The Lewiston-based Sun Journal reported Wednesday that Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage bullied Maine Department of Labor (DOL) staff during a March 21 meeting at the Blaine House.
The report, which relies entirely on anonymous hearsay from disgruntled state workers, is a stunning act of journalistic malpractice.
According to multiple sources in the Governor’s Office, the anonymous allegations contained in the report are false.
[RELATED: Hatchetgate: the anatomy of a hit piece…]
John Butera, senior economic adviser to the Governor, was present for the meeting at the Blaine House. He said LePage arranged the meeting in order to discuss whether federally-funded Department of Labor personnel were following state and federal laws regarding the administration of unemployment insurance (UI) hearings.
The meeting was prompted by constituent complaints – business owners who told the Governor that the unemployment system in Maine was unfairly hurting their bottom lines, said Butera. He said the Governor specifically chose the Blaine House to set a tone of goodwill for the meeting.
“There was no intimidation whatsoever. None,” said Butera. “There was a discussion about problems and solutions.”
Butera said the Governor made it absolutely clear during the meeting that he wanted to be fair to both employers and employees.
“The Governor said he had no sympathy for a business that does not document the unemployment process or follow the rules,” said Butera. “He said employers do not deserve to appeal or win an unemployment hearing if they don’t go through the process properly,” said Butera. “He made that very clear.”
According to the anonymous sources quoted in the Sun Journal report, LePage “scolded eight administrative hearing officers and their supervisors, complaining that too many case on appeal from the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation were being decided in favor of employees.” LePage, the anonymous sources said, told the group of DOL employees that they were “doing their jobs poorly.”
While there is no way of knowing if LePage actually said this, there are plenty of reasons to believe it’s the truth, according to a ten-page internal memo obtained by The MAINE WIRE pursuant to a Freedom of Access Act request.
The memo outlines problems with the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation’s (BUC) Division of Administrative Hearings (DAH). The memo, which was shared at the meeting, paints the picture of state bureaucrats playing by their own rules, ignoring state and federal laws, and conducting UI hearings on arbitrary whim. Internal analysis of DOL procedures and redacted excerpts from actual hearings show how hearing officers routinely decide against employers for reasons not clearly rooted in law.
The memo highlights the following problems with DAH’s administration of UI hearings:
- Problem: Hearing officers do not understand that reliable, relevant hearsay is admissible in evidence in Maine’s administrative unemployment proceedings. Hearing officers at times erroneously exclude relevant evidence (such as letters, warnings, investigative reports, photos, e-mails, videos), which were created by a reliable source on the grounds that the person who drafted or created said evidence is not available for cross-examination… Despite the rules, hearing officers often find the following: ‘Hearsay evidence is generally not the kind of evidence upon which reasonable persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs.”
- Problem: Employer’s (and claimants) often do not understand that the documents they provide to the Deputy at the fact finding are not automatically in evidence if there is an appeal to [Division of Administrative Hearings (DAH)] or to the [Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission (MUIC)].
- Problem: The [Hearing Officers (HOs)] often omit to provide a party with the opportunity to submit evidence after a party tells the hearing officer that they brought paperwork with them to the hearing. (This problem seems to be unintentional…)
- Problem: The hearing officers at times deny a party the opportunity to call witnesses on the grounds that the witnesses’ testimony is repetitive. The hearing officer will ask a party what the witness will testify to and then say, “I don’t think I need to hear that. It sounds like it will just repeat your testimony.” This can be an error of the law if the testimony would corroborate evidence which is in dispute… The rules do provide for a speedy hearing… However, speed should not come at the expense of due process.”
- Problem: Hearing officers at times exclude a document solely because the party did not provide it to DAH in advance of the hearing.
- Problem: The hearing officers routinely exclude from evidence as irrelevant any document or testimony which relates to events that occurred after the date of separation. Although this ruling is often correct, it can be an error, as occasionally something that happens after the separation corroborates the reason for the separation.
The memo examines specific instances where hearing officers made arbitrary decisions with nebulous grounding in current law, resulting in employers having to pay for additional unemployment compensation. The memo relates the following redacted excerpt from a DAH hearing:
Employer (ER): Is it possible for me to submit a document that hasn’t been faxed over?”
Hearing officer (HO): And what document would that be?
ER: Key performance tracking that logs all of the coaching sessions that [the claimant] received as well as verbal warnings.
HO: And who prepared this log?
ER: This is a log that is maintained by all of the supervisors on site; so she had a supervisor change a couple of times – there was [names of three supervisors]. So it’s a collective record of their notes.
HO: Yeah…no…I don’t think that, first of all it’s THEIR notes so there’s no way for us to cross examine those notes…um they’re not available to testify, so that I would not be allowing that document into the record even
Gotta hand it to the LePage administration, they know how to get their side out. For Robinson, he simply needs to format what they give him – make this bold, this in italics.
