Mural plaintiffs argue that case should go to trial

Plaintiffs suing the LePage administration for removing the 36-foot mural from the Department of Labor planned on Friday to submit written arguments to a federal judge in hopes of bringing the case to trial.

The Attorney General's Office, representing the administration, last month filed for a summary judgment, which would allow U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock to rule on the case without a trial.

Attorneys for the six plaintiffs, which include three artists, an attorney and two other individuals, are hoping to avoid that outcome. Plaintiffs had until midnight Friday to convince Woodcock that they have a strong-enough case to go to trial.

Jonathan Beal, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said Friday that he expected Woodcock will rule on the summary judgment in about two weeks.

The suit centers on First Amendment arguments and whether LePage's order to remove the 11-panel mural constituted "government speech."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the administration is violating their First Amendment rights by denying them access to the mural.

Jeff Young, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, argues that the First Amendment protects the listeners and viewers of the mural the same way it protects the creator or the artist.

The plaintiff attorneys have also raised questions about how the removal order transpired. In June the group released a strongly-worded news release blasting the governor for removing the mural without having seen it and that the idea originated from staffer John Butera, details reported in March, but lost amid the national furor.

The attorneys also questioned the source of the anonymous letter that the administration claimed had played into its decision. In the news release, attorney Jonathan Beal questioned whether the letter, which compared the artwork to the murals used in North Korea to "brainwash" the masses, had been generated by the administration to justify the removal and blunt the public fallout.

"I have serious questions about whether this was an actual complaint from a member of the public, as opposed to just something the Governor's Office cooked up," Beal wrote in June.

Earlier this month attorney Jeffrey Young agreed that the letter was suspicious, but declined to elaborate. Young also declined to say whether or not Butera was suspected of writing the letter given that the removal order was originally his idea.

Attorneys chose not to depose Butera for the suit. However, plaintiff attorneys this week attempted to acquire copies of the Department of Labor sign-in sheets that showed Butera visited the DOL on Feb. 28, the same day the anonymous letter was received by the Governor's Office.

The Sun Journal obtained the sign-in sheets showing Butera visited DOL on Feb. 28 and periodically thereafter. The February visit appears to be Butera's first trip to DOL as a member of the LePage administration. A Feb. 25 email from former acting director John Dorrer to his staff advised workers of Butera's Feb. 28 "tour" of the offices.

A subsequent email advised DOL workers to keep their "work areas neat."

The administration has denied authoring the letter and repeatedly declined to reveal its origin.

The mural was hung in 2008 and features scenes from Maine's labor history, including women shipbuilders from World War II, the 1986 paper workers strike in Jay, child laborers and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's former federal Department of Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, a part-time Maine resident who is buried in Newcastle.

According to court documents, the administration is storing the mural in a climate-controlled, undisclosed location.

The suit was filed April 1 in an attempt to compel LePage to return the mural to the Maine Department of Labor.

U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock in April denied a request for an order to have the governor immediately return the mural.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Bob Stone's picture

If the Democrats Regain the Blaine House Someday...

...they can paste it back up with great celebration. The Governor is the ***elected*** CEO of the state and should be able to manage buildings to his liking. I am sure that a re-installed mural will give the Democrats unbounded joy.

I would like the Democrats to explain what chapter of Maine's Labor History did Laura Fortman play. She is prominently featured in the mural. Was she part of the great unrest of the 1930's in Auburn? Has she labored in the textile mills in Lewiston? I get it. She approved the requisition that paid the artist. No wonder she is in the mural. The Sun-Journal's ace reporters should do a story on Laura's role in Maine labor history.

This tempest in a teapot is a giant load of horse manure, in my opinion.

Barry King's picture

Bearing in Mind...

...the bad things that this pathetically ignorant person has done already, removing the mural is not even in the top 10. At least the mural will be replaced in a matter days after the courts rule against him, but it will take decades before the damage to the reputation of Native Mainers can be restored.

All of my life, wherever I have lived, from CT to Key West, the reputation of being a Native Mainer has always been a benefit to me. We were generally regarded as loyal, honest and hard working people.

Now, since most people believe that LePage was elected because he represents the views of most Mainers, we are generally considered as ignorant as our "leader".

Jim Cyr's picture

Bearing in mind????

Are not loggers, lobstermen, fishermen, milk and other crop farmers, and the such Native Mainers??

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