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Plaintiffs appeal judge's ruling on Maine mural

July 24, 2012
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PORTLAND, Maine—The plaintiffs in an unsuccessful lawsuit announced Tuesday they have appealed a federal judge's ruling that Maine Gov. Paul LePage was within his rights when he had a mural depicting the state's labor history removed from a state office building.

The appeal was filed last week in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

The appeal argues that Judge John Woodcock erred in his March decision concluding that the labor mural was "government speech," a doctrine that says the government is free to express itself, rather than the speech of the artist who created it. In his decision dismissing the lawsuit, Woodcock wrote that the state of Maine was engaged in government speech when it commissioned and displayed the mural, and was again engaged in government speech when it chose to remove the mural.

LePage created an uproar last year when he ordered the 11-panel, 7-foot-tall mural removed from a Labor Department waiting room because he considered it biased in favor of organized labor over business interests.

A group of plaintiffs -- three artists, an organized labor official and an employee of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- later sued seeking to have the mural returned.

The appeal argues that the state did not sufficiently control the content or creation of the mural to make it government speech, and that a reasonable person would conclude that any message communicated by the mural was that of the artist, not of the government, said Jeffrey Young, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The appeal further says even if the mural is government speech, the government can't have it removed to suppress a particular ideology or outlook, Young said.

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