Remarks of Attorney General Janet T. Mills Celebration of the Swearing-In Constitutional Officers House Chamber, Maine State House Tuesday, January 17, 2017
January 17, 2017
Thank you, Senate President Thibodeau and Speaker Gideon.
I am the luckiest Attorney General in the country. I swear. And I am the luckiest person in this state: to have a job I love, to work with people I love, in a state I have always loved and will always love.
This is not a celebration of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, or Treasurer Terry Hayes or Auditor Pola Buckley or me.
This is a celebration of the accomplishments of the constitutional offices and an occasion to recall and reinforce the powers, the duties and the vital independence of these offices.
It is with no small sense of pride, pleasure, appreciation and anticipation that I awake every day, looking forward to going to the office, to discussing the challenges of the day, the back and forth of so many intelligent, outspoken, honest lawyers and staffers, individuals who dedicate their lives to the better workings of a government that is of, for and by the people.
I get up in the morning and some days I confront these tunnels in the snow, the slippery crust on the walkway, a hard frost on the car. Things we have to navigate and negotiate before even turning on the ignition of our lives and starting our day. Things many people in our society are unable to overcome.
Some nights I lose sleep thinking about the building caseloads, the pile of work ahead, the risks of doing some things and the risks of not doing others, and the growing conflicts between the three branches of our government.
I hear plows working through the night clearing the roads; I feel for the drivers as they pile up the day's accumulation of snow, on a street where I once delivered newspapers to neighbors on very cold mornings.
Snow, my friend Cathie Pelletier wrote, – “that pristine slate, that white blanket that sweeps away all the mistakes and gives everyone a fresh start once they’re able to shovel themselves out.”
She doesn't mention the wind chills of January or the people made invisible by poverty and hopelessness under a soul-stealing snow, a burglar of blood, a covering that makes our roots, our soil, our bedrock invisible, that shields nothing but hides the poor, freezes out the most vulnerable among us.
Then I come here to the State House and I think about how we can uncover barriers and help save lives and solve the problems of Maine people every day.
I think about Maeghan Szylvain – our child protection appellate guru, who authored 95 briefs in less than 15 months and who has worked so tirelessly to safeguard hundreds of children in this state who are in dire circumstances.
While those hearings and appeals increased, the number of drug affected babies reached a record 1,024 this past calendar year, predictably adding on to our already heavy caseload.
I think about Leanne Zainea and Donald Macomber – who tried two back to back complicated jury trials in highly charged murder cases in November and December, with hardly a break in between, and won jury verdicts in both.
Jerry Reid – who wrote a brilliant brief and won a landmark case that preserves the right of all people to have access to one of the most significant watersheds of our state and who fights every day to maintain clean water, air and soil for Maine people.
Susan Herman – who took over as Chief of the Litigation Division last year at a time when we got hit with dozens of new lawsuits, and who has managed to keep us – and me – on an even keel when we are beset with so many unexpected challenges.
John Alsop and Bud Ellis – who just tried the first in the state manslaughter case against a landlord for failure to maintain fire exits in a case that resulted in the horrifying Noyes Street fire that trapped and killed six young adults.
Chris Taub, Phyllis Gardiner and Tom Knowlton – some of the finest litigators in the State of Maine. They've argued dozens of significant cases in the First Circuit Court of Appeals and in the Maine Supreme Court, defending state laws against big Pharma, laws requiring disclosure of campaign contributions, laws protecting the rights of people seeking health care in a Portland clinic.
Brian MacMaster, head of Investigations, with forty-eight years in law enforcement, whose quiet conscientious work ensures the highest degree of professionalism in and out of our Office and which protects our citizens from any bad actors with badges.
Linda Conti – who for decades has fought for the rights of consumers in Maine and who brought home $21.5 Million for the State of Maine after litigating for two years against the most powerful law firms in the country, winning a significant settlement against Wall Street giant Standard & Poor's. And Martha Currier, who oversees the Consumer Mediation Program recouping hundreds of thousands of restitution each year to Maine consumers.
Dr. Mark Flomenbaum – an individual who took part in the examinations of human remains after 9-11 and the tragic Staten Island plane crash, and who now, as our Chief Medical Examiner, is confronting the opiate epidemic in Maine head-on in its rawest and deadliest form.
