Maine’s highest court on Thursday rejected an appeal from a former Biddeford police officer who argued that a lower court abused its discretion by refusing to strike a detective’s testimony that the officer was more likely than not a sexual predator.

The ex-officer, Norman Gaudette, sued Mainely Media LLC over the weekly newspaper’s stories about sexual abuse allegations made against him. Gaudette and his wife, Joanne, claimed defamation, false light and loss of consortium as a result of those stories, according to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

In their 2015 complaint, the Gaudettes alleged that Mainely Media had published false information indicating that Norman Gaudette had sexually abused minors decades earlier, while he was a police officer, according to court records.

Mainely Media publishes the Courier, Scarborough Leader, Kennebunk Post and South Portland Sentry, which are distributed for free to homes across Cumberland and York counties. The newspaper group has been owned since 2018 by Reade Brower, who also owns the Portland Press Herald. The previous owner was the Sample News Group, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania.

In a civil trial that concluded in April 2022, a York County jury rendered a unanimous verdict in favor of the newspaper group and two former employees. Court records show all nine jurors found the Gaudettes did not prove at trial that the allegations in the articles were false, so the remaining claims in the lawsuit failed. The trial lasted 13 days.

In December 2022, two lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Gaudette were settled. According to notices filed in U.S. District Court, settlements were reached between two plaintiffs and Gaudette, who was accused of sexually abusing both when they were teenagers more than 30 years ago


On Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court’s 2022 decision, issuing a 22-page ruling that read, “We conclude that, in the context of the (jury) trial, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the detective’s testimony. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.”

Gaudette’s appeal was based on a statement made during the jury trial by Michael Pulire, a detective with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, court documents show. Pulire testified that his investigation of Gaudette in 1990 did not exonerate Gaudette because of “clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Gaudette was more likely than not a sexual predator,” according to court documents.

Gaudette’s attorney objected to Pulire’s testimony but was overruled by the presiding judge. At the time, his attorney argued that allowing use of the term “sexual predator” was prejudicial and that it should have been left up to the jury to decide whether Gaudette or his accusers were credible.

Gaudette’s attorney, Gene Libby, of Kennebunk, did not return messages left for him Thursday. Gaudette retired in 2001 as a former police captain.

Only one Supreme Court justice sided with Gaudette and his concerns regarding Pulire’s testimony. Justice Joseph Jabar agreed with the majority opinion to affirm the lower court decision, but in an opinion attached to the ruling said, “I believe it was an error for the trial court to overrule Gaudette’s objection and not give a curative instruction telling the jury to disregard the statement.” Jabar also said he believed Pulire’s statement did not affect the verdict.

The individual defendants named in the lawsuit were Molly Lovell Keely and Ben Meiklejohn. Keely was the managing editor, and Meiklejohn was a staff writer. Neither currently works at Mainely Media.

Cynthia Counts, who served as lead attorney for Mainely Media, said Thursday’s affirmation of the jury’s verdict is important not only for the victims but also the media. She said the Supreme Judicial Court’s rejection of Gaudette’s appeal protected the First Amendment “by vindicating this important news reporting.”

“Molly and Ben were also exonerated by the jury’s verdict,” Counts said in a statement Thursday night. “As the court decision makes clear, these reporters fairly and accurately reported allegations of abuse and the jury quickly (within less than two hours) was able to decide that plaintiffs had not proven the allegations were false.”

“The expense of defending a libel case like this often chills free speech and deters the media from reporting on past allegations of abuse,” Counts added. “Hopefully, this decision will encourage others to speak openly about their abuse, and the media to report upon credible allegations of abuse.”

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