Students to witness high court deliberations

Posted Oct. 26, 2009, at 8:13 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Students in the St. John Valley today will hear arguments before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court over whether an individual has an obligation to call 911 when someone is seriously injured, listen to a discussion on the limits of the Fourth Amendment, and metaphorically wade into the deep waters where municipal zoning laws and the courts intersect.

At Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the justices will hear arguments in three cases that touch on those issues. On Wednesday they will visit Georges Valley High School in Thomaston and on Thursday convene at Fryeburg Academy in their annual fall sojourn to high schools around the state.

The justices will consider whether a person who knows someone has been seriously injured and does not seek emergency assistance may be found negligent in a civil proceeding. Steven Cilly, 54, of Princeton is asking the court to craft a “duty of care” requirement in Maine because of his son’s death.

Joshua Cilley died on Jan. 31, 2005, at age 27 in the Calais Regional Hospital emergency room of a gunshot wound to the abdomen from a .22-caliber bullet. He was shot while in the Princeton trailer of Jennifer Lane, a woman described as his on-again, off-again lover.

She allegedly sat with him for at least 15 minutes after he was shot before attempting to seek emergency medical assistance. Steven Cilley said earlier this year that the doctor who treated his injured son told him Joshua could have been saved if he had arrived at the hospital five minutes earlier. Local police found the death to be a suicide but no autopsy was performed, according to Brett Baber, the elder Cilley’s Bangor attorney.

Steven Cilley filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lane 13 months after his son’s death in Washington County Superior Court. In January 2009, Superior Court Justice E. Allen Hunter granted Lane’s motion for summary judgment because Maine law does not state that a person has a duty of care. It is Cilley’s appeal of that de-cision that the supreme court will consider.

Lane’s attorney, Eugene Coughlin of Bangor, is expected to argue that the lower court rightly found that Joshua Cilley was a trespasser on Lane’s property so she was under no legal obligation to seek assistance for him. Coughlin also is expected to tell the justices that what Steven Cilley actually seeks is not a “duty to care” but a “duty to rescue,” which has been rejected previously by many courts around the country.

On the other hand, six or seven other states have a duty of care requirement in common law, and lawmakers in at least three states have enacted laws requiring that serious injuries be reported, Baber said earlier this year.

A bill that would have created a duty of care law in Maine was rejected by the Legislature before it adjourned in June. It is not expected to be taken up when the Legislature reconvenes in January, according to the Senate Majority Office.

In the second appeal, the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office will argue that evidence of drugs seized in a search of Bradley Sargent’s car should not have been suppressed by Justice Hunter. Bradley, 32, of Presque Isle was stopped at about 7 a.m. Sept. 10, 2007, at a vehicle safety checkpoint in the southbound lane of U.S. Route 1 in Presque Isle, according to court documents.

The checkpoint was conducted by the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department with help from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and local police.

Bradley was directed to a secondary checkpoint after an officer observed he was not wearing a seat belt, according to court documents. The driver consented to allowing a deputy to look through his vehicle, but Sargent was not told what, if anything, law enforcement officials were looking for.

In the course of the search, the deputy found on the front passenger seat a small, zippered leather bag resembling a shaving kit, according to court documents. Inside the bag, he found 4½ white tablets that reportedly tested positive for methamphetamine.

Bradley was indicted in April 2008 by the Aroostook County grand jury on a Class C charge of unlawful possession of scheduled drugs. He was not issued a summons for not wearing a seat belt, according to court documents.

Hunter granted the motion to suppress in May 2009. He found it was “objectively unreasonable for the officers to believe that Sargent’s generalized and unrestricted consent to search the vehicle also extended to the search of containers found within the vehicle, specifically a shaving kit left on the front passenger seat of the vehicle by Sargent.”

Todd Collins, assistant district attorney for Aroostook County, is expected to argue today that previous rulings in federal courts have found “a general consent to search a motor vehicle subsumes the specific consent to search any easily accessible containers within the vehicle.”

Bradley’s attorney, Francis Bemis of Presque Isle, is expected to urge the justices to uphold Hunter’s ruling. He also is expected to point out that the high court found in 1974 that a “defendant’s limited knowledge regarding the object of a search implied that an officer could conduct only a general search of a vehicle itself.”

The final case to be argued today will take the students and the justices into the complexities of local zoning ordinances and the sometimes confusing process of how appeals of decisions made by administrative bodies are dealt with by Superior Courts. The case also is expected to illustrate how an apparent dispute between neighbors winds its way to the state’s highest court.

The case began in September 2004 when Roger Collin sought approval to construct an addition to his camp on Chapel Road in Madawaska. After the addition was completed, it was found to violate the town’s shoreland zoning ordinance.

An abutting neighbor, Richard Cayer, has appealed from a judgment entered in Aroostook County Superior Court denying his motion for contempt against the town in connection with the its enforcement proceedings concerning the illegal structure.

Cayer’s attorney, Luke Rossignol of Presque Isle, is expected to argue that the Superior Court “abused its discretion in determining the town had complied with its May 2007 order to take appropriate enforcement action against Collin.” The town’s attorney, Michael Hodgins of Augusta, is expected to remind the supreme court that it “has consistently held that private citizens have no right to enforce municipal ordinances, and town officials have prosecutorial discretion in determining which ordinances must be enforced and the appropriate remedy.”

There is no timeline under which the justices must issue their decisions.

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