BANGOR, MAINE -- After three days of hearings, the Town of Millinocket lost its "redo" of the lawsuit file by the town's former recreation director, Mary Walsh.
The jury returned its verdict just before 10:00 this morning, voting 7:2 in favor of Mary Walsh, and against the town, awarding compensatory damages of $30,000 on a vote of 8 to 1.
This is the second time that a jury has found in favor of the former Millinocket employee. In September of 2008, a Bangor jury found that former Millinocket town councilor, Matt Polstein, had abused his position, exacted revenge, and violated the whistle-blower protection act, when he and his allies on the town council removed Walsh from her job in 2005. At that time, Walsh was awarded $25,000 in damages against the town, a number that was raised by $5,000 by a second jury.
Mary Walsh's trouble began when she was overheard talking with friends in a local restaurant. In her conversation, she reportedly mentioned that Polstein was, in her opinion, not properly grooming the snowmobile trails for which he was paid. According to Walsh, Polstein had been doing a good job of grooming the trails between the town and his own Twin Pines cabins, but neglecting the rest of the trail system.
Walsh had also reported this to the state's trails administrator, in her capacity as the town's recreation director, and discussed the situation with the town manager.
Shortly after she was overheard at the restaurant, she received an email from Councilor Matt Polstein, warning her to be careful about where she eats and what she says there, in an email that Walsh considered to be thinly veiled threats against her job.
A few days later, Walsh was eating at a local Chinese restaurant. When she was going to leave, Polstein sped into the parking lot, blocking her car with his own, and proceeded to berate her in front of witnesses.
On June 15 of 2005, Polstein cast the deciding vote to remove Walsh from her position, and hand the administration of the town's recreation department to East Millinocket, retaining all of the employees of the town's recreation department except for Walsh. This action was taken despite strong objections from the public, Polstein's wife the only citizen speaking in favor of the action taken by the council.
Walsh had also made an enemy of then Councilor David Nelson, after he had suggested that the annual Easter egg hunt be held at the Millinocket Regional Hospital, which employed Nelson, rather than at the Granite Street School, where it had traditionally been held. When Walsh refused to give in to this, Nelson subsequently berated her at town council meetings.
After its first loss in this case, the town requested a new trial, which today returned a verdict similar to the first, and increasing the amount to be paid to Mary Walsh. Walsh is also poised to receive additional payment in back pay and legal expenses.
According to Millinocket town manager, Gene Conlogue, the city considers the matter to be still in litigation and is considering its options. He has asked town councilors to refrain from comment on the matter.