For the first time, Maine Supreme Court must interpret "bad faith" standard in public records case
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on Thursday about access to public records in a case involving the Maine County Commissioners' Association Self-funded Risk Pool. The Risk Pool covers legal settlements in lawsuits filed against county agencies. Civil liberties groups say the administrators of the Risk Pool failed to provide documentation of settlement payments made to a jail resident that sued Kennebec County.
In December Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings ruled that the Maine County Commissioners Association Self-Funded Risk Pool acted in "bad faith" when it refused to give the Human Rights Defense Center documentation of a $30,000 settlement payment to a Kennebec County Jail resident who alleged racial abuse by a jail employee.
For the first time, the law court must now interpret the “bad faith” standard under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.
Representing the Human Rights Defense Center, ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan argued that the center asked for the settlement payment records multiple times in 2021 and was denied by the Risk Pool. That, she argues, constitutes bad faith.
"I would urge the court if this course of conduct is not bad faith, I don't know what is. The clearest example is July 2, HRDC expressly asked for accounting records. Risk Pool knew that it had those documents. It doesn't disclose that it does. It doesn't assert any exemptions apply. Two years have now passed since that time," Garvan said.
Jeffrey Edwards, the attorney representing the Risk Pool, says the lawsuit settlement agreement was provided to the Human Rights Defense Center. Associate Justice Catherine Connors asked Edwards if payment documentation would be turned over to HRDC if a new Freedom of Access request were filed. Edwards replied "yes," prompting Connors to note that waiting years for such documents might be considered bad faith. The six justices will now consider the arguments and provide a written decision.