Today, the Maine Supreme Court issued its ruling on a case involving the ongoing public dispute between Governor Paul R. LePage and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills.
The attorney general has frustrated the governor as he pursues a conservative agenda. In multiple instances, the high profile Democrat has refused to represent the state and come out publicly against the governor’s positions.
In January, LePage asked the state’s highest court to rule on two questions:
1. If the Attorney General refuses to represent a State agency (or any other entity listed in 5 M.R.S. § 191) in a lawsuit, must the Executive Branch still obtain the Attorney General’s permission to hire outside counsel to represent the agency in the suit?
Since no attorney general has ever denied permission for the governor to hire outside council, said the court, the question remains hypothetical. Therefore, the court refrained from addressing the issue at present.
However, the court did side with LePage on the second question, stating that the governor’s office did not have to allow the attorney general to direct litigation if she had opposed a state agency’s lawsuit.
The governor’s second question for the court is in regard to his decision to file suit with the United States Supreme Court in defense of his proposed Medicaid State Plan Amendment. While Mills declined to represent the state in this litigation, her office asked for billing and time estimates from the governor’s private council before each step in the process.
The Maine Supreme Court found this to be intervening in the litigation even though Mills had decided not to take part in it. The attorney general cannot intervene in litigation after she declined to represent the state and approved private council, stated the court. It is also worth noting that because Janet Mills filed a brief opposing the LePage Administration in this case, taxpayers incurred an additional $6,670 in legal fees to rebut the Mills’ brief.
“The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed my belief that the Attorney General should not have authority over litigation that the Executive is involved in when the Attorney General decides to publicly take the opposite position,” said Governor LePage. “When that happens, it is a clear conflict of interest, and I thank the Justices for recognizing it.”