Inmate suing Governor Mills regarding unemployment benefits heard before U.S. Court of Appeals

First Circuit Court judges instruct parties to try and resolve issues on their own
Mug shot of Mark Sparks, who is suing Governor Mills, DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty and...
Mug shot of Mark Sparks, who is suing Governor Mills, DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty and Maine DOL Commissioner Laura Fortman(WABI)
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 3:58 PM EST
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (WABI) - A case involving prison inmates whose unemployment benefits were seized by Governor Mills took center stage in a Boston courtroom Monday.

A federal appeals court heard arguments regarding a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Marc Sparks of Bucksport, shown here in this 2019 mug shot.

Sparks is one of 53 prisoners who received a total of nearly $200,000 in state unemployment benefits and federal COVID-19 relief aid, after being laid off from work release programs during the pandemic. Sparks was an inmate at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren at the time. He was working as a grill cook.

Inmates are paid for their work but had to reimburse the Department of Corrections for their room and board and transportation to and from their jobs. Their wages are also used to pay any victim restitution.

When businesses began closing due to the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March, inmates were laid off from their jobs.

Some of them began applying for a unemployment benefits.

DOC Commisser Randall Liberty told WABI that according to an opinion from the Maine Attorney General’s Office, it is legal for these inmates to collect unemployment.

However, Governor Mills subsequently ordered the Maine Department of Corrections to halt the unemloyment benefits, calling them “appalling” and “bad public policy.” Furthrmore, she froze the inmate’s access to those accounts.

Sparks sued Mills, Liberty, and Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, claiming his 14th Amendment right to due process was violated because there was no hearing to determine whether he was entitled to the money.

Last March, a U.S. District Judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Monday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed an appeal of this dismissal was more of a state issue than federal, arguing it comes down to Maine’s interpretation of protected property law interests. The justices ordered both parties to take the next 10 days and try and come up with a resolution on their own to “any or all issues.” The justices went on to say that if that is not attainable, they will then issue a ruling.

Sparks was sentenced in 2015 after pleading no contest to manslaughter and criminal OUI.

Prosecutors say he was impaired after leaving a methadone clinic when he struck an SUV from behind on Route 15 in Orrington and sent it crashing into a house.

The other driver, 59-year-old Robin Rie, died.

Sparks was sentenced to two years in jail. While out on probation, he overdosed and Narcan was used to revive him. Because of that, he was sent back to prison.

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