(NOTE: The original post put online this morning has now been updated NINE times. This is a huge story and still developing.)
After almost a year of multiple interviews as part of an investigation by federal authorities into allegations that Governor Paul LePage and Maine Department of Labor officials pressured MDOL administrative hearing officers to be more pro-employer in its findings on appeals of unemployment claims, the results of the findings was released this morning and find that the Governor and others did indeed interfere.
The letter can be seen below.
Here may the crux of the matter, as outlined by the Justice Department:
DEPRIVATION OF RIGHTS UNDER COLOR OF LAW(12 pm UPDATE WITH TIMELINE)
Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
For the purpose of Section 242, acts under "color of law" include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official's lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. Persons acting under color of law within the meaning of this statute include police officers, prisons guards and other law enforcement officials, as well as judges, care providers in public health facilities, and others who are acting as public officials. It is not necessary that the crime be motivated by animus toward the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin of the victim.
The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.
TITLE 18, U.S.C., SECTION 242
Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnaping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
- 21 Mar 2013- Maine Governor Paul LePage holds a meeting with MDOL officials and employee compensation hearing officers at the Blaine House.
- 22 Mar- Hearing officer Wayne Reed sends email to chief hearing officer (4/17/13 PPH):
Reed's supervisor Linda Rogers-Tomer replied:
"In the decades I've been doing this work, I've never seen anything like it, from either end of the political spectrum," wrote Wayne Reed. "For purposes (of) keeping political pressure/bias out of (a) quasi-judicial process within the Maine Department of Labor, these are dark times."
"Despite the pressures that are being placed upon us, we still just have to do our jobs, self-insulating from the politics, doing what we think is right and doing that as expeditiously as possible," Rogers-Tomer wrote. "I know that in this climate it is hard not to second guess ourselves."She then had a phone conversation with Jennifer Duddy, LePage's lone appointee to the state's Unemployment Compensation Commission and later emailed Laura Boyett, director of the state Bureau of Unemployment Compensation:
"I expressed my angst about (Duddy's) remarks at the (meeting), mostly about it not being the proper forum for that kind of discussion and (that it) blindsided us," Rogers-Tomer wrote. "(Duddy) was sorry if anyone felt badly about what she said, but that she had no regrets about saying it or saying it in that forum. I am extremely upset right now, so can't really talk."
- Apr 11- Bangor Daily News reports that state employees accuse the Governor of putting pressure on them.
- Apr 17- Governor LePage announces "Blue Ribbon Commission" to investigate unemployment compensation system.
- Apr 18- The LePage administration refused to admit that there is a federal investigation into the claims.
- May 1- U.S. DOL investigating attorney Letitia Sierra arrives in Maine to speak with 13 attendees of the meeting.
- Jul 11- "Blue Ribbon" panel members named: Augusta resident Daniel Wathen, a Maine Turnpike Authority board member and former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and George Jabar II, a Kennebec County commissioner and lawyer from Waterville, as co-chairmen of the panel; others are David Walck, owner and franchisee of several Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants, including one in Lincolnville; Shawn Anderson, chief operating officer of Cary Medical Center in Caribou; Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners; and Kristin Aiello, managing attorney for the Disability Rights Center of Maine.
- Dec 10- LePage's "Blue Ribbon Commission" reports no bias issues within MDOL's systems.
- Dec 13- The feds said to be "finishing up" their investigation.
- Feb 27, 2014- Feds release findings; confirm LePage pushed jobless benefits appeals officers to show ‘bias toward employers’.
(12:30 pm UPDATE, x2): Maine Governor Paul LePage issued the following statement moments ago via press release regarding today's report:
“The results of the review are no surprise,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “The USDOL confirmed that there are legitimate concerns about the appeals hearings, which echoes the findings in the Blue Ribbon Commission I appointed. The review found that Maine's appeals system has not been consistent in applying the law.------
“It is also no surprise that the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor is speculating my administration somehow tried to influence the hearings process,” said the Governor. “This issue has been politically motivated from the start, starting with Democratic activists in Maine and reaching all the way to the White House. The USDOL review found no evidence of wrong-doing, but uses conjecture and supposition to come to a conclusion that has no basis in fact. The focus of my administration is to ensure the appeals process is fair and consistent for both Maine employees and employers.”
(1pm UPDATE, x3): Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette has now issued her own statement:
“Although this process has generated much controversy, the outcome is positive for both workers and businesses. No one benefits when either employees or employers abuse the system," stated Commissioner Paquette.------
"Maine's unemployment system by statute gives the authority and responsibility for its adminsistration to the appointed commissioner and the appointed members of the UIC. As commissioner, my job is to ensure not only due process for both employers and employees, but also that the unemployment system is fair, efficient and responsive and follows the law. I appreciate the concerns that both the USDOL and the Blue Ribbon Commission have raised, and I will do my utmost to continue to safeguard both the integrity of the system and the confidence of Maine’s people.”
