Since 2014, Maine taxpayers have ponied up over $750,000 to pay for Gov. Paul LePage’s costly legal battles, according to the state’s expenditure database, and they’re likely to get soaked again. That’s because Attorney General Janet Mills is threatening to take legal action against the governor for refusing to pay over $4.9 million owed to the AG’s office for legal services rendered. In an August 24 letter to LePage’s finance commissioner, Alex Porteous, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton wrote that withholding the money violates the law, is a breach of contract and is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

“And, by thwarting the Legislature’s chosen method of funding the Office and undermining the ability of the Office to carry out its constitutional duties, it violates the separation of powers,” wrote Bolton. “If you do not resume payments to this Office for services rendered, the Attorney General is prepared to advance these and other arguments in court to secure the funds this Office is owed. If payments are not resumed immediately, we will assume that you have no intention of paying the outstanding invoices and will proceed accordingly.”

Ordinarily, the AG’s office invoices the administration at the start of every fiscal year for its projected cost of legal services for the year and the Department of Administrative and Financial Affairs has paid in quarterly installments, wrote Bolton. However, the office stopped receiving payments in May, which happens to be the same time that the governor threatened to cut off payments unless the Attorney General started submitting invoices based on “time increments.” In a May 4 letter to Mills, LePage wrote the invoices should “simply reflect the activities your staff attorneys performed on behalf of a given state agency and the time devoted to each activity,” which would “remove any confusion regarding the nature of services performed, the time it took an attorney to perform them, and the resulting charge.”

“I oversee billions of dollars in government spending, and it is imperative that I know what I am buying,” wrote LePage. “The request noted above should not be controversial and is standard operating procedure for most in the legal profession. I believe it is of the utmost importance that your Office provides full transparency in billing for legal services rendered; until invoices contain that transparency, payment for all charges to state agencies will be held.”

In a response dated May 10, Mills wrote that the governor’s “periodic demands for legal services invoices like those used by private sector attorneys” are not based in fact or law. She argued that all of the office’s positions are already funded in the current state budget and it is authorized by law to bill the administration at a “reasonable rate” determined by the AG, so there is “no lawful reason” for refusing to release the funding.

“In sum, this Office is not an executive agency subject to your control and direction, nor does the model of private client/private attorney fit this relationship,” wrote Mills. “Your continuing refusal to approve financial orders from this Office is not supported by the law. And it is clear that the Attorney General has the legal authority to charge for services provided by this Office without the imposition of preconditions of your choosing.”

She noted that attorney generals don’t use incremental billing because, unlike private attorneys, they are not in the business of making a profit, buying office buildings or “rainmaking for the benefit of senior partners in a firm.” Bolton also pointed out in his letter that switching to the time-increment model and charging market rates for legal services would “dramatically increase the cost of legal services for client agencies and for the taxpayers of Maine.”

Testifying on the governor’s bills to reform the child protective system on Monday, Kirsten Figueroa, the attorney general’s administrative services chief, told the Health and Human Services Committee that the AG’s office would have difficulty prosecuting child welfare cases in court because it’s running out of money due to the governor’s actions. The governor’s office did not return a request for comment.

The latest flare-up is part of a long-running power struggle between Mills and LePage, who has repeatedly clashed with the AG for refusing to represent him in several controversial cases. As a result the governor has hired private attorneys to represent him. Last year, a Superior Court judge tossed out the governor’s lawsuit against Mills for refusing to represent him on legal briefs supporting President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Since 2014, the LePage administration has paid over $513,000 to the firm Consovoy McCarthy Park and nearly $239,000 to the lawfirm Roach Hewitt Ruprecht Sanchez & Bischoff for various legal battles.