SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A frequent critic of town government in Falmouth is suing Scarborough and its town councilors, claiming they violated his First Amendment rights.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Michael Doyle, of 3 Shady Lane in Falmouth, claims that on three occasions this year councilors interrupted him at the podium during public forums “to enforce their illegal rules for public speaking.”
The documents say Doyle told councilors their rules do not comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, but he was still illegally ordered to stop speaking.
According to the documents, Doyle, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, claims he is eligible to “recover nominal and actual damages” from the defendants, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs.
Doyle said the town and councilors “acted maliciously and/or with reckless or callous indifference” to his constitutional rights.
The town received notice of the lawsuit on Monday, Aug. 31. It has 21 days to respond.
Mark Franco, the attorney representing Scarborough, on Tuesday said public officials can limit the time, place and manner of public comment, not the content of it.
He said Doyle’s complaint is “vague,” because Doyle alleges his rights were violated based on content, but nowhere in his complaint does he describe that content. Franco said essentially Doyle is objecting that the council can limit the time he uses.
“He is alleging he has unfettered rights to get up there and launch personal attacks, and he doesn’t,” Franco said.
Doyle was ruled out of order by the council on May 6, June 3 and June 17. He also claimed his rights were violated on May 20, but at that meeting Doyle spoke for just under three minutes at the beginning of the meeting, was not ruled out of order, and left of his own free will.
On May 6, he spoke for just under a minute and a half, suggesting a town business owner was guilty of sexual abuse.
On June 3, Doyle spoke for roughly two minutes before he was ruled out of order for comparing the Town Council to the terrorist group ISIS. After being ruled out of order, he attempted to keep speaking. Council Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook asked him to stop.
“You are not being recognized,” Holbrook said, before asking to have Doyle removed. At that point, Doyle left.
Franco said it is legal to rule someone out of order if they are disruptive or make personal attacks.
“From a legal standpoint, there’s no legal grounds for his claim,” Franco said.
Doyle was ruled out of order in less than a minute on June 17, after he asked about an officer who was fired from the Police Department. Holbrook said his statements were inflammatory. Doyle repeatedly asked which specific rule he violated, and was removed.
Scarborough Town Council rules allow up to three minutes of general public comment per speaker on an item not on the evening’s agenda.
Doyle’s lawsuit also claims he was acting as a member of the press, and attended the meetings as a reporter for his blog. According to court documents dated July 9, he claimed he “suffered irreparable harm by being under the threat of immediate arrest” by the officer who escorted him out of Council Chambers.
Doyle claimed Town Manager Tom Hall “stood up and advanced toward the podium indicating a possible physical confrontation and nodded to the officer” behind Doyle to step in, which the officer did.
The documents said the officer thanked Doyle for his cooperation as he left, “which could only mean the officer was prepared to arrest and restrain” him.
Hall this week said he could not discuss an ongoing legal matter. Holbrook, the council chairwoman, did not respond to requests for comment.
Doyle has also tried to avoid paying Scarborough’s fees for processing requests he has submitted for information under the state’s Freedom of Access Act. He based his waiver claim on his financial circumstances.
But in a February hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Doyle failed to provide any documentation of his income and expenses.
Citing Doyle’s “false affidavit and his suspect testimony,” Justice Joyce A. Wheeler denied the waiver and ordered him to pay the fees.
Doyle has a long history of confrontational behavior and criticism of town government.
In Falmouth, he has verbally attacking elected officials and town staff. In 2010 he began a petition to have Cathy Breen, then the Town Council chairwoman and currently a state senator, recalled on the basis she did not comply with council rules. The petition failed.
In 2011, Doyle filed a complaint against Andrew Kinley, then vice chairman of the Falmouth School Board, for allegedly assaulting Doyle during a meeting. The allegation followed a dispute over public seating during the meeting. No charges were brought against Kinley.
A police officer is present at all Falmouth Town Council meetings because of Doyle, and Franco, Scarborough’s attorney, has previously represented Falmouth in cases involving Doyle.
More recently, Doyle tried unsuccessfully to sue the Falmouth School Department to provide him with telephone records from former Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers. The town provided redacted information, and Doyle sued in Superior Court for non-redacted information, but was rebuked. He eventually appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision.
Doyle is retired from the insurance industry and also formerly worked as a securities trader. He now drives for Uber, and twice ran unsuccessfully for the Falmouth School Board, most recently in 2013.
Doyle pleaded guilty to misrepresenting and selling unregistered securities in 2002. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison with all but 14 months suspended, and was ordered to pay a $16,000 fine. He blamed his conviction on his lawyers, who he claimed tricked him into twice pleading guilty.
Doyle has filed hundreds of FOAA request in Falmouth, and in 2012 was provided with access to more than 3,100 email addresses of subscribers to the town’s email notification service. He then sent out a mass email to the subscribers.
The breach eventually led lawmakers to propose changes to the FOAA to protect email addresses of people who subscribe to government website and email announcement lists.
He is commonly regarded as one of Maine’s most prolific FOAA users, if not the most prolific, at times sending off requests on nearly a daily basis.