First Circuit Calls Up Maine’s LePage for En Banc Face-Off

Gov. Paul LePage. (Andrew Harnik AP/BDN)

BOSTON (CN) – The First Circuit will hold an en banc rehearing on claims that Maine Governor Paul LePage interfered with a political opponent’s job offer.

LePage’s legal drama erupted after a charter school called the Good Will-Hinckley School agreed to hire Mark Eves as president in June 2015 only to rescind the job offer a few weeks later.

On June 29, LePage admitted to having threatened that he would withhold more than $500,000 in state funding unless the school rescinded its job offer to Eves.

“Tell me why I wouldn’t take (back) the taxpayer money to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it?” the governor said.

As speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Eves had been butting heads with the Republican LePage earlier that year over energy policies and plans to abolish the state income tax.

Maine legislators are paid only $14,074 a year, with the expectation they will supplement their income with private-sector jobs. The charter school job came with a salary of $120,000 a year, something LePage called out in a radio address that summer.

“Regardless of his efforts to close charter schools, he wanted a cushy job at a charter school that paid $150,000 in salary and benefits,” LePage said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Though Eves promptly sued LePage, a three-judge panel of the First Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case in late 2016.

This past Friday, the Boston-based federal appeals court agreed to rehear the case before all seven judges.

Eves left the Maine Legislature in 2017 due to term limits but threw his hat in the ring for the state’s 2018 gubernatorial election. State law bars the twice-elected LePage from seeking a third term in office.

In its order taking up the case, the First Circuit instructed both parties to file supplement arguments on a series of questions, such as whether LePage met the burden of proof to establish his qualified immunity defense.

Other questions ask whether a reasonable governor would know that threatening a school’s funding would violated Eves’ First Amendment rights, or if Eves’ rights were closer to those of a private citizen, since the action was taken against Eves with regard to a private-sector job?

Both sides will submit supplemental briefs in February, and the en banc hearing will take place on April 3, 2018, at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston.

Neither side responded to emails seeking comment. Eves is represented by David Webbert of Johnson, Webbert & Young.

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