Commentary

Governmental Breakdown: Executive vs. Attorney General

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In the latest disagreement between the executive branch and the Attorney General’s Office, Janet Mills threatened to take action against the administration if they do not modify certain job descriptions to make it clear that without approval from the AG’s office, executive branch attorneys are not legally permitted to handle legal matters of the state.

According to Mills, “The administration is violating the law by hiring individuals who hold themselves out as attorneys for the state and by permitting them to provide legal advice…The job of a lawyer does not begin at the courtroom steps.  The job of a lawyer begins before an action is taken, when litigation can best be avoided.”

Governor LePage’s chief legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery responded that “While you can force compliance with the terms of the statute, you cannot force the executive branch agencies to trust you, or by extension, the attorneys who report to you.”

According to Mills, “The administration is free to call upon this office and draw upon our experience for history and interpretation of any statute or fact scenario, as we have given such advice to administrations of every stripe over many years.  That is the job and the obligation of this office.”

Historically, this has not been the case as Attorney General Mill’s office has twice refused to represent the administration on court cases that she does not politically agree with.  This breakdown between offices has resulted in taxpayers footing the bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside attorney fees and has bred a climate of hostility and mistrust.

Unfortunately, when the values of the Governor do not align with those of the Attorney General, a culture of dysfunction is bound to arise.  The vast majority of states, 43 to be exact, avoid this scenario by holding statewide elections to fill the office of the Attorney General.  Five states allow the Governor to appoint the Attorney General, again avoiding this situation.  The only outliers are Tennessee, where the Attorney General is appointed by the Supreme Court, and Maine, where the Attorney General is appointed by the legislature, as shown on this map.

While the administration’s mistrust of Attorney General Mills has warrant, it is costly and detrimental to the state.  The bottom line is that until Maine gets on board with the rest of the country, this situation is only bound to repeat itself.

 

About Krysta West

Krysta West is the Communications Director for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to her time with MHPC, Krysta served as a Legislative Assistant at the National Rifle Association. Krysta is a native of Arundel, Maine, and has served as an aide in the Maine Legislature.

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