Sheriff Wainwright praises fairness of process that tried to remove him from office

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May 20—PARIS — Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright made his first public statement Monday on his attempted ouster by the Oxford County Commission, thanking the governor and the judge, who conducted the hearing, and said he looked forward to working with a new board of county commissioners.

"To Justice (Donald) Alexander, Governor (Janet) Mills and Governor Mills' staff, I am eternally grateful for your patience, attention and wisdom in this extraordinary matter," Wainwright said in a statement released Monday, one week after Mills announced her decision.

Oxford County Commissioners David Duguay of Byron, Timothy Turner of Buckfield and Steven Merrill of Norway sent a detailed 10-page complaint in February to the governor, asking her to remove Wainwright for his failure "to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of his office and improperly exercised and acted outside of his legal authority."

They issued their complaint based on three incidents they determined called into question Wainwright's ability to perform the duties of his office: ordering an officer to show leniency toward a person to whom they issued a ticket, selling firearms out of the evidence locker with no records showing the sale or location of the proceeds, and employing and arming two school resource officers whose credentials had lapsed.

Only Mills had the constitutional power to dismiss Wainwright, but decided against it based on the recommendation of former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander, who she appointed to conduct an administrative hearing, which took two days in late April.

"I believe the evidence presented falls short of satisfying what must be a high standard for the governor's removal from office of a popularly elected sheriff," Mills wrote in a letter to Wainwright and county commissioners.

In his statement Monday, Wainwright praised the fairness of the hearing process.

"As was my hope, the process here afforded a full and fair opportunity to present the facts — all the facts — to an impartial and revered jurist, of unquestioned integrity and reputation. After receiving all the facts, Justice Alexander applied the law to the operative facts. Justice Alexander's objective findings, conclusions of law and analysis merit review and deference.

"Accordingly, I humbly decline the many pending requests that I have received to expound on either Justice Alexander's learned analysis or Governor Mills' final decision," he added. "I understand that members of the media have many unsatisfied curiosities; however, the objective answers to your questions are discoverable in the full volume of materials presented to and relied upon by Justice Alexander and Governor Mills."

Saying that he is looking ahead, Wainwright said he remains committed to his office and has no plans to step down before his current term expires in 2026. With two of the commissioners stepping down — Duguay and Merrill — at the end of the year, Wainwright said he sees an opportunity to mend his relationship with the new board.

"Before I turn over the stewardship of this honorable office, by choice or by ballot, I look forward to working with the new board of county commissioners to 'work in good faith to rebuild a productive relationship,' Wainwright said.

Mills agreed that it should be the voters of Oxford County who should ultimately decide if Wainwright remains in office.

"My decision here should not be viewed as a vindication of Sheriff Wainwright," Mills wrote in her decision. "The hearing record shows that he has made mistakes and acted intemperately on occasion. In my view, the voters of Oxford County should be the ultimate judge of the sheriff on these matters when and if he puts his name before them for reelection in the future."

Wainwright thanked his family, friends for their "love and unwavering support" during the long ordeal. He also recognized and applauded the devotion shown to him by the deputies and officers of the department.

"I also want to publicly recognize and praise the men and women of the Oxford County Sheriff's Office that continued to faithfully carry out their duties, without distraction, during the entirety of this process," Wainwright said.

Following Mills' decision, the commissioners issued a statement saying they disagreed with the decision, while expressing their disappointment.

While Wainwright is looking ahead to the new board of commissioners, he agreed that work and cooperation need to begin immediately to fix issues revealed during the hearing.

"The challenges that the Oxford County Sheriff's Office, that we all agree exist and were laid bare by this process, cannot wait for the next election cycle for address," Wainwright said. "Accordingly, as a gesture of my good faith and in recognition of the common ground that readily exists between myself and even my most ardent critics, I invite a healthy and robust public conversation and exchange of ideas on how to efficiently improve Oxford County's record keeping and evidentiary storage facilities without delay."

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