A spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills confirmed Thursday that her office would be taking legal action against the administration of Gov. Paul LePage for violating Maine’s open meetings law.

The attorney general’s move, which appears to be unprecedented, is in response to a closed-door meeting of a special legislative commission on education that LePage hosted at the governor’s residence, the Blaine House, in April.

“We have informed the administration that we will be filing a complaint for the violation of the public access law by the Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding, convened by members and staff of the commission at the Blaine House on April 25, 2016,” Mills’ spokesman, Tim Feeley, said in a prepared statement. “That complaint, when filed, will detail the facts surrounding the violation. The complaint will be a public document and will be self-explanatory.”

The complaint will be filed in Kennebec County District Court, but there is no timeline for when that would take place, Feeley said.

Based on an initial review by a researcher at the state’s Legislative Law Library in Augusta, it appears no other attorney general has ever filed a complaint against the administration of a governor regarding the state’s open meeting laws.

“In response to your request for any instances of an attorney general filing suit against the governor’s administration for violations of the freedom of access laws, we haven’t found any examples of this in Maine,” Alex Burnett, a reference librarian wrote in a message to the Portland Press Herald. Burnett said that was not a definitive answer because there was no simple way to search the entire record.


LePage asserted Wednesday night that the entire commission would be fined and not the individual members. Under the law, “the state government agency or local government entity whose officer or employee committed the violation” is liable for a civil fine of up to $500.

Maine’s outgoing speaker of the House, Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Thursday that LePage “decided to flagrantly break” state law when he barred the public from attending the meeting. LePage complained during a town hall meeting he hosted Wednesday night in Boothbay Harbor that Eves was pushing Mills to bring legal action over the violation.

LePage also predicted that Mills would be successful, saying, “They are going to get a fine, so (the Attorney General’s Office is) going to have to give us the money for the fine because it’s the commission that’s fined, not the individuals. What a waste of time.”


The governor also said Mills’ office would have to pay for the state to hire an outside attorney to defend the suit. “Give me a break,” he said.

The meeting in question was the first of a legislative “blue ribbon commission” on education that was made up mostly of elected officials. Twelve of the 15 commission members are elected or appointed public officials who are subject to the state’s open-meetings law, the Freedom of Access Act.


The commission was formed by L.D. 1641, which spells out the panel’s goals and the membership, with the governor or his designee getting one of the 15 slots. The law does not contain any language exempting the commission from the public meetings law.

Mills and LePage, who promised in his 2010 election campaign to run the most transparent administration in Maine history, have previously clashed over the law, which also governs the release of public documents. In 2014, Mills wrote to LePage urging him to release a copy of a controversial study of the state’s Medicaid system that was completed by a private consultant at a cost of nearly $1 million.

The study, parts of which were later found to be plagiarized, was completed by the Alexander Group. LePage refused to release the study until he had finished reading it. At the time, LePage told reporters that if Mills was concerned enough about the release of the report, she should sue him.

Some lawmakers have called for stiffer penalties for FOAA violations, but efforts to toughen the law in recent years have largely been rejected by the Legislature.


In a statement released Thursday, Eves confirmed that he did ask Mills to review the education commission meeting.


“When Gov. LePage decided to flagrantly break the law and bar members of the public from attending the first meeting of the blue ribbon commission, I wrote to the attorney general to ask her to look into the matter so it never happens again,” he said. “I trust her judgment and decision on whether or not to move forward in the way she sees fit.”

State lawmakers who tried to gain access to the meeting were told by a LePage staffer that if they had not been invited by LePage, they were not allowed to attend. Several protested, including lawmakers on the commission.

Among them was Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Alfond, who along with other lawmakers on the panel stayed for the duration of the meeting, said he protested its secret nature, but was rebuffed by LePage, who invited Alfond to leave if he didn’t think the meeting was legal.

Eves’ letter to Mills was made public in April.

Even before Eves made his request, the state’s official ombudsman for the access law, Brenda Kielty, an assistant attorney general, said there was no known exemption that would have allowed LePage to conduct the meeting beyond the view of the public.

Official committee meeting rooms at the State House are usually used for legislative task force and special commission meetings. These rooms are equipped to broadcast the meetings on the state’s website and include ample seating for members of the public who want to observe in person.


Both LePage and his top officer in the Department of Education, Bill Beardsley, have said the meeting was intended to be a get-to-know-you session, but Beardsley also circulated a detailed agenda for the “first meeting” of the panel.

LePage described Mills’ action as “a suit against the Department of Education.”


In a video recording released by the Maine Education Association, Aaron Chadbourne, a senior policy adviser for LePage, is seen telling lawmakers that if they were not invited by LePage they could not attend the meeting.

In addition to LePage or his designee, Beardsley, other members of the commission are: Alfond; Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport; Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls; Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport; State Board of Education and Maine Charter School Commission member Jana Lapoint; 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year Talya Edlund; Charter School Commission member J. Michael Wilhelm; Lewiston Regional Technical Center Director Robert Callahan; second-grade teacher Douglas Larlee; South Portland Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny; School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Richard Colpitts; University of Maine System Chancellor James H. Page; and Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser.


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