July 23, 2018
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Lawyers spar over case accusing Maine governor of blackmail

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
House Speaker Mark Eves presides over budget discussions at the State House in Augusta, Maine. A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Boston in a lawsuit filed by Eves accusing Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage of abuse of power and blackmail.
Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press
Updated:

A lawyer for Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage has urged a federal appeals court to toss a Democrat’s lawsuit accusing him of blackmail.

[Charter school breaks contract with Eves after LePage threat]

Attorney Patrick Strawbridge told the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Tuesday that the governor is immune from the legal challenge brought by former House Speaker Mark Eves.

[Federal judge dismisses Mark Eves’ lawsuit against LePage]

Eves says the governor overstepped his authority when he threatened to withhold state funding to force Good Will-Hinckley, a charter school operator in Fairfield, to rescind a job offer to Eves in 2015. Eves had signed an employment contract with the organization, but it was rescinded after LePage publicly criticized the choice and threatened to withhold more than $1 million in state funding if the school went through with hiring Eves.

[Good Will-Hinckley leader confirms funding threat forced Eves out]

Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, told the court that no “reasonable” official could think the job would be subject to a “political loyalty requirement.”

Eves, who is a Democratic candidate for governor, said after the hearing that the court must set a precedent to prevent something like this from happening again.

The legal battle has been playing out since 2016. Eves’ suit was rejected in court last year but revived in January of this year by the appeals court. The court granted what is known as an en banc hearing, meaning the court’s previous ruling will be vacated and its full panel of appeals judges will consider the matter, as opposed to a select panel of judges who made the earlier ruling.

It’s unclear how long deliberations in the matter will take.

BDN State House bureau chief Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.

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