(1:30pm UPDATE, x4): Maine State Employees Union President Ginette Rivard has released a statement:
Statement by Ginette Rivard, President of the Maine State Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, Concerning the Report of the United States Solicitor of Labor on Improper Interference by the LePage Administration in the Unemployment Appeals Process:------
“After conducting an exhaustive and careful investigation, the United States Department of Labor issued a report confirming that the LePage Administration sought to unduly influence the decisions of impartial hearing officers employed by the Department of Labor. This report confirmed that the Administration pressured hearing officers to favor employers. The pressure was exerted both directly by the Governor, at a lunch on March 21, and prior to that date by other political appointees.
“While the conclusions vindicate the earlier claims brought forward by the news media and other sources, the report includes few detailed facts. It recommends that Maine government examine the situation to determine whether additional steps are needed to protect hearing officers from undue political influence.
“This report confirms that a problem of undue influence existed, both in the March 21 lunch and before. That problem remains, and needs to be addressed. The Governor’s defiant and belligerent response to this report shows that he will not reform his administration on his own. It is time for the Government Oversight Committee to step up to the plate and perform its own investigation into the critical questions that remain:1. Did the Administration seek to exert undue influence on the unemployment appeals process, either at the March 21 lunch or at other times?
2. Are there steps that need to be taken to insulate state workers from political influence?
“On behalf of MSEA-SEIU and the thousands of state workers we represent, I want to thank the Hearing Officers for their courage in resisting this pressure, and for their dedication to providing a just and prompt hearing process.”
(1:45pm UPDATE, x5): Maine Senate and House Democratic leaders and members of the legislature have now issued a press release.
“For three years we have heard story after story about the Governor’s intimidation and bullying tactics. Today, the cat’s out of the bag. Governor LePage and his political appointees will stoop to any level of intimidation to get what they want,” said Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, the Senate Majority Leader.The Legislature’s bipartisan Government Oversight Committee has been reviewing the matter since April 2013 and will discuss the Federal Government’s findings during their meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m.
“This is further confirmation of the governor’s ongoing mismanagement. He is governing by intimidation,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “He is trying to hurt working Mainers.”
“The federal investigation shows that our concern about political interference from the administration was legitimate, and validates the need for a closer look at the hearings process generally,” said Senator Emily Cain the Senate Chair of the Government Oversight Committee. “I am not relieved by these findings. There continue to be questions about the lengths to which this administration will go to get its way.”Rep. Chuck Kruger, the House Chair of the Government Oversight Committee, requested an investigation into the claims of worker intimidation following initial media reports on the March meeting at the Blaine House.
“At the time we requested the investigation we sought to sort rumor from fact,” said Rep. Kruger. “The federal findings confirm our fears of an attempt to unduly influence hearing officers. We will be reviewing the letter for recommendations and next steps.”------
"Both employers and employees should have confidence that the state is treating them fairly and following the rules. It’s clear from the U.S. Department of Labor’s letter that Gov. LePage allowed his personal bias against Maine workers to create a situation in which impartial hearing officers felt threatened. His actions and the actions of his appointees were inappropriate and reinforce a disturbing pattern of mismanagement and intimidation." - Mike------
(2:30pm UPDATE, x7): Here comes the national focus. Via The Nation: "Maine's Paul LePage Might Just Be the Worst Governor of All"
(3:30pm UPDATE, x8): More reactions from Maine lawmakers and first mention of calls for LePage's impeachment.
Legislative Democrats and their allies were quick to condemn the LePage administration, with Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, a longtime LePage rival and Democratic candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat, calling for his impeachment.
Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, who chairs the Legislature’s Labor Committee, said the Department of Labor’s findings came as little surprise.
“This is a good thing because everyone in Maine knows the governor uses the bully pulpit to express his feelings about his political views and politics,” said Patrick. “After this, I wonder how you can trust the governor to move forward fairly and in an unbiased way. The citizens of Maine expect that whether it’s a Democrat, a Republican or a Green, that we are fair to our businesses and employees.”Jackson was less guarded in his response.
“I think he should be impeached,” said Jackson of LePage. “The governor thinks he should be the next [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, but he should be thinking about being the next [impeached and jailed Illinois Gov.] Rod Blagojevich.”------
(5pm UPDATE, x9): Reaction from Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry:
"The federal government has confirmed what we knew to be true, that the Governor was wrong to interfere in the unemployment insurance process by asking hearing officers to rule more often in favor of employers. This is another message from Governor LePage to struggling Maine workers that he is not on their side. When you lose your job, times are very tough. Workers need to know they have a fair process to seek the support that they deserve. Instead of kicking them when they are down, we need a Governor who will support laid-off workers getting back on their feet."