Those who follow the controversy swirling around Gov. Paul LePage, Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and the Good Will Home Association should be aware of a prior but equally divisive incident involving the association.

In the late 1960s, the association decided to re-invent itself as a college preparatory school and renamed itself The Hinckley School. To that end, the directors of the school passed an amendment to its Articles of Association.

The original purposes of the association, as set forth in those articles, read:

“To provide a home for the reception and support of needy boys and girls, and to attend to the physical, industrial, intellectual, moral and spiritual development of those who shall be placed in its care.”

The amendment inserted the words “to maintain and operate a school for them and other boys and girls” after the word “girls” in the original articles.

The directors presented the amendment to then-Attorney General, James Erwin for certification as required by Maine law. Erwin refused. The directors challenged his action in court. They argued that the attorney general had no business deciding the association’s policy. The Superior Court agreed with Erwin. The directors appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. That Court held:

“The (original) Articles of Association of the Good Will Home Association describe the beneficiaries of its charity as needy boys and girls. We cannot say that an institution for the attendance at which there is a charge of $2,800 per year is being operated as a charity, the beneficiaries of which are needy boys and girls.”

“It is ordered that (The Hinckley School) reconstitute its activities into harmony with the corporate purposes.”

It then sent the case back to the Superior Court, which then decided in favor of the association. Erwin appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the Superior Court’s decision. The Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion, however, contained language that is pertinent to the present controversy:

“We neither decide not present suggestions as to the appropriate use of restricted trust funds. Should the attorney general — as the official charged with the obligation … ‘to enforce due application of funds given or appropriated to public charities within the state and prevent breaches of trust in the administration thereof’ — see fit in good conscience to institute appropriate action at any time to remedy threatened, or actual, diversion of restricted trust funds, nothing herein forecloses such action and nothing herein decided or stated purports to affect the outcome of such proceeding.”

One could read this language as a clear hint to Erwin that an avenue lay open him to overturn the action of the directors. History does not reveal why Erwin chose not to take the hint.

The Good Will Home Association now operates a so-called “charter school.” Is doing so consistent with the original purposes of its founders? Will Janet Mills, the current attorney general, decide to take the Supreme Judicial Court’s hint? Eves is a Democrat. So is she.

What turn of events, if any, lies ahead in this continuing controversy?

Robert Fuller, of Winthrop, is a former assistant attorney general.

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