Eves’ lawyer, Webbert, renews LePage ‘blackmail’ charge in appeals court

Read the entire story here at the Bangor Daily News.

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The court battle between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves advanced Wednesday with oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.

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At issue is how LePage forced Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that among other things runs a public charter school in Fairfield, to rescind an employment contract with Eves or face the loss of some $500,000 in annual state funding.

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Eves’ attorney David Webbert said there were indications from the panel of three appeals court judges that there is some merit in Eves’ arguments, particularly on whether LePage had the right to use public funds as a threat and whether LePage discriminated against all Democratic lawmakers, and particularly Eves.

“This case is about one thing: protecting Maine citizens and private organizations from being blackmailed, threatened and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” said Webbert in a written statement.

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Eve’s lawsuit aims to protect Mainers from being “blackmailed, threatened, and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” said Webbert

Read the entire story here at the Maine Sun Journal.

1st Circuit considers Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage

(AP) — The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing in on a request to reinstate a lawsuit accusing Maine Gov. Paul LePage of abuse of power and blackmail.

Lawyers for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and the Republican governor delivered arguments Wednesday. Now the three-judge panel in Boston will decide whether to overturn a decision by a federal judge in Maine to dismiss the lawsuit.

Eves’ lawsuit accuses LePage of using blackmail to force a charter school operator to rescind a job offer to him, and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

His lawyer, David Webbert, said the lawsuit aims to protect Mainers from being “blackmailed, threatened, and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons.”

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Webbert, Eve’s attorney, said the court appeared to recognize that a governor’s threats could endanger the private lives of citizen legislators.

Read the entire story here at mainepublic.org

1st Circuit Considers Appeal in Lawsuit Against LePage

The attorney for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves attempted to revive a lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.

A three-judge panel heard arguments from attorneys representing Eves and the governor during a brief hearing in Boston. The panel will decide whether to overturn a decision by a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, is trying to convince the panel that LePage acted illegally when he threatened to withhold over $1 million in state funding to a private nonprofit unless the organization fired Eves as its president. Good Will-Hinckley, the nonprofit, eventually withdrew its offer to Eves.

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Webbert says the judge erred when he ruled that judicial courts were not appropriate to resolve political disputes. In a statement, he said he remained confident the panel would rule in his favor based on reactions to his arguments yesterday. He said the court appeared to recognize that a governor’s threats could endanger the private lives of citizen legislators.

 

 

Webbert is confident in his appeal of Eves v LePage – “our politicians are not above the law.”

Read the entire story here at the Portland Press Herald.

Attorneys for House Speaker Mark Eves asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn an earlier decision to dismiss Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage.

David Webbert said in a statement after the hearing that he was confident in his appeal and said “both the U.S. and Maine constitutions make it clear that our politicians are not above the law.”

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Eves, the Democratic leader from North Berwick, sued the Republican governor last summer, alleging that LePage abused his power by threatening to withhold state funding if an educational institution in central Maine moved forward with hiring Eves to be its president.

The board of Good Will-Hinckley school in Fairfield did ultimately rescind its offer to Eves, citing the governor’s threats as one of the main reasons.

Eves argued that the governor used his executive power to intercede into his private life for political retribution.

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On Wednesday, each side addressed a three-judge panel seated in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which will issue a written ruling on the case at a later date. If the case is overturned on appeal, it would be sent back to Maine to be tried.

Webbert said the appellate judges asked several questions that gave him confidence the case may be sent back for a trial.

“The Court recognized that Maine has a ‘citizen legislature” and that the need of Maine Legislators to make a living makes them vulnerable to threats by a Governor to punish them in their ‘private life,’” the attorney said in a statement.

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The dispute began on June 5, 2015, the day Eves signed a two-year employment contract with the school.

On that day, LePage phoned the then-interim president of the school, Richard Abramson, and expressed his extreme displeasure about Eves’ selection. The governor also sent a handwritten note to the chairman of the school’s board of directors, called Eves a “hack” and made it clear that the school would lose the $1.06 million in discretionary funding that it expected to receive in the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The dispute arose as the Legislature worked to finalize the state’s budget and marked a particularly frigid moment between legislators and LePage, who vowed to veto every bill sponsored by a Democrat because members of the House did not address his policy priorities.

The Good Will-Hinckley board rescinded its offer to hire Eves as its president on June 24. LePage admitted to reporters that he threatened to choke off funding. Eves filed suit the next month.

