AUGUSTA — In my 42 years of public service, I have never witnessed such a one-sided proceeding as the dubious hearing held last Wednesday by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, which was supposed to investigate the conduct of the Maine Warden Service during undercover operations.

How can a committee engage in fact-finding when only one side is heard? The responsibility of the Legislature is oversight and investigation. The IFW Committee process authorized by bipartisan leadership was a total failure, and the whole state is visibly aware that a coverup and whitewash were the result.

I know that members of Maine’s criminal defense establishment wanted a chance to testify at this hearing, that the media’s representative on the Right to Know Advisory Committee wanted answers, that members of the public and defendants with no record of predisposition wanted to testify, and that various legislators wanted to be heard.

People in the legal system who have serious concerns about the warden service’s law enforcement practices have urged me to press on and seek justice over these critical issues, which underscore the integrity of Maine’s criminal justice system. That’s why I’m writing this column.

What did we get as a result of these concerns? Only two people were allowed to testify: IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Maine Warden Service Col. Joel Wilkinson. They were accompanied by Brenda Kielty, ombudsman for public access with the Maine Attorney General’s Office. State Sen. Paul Davis, IFW Committee chairman, and state Rep. Stanley Short, a committee member, met in secret with Woodcock and Wilkinson two weeks ago, providing them with all the softball questions well in advance of this charade of a hearing.

No hard questions were asked. Instead, the questions appeared slanted to ridicule the messenger: award-winning reporter Colin Woodard and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

The warden service and the inland fisheries department are in clear noncompliance with the Freedom of Access Act, which guarantees the public’s right to know. When Kielty, the state public access ombudsman, was asked about redacted documents, she replied that she had nothing to do with the redactions and that Mark Randlett, the IFW’s legal counsel at the Attorney General’s Office, was the one who handled the redactions. When Davis asked if Randlett were present to answer questions, the answer was “no.” Why wasn’t he summonsed to appear?

The Press Herald exposed not only Freedom of Access issues but also issues of civil rights, the right to a fair trial and criminal procedure – all jurisdictions of the Judiciary Committee. Yet the sham hearing didn’t allow any testimony to underscore these issues.

In fact, Davis didn’t explore anything. The entire proceeding centered on Davis reading from one newspaper article, ignoring the fact that other people have come forward to express concerns about the warden service.

It was interesting to learn from Wilkinson, in justifying the undercover entrapment, that William Livezey, the undercover agent, is a good Christian who doesn’t drink unless he is working. Every member of the IFW Committee thought this testimony was funny, laughing out loud. Shameful.

Davis, the IFW Committee chair, glossed over the questions that legislative leadership had authorized members of the Judiciary Committee to ask. Our role was not taken seriously, even though the memo we received from the Speaker’s office clearly acknowledged that the Judiciary Committee has sole responsibility over FOAA issues.

The integrity of Maine’s legislative oversight is at stake here. Are we a police state or a state ruled by laws? Once again, in effect, we have the police investigating the police, no independent oversight, with the Attorney General’s Office aiding the obstruction of FOAA requirements.

What are they hiding? Obviously, the policies of warden service undercover operations, policies that detail the approved use of alcohol, plying suspects with booze to get them drunk, and then encouraging them to commit crimes. If the suspect still doesn’t commit the crime, the undercover agent commits the crime himself to egg the suspect on. That’s why 15 of the 16 pages of warden service undercover policies were redacted. The warden service can’t handle the truth.

Legislative leadership authorized an unfair, rigged, biased inquiry that did not allow for all sides to be heard.

I want to know what House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate Michael President Thibodeau plan to do to rectify this situation, so that all parties can be heard and receive their rights to a fair and impartial hearing before a legislative committee or other official fact-finding body.

— Special to the Press Herald


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.