FALMOUTH — A trial has been set for a local woman facing civil charges and the possibility of steep fines for removing Donald Trump campaign signs along U.S. Route 1 during the presidential election campaign last fall.
Betta Stothart’s attorney, Benjamin Donahue, said a bench trial – held before a judge without a jury – is set for May 22 following a failure to resolve the charges during a settlement conference last week.
Donahue said the meeting between his client and the Cumberland County district attorney’s office on Feb. 15 was required before the court would move the case to the trial stage.
Following the meeting, Donahue said, “our position is the same, so we could not reach a resolution.”
In mid-December Stothart denied the charges in court, although in an op-ed piece that ran in the Washington Post in October she admitted removing the signs.
Criminal charges were dropped after Trump won the election, but Stothart could still face a $250 fine for each Trump sign that she and two friends are accused of taking.
According to Police Lt. John Kilbride, Stothart, Heidi Kendrick of Portland and Martha Murdick of Falmouth removed approximately 40 signs, which means the fine could total $10,000.
The specific charge against the women is wrongful removal of temporary signs. In a prior interview, Stothart said she denied the charges in order to ensure she would have a chance to go to trial and “plead my case before a judge.”
In that interview, she also said, “I’m fully prepared to … 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 (past) election (season), and it created a hostile environment for many of our residents.”
Although Stothart is not facing any jail time if found guilty, Donahue called the $10,000 potential fine a “significant penalty.”
And, in a prior interview, he said it’s important to go to trial because although, “there’s certainly a right to free speech, 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 in December that he wishes Stothart had just admitted to the theft.
“There’s nothing to be gained by continuing the drama,” he said at the time.
Further information was not available about Kendrick’s and Murdick’s cases.
Trump/Pence signs line U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth in the lead-up to the presidential election last fall.