PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Gov. Paul LePage enjoys immunity from a lawsuit accusing him of using blackmail to rescind a job offer to a political foe because the $1 million in question was “in the throes of the legislative process,” the governor’s lawyer told a federal judge Wednesday.

A lawyer for House Speaker Mark Eves countered that the Republican governor overstepped his authority when he used money as a threat against a prominent Democrat and later made up a story about concerns over Eves’ qualifications to run charter school operator Good Will- Hinckley.

“The governor knew Mark Eves was qualified but didn’t want him to be hired. That’s why he made up the baloney of him not being qualified,” said David Webbert, Eves’ attorney.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal heard arguments Wednesday on a motion by the governor to have the civil rights lawsuit dismissed. The judge said he’d rule in the “near future.”

LePage’s foes contend his interference with Eves’ job offer was part of a pattern of bullying and abuse. The governor, for his part, has insisted he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”

On Wednesday, the governor’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, told the judge that the threat of withholding $1 million in discretionary spending was theoretical since the budget had not been approved.

Regardless, the governor enjoys “absolute immunity” on matters involving the budget, Strawbridge said. “Clearly what we’re talking about here is a policy decision made in the throes of a legislative process,” he told the judge.

Webbert said the governor’s funding threat crossed the line as the governor targeted the top Democrat after he “declared war” on Democrats. “He wanted to send a message. What better way to do that than to get the Democratic leader of the House fired?” he said.

The flap over the governor’s intervention that cost Eves a job roiled the Maine Legislature and led to a failed attempt to impeach LePage.

The impeachment order, which was viewed as a longshot, failed when the Democrat-controlled House voted to table debate indefinitely.

Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, said there was no evidence that LePage committed a crime when the governor pressured Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that serves at-risk young people, to rescind the job offer.


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