LEWISTON — A Cumberland County Superior Court has ruled against a Casco woman in her claim against the town that she was denied access to auditor’s worksheets containing financial analysis of the town’s record-keeping.
Former WMTW news anchor Jeannine Lauber Oren filed suit against the town after she was denied access to auditor’s worksheets, a byproduct of the town’s annual audits for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. At the time she made requests for these records, she was a member of the Casco Finance Committee but no longer serves on that committee.
Oren represented herself during a three-hour trial earlier this month and said she sought access to the records because she felt a “fiduciary responsibility to the people of Casco to spend their money wisely” and needed access to the auditor’s worksheets to meet that obligation.
According to the Portland Press Herald, Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills has ruled that the work papers related to the town’s annual audit are not public records and are, instead, the property of the Portland-based auditing firm Purdy Powers & Company.
The town’s annual audit report, when complete, is a public record.
In his testimony at trial, auditor Richard Emerson explained that the auditor’s worksheets are internal documents at the certified public accounting firm, or working papers, that “are strictly ours . . . are proprietary to us.”
He testified that the documents contained testing, analysis and other internal information used to prepare the audit report.
The court agreed and found that the public does not have the right to access these proprietary documents that the town does not own, control or have custody of.
Oren, who had not seen the ruling Wednesday afternoon, said, “I respect the court. I respect Justice Mills. I’m just not certain what this means to the other people in Maine who are getting those documents” under state law that permits municipalities to purchase these worksheets from auditors.
The ruling, Oren said, is “a blow, certainly, to every taxpayer in Maine who wants an independent accounting of their taxpayer money,” which is something she believes finance committees are obliged to oversee.
Casco Town Manager David Morton said, “We’re happy with the decision of the court” but felt any further comment on details of the case would be inappropriate.
Asked if she would consider appealing the court’s ruling, Oren said she wasn’t sure.
“I will certainly think about it because I have gotten a lot of support from a lot of people,” including the New England First Amendment Coalition and Maine attorneys who provided pretrial pro se counsel, she said.
“I just think it’s a broader issue about holding your government accountable for your tax dollars,” Oren said.
The town was represented in this case by Portland attorney Natalie Burns.