Wonder how long the administration will stonewall all the FOAA requests that I’m sure rolled in this morning. The MaineWire doesn’t have to worry about those formalities!
It’s telling that the LePage version of this meeting came out via The MaineWire rather than by simply responding to the SunJournal’s request for comments.
The SunJournal story repeatedly mentions that the reported statements are “according to sources”. The MaineWire just flat out says the public employees (trained attorneys, most) are lying; why bother with silly details…
I’m curious what role will this new position play?
Calling the hearing officers in to a mandatory luncheon about perceived bias toward employees, leaves me wondering about the management ability of the department’s commissioner, Jeanne Paquette, and chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission, Jennifer Duddy. If they can’t approach the hearing officers, why is the ‘big gun’ doing their dirty work?
The proper protocol is for the Governor to have Paquette and Duddy conduct a separate meeting about his concerns in agency’s building and then have them report back to him. If Paquette and Duddy didn’t have a separate meeting with the hearing officers, then what use are they, and why does the state need to continue to pay their salaries? It appears that the Governor is doing their job for them.
Question: Does reporting the names of the hearing officers leave open themainewire.com to libel and slander? If the sunjournal didn’t release the hearing officers names, respecting the hearing officers fear of retaliation by the administration, why isn’t themainewire.com following the same journalistic code of ethics?
If you were being accused of misconduct or a crime would you rely on your accuser to disseminate your side of the story? I didn’t think so.
Do you realize how ridiculous it looks to deny a behavior pattern that has proven itself time and time again. LePage is a bully. That part is well documented in other events. It is the nature of the beast.
So the issue is about how he bullied the hearing officers, not whether he did or not. It would not be unreasonable to expect that he would take a pro business stance – so it hardly seems wise to assert otherwise. Face it. The guy is not pro-labor.
The Baldacci Admin did exactly the same thing from a Pro-Labor stance. They were just better at squelching the squealing of the workforce.
So why doesn’t he just can all the anti-labor hearing offices (Dems) and hire conservatives or pro-business types?
Very poorly handled Paulie. You just got 5 more conservative votes for 2014. But you probably lost a couple hundred middle-of-the-road voters.
As a minimum, All of the judicial types of proceedings should be moved to the Judicial branch were they are less likely to behave in a partisan way.
Imagine my surprise that there’s a connection here to the ultra-leftist Maine Equal Justice Partners. What you liberals gleefully choose to ignore is the fact that these hearing officers were not following established rules and regulations and Gov. LePage was right in calling them onto the carpet because of their bias and incompetence. Of course the liberal LePage bashing media is not interested in the truth and proves they will do anything to besmirch our Governor.
Footnote: If the author of this article is correct with his list of 13 DOL attendees and the Sun Journal is correct that nearly a dozen attendees complained of the Governor attempting to unduly influence the adjudicative process, then nearly everybody at the meeting agreed that Paul LePage has, once again, overstepped his bounds in his “Business Friendly” crusade.
Of interest is that Robinson accuses the Sun Journal of hearsay, when it in fact reported what persons actually at the meeting had to say about what they saw. True, these sources wanted to remain anonymous to the Sun Journal’s readers, but that does not make what they told the Sun Journal hearsay.
Unless Robinson was at the meeting, the accounts given to him by administration officials reported above is exactly the same, excepting the anonymity. Is that hearsay too?
Like everything in life there are always two sides to a story. It looks like the Sun Journal was in such a hurry to “scoop” this “breaking”story that they did not do all the work needed to get both sides in their story. Besides, it fits the template that LePage is a bully. It looks like to me he is simply doing the job the Supervisor of this Dept. should be doing. My question is, did he contact them and request they do their job first? If he asked them to take up this issue and they did not, then that is a separate issue he needs to deal with-like reprimands/firings! However, if he by-passed them for a direct meeting with these FEDERALLY funded employees then he must have a good reason for jumping the chain of command. Being asked to explain yourself is not bullying no matter how uncomfortable it makes you!
We are learning the truth. Equal Justice Partners. Wonderful group to share the truth, but when????? Governor LePage is doing a pretty good job, and I don’t agree with all of his issues, but hey…
There are no ‘free lunches; every one has a price; and the record will probably show similar ‘arm twisting’ by Legislative groups and the previous regime.
Hearing examiners all work for someone. Odd, that all the squealing is being made by lawyers who get paid w/percentage of the settlement….talk about a conflict of interest and to use the ‘bullying’ canard as a talking point is disgusting large numbers of Democrats and getting Maine ready for a third party run at the Blaine House.
Is this an excerpt from the Sun Journal or the National Enquirer? I couldn’t tell difference from the shoddy journalism style.
In doing Amy’s research for her, I find the use of Anonymous Sources has been a source of great concern to the practice of journalism, and has shaken the roots of even the the NYTIMES, since they have adopted a page from the annals of ‘yellow journalism recently:
“Will NYT use more blind quotes and anonymous sources given new quote policy?:
By : Sydney Smith September 21, 2012 07:00 PM EST.
