Judge: Downeast Correctional Facility's Future Is Up To Lawmakers

Apr 9, 2018

A Superior Court judge has declined to weigh in on how a Washington County prison should be operated, after Gov. Paul LePage emptied the facility in February. 

David Webbert, an Augusta attorney representing laid-off workers at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, filed the request for clarification with Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.

"She's not going to tell the governor how to do the right thing any further than she already has," Webbert said. "And we have shown harm caused by illegal actions, so the normal remedy for that would be to get monetary damages."

LePage attempted to close the prison, arguing that it was too costly and inefficient for the state to maintain. But Justice Murphy ordered the state to reopen the facility after Webbert sought injunctive relief from the court. 

Without legislative approval for additional money, funding for the Downeast Correctional Facility will terminate June 30.

Unions representing prison workers argued that the LePage administration didn't add enough staff or inmates. But Murphy said lawmakers are free to enact new legislation requiring specific staffing and inmate levels at DCF.

Webbert said the judge's order reflects the concerns the issue poses for the state's three branches of power.

"It's kind of a conversation between the legislative branch and the judicial branch about how to deal with illegal abuse of power by the executive branch," Webbert said. "I think the court is saying that, 'I did my part, now it's time for you to do your part, because we have checks and balances here.' "

The Associated Press contributed to this story.