Inside Augusta

LePage Files Lawsuit Against Attorney General Janet Mills

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Gov. Paul LePage announced late Monday he has filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court against Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. LePage alleges Mills has abused her power by refusing to legally represent LePage and the Executive Branch in federal cases.

LePage claims that Mills has repeatedly declined representing his administration in lawsuits that do not align with Mills’ political view, forcing LePage to seek outside counsel at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Maine taxpayers.

“It is no secret that Attorney General Mills and I have differing political views, but that is not the issue,” Gov. LePage said in a press release. “The problem is she has publicly denounced court cases which the Executive Branch has requested to join and subsequently refuses to provide legal representation for the State. This clear abuse of power prevents the Chief Executive from carrying out duties that in his good faith judgment is in the best interest of the people of Maine.”

Mills condemned two Executive Orders implemented by the Trump Administration aimed at curbing refugee resettlement in America from a handful of countries in the Middle East identified by the Obama Administration as hubs of terrorism. When LePage requested approval from Mills’ office to seek outside counsel to file a countervailing brief against Washington v. Trump, a court case seeking to reverse Trump’s immigration orders, Mills “delayed and obstructed the process,” according to LePage.

Mills fired back late Monday evening in a written statement, saying “The Attorney General has never denied the Governor the ability to retain outside counsel in any particular matter. We have simply said that whoever the Governor chooses should be licensed to practice law and should carry malpractice insurance, two common sense prerequisites which any prudent business person would employ as well.”

“Instead of signing onto another party’s brief at no cost to the taxpayers, however, or hiring a lawyer to draft his own brief, the Governor has wasted state resources by hiring a lawyer to file a frivolous law suit, complaining that he cannot do exactly what we have told him he can do,” Mills wrote.

Documents released by Mills’ office show LePage filed his request days after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court issued a stay on Trump’s order, making his request “moot” according to Mills.

“Because a stay does not terminate litigation, and further does not extinguish my desire for private counsel, my request is not moot,” LePage returned, reissuing his request for Mills to authorize his hiring of private counsel to produce an amicus curiae brief to be filed in the Washington v. Trump case. LePage also asked Mills’ office to pick up the tab.

The Maine Constitution states that representation by the state’s Attorney General or a deputy, assistant or staff attorney in legal matters is required in all courts when requested by the governor, or under the direction of the Attorney General.

“The Attorney General represents state government and the public interest in thousands of matters every year. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has recognized the unique role of the Attorney General as an independent Constitutional Officer and her duty to represent the public interest,” Mills wrote, citing a decision by Maine’s highest court that upheld former Attorney General James Tierney’s 1991 refusal to represent Maine in a case he determined to conflict with public interest.

Mills, a Democrat, and LePage, a Republican, have squabbled numerous times during his tenure as governor. Because of this, LePage noted in his press release that most states avoid disputes by holding statewide elections for Attorney General or by allowing state governors to appoint the position.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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