An appeals court in Boston will decide if Gov. Janet Mills violated an inmate’s constitutional right to due process when she seized his unemployment benefits during the pandemic without a hearing.
Marc Sparks, 36, of Bucksport was one of 53 prisoners who received nearly $200,000 in unemployment benefits because they had been laid off from work release programs as the state shut down in 2020.
He worked full-time at the Applebee’s restaurant in Thomaston as a grill cook while incarcerated at Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren as part of a work release program, according to his attorney, Carol Garvan of Augusta.
“The income from this job was used to reimburse Maine taxpayers for Marc’s room and board and to pay for the basic support of his children and domestic partner,” she said.
Sparks received $10,754 in unemployment benefits from April to early July. About $8,400 of that was in enhanced benefits Congress provided in its first COVID-19 relief package. Mills ordered the Department of Corrections to hold the benefits that had been paid out in trust funds set up for inmates. The governor called the payments “bad public policy,” even though an assistant attorney general had determined the payments were legal.
In June 2020, Sparks sued Mills, Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, and Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Sparks alleged that because the funds were seized without a hearing about whether he was entitled to the money, the state violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment.
Garvan said she is confident the appellate court will rule in Sparks’ favor and “will vindicate the fundamental constitutional right to due process, especially for those in politically unpopular groups.”
Read the full Bangor Daily News article here.
Read the full Portland Press Herald article here.
Listen to Attorney Garvan’s full oral argument below: