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Maine governor sues attorney general for not defending cases


    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills speaks to reporters near the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta, Maine in 2010.

AUGUSTA, Maine >> Republican Gov. Paul LePage is suing Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills for refusing to represent his administration’s positions during a series of political disagreements that reached the boiling point over the president’s immigration and travel orders.

In a lawsuit the governor’s office announced today, LePage said he’s been forced to spend taxpayer money on outside counsel to represent the administration because Mills refuses to do so.

“This clear abuse of power prevents the chief executive from carrying out duties that in his good-faith judgment is in the best interest of the people of Maine,” LePage said.

His lawsuit, which his office said was filed today in Kennebec County Superior Court, seeks to force Mills to pay for his outside counsel, with no restrictions, if she declines to represent his positions.

Mills said the lawsuit was “frivolous” and much ado about nothing.

“We’re not some peon,” she said. “We are an independent constitutional office.”

She said her office has never denied LePage’s ability to retain outside counsel and said the office simply said LePage’s counsel should be licensed and insured.

LePage and Mills have crossed swords before: Mills refused to represent the state when LePage tried to drop some 19- and 20-year-olds from welfare rolls and when he sued municipalities for helping immigrants who were in the country illegally. She also fined his administration for holding a closed-door meeting.

But the dispute boiled over with Republican President Donald Trump’s travel orders.

LePage, who supports Trump’s travel ban, decided he’d had enough when Mills publicly disagreed with Trump and then joined in an amicus brief opposing the administration’s orders.

The two executive orders by Trump targeted several Muslim-majority countries for restrictions on travel to the United States. The lawsuit states that LePage believes Trump’s executive orders about immigration and travel are “measured and appropriate.” Trump says the measures are meant to keep the U.S. safe.

In emails provided by the attorney general’s office dating to February, LePage accused Mills of thwarting his executive authority and Mills referenced his “misstatements, mischaracterizations and misinformed opinions.”

Mills, the first woman to serve as attorney general in Maine, drew a distinction between defending the state in a lawsuit and taking a discretionary position in another jurisdiction.

“If he were getting sued that’d be a different matter,” she said in an interview. “He wants to take a discretionary position in some litigation in another jurisdiction. And that’s his prerogative. We said he could do that.”

But she said she’s unaware of any precedent that says her office should pay for the executive branch’s outside legal fees. LePage could have just signed onto a court brief, as he’s done in the past, at no cost to taxpayers, she said.

House Republican leader Ken Fredette said it appeared the relationship between the two “has deteriorated to a point where the basic function of legal representation is not happening the way it’s supposed to.”

Mills was confirmed in 2012, replacing a Republican attorney general, and she served a previous term as attorney general as well. A 1989 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision found the attorney general has the power to decline to represent the executive branch in litigation, based on what’s in the “public interest” as he or she sees fit.

LePage told the attorney general’s office he didn’t want to see Mills’ name on any brief that contradicts his support for the Trump immigration orders. He contends the disagreements have forced him to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal advice.

He noted that most states avoid such conflicts by holding public elections for attorney general or letting the governor appoint the attorney general. In Maine the attorney general is elected by the Legislature.

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