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WKIT News: Governor’s legal costs to rise as Medicaid lawsuit continues

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine could pay up to $200,000 for a Boston-based lawyer to defend the LePage administration in a lawsuit over voter-approved Medicaid expansion.
The Department of Health and Human Services in a state form dated Monday proposed increasing the cost of a no-bid contract with law firm Consovoy McCarthy Park from $100,000 to $200,000 through December. The Associated Press’ review of a state database shows Maine has paid out nearly half a million dollars to two laws firms that have represented the administration as outside counsel since 2014.

Advocates for Medicaid expansion are suing to force Maine to follow a voter-approved law expanding Medicaid to as many as 80,000 low-income residents. Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is fighting a state court order requiring Maine to seek federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, a gubernatorial candidate, has allowed the governor to hire lawyer Patrick Strawbridge as outside counsel. Her office refused to defend LePage’s administration against the lawsuit, and Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said at the time that the office could take “whatever position the public interest requires in the pending litigation.”

The lawsuit aims to force the LePage administration to start seeking more than $500 million in annual federal funding for expansion.

Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Emily Spencer said Wednesday that the state had to amend the contract to account for the extra time and resources that the outside counsel requires.

“We share those concerns surrounding the cost to Maine taxpayers, who will ultimately bear the financial burden for both the AG’s refusal to represent the administration and the cost of expansion itself,” Spencer said.

In Maine, the attorney general can decide whether to represent the governor based on what he or she believes is in the public interest, according to a 1989 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision. Mills earlier this year proposed using one-time tobacco settlement funds to pay for voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

“The attorney general is the lawyer for the people of Maine, not the lapdog of any specific administration, and it is the practice of the office to defend a case if the case appears to be defensible and if the administration is cooperative,” said spokesman Tim Feeley, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

“The governor’s concern with financial expenditures related to outside counsel is one of his own making and one which would be most quickly resolved by his simply following the law,” Feeley said.

Maine’s online database of governmental spending shows Maine’s risk management claims fund paid out $92,098 for legal services to the firm from January through May. The firm’s lawyer Strawbridge has represented the governor in several legal issues in the last year, including lawsuits over critics blocked from the governor’s Facebook page, the LePage administration’s steps to close a rural minimum-security prison and the governor’s moves to hold up public campaign funds.

Strawbridge also has represented the governor in a long-running lawsuit in which unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former House Speaker Mark Eves claims LePage sabotaged his private-sector job offer.

LePage last year sued Mills for refusing to represent his positions in court and joining a legal effort in support of protections for young immigrants facing deportation. Maine’s attorney general is the only one in the country to be appointed by the Legislature.

Maine has paid out nearly $478,000 since 2014 to Consovoy McCarthy Park and a Portland law firm that have represented the LePage administration, according to the state’s database, last updated in late June. That includes about $216,000 from Maine’s general fund and $262,000 from the state’s self-insurance fund.

Portland firm Roach Hewitt Ruprecht Sanchez & Bischoff had represented the state in litigation concerning the governor’s steps to remove young adults from the state’s Medicaid program and to defend a state policy withholding benefits to certain immigrants.

By MARINA VILLENEUVE,  Associated Press

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