AUGUSTA — Attorney General Janet Mills has asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against her by Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage sued Mills earlier this month, charging her in a civil complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court with abusing her powers by refusing to represent the governor in several federal lawsuits he wanted Maine to join. In his complaint, LePage alleges Mills prevented him from exercising his power under the state constitution by refusing to provide him legal representation.
And while Mills has authorized LePage to hire outside attorneys to pursue his interests in the lawsuits, she has refused to allow her office to participate in the suits or pay for them, saying LePage’s positions were not in the best interest of state residents.
“The Attorney General’s decisions regarding representation of the State in litigation and use of appropriated funds are entrusted to her discretion and not subject to judicial review,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton wrote in the motion filed for Mills.
The 20-page filing released Thursday says the basic issues in LePage’s suit were already decided by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in an earlier ruling protecting the independence of the state’s top prosecutor.
“The Governor’s complaint seeks an advisory opinion on a political question, requesting relief that would usurp the authority of the Legislature and interfere with the delicate checks and balances enshrined in the Separation of Powers provisions of the Maine Constitution,” Knowlton wrote.
In a written statement issued in early May, LePage said Mills has cost the state “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in private attorney fees because of her refusal to provide legal representation through her office.
“It is no secret that Attorney General Mills and I have differing political views, but that is not the issue,” LePage said. “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.”
LePage and Mills have long clashed over legal issues, with Mills declining on several occasions to represent LePage in lawsuits that he frequently joined with other Republican governors.
It also appears that LePage is angered over Mills’ opposition to executive orders issued by President Trump barring immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Trump’s executive order was first blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii, and Thursday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the ban likely violates the Constitution.
In a landmark case, Maine’s highest court upheld former Attorney General James Tierney’s 1991 decision not to defend the state on an issue that Tierney argued was contrary to the public interest.
Unlike most states, Maine’s attorney general is elected by the Legislature rather than by state voters, usually meaning the party with the most seats in the Legislature can appoint and elect a candidate of its choosing.
In January 2015, LePage asked the Maine supreme court whether he had to continue to seek permission from Mills to hire outside legal counsel when her office declined to defend the administration. The request came after Mills balked at representing the administration in its attempts to eliminate Medicaid benefits for thousands of young adults and to stop reimbursing municipalities for General Assistance provided to asylum seekers and non-citizen immigrants.
In a two-part ruling, the court said the governor needed to seek the attorney general’s permission before hiring outside counsel, saying Maine law “is explicit and directly addresses the issue.” Once that permission is granted, however, the attorney general can no longer attempt to direct or control the litigation filed by the administration, including by limiting or requiring periodic review of the amount of money the governor can spend on a case, the court said in March 2015.
In LePage’s 11-page complaint filed May 1, the governor charges Mills with ignoring state laws that require her office to provide representation to all state agencies, including the governor’s office.
A judge will now have to decide whether to dismiss LePage’s suit or allow it to move forward.
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