PORTLAND, Maine — Inmates often act as their own attorneys in appeals to the state’s highest court, but they almost never prevail.
An inmate at the Cumberland County Jail, who is facing stalking and identity theft charges in federal court, last week won a rare victory when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that he had the constitutional right to attend a hearing on a protection from abuse order sought against him by his ex-girlfriend, who previously lived in South Portland.
Shawn A. Sayer, 42, of Biddeford is serving a 22-month sentence for violation of bail conditions and two counts of violating a protection from abuse order involving the same woman involved in his appeal.
In April, District Court Judge Richard Mulhern denied Sayer’s request to either continue a hearing on his ex-girlfriend’s application for a protection from abuse order or make arrangements for him to appear in court or participate by video or telephone conference.
Mulhern denied Sayer’s request, stating that the law required a final hearing on a protection order be held within 21 days of the filing of the application for the order. Sayer appealed to the Maine Supreme Court and the justices considered it on Dec. 1 in written briefs but did not hear oral arguments.
“Sayer’s incarceration and the need to protect his rights by facilitating his participation in the hearing, either in person or by remote video or audio connection, demonstrated good cause to either make an accommodation to allow him to participate on April 8, 2011, or grant a short continuance of the hearing to allow his participation on another date,” Justice Donald Alexander wrote Dec. 29 for the court.
The justice ordered that the temporary protection from abuse order issued March 21 remain in effect until a new hearing can be held. A date for that hearing has not been set.
“Cases like this are a reminder of why we have appeals courts,” Zachary Heiden, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said Tuesday in an email. “Here, the law court provides not just a correction for a particular case but also guidance for all courts concerning when a deadline needs to be extended in order to ensure fairness. Balancing the need for rules and the need for fairness is no easy task, and it is not unusual that it should take more than one attempt to get it right.”
Sayer’s legal troubles are far from over, however. He’s scheduled to go on trial next month in U.S. District Court in Portland on a charge of interstate stalking and identity theft. That case involves the same woman who sought the protection from abuse order earlier this year. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in July.
They dated from 2003 to 2006, but after the relationship ended, he continued to stalk her in person and online, according to court documents. She told investigators she moved out of state in May 2009 to escape Sayer’s abuse and harassment.
Sayer allegedly used his former girlfriend’s identity to set up a Facebook page and advertise on Craigslist using her photo and addresses. He advertised that she was seeking casual sexual encounters and men would show up at her home assuming she had posted the so-called requests herself, according to court documents. Sayer also allegedly put online videos of them having sex, which were made with her consent, when they were together.
If convicted on the federal charges, Sayer faces up to 10 years in prison on the stalking charge and up to five years on the identity theft charge. On each charge, he could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000.