton Peabody. Woodcock previously served on the staff of former Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen.

A spokeswoman for Eves told the Press Herald that the two leaders would spend no more than $10,000 to hire Woodcock and that his final payment will depend on the duration of the legal dispute. Asked why the leaders were using public funding to hire Woodcock when Mills office has said that it plans to file a brief supporting the Legislature, Jodi Quintero, Eves’ spokeswoman, noted that the court specifically requested written arguments from the leaders’ counsel. Mills is elected by the Legislature and her office provides legal counsel to all of state government.

Eves, in denying Fredette’s request to use public funds to hire an attorney, said that the two leaders pooled existing resources afforded to the presiding officers and will “respond with one voice as an institution and as an independent branch of government.”

 


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