Superior Court Justice Daniel I. Billings issued a blistering opinion against the Maine County Commissioners’ Association Risk Pool in a groundbreaking Freedom of Access Act case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine represented the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center in the case, appealing a FOAA denial by the Maine County Commissioners’ Association Self-Funded Risk Management Pool, a government entity responsible for covering the costs of legal settlements.
In his ruling, Justice Billings ordered the Risk Pool to release public records confirming the amount of money paid to settle a prisoner rights lawsuit against Kennebec County. The ruling also finds that the Risk Pool withheld the documents in bad faith and ordered the organization to pay reasonable attorney fees.
“The documents in this case are public, and there is a strong public interest in understanding the use of taxpayer dollars and settlements stemming from allegations of misconduct. These documents should have been released in 2021 when they were requested,” said Zach Heiden, chief legal counsel for the ACLU of Maine. “Maine’s Freedom of Access Act has been the law since 1959, but this is the first time that bad faith has been found in a FOAA case and that attorney fees have been awarded. This is a significant victory for transparency and the people of Maine.”
From the ruling: “While the court was unable to find another example of attorney's fees being granted in the FOAA context, the Risk Pool's behavior was so deceptive and abusive of the FOAA process that it is warranted in this case.”
Additionally, Justice Billings found: “To make matters worse, the Risk poll has adopted absurd, blatantly untrue, and inconsistent legal positions in this litigation to avoid a ruling on the merits.”
The ruling is attached as a PDF.