I received one report from him about a 44-year old woman found dead on her bathroom floor, cut straws in her pocket and under her body, a box of Suboxone nearby. Cause of death: accidental overdose of fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, heroin, diazepam, duloxetine, zolpidem, buprenorphine and lamotrigine. I tell you, this opiate epidemic is a scourge we must fight together on all fronts.
I think about Brandon Baldwin who has made civil rights real for thousands of Maine school children, and Leanne Robbin who has brought justice to many victims of harassment, addressing the ugliness of hate crime, and who has fought for the rights of senior citizens to be free from financial exploitation and hardship.
And Lara Nomani and Renee Fournier, who are laboring over the most difficult files, searching with fresh eyes for new clues that might put to rest the agony of families whose loved ones are among the more than 120 unsolved homicide cases in our state. To those families, for whom justice cannot come fast enough, we promise continued vigilance and our very hardest efforts.
Justice, fairness, equal rights, protection of our citizens: These are not some highfalutin' principles in a dusty library book; they are the precepts of our daily living, part of the code of conduct of our lives and the work of our Office.
These people know the wisdom of Jackie Robinson, who said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
These people know the law, they know evidence and fair play and due process. And they know about the Rule of Law. It is in the books they read, the pleadings they write, the motions and the briefs. It is emblazoned in their hearts.
As one former U.Maine Law professor described it:
There are some things that are subject to the Tinkerbell effect — they only exist so long as we believe in them. One of these things is the rule of law, the single greatest achievement of our society, the vessel that keeps all our other values safe, the thing that protects each one of us when we stand alone against those who disagree with us or do not like us because we are different.
When you get right down to it, the rule of law only exists because enough of us believe that it exists and believe that it must exist. It exists only so long as we insist that it exists and that everyone, even the non-believers, behave as if it does exist.
The minute enough of us stop believing, stop insisting that the law is above us all, that we are all subject to the law — in that moment the rule of law will be gone, as silently and completely as a soap bubble drifting on a summer’s breeze...or, I would say, as a snowflake hitting a cold window in winter. [paraphrased from Mike Mullane, “This I Believe”]
It is within the rule of law that we fight for justice for children like Destiny Sargent and Dwayne Coke, whose lives, along with their mother's, were lost due to domestic violence.
It is the rule of law that allows freedom for new Mainers like the Iraqi refuge in one of Leanne Robbin’s cases who left his home country after risking his life to help the US government, only to be confronted by a hostile neighbor who threatened his life with acts of violence and racism.
And so we find new a few creative ways to help, to fill a need, through education, legislation and litigation, following the rule of law and promoting the public health and welfare – using settlement funds, for instance, from hard fought lawsuits against Big Pharma and Wall Street institutions to support:
Jobs For Maine's Graduates, the State of Maine Grants program, foreclosure relief for Maine families; financial literacy programs in the schools, plumbing programs in four voc tech schools, planning for broadband in rural Maine, studying the biases and stereotypes that prevent women and minorities from becoming law enforcement officers, And providing Narcan to more than forty police departments. As of last week, that Narcan has saved the lives of 74 people.
In all our ventures, we look forward to working with the new Legislature, this little bottle of democracy, this tossed salad of humanity, this cross-section of our Maine society, with its congregation of teachers, farmers, telemarketers, realtors; a group that includes two individuals, one on each side of the aisle, each of whom has taught high school for more than 47 years – Dave McCrea and Roger Reed, Rep. Reed an inductee into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, the winning coach of eight Class A basketball championships.
This Legislature includes a pilot, a logger, a retailer of flowers, a dog trainer, several lobster fishermen, a woman who was a military helicopter pilot, another who was an electrician in a paper mill; a pharmacist who was himself the victim of a drug robbery; and, lastly, the Senate President, a maker of shovels – you know, the ones you can buy at Reny's anywhere from Farmington to Damariscotta.
This new Legislature will help us navigate the tunnels and icy roads of this Maine winter as we dive in every day, keeping our heads above water, our souls above the snow, the rule of law our guide – our Fisher plow – armed with compassion not obstruction or distraction, with equanimity and unity of purpose, with vision not division.
President Obama told us last week: If you want to make a difference, don't whine, don't just sit there. Grab a clipboard. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it!
I would add, Grab a shovel! Dig in! Plow out! We in the Office of the Attorney General are here for you.
I am so lucky to be working with this great group of people – And I'm here to say, we are fired up and we're ready to go!