Superior Court Rules on Sheriff’s Allegations

By Gwen Clark

Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith had filed allegations about Barry Curtis of Cherryfield, and Dale Earle of Calais stating neither Curtis or Earle have five years of supervisory employment experience. A hearing was held in Augusta on March 31, 2014.  The allegations were filed with the Secretary Of State’s office  on Washington County Sheriffs Department letterhead and was notarized by a member of Sheriff Smiths staff.  This was challenged by one of the GOP candidates for the use of sheriffs office supplies and the receiving of a gift of the notarization. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn who conducted the hearing allowed Smith to proceed as a challenger as he was a registered voter.  Barry Curtis Attorney; Jeffery Davidson, asked Smith if he realized that he was not allowed to engage in political activity or accept such gifts for political purposes. Smith's Attorney;  Matthew Erickson objected and Flynn upheld the objection. Smith did not have to answer.

Sheriff Smith has retained the services of two attorneys, Don Brown and Matthew Erickson, to represent him in his challenge, while Curtis is represented by Jeffrey Davidson. Dale Earle  indicated he could not afford legal counsel and represented himself during the process. Davidson stated that Smith simply wanted to challenge people running against him.  

 Testimony for the hearing in Curtis' case was given mostly by a State Police Lieutenant about Curtis related personnel record and Curtis himself testified  about his career with the Maine State Police and other employment.   Smith's Attorney, Erickson, contended that Earle lacked  the five years supervisory experience necessary, that he never held a supervisory position in the sheriff’s department and that he filed false statements in his papers.

Betsy Fitzgerald, Washington County administrator, testified about county record that indicated that Earle had been hired part time as a deputy in August 1995 but terminated in that year in December.  Smith testified that when he returned to work in the Sheriffs office in the mid 1990s. Earle was not employed as a deputy.  

Smith stated, 

 "We had a roster and he was not listed." 

 Washington County Sheriff Joseph Tibbetts said that Earle was deputized when Tibbetts served as chief deputy.  

"Earle was appointed as a lieutenant and his duties included training part-time officers," stated Tibbetts 

 "He served the full three years of his commission as a deputy except for being suspended for 60 days for a protective order related incident but he was not convicted" .  Tibbetts testified also that he recalled  walking Earle across to the County Clerks office to record his commission after being sworn in.  Under cross examination by Earle, Ms. Fitzgerald testified that her office did not find the original commission paper for Earle, nor did she find any files in the Sheriffs office related to Earle.  She further stated that she did not find any letters setting forth Earle’s rank as Lieutenant and field training officer on any document . Ms. Fitzgerald confirmed that the County Commissioners must vote to terminate the employment of a deputy Sheriff upon the recommendation of the Sheriff and she did not know why there was no record of the County Commissioners voting to terminate Earle's employment in December 1995 . Earle testified on his own behalf that he has operated an excavating and trucking business since 1983 and supervised over thirty people at times, including other contractors.  He stated that he has served in two volunteer fire departments.  Earle also suggested that his personnel file for his deputy work had been tampered with but did admit to making an honest mistake in the amount of time served in the sheriffs department that it had been three years not six.  There was no intent to defraud or outright lie.  Earle also stated he:

 "Did not have adequate time to respond to Smiths complaint and to gather information or witnesses.  I just think this whole thing put us at a great disadvantage and I think that’s what Sheriff Smith intended to accomplish."

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap ruled: 

"I have reviewed the Amended Report of the Hearing Officers dated April 4, 2014, the exhibits presented at the hearing and other materials transmitted with the report.  For the reasons outlined in the hearing officer’s report.  I find that the challenger has not met the burden of providing sufficient evidence pursuant to Title 21A section 337, subsection 2, paragraph B to invalidate the petition and consent form.  I have determined that the challenge to the petition is not valid and that the petition and consent for the nomination of Dale Earle as candidate in the  Republican Primary Election for Sheriff of Washington County meets the requirements."  Both Republican candidates Curtis and Earle will be selected in the primary to see who will be running for Sheriff against Donnie Smith.  The hearing officer found the testimony of former Chief Deputy Sheriff Tibbetts to be credible and the lack of any record of a  termination decision by the County Commissioners failed to corroborate the roster of terminated employees, that Ms. Fitzgerald was not employed by the County in 1995 and does not have direct knowledge of record keeping practices at that time and was unable to testify on the accuracy of the record.  It was also found credible that Earle made an inadvertent error on his statement  of supervisory qualifications and did not intentionally falsify the document.    Smith has five days from the date of decision to file an appeal.