FALMOUTH — A local woman accused of removing Trump for president campaign signs will have her day in court.
Betta Stothart, 52, could face a $250 fine for each Trump sign that she and two friends are accused of removing from along U.S. Route 1 in October.
According to Police Lt. John Kilbride, the three local women removed approximately 40 signs, which means the fine could total $10,000.
Stothart denied taking the Trump signs during a Dec. 15 appearance in District Court in Portland on the civil complaint alleging wrongful removal of temporary signs. She did so, she said this week, to ensure she would have a chance to go to trial and “plead my case before a judge.”
Heidi Kendrick, 42, of Portland, and Martha Murdick, 44, of Falmouth, who were charged along with Stothart, also denied the accusations filed against them.
Stothart wrote an op-ed column for the Washington Post in late October in which she admitted to “tearing up the Donald Trump signs along our version of Main Street.”
This week she said, “I’m fully prepared to face my day in court and pay whatever penalty the judge feels is correct and fair. But I know that I am not alone in feeling that our town was taken over by political signs this election, and it created a hostile environment for many of our residents. Those signs were vandalized nearly every night.”
Following the court hearing last week, Stothart’s attorney, Benjamin Donahue, said his client’s appearance was “the equivalent of an arraignment in a criminal case.” He said that unless a settlement agreement is reached with the Cumberland County district attorney or the charges are dropped, Stothart could face a trial sometime in February.
While there is no risk of jail time, Donahue said his client “could still face a significant penalty” if a judge imposes the full fine for each sign removed. He said whether to impose a fine and how much the fine would be is fully within the judge’s discretion.
In addition, Donahue said because it is a civil matter, the standard of proof is lower, and all the state needs is a preponderance of evidence that Stothart and her friends took the Trump signs.
He said it’s important to go to trial, if possible, because “even though there is minimal risk, the (issue) is important because of the (overall) issues with the (placement) of political signs.”
“There’s certainly a right to free speech,” he said, but “one individual does not have the right to dominate the conversation by cluttering the roadway.”
David Jones, a local Realtor and chairman of the political action committee Making Maine Great Again, which placed the Trump signs along Route 1, said Dec. 20 that he wishes Stothart had just admitted to the theft.
“There’s nothing to be gained by continuing the drama,” Jones said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a thing of the past (and) I’m done with it. I don’t understand why she did not say she did it. She was caught red-handed and obviously stole the signs for whatever reason.”
He also called the probable civil trial a waste of the state’s time and money.
Jones initially wanted to pursue criminal charges, Kilbride said this week, but when Trump won the election he was willing to drop the matter.
“The whole purpose of asking the DA not to pursue the criminal charges is because I wanted to put this to rest,” Jones said Tuesday. “I did my best to make it go away (and) I’m surprised (Stothart wants to go trial, but) it’s a free country and I wish her the best.”
Kilbride said Officer Michel Brown was on patrol along Route 1 near Fundy Road at 11:49 p.m. Oct. 14 when he saw three middle-aged women a car trunk with Trump signs.
Stothart said her hope is that “the judge will hear our argument with an open mind, and consider the fact that, by their own admission, Mr. Jones … placed somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 Trump/Pence signs in a 1.5-mile stretch of road in Falmouth.”
“I have no regrets about what I did. On the contrary, it has been a great lesson, and it has caused me to think long and hard about why I actually did it. I was deeply triggered by Trump’s abuse of power over women,” she said. “I have experienced abuse of power on many levels and am at the point where I refuse to be silent any longer.”
“My new motto,” Stothart said, “is ‘well behaved women never made history.’”
Betta Stothart, who is accused of stealing signs supporting Donald Trump for president, said the signs placed along Route 1 in Falmouth unfairly dominated the political conversation in town and created a hostile environment for many residents.