AUGUSTA — Attorney General Janet Mills is threatening to take legal action to force the LePage administration to release $4.9 million owed to her office for legal services provided to state agencies.

Attorney General Janet Mills and Gov. Paul LePage are clashing again.

Gov. Paul LePage’s refusal to sign off on financial orders allowing Legislature-approved funds to flow to the Attorney General’s Office is apparently threatening the office’s ability to help the state Department of Health and Human Services in child protection cases.

At a public hearing Monday on a package of bills aimed at strengthening child protection services, lawmakers on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee heard from Kirsten Figueroa, the attorney general’s administrative services chief.

“Any component that ends up in a court, for these children, for the welfare of these kids, is done by the attorney general. Everything that’s done in the court is done by the assistant attorney generals,” Figueroa said of Mills’ office and her staff.

Figueroa said the AG’s Office is running out of money. She said lawmakers must realize the impact of LePage’s inaction as they debate the proposed $21 million investment to improve the child protection system.

“You are about ready to give $21 million to start a fix while you aren’t paying attention to the fact that the money you gave in this other place is not being allowed to be spent,” Figueroa said.

The threat of legal action is the latest development in the troubled relationship between LePage, a Republican, and Mills, a Democrat hoping to succeed the term-limited governor in the November election. They often have been at odds since Mills was appointed to her post by the Legislature, a practice that LePage has said he wants changed. Most states elect attorneys general by a statewide popular vote.

LePage has been pushing Mills to change her office’s billing system and submit detailed invoices for services provided to state agencies.

“These invoices would simply reflect the activities your staff attorneys performed on behalf of a given state agency and the time devoted to each activity,” LePage wrote in a May 4 letter. “This would remove any confusion regarding the nature of services performed, the time it took an attorney to perform them and the resulting charge.”

In response, Mills wrote in May that state law does not require her office to provide itemized billing, and that the law doesn’t give LePage the authority to withhold funding.

“Your disappointment with our billing format also is not a valid reason for refusing to approve financial orders,” Mills wrote.

The conflict escalated last week when another attorney in Mills’ office, Jonathan Bolton, wrote to LePage’s finance commissioner, Alec Porteous, warning that Mills would pursue legal action if the financial orders were not approved.

Bolton reminded Porteous that state agencies are generally required to obtain legal services from the Attorney General’s Office, and that state law requires the agencies to pay for those services with federal funds provided to the state for that specific purpose.

“Neither you nor your service center directors have provided any explanation for your failure to pay for our office’s services,” Bolton wrote. “In addition to being improper, the governor’s demand is inexplicable.”

Bolton said the nine state agencies that receive legal services are in constant communication with the AG’s Office and receive detailed information on the legal work being done.

Maine Political Report



“If you do not resume payments to this office for services rendered, the attorney general is prepared to advance these and other arguments in court to secure the funds,” he wrote.

Neither Bolton nor Mills indicated whether the funding cutoff has interfered with the attorney general’s ability to provide legal services to the administration.

LePage’s office and the Department of Administration and Financial Services did not respond Monday to messages seeking a response to Bolton’s letter.

Under Maine law, the attorney general typically represents the state in legal cases. However, the attorney general can decline to represent the executive branch on issues that he or she argues are not in the state’s interests. Mills has declined to represent LePage on several issues, but has never declined a request by the governor’s office to hire outside legal counsel.

Mills allowed LePage to hire Patrick Strawbridge as outside counsel. But her office refused to defend the LePage administration against a recent lawsuit by proponents of Medicaid expansion seeking to force the governor to implement the law approved by voters at referendum last November.

Maine’s online database of government spending shows the state’s risk management claims fund paid $92,098 for legal services to Strawbridge’s firm from January through May, the Associated Press reported.

Strawbridge has represented the governor on several legal issues in the past year, including lawsuits over critics who were blocked from the governor’s Facebook page, the administration’s steps to close a rural minimum-security prison and LePage’s moves to hold up public campaign funds.

Strawbridge also has represented the governor in a long-running lawsuit in which unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former House Speaker Mark Eves claims LePage sabotaged Eves’ private-sector job offer.

In 2017, LePage unsuccessfully sued Mills for refusing to represent his positions in court.

“Appropriation and budgeting are powers given exclusively to the legislative branch by the Maine Constitution,” Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy wrote in her decision on the suit. “If the court were to put requirements on the legislatively appropriated budgets of the Office of the Attorney General, the court would essentially be appropriating funds from the Office of the Attorney General and redistributing them to the executive branch.”

Had the Legislature intended to provide LePage’s office with funds to cover those legal costs, Murphy continued, it could have done so.

Maine has paid nearly $478,000 since 2014 to Consovoy McCarthy Park, the firm where Strawbridge is a partner, and a Portland law firm that have both represented the LePage administration, according to the state’s database last updated in late June. That includes about $216,000 from Maine’s General Fund and $262,000 from the state’s self-insurance fund.

The Portland firm Roach Hewitt Ruprecht Sanchez & Bischoff represented the state in litigation concerning the governor’s steps to remove young adults from the state’s Medicaid program and to defend a state policy withholding benefits to certain immigrants.

In his letter to Porteous, LePage’s finance commissioner, Bolton wrote, “I can only assume that you are acting to carry out Governor LePage’s threat, in a May 4, 2018, letter, to cut off payments to this office unless the attorney general submits invoices based on ‘time increments.’ ” Bolton said state law gives the sole authority for determining reasonable rates for legal services to the attorney general.

“Client agencies have no authority to simply stop paying for the valuable services they have received and continue to receive from this office,” he wrote.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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