Eves accused the governor of using taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent his hiring by Good Will-Hinckley, and contended that LePage’s actions violated several of Eves’ constitutional rights, including his First Amendment rights of free speech, free association and political affiliation, as well as his 14th Amendment right to due process.

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Webbert is asking the appeal court to void Judge Singal’s ruling in Mark Eves’ case against Governor LePage

Read the entire article here at MPBN.

Mark Eves Appeals, Citing LePage’s “Extreme View of Gubernatorial Power”

The attorney for House Speaker Mark Eves is seeking an injunction against Gov. Paul LePaage, in Eves’ appeal filed Wednesday with the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The brief is an attempt to force the U.S. District Court to reconsider Eves’ argument that the governor acted illegally when he threatened to withhold over $1 million in state funding to a private nonprofit unless the organization fired Eves as its president.

In May, District Court Judge George Singal dismissed Eves’ case, saying, in essence, that the governor’s actions in the Good Will-Hinckley controversy were protected by the so-called immunity clause. That’s the legal concept that essentially protects elected officials from civil lawsuits.

But David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, now argues that Singal erred when he ruled that judicial courts were not appropriate to resolve political disputes. Webbert, in a 131-page brief, wrote that federal courts have upheld civil rights lawsuits between political opponents.

Webbert is essentially asking the appeal court to void Singal’s ruling and provide the legal framework to consider the case. In doing so, Webbert is focusing on a ruling that would “prevent LePage’s extreme view of gubernatorial power from becoming accepted as the norm in Maine politics.”

A response brief from LePage is expected in about a month. Oral arguments before a three-judge panel could take place this fall.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. Eves is not dropping his pursuit for monetary damages against LePage.

Speaker Mark Eves’ Attorney David Webbert says Governor Paul LePage lacks immunity to violate constitution

Read the entire article here by The Associated Press in the Maine Sun Journal.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Democratic Speaker Mark Eves says his appeal of his dismissed lawsuit against Republican Gov. LePage isn’t about money, but about the constitutional rights he claims LePage violated.

His lawyer, David Webbert, this week filed a brief seeking a federal court order that LePage committed such violations and must stop doing so. Additional briefs will be filed before oral arguments are scheduled.

Eves’ lawsuit accused LePage of using blackmail to force Good Will-Hinckley, a Fairfield nonprofit operating a charter school, to rescind his job offer. The lawsuit sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal ruled in LePage’s favor, concluding he was entitled to immunity for his actions.

Webbert said governors lack immunity to violate federal constitutional rights, and said he’s “very confident” the appeal will succeed.

“The governor’s action was out of bounds,” said Webbert

Read the entire story and listen to the report here at MPBN News.

A federal judge on Wednesday heard arguments in the lawsuit brought by Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves against Repubilcan Gov. Paul LePage.

Eves sued LePage last year over the governor’s alleged blackmail of the Good Will-Hinckley school, which hired and then fired Eves as its president at the governor’s request. At issue for the judge is whether the lawsuit should be dismissed.

For Eves and his attorney, David Webbert, the case boils down to the governor’s alleged withholding of $1 million in discretionary funding for Good Will-Hinckley, which runs a private school for at-risk youth. Webbert told U.S District Judge George Singal that the record shows that not only did the governor threaten to withhold the money, but he and his education commissioner took steps to pull it back just in case Good Will-Hinckley’s board didn’t go along with his request to get rid of Eves.

Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Webbert said the governor’s action was out of bounds.

“I mean you can’t break the constitution even when you have discretion. So you can’t say ‘I won’t give money to organizations that have black leadership or female leadership or Catholic leadership or that have a Democrat because I don’t like Democrats,’” he says. “Those are out of bounds in our democracy and that’s what the courts are there to enforce.”

The governor’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, declined to answer reporters’ questions.

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“If the money wasn’t in the budget then he couldn’t threaten it,” he says. “So, he wanted it in the budget. It was in the budget and the fact that they were starting to pay it out proves that, and I think the defendant is just misstating the record.”

Webbert told the judge that LePage’s actions were made in a “hyperpartisan political environment” in which the governor had declared war on the Democrats. He says it’s his theory that Eves was threatened because he was the leader of the Democrats.

Since his dismissal from the school Eves has not found another job and Webbert says he’s concerned that future employers may be reluctant to hire his client because of the political fallout.

Judge Singal did not indicate when he might have a decision on the motion to dismiss.

 

Webbert said, “Folks that have at-will employment still can’t be fired because of their race or their political affiliation.”

