AUGUSTA — The governor’s office says it’s facing a mountain of public records requests, but one law firm isn’t waiting for its documents so patiently.

Andrew Schmidt Law filed a lawsuit against the state, saying it’s been waiting for six months to get information behind Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to withdraw from the refugee resettlement program.

But LePage’s office says it must answer requests made in order and 14 state agencies received more than 1,000 requests for public documents in 2016 alone.

Peter Steele, LePage’s spokesman, said the media don’t realize that even simple requests can require extensive legal review.

“The LePage administration has fulfilled more (Freedom of Access Act requests) than the past two governors combined – maybe even the past three,” Steele said. “Due to the inordinate amount of FOAAs we get compared to previous governors, it sometimes takes longer than anticipated to fulfill them.”

That includes a request from MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” After a nine-month wait period, the news program received records showing that correspondence from more than 1,800 people asking for the governor’s resignation were submitted to the state, stemming from LePage’s 2015 quote: “If they don’t want me, just ask me to leave, you don’t have to impeach me.”

“So, now, we know why it took so long,” Maddow said last summer.

The lag also means the public isn’t getting details on expenses such as LePage’s trips to D.C. as governor, or the facts behind a host of claims the governor routinely makes during radio shows and public appearances.

The state since 2012 has had an ombudsman dedicated to helping the public peer inside their government. In a February report, ombudsman Brenda Kielty said citizens wanting access to municipal public records made up most inquiries.

Of the 1,067 requests logged by 14 executive branch agencies last year, 54 took 60 days or more to fulfill, up from a year earlier. The report doesn’t include figures from the governor’s office.

“It often takes quite a bit of negotiation in order to get the documents,” said Dieter Bradbury, deputy managing editor for news at the Portland Press Herald. He said if the office needs it to comply with law, it should ask for more staff.

The Associated Press has requests pending for months, and has not received “good faith, nonbinding” time and cost estimates, which the law requires.

In March, LePage’s deputy counsel, Hancock Fenton, said there are “many pending requests that we will need to answer before providing you with a response.”

Fenton on Thursday said he anticipates providing updates in the coming days.

Through a request released in February, the AP obtained a log of requests from June through September showing journalists and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Media and Democracy awaiting records.

That log didn’t reveal any requests pending longer than two months.


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. on May 30, 2017, to correct the title of Dieter Bradbury, who is the deputy managing editor for news at the Portland Press Herald. 

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