BIDDEFORD SACO OOB COURIER, JUNE 12, 2002
Biddeford, I’ll see you in court!
By Chris Churchill
Cape Elizabeth attorney David Lourie is taking on City Hall – Biddeford’s City Hall. He has four lawsuits against the city in the works, three in association with the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU).
“I’ve got as much of a caseload with Biddeford as I normally have in total,” said the bearded lawyer, 54, sitting in his messy home office. “I have a hard time saying no when people have their rights violated.”
First, he’s representing Dorothy Lafortune in a federal suit against the city’s attempt to keep her public-access program – “The Maine Forum” – off the air.
In an unrelated case with a similar subject matter, he’s representing Richard Rhames in a federal suit claiming the ongoing shutdown of public access is illegal.
And he’s representing Grayson Street resident John Packard against city charges that he illegally repaired cars at his residence. The MCLU is not involved in that case, but is involved in a spin-off case in which Lourie is charging that the city’s rules governing charter changes are illegal under state law.
“I could probably spend the rest of my life keeping [Biddeford] from acting illegally if I were willing to do it,” claimed Lourie, closing his eyes as he speaks. “I’m starting to feel like I’m the alternative city attorney for Biddeford.”
The MCLU, with 1,800 members, was founded in 1968 and is devoted to advancing and protecting the civil liberties and civil rights of Maine residents, according to its website.
Lourie’s work on behalf of the MCLU has earned him this year’s Scolnik Award, named for Justice Louis Scolnik, a retired Maine Supreme Court Justice and a founding member of the MCLU.
“We give the Scolnik Award for a member of Maine’s legal community who has made an outstanding contribution to civil liberties in Maine,” said Dorcas Gilpatrick, the MCLU’s director.
And, this year, much of Lourie’s contribution is being made in Biddeford.
As the organization has limited resources, the MCLU doesn’t take on many cases, Gilpatrick said. It looks for cases where “a significant constitutional right is in question.”
Lourie and the MCLU have yet to win one of their cases against Biddeford, and an early ruling in the Rhames case went the city’s way. But is it reason for concern that a group devoted to civil liberties has chosen to sue Biddeford three times?
“No,” said Mayor Donna Dion. Anybody can file a suit, she said, but “that doesn’t mean they’re correct.”
“Every opportunity they have, they’re going to come after us,” the mayor said of the MCLU. “Every claim they make, we’ll do due diligence and respond.”
Harry Center, Biddeford’s city attorney, did not return phone calls for this article.
Lourie, a Queens, N.Y., native, is no stranger to municipal government. After graduating from the Boston College Law School, he was the attorney for the city of Portland for 10 years.
Since going into private practice in 1990, he has watched many city and town councils in action, and has taken many to court for their actions. For example, he took South Portland to court – and won – when that its City Council refused to open all city polls for a gay-rights referendum.
Still, he is surprised by what he’s seen in Biddeford – and is scathing in his appraisals of Biddeford government: “I would classify Biddeford as being the worst in terms of respect of individual rights and basic due process,” he said.
Lourie, who obviously doesn’t back down from controversy, likes his job. He likes being an attorney, although he resisted becoming one. He comes from a family of lawyers and wanted to do something different.
“It’s the only thing I had an aptitude for,” he said. “I really enjoying practicing law. It gives me a chance to do things for people and for causes I believe in – and, sometimes, to make some money.”
Lourie usually doesn’t make money on MCLU cases – he volunteers his time. In doing so, he and the MCLU open the courts to people who wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Lafortune is an example. She would not have had the money to take Biddeford to court on her own, she said.
“I’m glad the MCLU has taken a stand on this,” she said, “because people all over are watching.”
Lawyers often have not fared well on Lafortune’s talk show, where they are portrayed as representing all that is wrong with the world. But she has good feelings about Lourie.
“I’m not going to change my feelings about attorneys,” Lafortune said. “He’s an exception.”
See also THE MAINE FORUM – FIRST AMENDMENT CASE (Part 1)