Four Ogunquit residents filed a lawsuit Monday to try to block a recall election targeting more than half of the Select Board.

The filing of the complaint in York County Superior Court follows months of debate in Ogunquit over the future of board members Charles “Bunky” Waite III, Madeline Mooney and Robert Winn Jr., who could be removed from office in the town’s first recall election.

In the lawsuit, residents Mary Buck, Barbara Ferraro, Patricia Hussey and Peter Kahn ask the court to stop the town from moving forward with the recall election because of what they cite as a number of problems with the petitions and the way the recall process was handled by town officials. The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to stop an election from being held, as well as a declaratory judgment ordering the town to take no further actions related to the recall.

“We’re very hopeful the court will call a timeout here and try to sort through the issues that are being raised and allow emotions to calm down,” said Stephen Langsdorf, an attorney from Preti Flaherty who represents the plaintiffs.

A leader of the recall effort dismissed the allegations in the lawsuit as “ridiculous” and said the filing is simply an attempt to delay the recall vote.

The group Take Back Ogunquit in October launched the effort to recall Waite, the board’s chairman, and members Mooney and Winn, who all had voted to uphold the town manager’s termination of the fire chief. The group later released a detailed list of complaints about the board members that accused them of a number of issues, including abusing their positions by opposing a new version of the town’s Comprehensive Plan and mismanaging the termination of Fire Chief Mark O’Brien.


The recall petition outlined in the town charter allows for legal challenges, which Langsdorf said have not yet been addressed by the town. After petitions containing voter signatures were submitted to the town clerk, Langsdorf’s clients filed challenges with the town clerk to nearly two dozen signatures, saying they either belonged to nonresidents or did not match the signature on file for the voter. Those challenges were heard during a Jan. 11 hearing, but the group’s larger concerns about the petition process were not heard that day, according to the lawsuit.

After that hearing, Town Clerk Chris Murphy determined the petitions contained 257 valid signatures to recall Mooney, 259 signatures to recall Waite and 253 signatures to recall Winn. Take Back Ogunquit was required to submit 215 signatures for each Select Board member it seeks to recall.

The town charter requires the Select Board to schedule a recall election within 10 days of receiving the certified petitions from Murphy on Jan. 22. The election then must be held within 45 to 60 days. The board voted last week to set a date for the election during its Feb. 5 meeting and also voted to hire an independent attorney to advise it if any legal challenges to the recall arose.

Town Manager Patricia Finnigan did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Langsdorf said his clients feel the entire recall process is “improper.”

“We feel a charter recall should really be limited to those circumstances where the Select Board has done something illegal or in violation of procedure, not just the people disagree with decisions being made in proper votes by the board,” Langsdorf said.


According to the lawsuit, the town clerk issued more petition forms than allowed under the town charter and the person who prepared the affidavit attached to each petition was not a registered voter. The lawsuit also alleges Murphy and the town’s deputy clerk signed a circulator’s oath on the petition left at Town Hall even though they did not personally witness each signature. A petition form left at the clerk’s window was also inadvertently taken from Town Hall by a resident and the clerk cannot confirm that no additional signatures were added during that time, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges the recall petitions included signatures of people who were not in Maine at the time they supposedly signed them and that circulators swore oaths they witnessed signatures when they did not. The signatures of two people – Philip Cavaretta and Richard Barber – were validated by the town clerk even though they each live in York and improperly list their Ogunquit businesses on their voter registration cards, according to the lawsuit.

Cavaretta and Barber each appeared at the Jan. 11 hearing to tell Murphy they live in Ogunquit. She later ruled both are properly registered to vote in Ogunquit.

The lawsuit also raises concerns about a handwritten letter sent to Waite that claimed the writer’s signature had been fraudulently placed on the petitions. That allegation is currently being investigated by Ogunquit police, according to the lawsuit.

But Take Back Ogunquit member Jerry DeHart says that letter received by Waite is fraudulent and last week sent the town a signed affidavit from that resident, who said he did sign the petitions and never sent a letter to Waite. In a letter sent Jan. 25 to the Select Board with the affidavit, DeHart’s attorney, Leah Rachin, said it is clear the majority of the Select Board “is considering ignoring its clear obligations under governing law” and asked the board to follow the town charter by scheduling a recall vote.

DeHart on Monday called the lawsuit “ridiculous” and a ploy to delay the recall, which he says has followed the process outlined in the town charter. He disputed all of the allegations outlined in the lawsuit.


“It’s trying to quiet the voices of the voters of Ogunquit and not let their votes be heard,” DeHart said. “We followed the charter and this group is trying desperately to hold onto power through any means possible.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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