State police investigating Brunswick lawmaker accused of harassment during breakup with Belfast legislator

Posted May 04, 2012, at 12:52 p.m.
Last modified May 04, 2012, at 6:39 p.m.

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Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx
Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx
Rep. Erin Herbig
Rep. Erin Herbig

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland said Friday that detectives are conducting an investigation into allegations of misconduct against Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, who is the subject of a protection from abuse order requested this week by another legislator.

McCausland refused to answer many questions about the probe because of the ongoing investigation but said Maine State Police detectives have been looking into the matter for “several weeks.” McCausland said state police were made aware of allegations against Cornell du Houx by Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast through the Capitol Police at the State House. Both Herbig and du Houx are Democrats.

Herbig filed for a protection from abuse order Monday in Belfast District Court, alleging that Cornell du Houx threatened her and hacked into her cellphone and email accounts, among other things.

“We were made aware of her concerns,” said McCausland, who did not know exactly when the probe began. “Capitol Police have worked very closely with state police on this.”

Jeffrey Hamm, an attorney with Zerillo Law in Portland who has been representing Cornell du Houx since March, said Friday that he recently became aware of the state police investigation but that to his knowledge Cornell du Houx has not been interviewed by detectives in this matter.

“Alex takes these allegations very seriously,” Hamm said. “All they are at this point is allegations. He’s confident the truth will come out … He has no interest in litigating these allegations in the press. The facts are really for a judge to hear.”

Response to the situation within the State House escalated over a period of months as the allegations between the estranged couple ramped up, according to Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin and a spokeswoman for House Democrats.

In her filing of a protection from abuse order against Cornell du Houx on Monday, Herbig claimed that some of his improper behavior happened at the State House complex. According to Gauvin and House Democrats spokeswoman Jodi Quintero, Herbig’s filing of that order was the culmination of intervention between the two representatives that began in the State House in February.

Gauvin said his officers have met with both representatives since then and that in the final days of the legislative session Cornell du Houx monitored legislative debates by computer from a committee room to ensure he would have minimal contact with Herbig. While Quintero said the situation was first brought to leadership in February, Gauvin said he wasn’t made aware of it until March. He said he met with Herbig again in April and at that time she was becoming more concerned about Cornell du Houx’s behavior.

“She was feeling increasingly concerned about working there in the same building with him,” Gauvin said. “Several of us recommended that she pursue a protection order at that time, but she said at the time that she wanted to try to let the situation resolve on its own.”

Gauvin said he met with Cornell du Houx within a day or so of his meeting with Herbig and told him that he should leave Herbig alone and stop any behavior that would be troubling or threatening to her or anyone else in the State House.

“I told him that she did not want to be bothered by him and that he should not engage in any conduct that could be considered stalking or harassment,” he said. “Rep. Cornell du Houx agreed to change his behavior. He decided to monitor the House proceedings from a committee room on his computer. He had already started that before I spoke to him. He was trying to minimize contact.”

But on March 28, according to a document filed by Herbig as part of a request for a protection from abuse order against Cornell du Houx, the Brunswick representative followed Herbig out of a legislative event and when she got into a car with three others, he used his car to block their exit.

Herbig’s filing for a protection from abuse order will be heard May 14 in Belfast District Court. The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on May 15. Gauvin said that if the order is upheld, he expects the court to outline under what circumstances, if any, Cornell du Houx will be able to attend legislative hearings.

“It will be up to the judge,” he said. “I’m sure the court will give some guidance. It would be tricky to orchestrate it so they’re not having contact, but if they both had to come here right now, we’d take some measures to make sure they didn’t.”

Hamm said Cornell du Houx has not been asked to resign by legislative leadership.

“He’ll continue to represent the people of Brunswick,” Hamm said.

Quintero said House Minority Leader Emily Cain, a Democrat of Orono, was made aware of the situation in late February when first Cornell du Houx and then hours later Herbig approached her. Cain and others instituted a workplace safety plan, which worked for a short period of time, according to Quintero.

“Rep. Herbig expressed concern that that plan wasn’t working,” Quintero said. “Emily took this very seriously from Day 1.”

Quintero said Cain was not willing to comment to the press about the situation because of the possibility that she will be called to testify concerning the protection from abuse order request.

“Rep. Cain has had private conversations with Rep. Cornell du Houx about his options, but it is not appropriate to talk about it publicly until after the hearing on the 14th,” Quintero said in response to a question about whether Cornell du Houx will be asked to resign or whether he will be permitted to participate in legislative hearings beginning May 15.

Jim Cyr, a spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, said Friday that Nutting also was not available for comment but that he is awaiting the outcome of the May 14 court hearing before deciding what to do, if anything.

“This is a regrettable situation,” wrote Nutting, R-Oakland, in a statement Friday afternoon. “I hope to receive guidance from the court on how to comply with the restraining order when the Legislature reconvenes later this month. I also plan to work with Capitol Police to ensure any ruling from the court is followed in the House chamber.”

Brunswick Police Department Chief Deputy Marc Hagan said his officers served Cornell du Houx with the protection from abuse order on Tuesday and told him that he is barred from possessing firearms. Cornell du Houx holds a concealed weapons permit issued by the Brunswick Police Department but Hagan said it has been temporarily revoked pending the outcome of the May 14 hearing.

In cases such as this one, Hagan said the subjects of protection orders are asked to relinquish any firearms they have, but that Cornell du Houx said he doesn’t own any.

“We just tell them they need to turn their firearms in,” Hagan said. “We don’t have any rights to go and search a person’s house.”

Herbig and Cornell du Houx both were sent to Washington, D.C., last June as members of the bipartisan Young Elected Officials Network. They were two of 10 young lawmakers chosen from 230 across the country to meet with President Obama about issues important to Maine at the time.

According to Waldo County District Court officials, a divorce between Herbig and Josh Povec was finalized on Jan. 17 of this year.

Bangor Daily News staff writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.

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