Gov. Paul LePage will rely on a private attorney, not the state’s attorney general, to fight a civil lawsuit brought against him by House Speaker Mark Eves that argues LePage broke state and federal laws when he forced Eves out of a job at Good Will-Hinckley.
The state’s insurance policy will cover up to $400,000 for the costs associated with LePage’s case, according to a letter from the Maine attorney general’s office authorizing the outside counsel. The billing rate for LePage’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge of the firm Consovoy McCarthy Park, with an office in Boston, can’t exceed $380 per hour.
The attorney general’s office said it allowed LePage to use a private attorney due to the “unique circumstances.”
“It is our understanding that you have requested authorization to retain outside counsel because you believe that it would be a conflict for the Office of the Attorney General to represent the Governor in this matter. We do not necessarily agree that a conflict exists. However, the request for retention of outside counsel is approved due to the unique circumstances presented by the Speaker of the House making a claim in his individual capacity against the Governor in his official and personal capacities,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Susan Herman to LePage’s Chief Legal Counsel Cynthia Montgomery in an Aug. 14 letter.
Maine statute says that “in lieu of assuming the defense of an employee, a governmental entity may pay the reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs of the employee.” LePage is covered under what’s called “self-insurance,” which the state maintains to cover potential losses, rather than a commercial insurance policy.
Eves claims that LePage interfered in Eves’ employment contract with Good Will-Hinckley by threatening to withhold more than $500,000 in state funding for the school unless Eves was fired, which Good Will-Hinckley then did. LePage has said publicly that he opposed Eves’ hire.
LePage has used private attorneys in high-profile lawsuits before. He retained outside counsel after Attorney General Janet Mills declined to sue the U.S. government on his administration’s behalf to end Medicaid coverage for low-income 19- and 20-year olds. He did the same when the Maine Municipal Association and the cities of Portland and Westbrook filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services over reimbursements for General Assistance funds.