Mark Eves Sues LePage Over Good Will-Hinckley Firing
PORTLAND, Maine — As expected, Maine's Democratic House Speaker has filed a federal lawsuit against Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
In his lawsuit, Mark Eves says the governor violated his 1st and 14th Amendment rights by pressuring a school for at-risk youth to fire him because he voted against charter schools in the Legislature.
The governor's office says the lawsuit was filed for political purposes and has no legal merit.
Eves' attorney David Webbert says the action is based on the most fundamental of human rights.
"It's called the 1st Amendment, and most of us are very familiar with it, but some people, when they get a lot of power, forget about it," he says.
Standing outside U.S. District Court in Portland, Eves told reporters that LePage blackmailed the Good Will-Hinckley school, which had hired him to serve as president.
Eves says that LePage had sent a note to the the school board threatening to withhold more than $500,000 in state funding unless the board fired him. And in June, the board did just that.
Eves says he had no choice but to move forward with his lawsuit after losing the position, which carried a $120,000 annual salary.
"The governor has admitted to blackmailing Good Will-Hinckley, and we filed a lawsuit this afternoon to make sure that he is held accountable for the abuse of power," he says.
According to the 27-page complaint, the actions taken by the governor violated his 14th Amendment right to due process in his contract with Good Will-Hinckley and his right to be free from "unreasonable government interference" in his private employment.
Eves says there's a lot more at stake in the lawsuit than just his personal interests.
"The governor's actions clearly violate the 1st Amendment right of every Maine citizen to have their legislator be able to speak freely and independently, without the threat of the governor," he says. "Time has come that somebody has to stand up and say, 'Enough.' And as a top legislative leader, I accept the responsibility to make sure that the governor is held accountable for his blackmail."
LePage, who has not denied that he tried to torpedo Eves' new job, has maintained that the speaker was not qualified to serve as the school's president and was actually taking the job to undermine charter schools.
The governor allegedly issued the threat to withhold state funding to the school's chairman, John Moore, in a private note that Moore has said he's not sure he still has. But Webbert says that fact has already been established and he says the governor's actions speak for themselves.
"Why does the governor do something in secret?" he says. "Because he knows it's wrong, because he does almost everything in public. So then when Mark got fired, and we had to tell the people of Maine what happened, he was in hiding for a few days and he would not tell the press whether or not he had made this threat. The following week, he finally admitted to it. So does the note matter at this point? The governor is defending, he is bragging about, making this threat. So I think the note is kind of old news at this point."
Portland attorney Richard O'Meara says Eves will have to show that LePage retaliated because of political statements that the speaker made. And O'Meara says that as a government official LePage could claim what's known as a qualified immunity defense if he can prove that his actions did not violate clearly established law.
"I think the problem for the governor in this case is, however, that there is precedent out there showing that this right to be free from retaliation in 1st Amendment settings is clearly established," he says. "In fact there is a decision in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, a Massachusetts case about a decade ago, where the judges said that this type of a claim is clearly established in the law. And therefore I don't think that defense is going to be easy for the governor to establish in a case like this, given the precedent."
Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary, issued a brief statement in response to the Eves lawsuit.
"This is a political lawsuit," she says. "It has no legal merit and is the Democrats' concerted attempt to accomplish what they couldn't at the ballot box inside a courtroom."