AUGUSTA — A court hearing over whether the LePage administration violated Maine’s open meeting law was continued after outside counsel hired to represent a 15-member education finance reform commission said they needed time to review documents and meet with the full commission before proceeding.

Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley, the chairman of the commission, was not notified of the continuance, filed on July 19, and appeared in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday morning for the scheduled hearing. He declined to comment before leaving.

The judge did not set a future date for the rescheduled hearing, according to a court clerk.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court over whether the LePage administration violated the state’s open meeting law in holding a meeting April 25 of a blue ribbon commission to reform school funding. The AG’s office said the meeting should have been open to the public. Three days before the meeting, an assistant attorney general told Beardsley that the meeting needed to be open to the public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, according to the court complaint filed by the AG’s office.

After getting the opinion, the administration changed the location and description of the meeting, but kept it private. On the day of the meeting, members of the governor’s staff exchanged a flurry of emails when lawmakers and members of the public showed up to attend the Blaine House meeting and were turned away.

After the meeting was underway, the AG’s office contacted the governor’s office again. The state’s ombudsman for open meetings and public records, Assistant Attorney General Brenda Kielty, contacted LePage’s chief legal counsel, Avery Day, to protest the meeting. “Brenda at AG’s Office is completely unspun by this,” Day texted, according to documents in the complaint. “She asked that the door be opened up to let public in for the remainder of today’s session. I said I would see but thought it unlikely.”


The governor’s office has described the three-hour meeting as an “informal,” invitation-only getting-to-know-you session, even though an agenda described it as the commission’s first meeting.

Maine law requires most meetings by elected bodies to be open to the public. The law provides for a civil penalty of up to $500 for a knowing or intentional violation.

According to the complaint, LePage told his staff after the meeting that he would “rather disband the commission than open future meetings to the public.”

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton said Monday that the AG’s office agreed to the continuance, describing it as routine.

According to court documents, two attorneys from Bangor-based Rudman Winchell are representing the commission. The attorneys, F. David Walker and Erik M. Stumpfel, said they met with Beardsley but need to meet with the entire commission “to provide advice and ascertain the Commission’s desires with respect to defense of the Attorney General’s complaint.” They also need time to review more than 800 pages of documents related to the case.

A commission meeting with the attorneys for that purpose had not been scheduled as of July 21, according to the document.

The 15-member blue ribbon commission, created by L.D. 1641, is charged with evaluating the state’s current education funding model and reporting back to the Legislature with “recommendations for action to reform public education funding and improve student performance in the state.” The commission is expected to meet through July 2018.

A second meeting was supposed to take place in mid-July, but it has not been scheduled.

The complaint appears to be the first of its kind in Maine. An initial review by a researcher at the state’s Legislative Law Library in Augusta did not find another example of an attorney general filing a complaint against the administration of a governor regarding the state’s open meeting laws.

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