Gov. Paul LePage is facing political fallout and calls for his resignation over a profanity-laced voice mail and threatening comments directed at a state lawmaker. But what would happen if a private citizen did something like that?

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a town hall-style meeting Tuesday evening at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.

Comments like LePage’s that reference violence would “justify immediate termination” in most workplaces, says Rebecca Webber, an attorney with Skelton, Taintor and Abbott in Auburn who specializes in employment law,

On Thursday, LePage left a voice mail punctuated with obscenities for Rep. Drew Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat, after a reporter told the governor that Gattine had questioned his racially charged statements.

“I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you,” LePage said in the phone message.

Later, the governor told reporters he wished it was 1825 so he could challenge Gattine to a duel and point his gun “right between his eyes.” Democratic leaders quickly called for the governor’s resignation and some Republicans also criticized the comments.

Experts say if LePage were a private citizen, these statements might get him fired from a job, but it’s unlikely the comments would lead to criminal prosecution.

Rebecca Webber, an attorney with Skelton, Taintor and Abbott in Auburn who specializes in employment law, said comments like LePage’s that reference violence would “justify immediate termination” in most workplaces.

“Most workplaces have zero-tolerance violence policies,” she said. “That’s the kind of threat that most employers would take seriously and immediately terminate the person for.”

Webber said many workers also would face termination for using obscenities such as the ones LePage used in the voice mail to Gattine, though some workplaces might issue a warning first.

Being fired for threatening violence might also affect someone’s future career, Webber said. Many companies will not disclose the reason someone is fired, but under Maine law employers are not liable for disclosing the reason for termination so long as they are being truthful, she said.

“I’m not sure (a threat) would be a career ender if future employers didn’t know about it,” she said. “That’s one of the downsides of being the governor. Everything he says is out there in the public. I’m not a fan of this language by any means, but at the same time I wouldn’t want the scrutiny that public officials have. It’s got to be unpleasant.”

Christopher Almy, district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, said comments like the ones LePage made don’t rise to the level of criminal threatening because there was no threat of immediate bodily injury. A terrorizing charge could come into play if a person made a threat to do serious bodily injury in the future, but Almy said he wouldn’t pursue that charge based on the comments alone. That could change if there was an ongoing dispute between the two parties or if there was domestic violence involved, he said.

In the case of LePage’s comments, Almy said it appears to be political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

“I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole,” he said. “This isolated incident is more or less political speech. I doubt I would even touch this case or even think about issuing a complaint. It has a chilling effect on the political debate and on free speech.”

Norman Higgins, a Republican state representative from Dover-Foxcroft, took to Facebook after listening to “the governor’s angry and vulgar laced tirade on the voicemail” to Gattine.

“As a lifetime educator, principal and (superintendent of schools), if I had conducted myself in this manner the SAD 4 School Board would have immediately suspended me pending counseling and a treatment plan or fired me,” he wrote. “I believe the governor needs help and I encourage him to seek professional assistance while he has the opportunity to make this decision. An apology, based on a history of inappropriate comments, is not sufficient. It is time to acknowledge you need help.”

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