PORTLAND — A Casco resident seeking town auditing documents argued her case before a judge Wednesday.
Jeannine Lauber Oren represented herself at a nearly three-hour trial against the town, the town manager and members of the Casco Board of Selectmen.
At the end of the trial, a judge took the case under advisement.
Oren was a member of the Casco Finance Committee when, starting in April 2011, she made repeated requests under the state’s Freedom of Access Act in an effort to gain copies of the so-called auditor’s worksheets, a byproduct of the town’s annual audits for the fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
As a member of the Finance Committee, she said she felt a “fiduciary responsibility to the people of Casco to spend their money wisely.” She said she needed access to the auditor’s worksheet to meet that obligation.
She was denied the documents, first by the town manager and later by a vote of the Board of Selectmen, she said.
At one point, Oren said she had asked for the documents during a public meeting. Town Manager David Morton told her he would “do my best to obtain them.” During the playing of a videotape of that meeting in the courtroom, Morton can be heard making that promise and telling Oren that she should have requested the documents verbally rather than filing a formal request.
But, on the witness stand later during the trial, Morton said he had not realized until he later talked to the independent auditor that those auditor’s worksheets were not available to the town.
Oren cited state law which, she said, supported the notion that auditor’s worksheets can be owned by a municipality. She told the court that the documents are paid for by town money.
Auditor Richard Emerson of Purdy Powers & Co. in Portland testified Wednesday during questioning by the town’s attorney, Natalie Burns, that the auditor’s worksheets are internal documents at the certified public accounting firm, and are considered “working papers” that are “strictly ours . . . are proprietary to us.”
They contain testing, analysis and other internal information, he said.
Emerson said state law defining public documents does not reference working papers.
On cross-examination by Oren, Emerson said he had never been asked — not even by Morton — to turn over his auditor’s worksheets.
During her opening statement, Oren said the auditor’s worksheets had been made available to “a significant number of Casco residents” but, “they were not given to me.” Thousands of Mainers have access to their auditors’ worksheets, she said, something stipulated in their contracts with their respective auditing firms.
After Oren rested her case, Burns motioned for a judgment favoring the town before calling her next witness. Justice Nancy Mills denied that motion.
In her closing argument, Oren asked Mills to interpret the FOAA law “liberally.”
During Burns’ closing argument, she said the town never had possession, custody or control of the auditor’s worksheets and, therefore, was not subject to the FOAA request.
“This isn’t a shell game here,” Burns said. “There is a legitimate, professional reason for not disclosing these working papers. It is similar to working papers of an attorney. They are not subject to disclosure under Freedom of Access.”