Falmouth woman sees greater good in denying theft of Trump signs

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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.’”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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.

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  • Mainer1

    What a waste of taxpayer dollars, oh but she is a liberal and obviously has no issue spending tax dollars..

    • EdBeem

      It’s the Republican DA wasting taxpayer dollars by charging Stothart even after Jones declined to press charges. Drop the charges.

      • James B.

        Do you know the law, Edgar? The state presses charges — not the victim — in these cases. I know you and your fellow social justice warriors are still having trouble coping. Retreat to your safe space and let the adults deal with this.

        • EdBeem

          As I stated, the Republican DA is the one wasting taxpayer money by deciding to press charges. To suggested that the accused does not have the right to fight the charges, as Mainer1 (Paul LePage?) does, is a sign of dictatorship not democracy. David Jones of FO Bailey sent John Moon out to line Route One in Falmouth and Scarborough with so many Trump-Pence signs that they offended Ds and R’s alike, so much so that good people in both communities removed a few. The legislature passed the law limiting signs to every 30 feet because so many people complained about people doing what Mr. Jones did. (Falmouth police got 22 complaints about Trump Alley.) The original proposal was to limit like signs to every 200 feet, but it was revised to 30 feet. If it had been every 200 feet maybe this wouldn’t have happened. If Mr. Jones had posted 500 Trump-Pence signs around FO Bailey this might not have happened either.
          p.s. And I don’t need any lectures about safe spaces from someone too scared to use his own name when expressing an opinion.

          • James B.

            You have that luxury, as has been pointed out many times before. If people disagree with you and tell your employer, they love it. You have nothing to lose. If someone disagrees with me and tells my employer, not so much. Yeah, you’re the brave one…

            As for the horror of all those triggering signs, get a grip on life.

  • Chew H Bird

    Waste of taxpayer resources. Dropping charges is not a solution because it establishes a precedent. Just because someone has a right to contest the charges does not make it the right thing to do…

    • EdBeem

      You can’t be serious. We have an adversarial system of justice in which the accused has the right to a defense. This is not a dictatorship…yet.

      • Chew H Bird

        When a person initially admits to doing it when caught red handed, and then decides to go to court simply to make a point, (willing to pay whatever fine is levied), it seems to me that just because it is a “right” does not mean it is the right thing to do… I agree that everyone, regardless of whatever, has a right to a defense. It just seems in this case it is rather frivolous.