Politics & Other Mistakes: Lawyers in love

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Aaron Frey should resign as Maine’s attorney general. If Frey refuses to go, the Legislature should force him out.

Reality check: Neither of those things is gonna happen.

That’s because the AG hasn’t done anything criminal, since there’s no law against being horny. But when it comes to behaving ethically, he’s failed repeatedly. And if the state’s chief law enforcement officer is obviously unethical, how can we expect anyone else in state government to behave themselves.

Al DiamonWell, I suppose we can’t, regardless of Frey’s misbehavior.

In early April, the Bangor Daily News got a tip that Frey was involved in a relationship with one of his employees. Shortly afterwards, Frey learned a reporter was making inquiries. So, he did what any honest person would do when he knew he was about to be exposed. He hired a public-relations consultant.

Late on the evening of April 4, Frey’s PR flack issued a statement from him admitting he had been in a “personal relationship” for several months with someone who worked for him, but said he had acted belatedly to correct the situation by placing his lover under the direct supervision of his chief deputy, rather than himself.

“I should have done this once we realized we had feelings for one another,” he said. “It was an error in judgment and for that I am sorry.”

Problem solved? Not exactly.

Everyone in the Attorney General’s Office serves at the AG’s pleasure (sorry, poor word choice). So, trying to shield his paramour from his oversight by placing another of his minions between himself and her is meaningless. He’s still her boss. And affairs between bosses and subordinates are often seen as sexual harassment.

That’s not the case here, though, because unlike almost everywhere else in state government, the AG’s office’s code of ethics doesn’t specifically ban this sort of screwing around. That allowed Frey to claim “our relationship has not violated any legal rules, office policy or law.”

It’s just wrong. But if being wrong were grounds for dismissal, the State House would be nearly empty.

Another issue: According to an email Frey sent to his staff, the employee in question in this affair is Assistant AG Ariel Gannon, the head of the office’s child protective division. Gannon was promoted to that position by Frey a couple of years ago, supposedly well before they began their affair. Still, that move raises an uncomfortable question or two.

As if there weren’t enough of those already.

In addition to all these personnel issues, there are a few personal ones. Gannon is married with two children. Her husband filed for divorce in March. Frey had been in a long-term relationship, but he and his partner separated in February and were engaging in couple’s counseling. She appears to have learned he was having an affair at the same time as the rest of us, courtesy of that statement from Frey’s public-relations operative.

That indicates something unpleasant about the AG’s ethical standards.

Unlike all other states, Maine’s attorney general is chosen by the Legislature, so the office is filled by whatever party holds a majority of those seats. That’s the Democrats, who were ridiculously reluctant to comment on their appointee’s shoddy behavior. To date, most of them haven’t had the guts to say anything. But Senate President Troy Jackson did admit he was “deeply disappointed” in Frey, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’s spokesperson said, “Appropriate policies procedures, and oversight are mandatory, not optional.” The two leaders announced they were hiring a consultant to perform a “workplace assessment” of Frey’s office.

But surely Republican leaders would have no hesitancy in calling for Frey’s removal. Well, actually, they did. The GOP legislative office issued a statement saying the whole mess was the Democrats’ problem:

“We are under no illusions that calling for Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey to resign or face appropriate disciplinary action will result in any consequences. Therefore we ask those responsible for his election, legislative Democrats: How do you intend to hold him accountable?”

Frey could quit, thereby sparing his partisan pals the embarrassment of ignoring his misdeeds. Don’t bet more than you can afford to pay a public-relation consultant on that.

If you’ve had sex with a prominent state official, please don’t bother telling me about it by emailing [email protected].

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