Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Massive loophole exists in Freedom of Access Act

Apr 4, 2010

Kennebec Journal

A glaring omission in Judith Meyer’s rosy account of the status of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (March 30) was the Maine Supreme Court’s divided 2008 ruling regarding then-Attorney General Steve Rowe’s Dechaine commission.

The commission was created and charged in its task by the attorney general, it used state facilities and employees and its findings were announced by the attorney general. In spite of those facts, however, the court ruled that the commission’s records were closed to public scrutiny. Meyer’s own newspaper (Lewiston’s Sun Journal) was highly critical of this decision.

The Attorney General’s Office serves as the ombudsman for the FOAA, but a deputy attorney general assisted the commission’s lawyers in their successful effort to shred the act.

Any bureaucrat can now beat the system simply by picking a few non-bureaucrats to “investigate” an embarrassing situation.

The “investigators” then can produce a whitewashed finding without providing a scintilla of supporting evidence, even if — as in the Dennis Dechaine case — there is undisputed evidence to the contrary from the state’s own files and/or court records.

Yet neither the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition or the Legislature has made any effort to correct this massive loophole.

Whatever his intentions, Rowe’s prediction that no wrongdoing would be uncovered had the appearance of a self-fulfilling prophecy when, over the nearly two years that the commission labored at its task, no attempt was made to contact Dechaine’s lawyers or supporters. Meanwhile, Rowe served out his remaining term without having to make any controversial decisions regarding the Dechaine case.

William Bunting


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