Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has accused the LePage administration of violating state law by “hiring individuals who hold themselves out as attorneys for the state and by permitting them to provide legal advice.”

“The job of a lawyer does not begin at the courthouse steps. The job of a lawyer begins before an action is taken, when litigation can best be avoided,” Mills wrote in a sharply worded letter, dated Friday, to Gov. Paul LePage’s chief legal counsel, Cynthia L. Montgomery.

At issue is whether the Executive Department can legally use outside attorneys or attorneys employed by state agencies to handle legal matters.

According to Mills, the Attorney General’s Office is the legal counsel for state government. Mills says only members of her staff or an attorney approved by her can offer legal advice on behalf of the state or the state will risk exposing itself to liability claims.

Montgomery disagrees with Mills and said Sunday night that the AG’s charges are more rooted in her contentious relationship with the governor than anything else. The latest feud is well-documented in several letters that Mills and Montgomery exchanged in January.

“All attorneys in this Office, including myself, took an oath to uphold the Constitution and to enforce the laws,” Mills wrote in the letter dated Friday. “We are committed to the rule of law. We are not about bending the law to suit the political goals of a particular administration. That is why all Attorneys General, from Republican Jon Lund to Democrat Steve Rowe, have fought to protect and strengthen this law and to rein in attempts by previous administrations to obtain legal services elsewhere.”

Mills goes on to cite a state statute that requires that the attorney general or someone from her office appear on behalf of the state in all civil actions and proceedings in which the state is a party. The law is based on the principle that lawyers working for the state work for the people and not for a specific client or individual.

“The statute speaks for itself. I stand by the dedicated professional attorneys and paralegals in my Office, who have devoted their careers to public service, who have diligently served under different administrations and who took an oath to support the Constitution and the rule of law,” Mills said in a statement issued Sunday night through her spokesman, Timothy Feeley.

Montgomery, who was named LePage’s chief legal counsel last year, told the Portland Press Herald on Sunday night that she has met with Mills on several occasions to discuss the lawyer issue. She said she still doesn’t fully understand what Mills is seeking.

She noted that there are state employees – such as workers in the Department of Health and Human Services – who are lawyers. They typically draft contracts, develop policy, and write legislation. Montgomery sees nothing wrong with that.

“The lawyers hired by the Department of Health and Human Services are not representing the state, they are working for the state,” Montgomery said.

In a letter to Mills dated Jan. 14, Montgomery reminds the attorney general that she has told her “on more than one occasion that this Administration does not trust you to advise or represent it with non-partisan, professional legal judgment.”

Montgomery accused Mills of a “long history of taking strident and public stands against the policy decisions of the Administration.”

“In addition, with respect to policy initiatives, Executive Branch employees who have sought legal opinions, advice, and counsel from your office have time and again faced unreasonable delays for a response or been simply told, you can’t do that, without any effort to analyze a legal way around various obstacles,” Montogomery wrote.

Montgomery, who says she met with Mills for 90 minutes on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, said she would be willing to meet again to see if the sides can resolve their differences.

She said there is one thing she can agree with Mills on.

“We can all agree that no one wants to violate the law,” Montgomery said.

The dispute between Mills and LePage stems from 2013, when Mills was elected by the Legislature to replace Republican Attorney General William Schneider. After taking office, Mills declined to represent the LePage administration in two high-profile welfare cases. Instead, she authorized outside counsel to represent the administration.


Comments are not available on this story.