The New York Times announced Sept. 20 that it is banning allowing a “source or a press aide to review, approve or edit” quotes, the Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan reported.
Sullivan published a memo from the Times that explains “The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview.”
The memo advises:
“Starting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit.”
USA press guidelines clearly state the ‘rules’:
GUIDELINES FOR USING UNNAMED SOURCES.
The use of unnamed sources erodes our credibility and should be avoided. When there is no other way to obtain information that is crucial to the reader’s understanding of the story, these guidelines apply:
1. The identity of an unnamed source must be shared with and approved by a managing editor prior to publication. The managing editor must be confident that the information presented to the reader is accurate, not just that someone said it. This usually will require confirmation from a second source or from documents. When a single confidential source is cited without further support in the story, the editor must be confident that information presented is based on first-hand knowledge and is authoritative.
2. The same principles apply to the use of confidential documents. It is not enough to know and sign off on the identity of the source of the documents. The managing editor must be satisfied that the documents are authentic and trustworthy and the chain of custody of the documents can be traced to their originators.
3. Anonymous sources must be cited only as a last resort. This applies not just to direct quotes but to the use of anonymous sources generally. Before accepting their use for publication, an editor must be confident that there is no better way to present the information and that the information is important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust. This is not to be taken lightly.
4. Anonymous sources may only be used to report facts. Anonymous accusations and speculation are not acceptable.
5. Sources should understand that if information is attributed to them anonymously in the newspaper, an editor will know their identity. They should also understand they may be identified if their information proves to be false or unfounded.
6. Reporters may not enter into agreements with sources that specify when information will be used in USA TODAY or under what circumstances without the direct participation of a managing editor. This includes committing to a specific publication date, location in the newspaper or any other understanding that limits USA TODAY’S independent news judgment.
7. Extreme care should be taken not to identify unnamed sources in a way that exposes their identity. But unnamed sources should be described as precisely as possible. Additionally, reporters and editors should explain why the source could not be identified and if possible, add any information that establishes the credibility of a source on the subject matter in question.
8. The number of sources or their standing must never be exaggerated.
9. Sources should be pushed to accept the lowest possible level of confidentiality. The agreed-upon level of confidentiality should be understood by both parties.
10. Sources cited in wire reports or by other media should be used only when absolutely necessary. When using sources from another media, they should be attributed to the appropriate organization, citing its description of the source.”
Was the LSJ following the emerging journalism ethics and guidelines or the old ones? Did the managing editor get the names of those ‘sources’ and a precise reaction to something the Governor said or did. Did he lift a ‘menacing eyebrow’?
What about the context?
These are hearing examiners well used to the ‘sturm and drang’ of hearings and the tactics of lawyers who realize their pay is at stake? It’s their meal ticket which the governor is threatening with his talk of fairness and bias.
Amy should read carefully this thoughful opinion by the NYTIMES public editor: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22pubed.html?_r=0.
It is only libel if they were claiming that specific people within that list were lying and had specifically been the ones to forward complaints. It is the Sun Journal who stated it was nearly a dozen, and The Maine Wire simply listed all of the DOL employees that were KNOWN to be present due to available email documentation. This also does not take into account any individuals who may not have been documented as in attendance.
The only member of the group listed who MIGHT have a libel claim is William Gagne-Holmes, and even in his case what is stated is a fact that you can see for yourself when you do your own research. The only defamation comes in the way the reader interprets the information supplied.
What I find interesting is that it was “nearly a dozen.” This means less than 12 people forwarded complaints. Now if we examine that and take it apart. IF the 13 mentioned were the only DOL employees present, then either at least 2 of the officers did not feel as they were being bullied, or possibly they knew that some of the things that were going on weren’t lawful.
Of course there are more possibilities, but the fact that the Sun Journal only states nearly a dozen and doesn’t then give the exact number of complaints or the exact number of those in attendance is what makes their piece misleading.
Clearly we are only seeing small clips of the 10 page memo, but with the list of the major issues noted perhaps any “bullying” on behalf of LePage was merely a serious look or tone when bringing up any shortfalls of those affected by the listed issues. Of course if full minutes were taken on record at the meeting there would be no ambiguity. We would all know whether LePage was menacing and rampaging about threatening jobs, calmly referencing issues and asking for fixes, or some alternative in between those.
Until those who complained choose to out themselves publicly and acknowledge exactly what the complaints were, then we will all be left to infer our own version of events from the news sources that we have at hand.
I am not pro or anti LePage. I prefer to look at both perspectives and see where they are in agreement to come to an approximation of what actually is happening when there are not entire unedited videos of disputed events.
I also believe that names should be omitted only when a quote from one of them is likely to cause the loss of a job. Since LePage knew who was at the meeting as he was there, if he really wanted to do an end run and get people fired for this; he would simply find a way to get rid of all of them and take the loss of 2 people who didn’t feel bullied.