AUGUSTA — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has declined to rule on whether State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin violated the state Constitution by engaging in commerce.
The court issued its opinion Thursday, writing that a recent solemn occasion request by the Maine House of Representatives did not meet the standard to elicit a court ruling.
The House earlier this year voted unanimously on an order asking the court to determine whether Poliquin could continue to serve as state treasurer. The bipartisan move followed an opinion by Attorney General William Schneider advising Poliquin to insulate himself from his business dealings.
The House order asked the court to decide whether the treasurer's ownership and involvement with Dirigo Holdings LLC over the past year would prohibit him from continuing to hold the office.
The court opinion doesn't technically exonerate Poliquin. The justices indicated that the House did not make a strong enough case to trigger a court review.
In its opinion, the court wrote that requests for a solemn occasion must only be used in times when the House has "serious doubts as to its own constitutional or statutory power and authority."
The court also noted that the questions posed by the House were too "vague and broad" to determine whether Poliquin had violated the Maine Constitution.
"No facts have been presented to the justices through the communication from the House of Representatives," the opinion read. "The questions themselves are presented in the abstract and do not indicate the context in which they should be evaluated."
The opinion follows three months of political gamesmanship between Poliquin and Democrats, who have raised several questions about his conduct as treasurer.
The order asked the court whether Poliquin's ownership of Dirigo Holdings LLC, a real estate business that runs Popham Woods Condominiums in Phippsburg, violates the constitutional provision prohibiting the treasurer from engaging in commerce.
Schneider last month wrote that Poliquin should dissociate himself from Dirigo Holdings LLC. Poliquin announced he planned to follow the AG's guidance.
However, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, wanted to know whether Poliquin could still serve, given that he could have been violating the Constitution for more than a year.
Poliquin has said he was too busy to be involved with Dirigo Holdings and that the company was effectively managed by a bookkeeper. However, the AG report noted that Poliquin is "the sole member of and registered agent for Dirigo Holdings LLC." The report also noted that Poliquin is the sole signatory for the company checkbook.
Poliquin has acknowledged that his appearance last year before the Phippsburg Board of Selectmen advocating for the Beach Club was a mistake.
Several groups submitted briefs in the court case, including eight from Democratic lawmakers. Schneider also sent one, as did the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group.
The MHPC amicus brief raised many of the same points reflected in the court opinion, including that the questions posed by the House were too vague.
The questions the court reviewed are different from those Dion originally proposed. The House eventually passed an order amended by the Republican majority.
Dion, in a statement, said the opinion in no way cleared Poliquin. He said the opinion reflected flawed questions proposed by the GOP majority.
"The brief filed by the Democrats attempted to address those shortcomings with additional facts," Dion said.
He added, "Democrats believe the court of public opinion is clear: The Treasurer was engaging in commerce as the owner of the Popham Beach Club and a multimillion-dollar real estate development company. Those actions are prohibited by the Maine Constitution. Law and justice don’t always arrive at the same time."
House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said Dion's order was amended because he didn't want to see it "politicized."
In a written statement, Nutting said he was not surprised that the court didn't issue a ruling.
"The Court does not see this issue as a solemn occasion because it doesn’t impact any pending legislation," Nutting said. "I am glad that this matter has been put to rest."
Poliquin declined to comment during business hours on Thursday, adding that he would likely issue a statement later in the evening.