Political News

LePage comes out on top in Democrat's abuse of power lawsuit

Posted November 22

— A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a ruling that Republican Gov. Paul LePage has immunity from civil rights lawsuits and can't be sued for threatening to withhold state discretionary funding from a nonprofit that had offered a job to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

A majority opinion by a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Eves' federal lawsuit and ordered his state claim also be dismissed. Eves has launched court battles claiming LePage violated his civil rights and sought damages and a court declaration barring LePage from violating others' rights in the future.

The two prevailing judges noted LePage has had "deep political disagreements" with Democratic legislators, particularly departing Speaker Eves. The nonprofit, which operates a charter school, terminated Eves's contract after LePage threatened to withhold roughly $1 million in discretionary funding and, as cited in the judges' decision, called Eves a "hack."

A dissenting judge called LePage's actions a "scorched-earth campaign" against a political opponent and said it's clear his "bullying" violated Eves's First Amendment rights.

The majority opinion said no legal precedent barred LePage's actions and noted the governor has broad discretionary funding authority. The judges also said it's reasonable that LePage may have been uncertain whether he violated Eves's constitutional rights.

Eves has a new job at a Westbrook nonprofit. His attorney, David Webbert, said Eves will be considering his options about pursuing the case further and will make a decision within two weeks.

"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," Webbert said in a statement.

LePage's office didn't immediately respond to request for comment.

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