SKOWHEGAN — A Superior Court justice threw out a contempt of court complaint Tuesday against Michael Heath and awarded the Christian Civic League of Maine executive director $500 in attorney fees.
After announcing his decision at the close of a three-hour hearing in Somerset County Superior Court, Justice Donald Marden took a few more moments to express his frustration with former league financial director Lisa Lumbra, of Bangor. Represented by Kennebunk attorney Steve Canders, Lumbra maintained she had no choice but to bring contempt charges against Heath after the Christian lobbyist refused to provide access to his laptop computer containing league financial records.
Lumbra and former board members Henry Joy of Crystal and Gary Holcombe of Waterboro obtained a court order last December that gave them access to the league’s financial books and records. The trio’s attorney had attempted to obtain the laptop information on Jan. 20, but did not receive the requested materials until late Friday.
Canders and Lumbra maintained Tuesday that Heath stalled in complying with the request for information and would not have assented to their requests if not for Tuesday’s hearing on the contempt complaint. But Justice Marden rejected that assertion, remarking that he was “disturbed” by Lumbra’s motivation for seeking the contempt charges that he said appeared to be driven more by “vengeance” than a desire to identify a “remedy” in the dispute.
“There is no reason this court can understand, given the circumstances of all of the cases that have come before me at this time, why we spent the afternoon attempting to find Mr. Heath in contempt when he had already purged himself of that contempt,” Justice Marden said.
Heath and his attorney, Steve Whiting of Portland, declined comment after the hearing. Lumbra said she and the other board members will began reviewing two diskettes of information taken from the laptop and an index identifying all of the league’s files on the computer’s hard drive. The former Bangor state representative said she and others plan to hold a press conference later in the month to discuss their findings. She and Joy said the state Attorney General’s Office also has expressed an interest in the league’s financial reports.
Lumbra said Justice Marden reached “the only decision that he could have reached” based on the evidence her lawyer had presented. The entire court action among the three former board members and Heath began in 1998 when Lumbra, as the league’s financial officer, felt she was not provided full access to the league’s financial records. Suspicious of Heath’s budget-building mechanisms and accounting practices, Lumbra said Tuesday that some of the material already obtained from the league’s computers has done little to abate her concerns.
“We’ve found a lot wrong,” she said. “We’ve found things that we’ve been told could be criminal or could be civil violations. At this point, we’ve got this $500 slap-in-the-face [from Justice Marden] for doing nothing wrong, with the judge describing it as vengeance. How does he get that?”
Justice Marden did not explain his rationale for the “vengeance” remark, but he did admonish both parties to extend more trust to each other. He added there was room for argument over whether Heath had intentionally delayed forwarding the information Lumbra requested, but that even if he had, such actions hardly rose to the level of contempt.
“Before we start hauling each other into court on matters of contempt, let’s focus on what we’re trying to achieve here,” Justice Marden said. “I suggest everybody take a step back.”