2018-09-14 / Front Page

Council critic promises lawsuit

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

A regular critic of Scarborough Town Council has promised a lawsuit over his arrest at an April meeting.

Michael Doyle, 69, of New Hampshire, runs a website called Falmouth Today News, on which he has blogged about Scarborough issues for several years.

Doyle was arrested at the Nov. 16, 2017, council meeting for declining to take a seat when asked to do so by then council chairman Shawn Babine.

Doyle, during the public comment portion of that meeting, began ridiculing Scarborough’s attempt to lure an Amazon distribution center. However, he drew Babine’s ire by launching into an apparent conspiracy theory, suggesting that Town Manager Tom Hall left a similar post in Rockland in 2008 under a cloud of alleged, but unspecified, wrongdoing.

Babine ruled Doyle out of order and asked him to take a seat. Following additional cross-talk, which included Councilor Bill Donovan demanding that Doyle “respect the chair,” Babine asked Doyle to leave the room.

Doyle continued to protest that his time had not yet expired, saying, “You are going to have to arrest me because I have freedom of speech in this building.”

At that, Scarborough Police Sgt. Mary Pearson did as requested,

She asked Doyle, who did eventually return to his seat, to stand, and put a set of handcuffs on him. She then escorted Doyle from the building, charging him with criminal trespassing for remaining in defiance of a lawful order.

At the Sept. 5 council meeting, Doyle took the podium to brandish paperwork from the decision in a Florida case that, he said, “was almost identical” to the circumstances of his own arrest.

Introducing himself as a “future litigant” against the town, Doyle said he turned down an alleged district attorney offer of a $500 fine and no jail time, electing to go to trial and base his defense on the Florida case.

Doyle surmised the case against him was dropped the first time due to the strength of the Florida precedent, which he claimed gives him grounds to sue the town for false imprisonment, malicious arrest and malicious prosecutions.

“In discovery, Sgt. Pearson actually admitted that she knew the handcuffs on me were too tight on my right wrist and continued to abuse me in a malicious way by keeping the handcuffs on to the point where it put a quarter-of-an-inch gouge in my wrist,” Doyle said. “I had to go to the doctor the next day for emergency care because I lost feeling in my right hand — all because you guys didn’t like the questions I was asking.”

Then came the threat:

“So, you guys are going to get the chance to have the Maine Municipal Association pay Mark Franco for a defense in federal court here pretty soon,” Doyle said, promising to single out Babine in any future preceedings.

“I just want to thank you guys for the chance to sue you in federal court again,” Doyle said. “If I do this enough, with practice I’m going to get to the point where I can actually win.”

Councilors offered no response to Doyle’s commentary.

In January, Doyle pleaded not guilty to the charge and filed a motion to dismiss the case.

At an April 19 hearing, Assistant District Attorney William Barry noted the town objected to dismissal, but without anyone from the town on hand, Justice Andrew Horton allowed the dismissal “with prejudice,” meaning it could not be filed again.

Town attorney Mark Franco, of Portland firm Drummond Woodsum, said neither he nor the town was ever notified of the hearing date.

In response, Franco filed a counter motion to reconsider the case.

Tamara Getchell, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, has said there is no legal requirement that her office send notice of a hearing date to the town on a motion to dismiss.

Horton allowed Franco’s motion to reconsider, but later said he did so merely as a courtesy, because the victim of an alleged crime does indeed have a right to be notified about a dismissal.

On May 17, Horton waived Franco’s motion saying, he had no authority to grant the town’s request to reconsider the case.

Doyle and Scarborough are not infrequent counter-litigants. In 2015 he sued the town over his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, and also challenged a town bill of $570 for photocopies of about 1,200 emails he’d asked for in a separate right-to-know filing under the Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

That case was dismissed, leaving Doyle and the town now in an apparent 1-1 draw on unsuccessful legal proceedings.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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