This is in response to the Sun Journal editorial (Feb. 12) that was critical of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the request that the department has made, through us as the department’s legal counsel, for the Government Oversight Committee to suspend its hearings around the Healthy Maine Partnerships, specifically as they pertain to allegations by a former employee of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that are being litigated in court.
As we emphasized in our letter to the GOC, the DHHS has repeatedly stated its commitment to process improvement and is working with the state Archives Office to strengthen policies and practices around document retention. Going forward, the department will follow the standard request for proposals process to award funds across the Healthy Maine Partnerships.
It is a different matter, however, to publicly discuss allegations regarding past practices through individuals who will be material witnesses in a lawsuit against the department. The department vigorously disputes the factual allegations and legal claims being asserted in the pending lawsuit against the department by the former Maine CDC employee.
The department maintains strict policies against unlawful retaliation and harassment, and it thoroughly investigates complaints of any such conduct. Indeed, internal, impartial and confidential investigations already have been conducted with respect to certain of the claims being made in the pending lawsuit, and none of the claims has been corroborated.
Although the Sun Journal believes that the CDC employees should appear in front of the GOC and answer a variety of questions, it is important to recognize that many of the issues that the GOC is reviewing relate to statutorily confidential internal personnel matters that are currently part of the lawsuit.
It also is important to emphasize that the claims and allegations in the lawsuit are disputed by the department and its employees and have merely been asserted but not proven. The department’s right to defend itself against these disputed claims should not be compromised.
In sum, we firmly disagree with the editorial’s stance and do not believe that it is in the best interest of the department or the general public to try this case in the court of public opinion instead of in a court of law.
There are two sides to every story — including this one — and the department looks forward to its opportunity to present the actual facts in this case in the appropriate forum, an impartial court of law.
Jonathan Shapiro and Eric J. Uhl for Fisher & Phillips LLP, Portland