Maine Civil Liberties Union Says Attorney General's Office Unfairly Targeted City Councilor

November 1, 2007 12:00 am

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State Has No Business Regulating Campaign Speech, Group Charges


PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation today began negotiations with the Maine attorney general’s office on behalf of Jill Duson, a Portland City Councilor who is running for re-election on November 6. Duson, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School Of Law, came under criticism from the attorney general’s office last week for referring to herself as an attorney in campaign material, in reference to her previous work in Pennsylvania as a lawyer for low-income and elderly clients.

The MCLU believes that Duson is perfectly within her right to truthfully refer to her personal history in campaign material.Further, the MCLU feels that the Maine attorney general’s office overstepped its authority in cautioning Duson over her use of the term “attorney.”

“The attorney general’s office has made it clear that they are not interested in investigating or prosecuting Ms. Duson for her campaign material, but their mere suggestion that she should alter her campaign material casts an unfortunate pall on the upcoming election,” stated MCLU Legal Director Zachary Heiden.”The attorney general’s office should not be in the business of word-smithing or policing campaign literature.”

Maine law defines an “attorney” as one who is admitted to practice law in the state of Maine, and makes it illegal for a person to offer to perform legal services in Maine if they do not meet that definition. Duson, however, has never advertised herself as an attorney for commercial purposes — she has only referred to her credentials as an attorney for the purpose of explaining her life experiences.

“While it may be appropriate for the state to regulate commercial speech relating to the practice of law, it is entirely inappropriate for the state to interfere with political advertising or political speech,” said Duson.”My work as an attorney informs my view of the law and my values as a person — the government has no business telling me I can’t reference that experience.”

This controversy arose following a complaint to the attorney general’s office concerning Duson’s campaign material. After Duson refused the suggestion that she amend her material or decline to distribute it, the attorney general’s office informed her that no enforcement action has been initiated against her.

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