Millinocket whistle-blower back in court on Monday

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 14, 2009, at 8:55 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, former Town Councilor Matthew Polstein and the entire 2005 council are expected to be among those testifying in the retrial next week of a Lincoln woman’s claim that she was unjustly fired as the town’s Recreation Department director four years ago.

Attorney A.J. Greif of Bangor said he looks forward to bringing the lawsuit of Mary Walsh before Penobscot County Superior Court Justice William Anderson one more time.

“I think we are going to get a larger verdict because on the rare occasions in my life on which I have retried cases, I have always done better on retrial,” Greif said Friday. “Practice makes perfect.”

Conlogue declined to comment, saying it is the town’s policy to avoid commenting on pending civil court actions. Town attorney Dean Beaupain of Millinocket has said he believes the town will be vindicated by the new trial.

In September, a Penobscot County jury awarded Walsh $25,000 in damages after finding that the town violated the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act in 2005 when it laid her off after five years on the job.

The jury found that Walsh was terminated after making complaints about the unsafe condition of some town snowmobile trails. Walsh claimed she voiced her concerns to Conlogue, to state Trails Administrator Scott Ramsey and then-Town Councilor Matthew Polstein, who was president of Twin Pines Snowmobile Club, a nonprofit organization that the town paid to groom the trails.

Walsh said Polstein cast the deciding vote in a 4-3 council decision that eliminated her position by consolidating the town Recreation Department with departments in neighboring Medway and Millinocket.

Greif attributed his success to Polstein’s testimony and the jury believing Walsh’s claims that Polstein had harassed her, abused his position and exacted revenge against her for complaining about his “terrible” grooming of town snowmobile trails.

In granting the new trial last March, Anderson reversed his earlier decision that just Polstein, rather than all four of the councilors who voted to eliminate Walsh’s position, needed to testify.

The judge said in his ruling that as the trial progressed, “it became increasingly important for the defense to call the other counselors to add credibility to the legitimate reasons supporting consolidation, potentially diminishing in the jurors’ minds the likelihood that discrimination was a motivating factor in the decision.”

He also said that instead of watching a videotape of the meeting at which the consolidation was decided, the jury should have heard “in-person testimony [that] could have been more effective and would have provided the defense with an opportunity to present the evidence as it chose, by asking appropriate questions, rather than just listening to the taped remarks.”

The trial is due to start at 9 a.m. Monday in Penobscot County Superior Court with testimony from Walsh and two town employees. It is expected to continue through most of the week.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/14/news/millinocket-whistleblower-back-in-court-on-monday/ printed on August 30, 2014