June 20, 2018
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Labor mural case continues with court appeal of decision in LePage’s favor

Judy Taylor Fine Art | BDN
Judy Taylor Fine Art | BDN
Artist Judy Taylor created a series of panels depicting important times in Maine's labor history, and they have been on display at the Maine Department of Labor offices in Augusta since 2008 until Gov. Paul LePage ordered the panels removed.
By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

Lawyers for the plaintiffs who challenged Gov. Paul LePage’s removal of a labor history mural from the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor have filed their promised appeal of a judge’s March decision in favor of LePage in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

The appeal, filed July 16, argues that U.S. District Judge John Woodcock was mistaken in his March conclusion that LePage’s removal of the labor mural amounted to government speech, rather than a violation of the speech rights of artist Judy Taylor.

“We believe here that Gov. LePage has overstepped the limits and that reasonable individuals could conclude based on all of the facts of this case that the mural was not government speech, but rather was the speech of artist Judy Taylor,” Jeffrey Young, a lawyer for plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The plaintiffs are Don Berry of Sumner, president of the Maine AFL-CIO; John Newton, an industrial hygienist of Portland; and three Maine artists: Robert Shetterly of Brooksville, Natasha Mayers of Whitefield and Joan Braun of Weld.

Brenda Kielty, a spokeswoman for the Maine attorney general’s office, said the state plans to file a response to the appeal in September, but declined to elaborate on the content of that response.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined comment on the matter and said she wouldn’t disclose the mural’s current location.

In making the case that the mural’s removal violated Taylor’s speech rights, the plaintiffs’ appeal argues that the state didn’t have control over the artwork’s content when Taylor was creating it, that someone viewing the mural would likely conclude that the message it communicates belongs to the artists, and that the government is barred from removing the mural to suppress a particular ideology.

Woodcock argued in March that because the state of Maine owns the labor mural, it’s free to do with it what it wants.

Following Woodcock’s opinion, which essentially denied a trial over the mural’s removal, the plaintiffs filed notice with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that they planned to file an appeal.

The 11-panel mural features women shipbuilders during World War II, the 1986 International Paper strike in Jay, child laborers and part-time Maine resident Frances Perkins, who as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s labor secretary was integral to the creation of a minimum wage, Social Security and other aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

LePage ordered the mural removed in March 2011 because he said it presented a one-sided view of history and wasn’t in keeping with his pro-business agenda. A lawsuit was initially filed April 1, 2011, in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

LePage’s decision to remove the mural gained national attention, including a disapproving editorial in The New York Times and sendups by political comedians such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

LePage initially stated that the mural displayed a one-sided view of Maine’s labor history, but said later during a Sept. 2011 interview with NBC’s Brian Williams that his objection stemmed from the source of the money used to pay for the mural.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the mural was on display in Lawrence, Mass., this spring. A copy of the mural was on display.

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