Remarks of Attorney General Janet T. Mills On being Sworn into Office January 8, 2015
January 8, 2015
Thank you, Rob Hunt.
And thank you, Terry Hayes and Matt Dunlap, for the service you are prepared to provide (again) to the citizens of Maine. I want to thank Neria Douglass for her ten years in state service as Auditor and Treasurer at the same time that I welcome Terry Hayes to the ranks of the constitutionals.
And I want to thank my husband Stan, who left us 3 ½ months ago but whose courage is still the wind beneath my wings.
Last week, before the snow, the ice that formed so quickly was like glass. We could look to the bottom of the lakes and rivers and see clearly to the bottom. It was like a dream where you’re skating and floating above your own reflection, above the rocks and mud ten feet below, ultimate transparency.
And I wondered, are we in state government standing on thin ice too, with no sense of depth, distance or danger?
As days grow longer; as longer, slower shadows fall against these walls and people look for laws and legacies in the halls; as the Kennebec River rushes toward its rendezvous with the ocean, and the days grow longer and wetter, I realize we need more light, less ice. We need to be rowing together towards our very own Merrymeeting Bay.
There are people in this room who keep the boats afloat. And today I want to thank the incredibly hard working attorneys and staffers in the Office of the Attorney General whose commitment to public service and the protection of the public safety is unparalleled.
Working on thousands of matters from child abuse to consumer protection to police involved shootings to healthcare crimes to the challenges of Riverview and the prosecution of domestic violence homicides and felony drug cases, these attorneys are busy solving problems, not creating them; they are busy defending state agencies, litigating, mediating, all on behalf of the public interest. And they deserve our special thanks.
Like the faithful rivers of Maine that do their work under both frigid winds and the sun of sultry summers, rivers that now flow like muscles flexing under a thick hide of ice, the work of government draws from the headwaters of conflict and fertilizes the fields of justice.
Every evening, when I leave the office, I ask: Have we made Maine safer, stronger, better these past few years? Have we made our state more just? Have we strengthened the social contract we have with our citizens, perfecting, not neglecting, our obligations towards each other?
To answer this— Just ask the elderly woman who bravely testified against her own daughter for stealing her life’s earnings in a Bangor jury trial last year.
Ask the familes of the three people shot to death and set on fire in a car in Bangor. Ask about the months of intensive investigation and the four week long trial our office conducted to put those two murderous drug dealers behind bars.
Many more of our homicides involve drugs now and are difficult to solve. And 32 percent of our felony drug cases last year were for heroin, up from only 7 percent two years before.
With 961 babies born in Maine last year affected by drugs and 176 people dead from drugs in 2013, this epidemic deserves an intensive effort—from public education to punishment of dealers and treatment of offenders. Working with the MDEA, the US Attorney, the pharmacies, the medical community and advocates like Skip Gates, my office will take part in the all-out attack on the meth-makers and heroin traffickers who are killing our youth.
It’s not just drugs and murders we’re prosecuting. We’re constantly going after those who cheat the state—
Like the couple in Lewiston who got subsidized housing vouchers for living in a building they owned and profited from themselves.
Like the man who bilked MaineCare out of nearly half a million dollars for counseling services he never provided.
Like the DHHS employee who diverted funds to her boyfriend, and like the DOL employee who bought a camera, an IPod, clothes and new tires for herself with someone else’s voc rehab funds.
And over the last five years our office recouped 69 million dollars in fines and restitution for provider fraud from pharmaceutical companies and others.
We’ve also spent hundreds of hours finding ways to help homeowners facing foreclosure and towns dealing with neighborhood blight.
We’ve collected many thousands of dollars in child support from deadbeat parents across the state, while our volunteer mediators recouped nearly $700,000 for consumers last year.
Because of a 58% increase in child abuse in Maine, our child protection attorneys now carry caseload of more than a hundred apiece, and they make app. 140 court appearances every week.
Among those cases is the 12-month old child whose brain was shattered by a father ill-prepared for parenthood, a case that tears my heart out.
We are also protecting victims of hate crimes, like the Iraqi refugee and war hero who came to Maine looking for sanctuary but ended up sleeping in his car out of fear from the racial epithets and violent threats from a biased neighbor.
We have helped negotiate severance payments for hundreds of hard-working millworkers laid off when the Bucksport mill closed. Today they received their first checks.
A few weeks ago, drowned out by the din of political rhetoric, my office and the Chief Executive settled the Aldrich case that will take nearly a thousand of Maine’s neediest citizens off the infamous waitlist for services.
