The state’s top court has ruled on a procedural matter in a legal dispute between the Portland Museum of Art and the caretaker of a deceased benefactor, less than two months before the case goes to trial.

Eleanor G. Potter, a wealthy art collector who lived in Portland, changed her will just months before her death in 2015. She removed the museum as her primary beneficiary and instead left most of her estate to her caretaker, Annemarie Germain. The museum is now suing Germain, saying she wrongfully dissuaded Potter from donating as much as $2 million.

The larger case is scheduled for jury selection in Cumberland County in July. But the Maine Supreme Judicial Court weighed in Tuesday on the question of whether Germain should be allowed to access the disputed funds while the lawsuit is pending.

A judge issued an order in September that denied Germain access to that money. She filed a motion to dismiss that order, lost and appealed. While the justices sided Tuesday with Germain, their decision focused on a technicality, and Germain still will not be allowed to access the funds.

The justices decided the lower court judge applied the wrong standard of proof when he denied Germain’s motion to dismiss. They vacated his decision and sent the matter back to him for reconsideration. But they also said the original order that kept the money from Germain – called an attachment – remains in place until the judge issues a new opinion.

“Despite the strength of the evidence supporting the attachment, we cannot conclude that the misstatement of the standard is harmless in this case,” the unanimous decision states


Attorney Gene Libby, one of the attorneys representing Germain, said he had expected the appeal on this matter to be successful, and the next step will be to schedule a new hearing on the attachment. He said he could not comment further on the case before jury selection.

“There’s a lot I would like to add, none of which is appropriate at this time,” Libby said.

Thimi Mina, one of the attorneys representing the museum, also said he could not talk about the case before trial.

Potter, a widow with no children, died in March 2015 at age 89. She collected art and antiques, and she was active at the PMA as a member of the leadership committee and a member of the board of the Victoria Mansion Society. Her husband was Newell Potter, who owned Warren Furniture in Biddeford and Westbrook before he died in 2004. Germain acted as caretaker for Potter at the end of her life and lived at her home near the Back Cove.

Court documents reveal a messy dispute between the museum and Germain.

When Newell Potter died, he left all of his assets to his widow. They had created reciprocal wills in the 1990s, and Eleanor Potter updated her will to accommodate her sister in 2013. That will and estate plan included $500,000 to care for Potter’s sister, smaller gifts to Potter’s stepdaughter and stepgrandchildren, the gift of her home on Parsons Road to Germain and the balance to the museum, likely between $1.2 million and $2 million.

Potter executed that will in March 2014. The brief filed by both parties show that she soon turned to a new attorney to redo it. Potter ultimately executed a new will in October 2014 that left her entire estate to Germain, a bequest that the museum said was more than $2 million.

The museum alleges Germain isolated Potter and threatened to stop caring for her if she did not change the will. Germain claims she did not have an active role in helping Potter manage her money but knew she was upset with the earlier estate plan.

The museum filed the lawsuit against Germain in August 2017 and petitioned to freeze Germain’s assets this past September. The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling is not likely to delay the trial.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.