Read the entire story here at the Kennebec Journal.

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Eves has accused LePage of using taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent Eves’ hiring as president of Good Will-Hinckley, a nonprofit in Fairfield that operates a charter school partly funded by the state. Eves contends LePage’s actions violated several of Eves’ constitutional rights, including his First Amendment rights of free speech, free association and political affiliation, as well as his 14th Amendment right to due process.

Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, argued that the judge should allow the case to proceed to trial specifically because the Republican governor sought to withhold up to $1 million in state funding from Good Will-Hinckley if it didn’t fire Eves and that he wasn’t immune because he sought to discriminate against Eves because of his party affiliation.

“Folks that have at-will employment still can’t be fired because of their race or their political affiliation,” Webbert said. He added that Eves’ contract afforded him even more protection, since it stated he could only be fired for cause.

Singal made no immediate ruling on LePage’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit but said he would try to issue an order in the “very near future.”

Eves claims that Good Will-Hinckley’s board of directors voted June 24 to rescind its offer to hire him as president only after LePage threatened to eliminate $530,000 in state funding for the school.

An amended complaint filed on Dec. 18 by Webbert quotes LePage’s statements to a reporter on June 29, when asked whether he “threatened to withhold money” from Good-Will Hinckley for hiring Eves.

“Yeah, I did! If I could, I would! Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Tell me why I wouldn’t take the taxpayer money, to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it. Because his heart’s not into doing the right thing for Maine people,” the lawsuit quotes LePage as saying to the reporter.

It also quotes the governor’s statements in a radio interview on July 30, the day Eves initially filed the lawsuit, when LePage answered a question about why he intervened in the school’s hiring of Eves.

“I’ll tell you what my mindset was. This guy is a plant by the unions to destroy charter schools. … I believe that’s what his motive is. … That man had no heart,” the lawsuit quotes LePage as saying. “It is just like one time I stepped in when a domestic violence, when a man was beating his wife. Should I have stepped in? Legally, no. But I did. And I’m not embarrassed about doing it.”

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Webbert argued that LePage’s actions against Eves were part of an extended pattern of LePage’s “war on Democrats”

Read the entire story here at the Bangor Daily News.

Whether a lawsuit will continue between two of Maine’s leading politicians and most bitter rivals is in a federal judge’s hands following arguments around dismissal of the case Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court.

Arguments in the lawsuit by Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves against Republican Gov. Paul LePage have been coming for months, since Eves sued LePage in July 2015.

 At the core of the lawsuit is whether LePage violated state law or Eves’ rights when he forced Good Will-Hinckley to rescind an employment contract by threatening to end $530,000 a year in state funding for the organization.

Judge George Singal said after the brief arguments concluded that he would rule on LePage’s motion to dismiss the case “in the very near future.”

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David Webbert, who represents Eves, argued that the Department of Education was already processing its first payment to Good Will-Hinckley, which means pulling it back because of LePage’s displeasure with Eves falls outside the scope of normal legislative business.

Webbert argued that LePage’s actions against Eves were part of an extended pattern of LePage’s “war on Democrats” that included continued verbal attacks and a vow to veto every bill they put across his desk.

“What better way to say that than to get the leader of the Democrats fired from the job he needed to support his family?” said Webbert. “The defendant was smart enough not to say [Eves] should be fired because he was a Democrat, but he came awfully close.”

Eves’ attorney, David Webbert: LePage lawsuit immunity claims astonishingly broad

Read the whole story here in the Bangor Daily News.

Good morning from Augusta, where there’s new fallout from House Speaker Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage.

As you probably know, the Democrat from North Berwick sued the governor last year over the Republican’s role in forcing Good Will-Hinckley to rescind an employment contract with Eves in 2015.

LePage threatened to withhold $530,000 in state funding unless the Good Will-Hinckley board, which oversees a public charter school in Fairfield, fired Eves. That triggered the possibility of further financial ramifications for the school that could have led to its failure.

In a Feb. 9 filing in U.S. District Court, Eves’ Augusta-based attorney, David Webbert, said the governor’s claims of immunity from the lawsuit are “astonishingly broad,” meaning he would have the power to halt funding on a political whim to any of a number of Maine institutions, from Maine Medical Center in Portland to John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.

Webbert said “this radical legal theory would concentrate so much power in the hands of the governor that it would revolutionalize Maine’s form of government,” but the governor “is fundamentally wrong about how Maine’s government and its system of checks and balances work.”

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