PORTLAND, Maine — The first oral arguments in House Speaker Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage were delivered Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court when the governor’s attorney argued the suit should be thrown out.
Wednesday’s court hearing marked the latest chapter in a simmering legal and political conflict that pits Maine’s Republican governor against one of the state’s most influential elected Democrats. It provided a new forum for a rancorous conflict that has raged for 10 months.
Wednesdays’s hearing followed months of what has amounted to a legal paper war in Eves’ bid to exact retribution on LePage for the governor’s role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley to rescind an employment contract with Eves last year.
Eves has asked the court to declare that LePage acted illegally when he threatened to revoke $530,000 in state funding from the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a charter school run by Good Will-Hinckley, unless the organization rescinded its offer to make Eves the organization’s president. Eves also is seeking unspecified monetary compensation, including lost wages, punitive damages and legal fees.
A tempestuous timeline
— On June 9, 2015, Eves announced he had taken a job as president of Good Will-Hinckley after being unanimously selected by its board of directors. LePage immediately penned a scathing letter to the organization’s leaders, asserting Eves was unqualified for the position and an ardent foe of charter schools.
— On June 24, 2015, the Bangor Daily News reported the Harold Alfond foundation raised concerns about the school’s viability if it lost the state funding. Later that day, the Good Will-Hinckley Board of Directors voted to fire Eves.
— On July 30, 2015, Eves filed his lawsuit against LePage, alleging the governor blackmailed the organization. At the core of the lawsuit is Eves’ contention that the governor abused his power as Maine’s chief executive and violated Eves’ civil rights.
— Ramifications were unfolding outside the courtroom, as well. Throughout the latter half of 2015, the watchdog Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability conducted a probe into the matter and produced a report for the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. The process confirmed LePage threatened the funding but did not find major breaches of the law. Meanwhile, members of the House launched what would end up as a failed attempt to impeach LePage.
— In February of this year, LePage’s attorneys motioned for the lawsuit to be dismissed on the basis that LePage, as an elected official, is immune from the lawsuit. In court filings, Eves’ attorney called LePage’s claims “astonishingly broad” and “dangerous to the Democratic process.”
What happened today
Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, argued that LePage violated Eves’ civil rights under several sections of the U.S. Constitution and abused his power by asserting it on an outside entity.
LePage’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, argued LePage has “qualified immunity” from Eves’ claims and that his statements are protected as government speech.
According to court documents, Webbert will be given 20 minutes to argue his case, followed by 30 minutes for Strawbridge to rebut, followed by another 10 minutes for Webbert.