Monday, June 6, 2016

North Woods Lawless IV: a "sham" hearing

For those following the "North Woods Lawless" story, a belated update on last week's "hearing" by the Maine legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. For anyone who has read the story and its follow ups -- with multiple corroborating witnesses alleging a pattern of misconduct and even lawbreaking by undercover game warden Bill Livezey, the hearing was amazing to watch, a case study in how not to conduct a real inquiry.

Here's the Portland Press Herald editorial board's take yesterday, bluntly describing it as a sham. "Only handpicked witnesses were called to testify, and they presented only one side of the story," they noted, along with the fact there was no pubic comment, no adversarial questioning, and no asking of even the most obvious follow up, like "how do you know the allegations are untrue, since you have just said you will not investigate them?" In summary: "a legislative committee spent a few hours giving a government agency a chance to hide from public scrutiny."

To this may be added the fact that the proceedings -- led by Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville -- completely ignored all the follow-up stories, in which the allegations against Livezey were echoed by witnesses to his operations in four other counties across the state, and by defense attorneys involved in a fresh case in Washington County. Are all of these people lying? Wouldn't legislators or Chief Warden Joel Wilkinson like to know? How would they if neither conducts an investigation? None of these questions were asked and, indeed, Davis announced at the end that he would not be pursuing further into the matter, even as Wilkinson declared he would not be investigating the accusations against Livezey.

Nor did anyone challenge Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock's extraordinary claim that the entire story was "fabricated," an assertion for which he offered no evidence at all. Note that he didn't say all the people interviewed from Allagash were lying, rather he asserted that the story itself had been invented. For this to be true I would have had to either invent people who do not exist or have invented what they said. Neither is, of course, the case, which is why he would have been unable to support his assertion, had anyone actually pressed him for such.

For those curious which lawmakers participated in this particular variety of legislative oversight, here's a list of the committee's members:

Senator Paul T. Davis, Sr. (R-Piscataquis), Chair
Senator Scott W. Cyrway (R-Kennebec)
Senator Susan Deschambault (D-York)
Representative Robert S. Duchesne (D-Hudson), Chair
Representative Roland Danny Martin (D-Sinclair)
Representative Stanley Byron Short, Jr. (D-Pittsfield)
Representative Robert W. Alley, Sr. (D-Beals)
Representative Dale J. Crafts (R-Lisbon)*
Representative Stephen J. Wood (R-Greene)
Representative Roger E. Reed (R-Carmel)
Representative Patrick W. Corey (R-Windham)
Representative Gary L. Hilliard (R-Belgrade)
Representative Peter A. Lyford (R-Eddington)
Representative Matthew Dana II (Passamaquoddy Tribe)

[Update, 6/9/16: Rep. Jeffery Evangelos blasts his legislative colleagues for the conduct of the hearing in this OpEd.]

[Update, 6/10/16: Kennebec Journal columnist Douglas Rooks also blasts the hearing, suggests wardens shouldn't have undercover ops at all. The column is syndicated in the Times-Record, Portsmouth Herald and other papers.]

[Update, 6/15/16: A legislator and former aide to the U.S. House's judiciary committee writes this OpEd arguing that the warden service's undercover operations require real oversight.]

[Update, 6/17/16: While the speaker of the Maine House called on them to hold a hearing, the legislature's Right to Know advisory committee will not be taking up the Warden Service's handling of our public records request, at least not in their next meeting.]

[Update, 6/22/16: Former Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine head George Smith has again called for changes at the warden service in his latest Kennebec Journal / Morning Sentinel column.]

[Update, 6/23/16: At their monthly meeting, the Right to Know committee has voted unanimously to hold a hearing on the warden's handling of our public records request on July 20.]

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