Republican lawmaker calls for ethics probe against Westbrook Democrat

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With Democratic lawmaker Dillon Bates defying his party leader’s request to resign, a Republican lawmaker said Wednesday that she’s formally asking for the House Ethics Committee to be “convened immediately” to investigate allegations that the two-term lawmaker, a former teacher and coach, acted inappropriately with students.

“These are very serious allegations against Rep. Bates, and the House of Representatives has a responsibility to hear this matter,” said Rep. Paula Sutton, of Warren. “We must be very mindful that due process is a critical component to the proper functioning of the Maine Legislature and Rep. Bates deserves a fair and proper hearing in light of the speaker’s demand that he resign.”

It takes a two-thirds vote of the House to convene the House Ethics Committee, and on Wednesday the office of House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said Sutton’s request would be heard and voted on when the House reconvenes the special session, but it’s unclear when that will happen.

Gideon called on Bates to resign after The Bollard, a monthly publication in Portland, published a story Friday alleging that Bates, who represents House District 35 in Westbrook, had inappropriate relationships with “at least three” female students over several years.

The story did not identify the students or the people who made the allegations. The story quoted one woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, who said she was a victim.

Bates, 30, has not been charged with any crimes.

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In November, he abruptly resigned from his job as drama coach at the Maine Girls’ Academy. Late Wednesday, the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish announced on its website that Bates had resigned as its education director and would no longer be affiliated with the organization.

Officials at the now-closed Maine Girls’ Academy have declined to comment on Bates, but three people who worked there told the Portland Press Herald that they each made separate reports to a state hotline set up for reporting possible child abuse.

Bates’ attorney, Walter McKee, has said the allegations are “completely baseless,” and that Bates, who is not seeking re-election, would serve the rest of his term. McKee and Bates have declined multiple requests to comment further.

Gideon’s office said the speaker and Bates have not communicated since Bates’ refusal to step down.

“Speaker Gideon would like to reiterate her request from last week that Representative Bates resign from his position immediately,” spokeswoman Mary-Erin Casale said in an email Wednesday.

Sutton is a member of the Government Oversight Committee.

“If these allegations are true, Rep. Bates should be held accountable,” Sutton said. “However, in order to make that determination, we must first have all the facts, which is why I believe we should convene the House Ethics Committee immediately.”

That committee was last convened in 2009, after an Old Town representative was accused of abuse of power for trying to use his legislative position to get out of a citation for setting off fireworks, which was illegal at the time.

After the allegations against Bates were published, he resigned his cross-country coaching job at Massabesic High School this fall, said Larry Malone, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 57.

Bates coached boys track for five seasons there, and has held numerous coaching, teaching and theater-related jobs in the region.

Rep. Dillon Bates (D-Westbrook).

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