Some have said, “Why don’t you work better with the Governor?” Well, it’s true, you probably won’t catch Gov. LePage and me sitting down sharing a glass of Chardonnay, eating Brie and watching Downton Abbey together. Not likely. But I do respect the Chief Executive. And I do think we have some things in common: We both like “straight talk.” We both speak our minds. We both believe in action. We both get upset when people steal from the public purse. We are both determined to end domestic violence. We both despise the drug dealers that are killing our youth. We both oppose the scams that rob our veterans of their hard-earned dollars. Like the old Jimmy Cliff song says, we’ve got “many rivers to cross…” But we both believe, fundamentally, in the Rule of Law, the knowledge that our country is governed by laws, not by individuals.
The Rule of Law is what informs the work of our office. Like Mt. Katahdin shedding its cloak of frost and nourishing the streams and fields of Maine, the constitution and the rule of law are the source of all our laws, the foundation for governance.
That is why, on any given day, you will see my office working with the departments of state government and representing the state in nearly 7,000 separate legal matters. We work together; and, for the most part, the interests of my office, the interests of the Maine Legislature and the interests of the administration are aligned.
When they are not, you will know about it. And on the thousands of occasions when they are running smoothly, you will hear little. But know that this happens. And it is for the public good, mindful still of the necessary independence of the constitutional officers.
For the constitutional officers are the brackets, the wedges, the independent glue that secures the beams and rafters of government, that fixes them to the solid long ridge beam that is our Constitution. Working with diligence and integrity, we will hold the beams and trusses of government sturdy against the strongest of winds.
In the coming years, my door will always be open to the administration and to those from all branches of state government. We will work with a spirit of openness, with a passion for the people whose lives we are all here to protect.
We recognize that every disagreement need not become a great divide, every loaded word someone’s Waterloo, every freshet of bravado a flood of conflict, drowning out compromise and progress.
Over the next two years, we will address tough challenges together:
Riverview, with its new building perched along the Kennebec, reflected in the polished State House dome, gives a false sense of comfort to those outside. We will work hard to better balance due process rights, the safety of staff and patients and the fiscal needs and safety of our state.
We will continue to work “cold cases,” 120 unsolved murders, even with only one attorney assigned to all of them.
We will modernize the Medical Examiner’s Office, finding the machinery and expertise to achieve national certification, to finish cases in timely fashion and bring closure to grieving families.
We will create ways for seniors who have been neglected and robbed to be heard effectively in our courts.
We will be vigilant about our Freedom of Access laws. I would love to expand those principles of transparency to other public health institutions where millions of dollars in taxpayer funds are spent in closed door meetings.
We will make sure lenders are offering the relief and foreclosure alternatives which the National Mortgage Settlement requires.
I will speak out against international trade agreements that jeopardize the health, safety and economic well-being of our citizens.
And in my new role as Co-Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Tobacco Committee, I will be looking for new ways to snuff out the biggest cause of cancer and heart disease in our state and our nation.
This past year there were twenty-one homicides in Maine. We like to think that’s a low number. After all, we have one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Fourteen of those homicides were crimes of domestic violence.
When I consider that statistic, I remember these names:
Jason Montez, who was shot to death by his mother’s husband. He was only 12 years of age. Duwayne Coke, who was strangled to death by his mother’s boyfriend; he was 10 years old. Destiny Sargent, strangled to death by the same man; 8 years old. Noah Smith, shot to death by his father; seven years old. Lily Smith, also shot to death by her father who then turned the gun on himself; she was 4 years old. Sean St. Amand, left in a bath tub by his father with the water running and drowned; he was 11 months old. Korbyn Antworth, beaten and shaken to death by a babysitter; Korbyn was only five months old. And Zade Adams, asphyxiated by a parent at Christmastime. Three months old.
Eight children killed in one year. A first for our state. And we must never let it happen again. The lifeless hopes and dreams of these children and their need for justice will drive our work in the coming years.
Mario Cuomo challenged us forty years ago to make our nation “remember how futures are built,” stressing the need for government to operate as a family with care and compassion for those in need.
As the State of Maine chips away at vital services, at education, public health, drug treatment, mental health and the safety net of our citizens, we must recognize that these decisions may have consequences. They can be named: Jason, Duwayne, Destiny, Noah, Lily, Sean, Korbyn, Zade.
A year from now, will we be standing on a hardened frost, immobilized? Will we be looking at ourselves through sheer ice, unaware of impending dangers? Or will we be steering through moving waters, pulling together as a family, heading in a common direction and helping all the people of Maine stay alive and afloat?
I will be there to help navigate the shoals.