AUGUSTA, Maine — A failed federal lawsuit and subsequent appeal by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, both of which were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court, cost Maine taxpayers $108,000 in legal fees paid to a private law firm.
The Department of Health and Human Services released the fees paid to Portland-based Roach, Hewitt, Ruprecht, Sanchez & Bischoff after a records request from the Sun Journal.
The administration and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew retained nongovernmental lawyers and pursued the case after Maine Attorney General Janet Mills declined to represent the state but did permit LePage to hire outside attorneys.
The case, litigated in 2014 and early 2015, stemmed from the administration’s efforts to remove about 6,000 people — 19- and 20-year-old single adults — from the state’s Medicaid program, known as MaineCare.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, said the governor’s office was essentially forced to seek private attorneys to represent the state when Mills refused to do so.
Bennett also said a subsequent case involving the state’s ability to set rules for locally administered General Assistance welfare programs and immigrants, and in which Mills also refused to represent the state, LePage prevailed and saved taxpayers more than $1 million.
In that case, the administration paid the same legal firm — Roach, Hewitt, Ruprecht, Sanchez & Bischoff — about $100,000 in fees, Bennett said.
“So if we were to accept the blind guidance from the attorney general all the time, then we would be losing even more taxpayer money,” Bennett said.
An earlier report from The Associated Press detailed the case costs as of January at about $56,000, but the latest invoices made available Wednesday show the total state expense was closer to double that amount.
In January, Mayhew defended the expense, saying the administration pursued the case because it believes the tax dollars spent to cover the young adults instead should go to help the elderly and disabled.
State officials estimated that cutting coverage for the 19- and 20-year-olds would save the state nearly $4 million per year.
Mayhew also criticized Mills earlier this year for opposing “her own state,” which she said drove up the administration’s legal bills. Mills, a Democrat, dismissed that idea and said none of the actions her office took increased the administration’s fees or involvement in the case.
Mills declined further comment on Wednesday.