A federal judge on Wednesday issued a confidentiality order in a Maine State Police detective’s whistleblower lawsuit against the Maine Information and Analysis Center that will keep out of public view documents exchanged in the discovery process.
George Loder, 50, of Scarborough sued the division of the Maine State Police and its supervisors in May, claiming he was demoted after he told his bosses that the center was collecting and maintaining data illegally, including information about people who had applied to buy guns from firearms dealers, those who legally protested, and those who worked at a Maine international camp for Israeli and Arab teens. The center is responsible for sharing information with other law enforcement agencies.
The Maine Attorney General’s office, which represents the defendants, sought a confidentiality order because they may need to use certain records about current or former state employees, which may include records of personnel matters, as well as Loder’s financial records, tax records, medical records or personnel records, which may be deemed confidential by state law.
The state also said that investigative techniques, procedures, security plans, or intelligence or investigative record information, all of which may be deemed confidential under Maine law, might be revealed in the discovery process.
“Defendants may need to use this information, for example, to refute [Loder’s] allegations about investigative techniques used by the MIAC, to respond to his claims that the MIAC has engaged in illegal investigative activities, and to introduce evidence relevant to one of the elements of [his] whistleblower retaliation claim, which is that he held an objectively reasonable belief that [the center] was engaging in unlawful activity,” attorneys argued in the motion.
Loder’s attorney, Cynthia Dill of Portland, opposed the motion because deciding which documents are and which aren’t confidential is burdensome and time consuming. She argued that there was “no compelling interest in” keeping information in the case a secret.
“In a case that has as a central premise the defendants are keeping information unlawfully secret, they want the court to keep the litigation secret,” she said. “[Loder] has no intention of discovering or offering into evidence anyone’s personnel history except his own and any rights of confidentiality are his to waive if he wishes.”
Dill suggested that the judge decide whether individual documents fall under Maine’s confidentiality laws rather than issue a blanket order.
In granting the confidentiality order, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison said that it would help to avoid discovery disputes over individual documents as the case moves forward but he “expects the parties will not unnecessarily designate information as confidential.”
Confidentiality orders are common in employment discrimination cases in Maine because under Maine law most personnel records aren’t public documents.
Loder’s accusations got the attention of the lawmakers who have questioned the MIAC’s methods and called for more openness. Then, hackers exposed hundreds of documents that shed greater light on its role in monitoring such things as lawful protests and suspicious social media posts.
In July, the center opened its doors to reporters and legislators for the first time. The state police will ask the Legislature next year to pass a law requiring the center to submit an annual report to the committee on criminal justice and public safety about its activities.
“We feel this requirement would help demystify the important work being done by the MIAC and lead to a greater level of understanding of its critical role in public safety,” Maj. Brian Scott said Wednesday.
Loder’s lawsuit did not include which agencies the center may have shared the information with other than the state police. It did not say when the center began collecting it. Loder expressed his concerns to supervisors in November 2017.
The complaint also alleged that staff at the center illegally gathered and kept information gleaned from social media about people who legally protested in September 2018 against Central Maine Power Co.’s proposed transmission corridor stretching from the Quebec border to Lewiston.
State police maintain a database that can be searched to determine if a person is prohibited from purchasing a gun. Applications to purchase firearms are supposed to be destroyed after the sale is approved but the center stored that information in the database, the suit claimed.
In another instance, the center allegedly stored information obtained from license plate scanners longer than the 21 days it can legally do so under state law. License plates were scanned in Portland and other cities from vehicles that made frequent trips to New York City or towns in Massachusetts considered by police to be sources of drugs for dealers in Maine.