Maine governor’s office paid $385,000 for private lawyers

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has paid more than $385,000 since 2014 to a couple of private law firms representing him in court when the Democratic attorney general declined to represent him or when he requested private lawyers, according to a state-maintained database of government finances reviewed by The Associated Press.

LePage is suing Attorney General Janet Mills, claiming her refusal to legally represent him has cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside counsel fees. In his lawsuit, he says he wants her office to pay his legal fees if she refuses to represent his positions.

The governor’s office hasn’t disclosed the cost of his latest lawsuit, which was filed by his former campaign treasurer and donor Bryan Dench in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday. Dench has declined to comment. LePage’s office has said it’ll take time to provide accurate numbers.

According to emails reviewed by the AP, the governor this year asked the attorney general’s office to draw up or pay for his own amicus briefs in support of Republican President Donald Trump’s immigration and travel orders. Mills’ office said it authorized outside counsel for such a brief but said it’s unaware of historical precedent for paying such legal fees.

In Maine, the attorney general is no “peon,” as Mills put it this week. The independent constitutional officer can decide whether to represent the governor based on what he or she decides is in the public interest, according to a 1989 state Supreme Judicial Court decision.

LePage has repeatedly claimed Mills has overstepped her constitutional authority and jeopardized his executive power, and this week he criticized her for publicly denouncing court cases “that the executive branch has requested to join.” He’s taken his frustrations over Mills’ actions to the state’s high court and the Legislature, where he took his unsuccessful 2015 request for a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint the attorney general.

Maine’s attorney general is elected by the legislature.

In a radio call-in on Tuesday, LePage said he would pay for the lawsuit against Mills with money from his contingency fund, which he’s used to pay other lawsuits.

“But there’s not enough to fight all these battles,” said LePage, who in past years has unsuccessfully asked lawmakers for funds for outside counsel.

A state-maintained database of government finances last updated in January details the cost of such fights.

The state’s risk management fund paid $160,000 to Consovoy McCarthy Park, which has a Boston office and represented LePage in former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves’ abuse of power lawsuit, which was dismissed.

LePage requested outside counsel because he believed it’d be a conflict of interest for the attorney general’s office. The office said it didn’t “necessarily agree” but approved the request.

The state paid the remaining $225,000 to Roach Hewitt Ruprecht Sanchez & Bischoff, which represented the state in two lawsuits.

In 2014, LePage hired the Portland law firm to appeal the federal government’s denial of his request to remove 6,000 young adults from the state’s Medicaid program. Mills told the governor the case had “little legal merit” and wouldn’t be a good use of money. That lawsuit failed.

The law firm defended the state in a lawsuit filed by the Maine Municipal Association and two cities challenging the state’s policy to withhold General Assistance benefits to immigrants living in the state illegally. LePage claimed victory in a 2015 split ruling, which Portland officials estimate cost the city about $3 million in state reimbursements.

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