Supreme Court upholds AG independence
by Gina Hamilton
AUGUSTA -- The state's high court ruled in favor of Attorney General Janet Mills Tuesday related to the hiring of private attorneys in cases where Mills declines to represent the state.
Mills may choose not to represent the state in cases where she deems the executive's position contrary to the state's public interest.
“We are pleased with the Opinion of the Justices. There are no surprises here. The statute and the common law are clear. The Justices upheld and reinforced the independence, integrity and professionalism of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, including the ability to oppose a position that is not in the public interest,” stated Attorney General Janet T. Mills.
All outside counsel requests to hire outside counsel must be approved by the Attorney General. However, the justices also said that Mills should not decline to pay for the attorneys. When the Attorney General intervenes in the public interest in opposition to the administration, the justices said that Mills should not continue to manage or direct outside counsel.
“We have never disagreed with that proposition. That is why, when the administration asked us for advice, we told them what it might cost to pursue a petition for certiorari, without setting a cap on fees or in any way telling them what to do,” said Mills.
“We recognize the independence of the Attorney General’s Office,…as well as the authority of that office to oppose the Executive Branch in litigation,” the Justices stated.
LePage released a statement Tuesday as well about the court's opinion, which was in response to questions raised by LePage and argued before the Court on February 26.
“The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed my belief that the Attorney General should not have authority over litigation that the Executive is involved in when the Attorney General decides to publicly take the opposite position,” said Governor LePage. “When that happens, it is a clear conflict of interest, and I thank the Justices for recognizing it.”
“Neither Maine’s Constitution nor its statutes or common law require or authorize the Attorney General to manage or direct the Executive Branch’s litigation once the Attorney General has authorized the Branch to employ private counsel and has taken an opposing position in the litigation,” states the opinion of the Court in Paragraph 37.
“Fundamentally, however, the Justices have refused the Governor’s request to destroy the core principle reflected in our Constitution and case law that it is the Maine Attorney General who is responsible for determining the voice of the public interest in the courts of Maine,” stated Mills.