Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday sought to dismiss a federal lawsuit brought against him by House Speaker Mark Eves, claiming that his role as the state’s chief executive grants him immunity and that he is otherwise protected by his First Amendment free-speech right.

An attorney for LePage, Patrick Strawbridge, filed the motion in U.S. District Court in Portland seeking to have the lawsuit rejected without going into the facts of the case, which the Democratic House speaker contends will show the Republican governor used intimidation to prevent a private school from hiring Eves.

“The case involves a political dispute that does not belong in court,” Strawbridge wrote in the introduction to the motion to dismiss.

The court filing came on the same day that LePage went on the offensive in a radio interview, accusing both Democratic and Republican lawmakers of conspiring in “back room deals” to launch an investigation into whether the governor’s tactics merit impeachment.

LePage said in the interview on WVOM in Bangor that House Democratic Majority Leader Jeff McCabe was “blowing smoke up the backside of Mainers” when he told reporters Monday that Democratic leaders would rather censure the governor than impeach him.

In the court case, Strawbridge’s filing is LePage’s first formal legal response since Eves sued the governor in July. The dispute between Maine’s top Republican and leading legislative Democrat is likely to take more than a year to play out.

Legal observers had said that if LePage pursued a defense that included a motion to dismiss before he filed an answer to the lawsuit, it was unlikely that the case would reach trial in 2016.

The lawsuit accuses LePage of using taxpayers’ money and the power of the governor’s office to prevent Eves’ hiring as president of Good Will-Hinckley, a private school in Fairfield that operates a charter school partly funded by the state.

Eves claims that Good Will-Hinckley’s board of directors voted June 24 to rescind its offer to hire him as president because LePage had threatened to eliminate $530,000 in state funding for the school.

Strawbridge argues in the motion to dismiss that LePage has an “absolute immunity” to retaliation claims in his role as an executive pertaining to budgeting proposals. He also says that the governor has “qualified immunity” for retaliation claims derived from LePage’s First Amendment right to make the comments he made that led to Eves’ firing. Strawbridge also argues that Eves’ claim that LePage deprived him of due-process rights must fail because of LePage’s qualified immunity.

“However one may view the governor’s alleged conduct toward the speaker, the law requires dismissal of this action. That is not to say that the speaker is without remedy for the alleged breach of his contract; he could always pursue (Good Will-Hinckley) for any damages he sustained. That the speaker has not done so, and instead has chosen to file this highly publicized case against the governor, underscores the inherently political nature of this dispute,” Strawbridge wrote in the 34-page motion.

The filing of the motion to dismiss was expected and followed a Dec. 18 filing by Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, of an amended complaint in the case that quotes LePage’s statements to a reporter on June 29 in which the governor admitted threatening to withhold money from Good-Will Hinckley for hiring Eves.

Webbert questioned why the governor was seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed after he told WVOM on Tuesday morning that depositions in the federal lawsuit would be an opportunity for the truth to come out.     

“While the governor asserts today in a radio interview that ‘he can’t wait’ to get sworn testimony in this case, his lawyer files a motion to prevent a Maine jury from hearing the facts and deciding whether he broke the law,” Webbert said in an email Tuesday night. “His motion to dismiss is based on the false and dangerous view that the governor is above the law and that there are no limits on what he can do to punish his political opponents.”

In a parallel dispute at the State House, legislative leaders have said for weeks that they aren’t backing an effort by several lawmakers in the House of Representatives to launch an investigation into whether LePage’s tactics merit impeachment.

The governor responded Tuesday in a 15-minute interview on WVOM by accusing legislative leaders and two Republican state senators of hatching an impeachment scheme that could play out on the floor of the House on Wednesday.

Beyond his statements about McCabe and other Democratic leaders, LePage also accused Republican Sens. Tom Saviello and Roger Katz of backing the impeachment effort. Katz is co-chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, the panel that initiated a fact-finding inquiry into the governor’s threat to withhold funding from Good-Will Hinckley unless it rescinded its job offer to Eves.

McCabe, talking to reporters at the State House, disagreed with LePage’s assertions.

“I think it’s very public and very clear who has been driving the impeachment process. It’s not me, it’s not Sen. Saviello and it’s not Sen. Katz,” McCabe said in an apparent reference to the group of Democratic and independent lawmakers that has been pressing for impeachment proceedings to begin.

LePage said that Katz and Democratic co-chairman Rep. Chuck Kruger presided over a “kangaroo court,” shutting down questions about whether Good Will-Hinckley’s selection of Eves was politically motivated and unfair.

“When they were starting to get to the truth, Katz shut it down,” LePage said. “Senator Katz shut it down when the questions were heading in the right direction. That’s what he’s been doing and he’s been doing it for five years. I tell you, there’s no monopoly on corruption in Augusta.”

Katz declined to comment Tuesday.

Saviello said he doesn’t support impeachment.

“The governor admitted he did what he said he did, but there’s nothing impeachable,” Saviello said. “Let’s get on with life.”

The impeachment effort is considered a long shot that would fall well short of a conviction because the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to support it. Also, several Democrats have privately expressed reluctance to engage in an impeachment trial that is likely to fail and could further embolden a governor who has repeatedly used the Legislature as a foil.

LePage said Tuesday that the charges against him, including those included in the federal lawsuit filed by Eves, are “fabricated opinions.”

He offered conflicting comments about the impeachment effort, seeming at one point to invite impeachment proceedings, while at another suggesting that lawmakers should halt the process until the civil lawsuit is completed.

“They want to bring it on, bring it on,” he said. “It’s going to die on Democrats’ back for falsifying a whole lot of information. And I just want it to come. Bring it on because this is what the people of Maine deserve – the truth.”

LePage also suggested that witnesses who gave sworn testimony during oversight committee hearings weren’t entirely truthful and that the story will emerge through the federal lawsuit.

“I can’t wait to get them in deposition,” he said. “You’re going to have a totally different story.”