Saufley

Schneider

AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - The Maine Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, declined to answer a set of questions posed by the state House of Representatives regarding state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin's personal business dealings and finances.

In particular, the House asked two questions of the Court regarding the constitutional restrictions placed on a state treasurer by the Maine Constitution. They included:

- "Does mere ownership of business interests or stock by the Treasurer of State constitute engaging in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, or as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader as such terms are used in the Constitution of Maine, Article V, Part Third, Section 3?"

- And "if the answer to Question 1 is in the affirmative, would the Treasurer of State be engaged in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, or as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader if the Treasurer of State did not manage or involve himself in the day-to-day activities of such business interests or stock?"

As for its third question, the House asked the Court to opine on the effects of the possible business-related conduct of a treasurer on his or her actions while in office:

"If it is determined that the Treasurer of State has engaged in any business of trade or commerce, or as a broker, or as an agent or factor for any merchant or trader, does that finding affect or have an impact on the validity of the actions taken by the Treasurer of State in the performance of his official duties as used in the Constitution of Maine, Article V, Part Third, Section 3?"

The state's high court, in March 29 opinion, concluded that the House presented no "solemn occasion" in its three questions.

Solemn occasion arises "when questions are of a serious and immediate nature, and the situation presents an unusual exigency," and is needed to render an advisory opinion.

The Court said it does not answer questions that are "tentative, hypothetical and abstract."

"We may answer a question if the body posing the question has serious doubts as to its own constitutional or statutory power and authority to take a necessary action," Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wrote for the Court.

The justice explained that the three questions, in the context before it, do not present a matter of "live gravity" or "unusual exigency."

"The record contains no findings or adjudication regarding the nature of any alleged constitutional violation; no facts have been presented to the Justices through the communication from the House of Representatives; the questions themselves are presented in the abstract and do not indicate the context in which they should be evaluated; and the record is silent with regard to the need for the discharge of any duties of the House of Representatives or the proposed commencement of any action by the Executive or Legislative Branch or any other governmental entities," Saufley wrote.

According to The Associated Press, the questions over Poliquin's business activities came from Democrats.

Poliquin, a former gubernatorial candidate, is one of six Republicans hoping to earn the GOP's nomination for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's soon-to-be-vacant seat.

In February, Snowe announced she will not seek reelection in November and will retire when her third term ends on Jan. 3, 2013.

According to the AP, state Rep. Mark Dion, a Democrat from Portland, had asked state Attorney General William Schneider -- a Republican who is also running for Snowe's Senate seat -- for an opinion on the issue.

Dion pointed to records that listed Poliquin as a "clerk and registered agent" of a company that markets condominiums and the owner of the Popham Beach Club, a private recreational club located in Phippsburg.

Like the state's high court, Schneider argued that no "solemn occasion" was presented with respect to any of the three questions.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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