AUGUSTA — Republican Max Linn has filed an appeal with Maine’s highest court in hopes of forcing a primary election this June for his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Linn is appealing a Superior Court judge’s ruling last week that upheld Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s determination that he failed to collect enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. Linn fell 10 signatures short of the 2,000 needed to qualify for the June 12 primary because Dunlap invalidated 258 of Linn’s original 2,248 signatures after the campaign of Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn challenged the candidate’s petition sheets.

Linn’s attorney, Steven Juskewitch, acknowledged during hearings with Dunlap and Superior Court Justice William Stokes that fraud had been committed during the signature-gathering process. But Juskewitch argued Dunlap was wrong to invalidate entire sheets of signatures gathered by petition circulators when evidence suggested the fraudulent signatures were added later in the process – after notarization but before the sheets were presented to municipal clerks for verification – likely by another person. Some sheets displayed signatures of deceased people while others included signatures of individuals who were either out of the state at the time or said they never signed a petition.

Brakey and Linn are seeking the Republican nomination to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in November.

Juskewitch filed a notice of appeal Monday with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of Linn, a financial planner living in Bar Harbor.

In an interview, Juskewitch said the campaign is challenging Stokes’ interpretation of the statutes regarding Dunlap’s justification for invalidating entire petition sheets submitted by circulators. The campaign also disagrees with the decision to grant the Brakey campaign additional time – beyond the five days allowed under statute – to submit evidence and will argue that Stokes wrongly placed the burden on the Linn campaign to rebut the Brakey campaign’s allegations of fraud. The burden of proof was on the Brakey campaign, not on Linn’s, Juskewitch said.

Juskewitch said that was “a clear misinterpretation … of the statute” and that they believe the fraud was perpetrated by someone other than circulators.

But in his ruling Thursday, Stokes said Dunlap had determined “that the evidence of fraud was so significant that it undermined the validity of the (petition) circulator’s oath.”

“As Mr. Linn has argued, the fraud had to come from somewhere,” Stokes wrote. “As the court cannot speculate as to where the fraud occurred, and the only person who was known to handle the petitions was the circulator, it is not an abuse of discretion for the Secretary to determine that there was fraud on the part of the circulator.”

In a tweet Monday afternoon, Linn stressed his alignment with the policies and rhetoric of President Trump as he railed against “establishment” forces he believes are trying to thwart his campaign.

“The Swamp has tried its damnedest to keep my Pro-Trump campaign off the ballot. Why are they fighting so hard against a political outsider?” Linn wrote in a tweet that included a link to his campaign fundraising website. “We’re taking the fight to the Supreme Court of Maine.”

Brakey’s political director, David Boyer, said the campaign respects the decision to file an appeal just as Brakey appealed Dunlap’s initial decision that Linn had qualified for the June primary ballot.

“We hope the Law Court respects the Secretary of State’s decision and the Superior Court’s decision,” Boyer said.

The Law Court is not likely to make a decision on the case until next week, after both sides have filed briefs with the court. So Linn’s appeal of the Superior Court ruling means that the leadership of the Maine Republican Party will have to decide whether to allow the candidate to speak at the party’s state convention Saturday.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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