Calling federal judge an ‘imbecile’ is just latest salvo in LePage’s war with courts

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage continues to tangle with legal professionals.

On Wednesday, he called a federal judge an imbecile, four times that we know of. At issue is the judge’s decision to let move forward a lawsuit against President Donald Trump in which a stay by LePage in Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel in 2017 before meeting with the president is being held up as evidence.

The lawsuit from the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia claims Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which essentially bars the president from personal gains — like bookings in his hotel by people in Washington for official business — as a result of his office.

“I didn’t realize I could buy the president so cheap, a night in his hotel and he’s in my back pocket,” said LePage, according to WGME. “The judge that did that is imbecile. He’s a complete imbecile.”

Trump and representatives of his business empire have denied the allegations but as far as we know haven’t publicly called any judges imbeciles.

Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it represents another chapter in a long story about LePage’s legal tangles during his term in office. He has joined federal lawsuits on a number of issues, such as earlier this week when he joined a federal lawsuit against California over “sanctuary” laws involving immigrants, sued the federal government on behalf of some of his welfare reform initiatives, and sued Maine Attorney General Janet Mills for refusing to defend him in matters she deemed unwinnable or unconstitutional. Often, he joins federal lawsuits as an individual because Mills, as Maine’s top legal official, refuses to allow the state to back lawsuits that she deems to lack legal merit or which challenge rulings she supports.

And then, of course, there have been numerous lawsuits against LePage on a range of issues, including former House speaker and current gubernatorial candidate Mark Eves’ suit against LePage for forcing Eves out of a job at Goodwill Hinckley. LePage is also tangled up in Maine Superior Court over his sudden closure last month of Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport and has been sued by the ACLU for blocking critics on his Facebook page.

The proceedings have come at considerable cost. The Associated Press reported earlier this month that LePage has spent at least $110,000 on outside legal representation since last fall and more than $500,000 in the past four years. Those numbers are inflated at least partially because of Mills’ refusal to involve her office in his lawsuits. Another factor is language in last year’s state budget bill that eliminated a number of attorney positions in the Department of Health and Human Services. A week ago, LePage proposed a new bill that seeks nearly $650,000 in state money to refill the positions.

Nationally, the case against Trump will decide if the president is benefitting from his power and position. Here in Maine, it doesn’t take a judge or jury to understand that under LePage, the legal profession has benefitted mightily.

Former gubernatorial candidate fined $500

Former Democratic Sen. James Boyle of Gorham, who launched and then abandoned a campaign in this year’s gubernatorial election, was fined $500 Wednesday by the Maine Ethics Commission for campaign finance violations. The fine stemmed from Boyle’s campaign filing a spending report two days late on Jan. 18. Boyle argued that his campaign had difficulty with the commission’s reporting website, which is why commission staff recommended reducing the penalty from $1,000 to $500. The vote to levy the fine was unanimous.

Today in A-town

A squabble between LePage and the attorney general will be aired before a committee today. Mills has submitted a bill that would keep the governor from withholding approval of financial orders to fund positions in her office as long as they are existing positions and allocated amounts don’t exceed appropriations. It’s a new volley in a long-running feud between the Republican governor and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. In 2015, LePage refused to sign financial orders for new prosecutors and equipment.

Also on the docket are hearings by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap over a ballot access controversy for two Republican candidates vying to unseat U.S. Sen. Angus King, as well as a Libertarian candidate for the Legislature.

The House and Senate are both in this morning. New bills are still being introduced. House Speaker Sara Gideon has a bill to clarify rules for pharmacists dispensing the overdose antidote naloxone hydrochloride, commonly known as Narcan, and Republican Rep. Larry Lockman is sponsoring another LePage bill that targets immigrants in the workforce. Check out the full House and Senate calendars by clicking here and here.

Reading list

  • The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing child abuse reports it previously referred to private contractors. The Office of Child and Family Services has asked four contractors who it hired to handle lower-risk cases to review their records dating to August 2017 and re-report some families whose cases they were handling. Specifically, the state wants the agencies to look closer at reports for which their social workers never made contact with the families involved.
  • Mainers on Wednesday learned more about how ranked-choice voting will work. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, issued a set of proposed rules for oversight of Maine’s first-in-the-nation, ranked-choice primary elections on June 12. Municipal clerks will tally voters’ first choices on each ballot, then the Department of Public Safety will deliver ballots to the Augusta area for retabulation by state elections staff. The races most likely to require multiple rounds of tabulation are the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries, and the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District.
  • Maine is in line to win a $950 million power grid deal. The commonwealth of Massachusetts on Wednesday dropped its pursuit of a contract with a New Hampshire consortium called Northern Pass that was set to deliver hydropower from Canada through a 192-mile transmission line. Now, the Bay State is moving forward to formalize an agreement with New England Clean Energy Connect, which is proposed by Central Maine Power Co.
  • The partisan gap over climate change is widening. A new Gallup poll shows that fewer Republicans believe that humankind is causing climate change or that the effects of global warming have already begun. The poll comes months after Trump withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate accord and removed climate change from a list of top national security threats. Meanwhile, the poll showed that an increasing number of Democrats believe that global warming will pose a “serious threat” in their lifetimes.

Twinkie Twinkie little star

“I want to be an actor when I grow up,” said my son.

“What kind?” I said.

“Any kind.”

“Even for a Twinkie commercial?”

“No way, not a Twinkie commercial! Wait, could I make a lot of money for being in a Twinkie commercial? Do they pay you for putting your face on a Twinkie bar? You’d be famous if your face was on all the Twinkies. I’d totally do a Twinkie commercial!”

Well, that backfired. Here’s your soundtrack, son. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.